Mentor sentences help you teach style and conventions in a way that is fun for the students AND you! Over the course of a week, students will work with one super sentence from a mentor text in different ways each day. Each week, there will be a focus on one or two skills, but they will still be exposed to several skills, many of which they have already learned from previous mentor sentences. This spiral learning truly makes an impact on their retention of skills and writing abilities.
With mentor sentences, you will be teaching with a well-written sentence, not a sentence full of mistakes. The problem with programs that present random sentences to students that are full of mistakes is, the students don’t even know what it is SUPPOSED to look like! Students are just guessing about what is wrong with sentences. But with mentor sentences, we are exposing students to amazing craft with correct structure and mechanics. This help students learn the RIGHT way to write, not the wrong.
I didn’t always use mentor sentences in my classroom. But as soon as I read about them back in 2010 in Jeff Anderson’s book, Mechanically Inclined, I knew I had to figure out how to make them work in my third-grade classroom. It just made sense! (His books at that time were aligned to middle grades, and didn’t include specific lessons.) I adapted a routine that aligned with our standards and what I expected students to do each day, and suddenly, mentor sentences became my favorite part of the day!
Five Reasons I Couldn’t Stop Using Mentor Sentences:
WHO SHOULD TEACH WITH MENTOR SENTENCES?
Teachers who are tired of grammar lectures, Powerpoints, and drill-and-kill worksheets that don’t actually transfer to writing should absolutely throw all of that out and jump headfirst into the mentor sentence routine.
Teachers who enjoy using mentor texts to cover content and maximize teaching time will love adding mentor sentences to their toolbox.
And most importantly, teachers with students of ANY ability can use them; because of the consistency, students know what to expect each day, and the spiral learning keeps those important skills in front of them week after week. Multilingual students who aren’t proficient in English, and students with special education accommodations are DEFINITELY going to benefit from the mentor sentence routine.
WHY ARE MENTOR SENTENCES A BEST PRACTICE?
Grammar should be taught in context, NOT isolation. Studies like this one have shown that the “traditional method” of grammar workbooks, lectures, and diagramming is not only ineffective but can be detrimental to student writing!
Mentor sentences also check ALL the boxes of the language comprehension strands in Scarborough’s Reading Rope, 100% supporting the science of reading research.
Mentor sentences will help improve craft by revealing fantastic models of figurative language, descriptive words and phrases, and interesting sentence variation that they use as models for their own writing.
Mentor sentences allow students to soak up the language and grammar skills through noticing, conversation, and imitation, which in turn transfers to their writing.
WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT MENTOR SENTENCES?
The daily class discussions around language are when the students are going to learn the MOST. This is why mentor sentences should never be solely “independent work” or “morning work.” The engagement in those conversations is what will give many students a “lightbulb moment” and help those skills transfer to writing.
This also means the lessons differentiate themselves. Not all classes are going to notice the same things, and of course, not all GRADES are going to notice the same things at the same level. In the linked articles at the bottom of the post, you will find an example lesson that can be effectively used in second, third, fourth, or fifth grades!
WHEN DO YOU TEACH THE MENTOR SENTENCE ROUTINE?
I suggest incorporating mentor sentences into your writing time, as it should be directly connected to their writing. It should also replace your grammar-in-isolation lesson. Also, it will sometimes replace your style and conventions mini-lessons that you teach during writing time. For this reason, I like to START writing time with the mentor sentences routine. This also helps get students into a writing frame of mind, and often gives them a purpose for writing that day!
CONSISTENCY IS KEY! To see real improvement, you need to carve out a time in your schedule to do Mentor Sentences daily. I promise you, it’s worth it! You won’t have to teach grammar in isolation so much anymore (BORING!) and you’ll see improvement in the students’ writing!
WHERE SHOULD STUDENTS KEEP THEIR MENTOR SENTENCES?
Students should complete their mentor sentence work in a notebook. This becomes a perfect “living resource” to use during writing time. It will contain a collection of amazing sentences, skill practice, and sentence structure practice that they can apply to their own writing. Visit this post to see suggestions of setting up student notebooks.
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