When the research behind the science of reading fundamentally changed the way teachers delivered their literacy instruction, teaching grammar was certainly not at the forefront of anyone’s mind. The biggest shift in teaching (especially in the upper grades) occurred with phonics instruction. However, it’s essential to look at all of the strands of language comprehension, too (not just word recognition), as Dr. Scarborough suggests with her reading rope model. Your students cannot become skilled readers if a single strand is weak.
Teaching Grammar With Mentor Sentences
Grammar IS an important aspect of supporting the science of reading. A strong grasp of grammar helps students understand the structure of language and how sentences are put together. Showing students how grammar is used in context (the way it’s done with mentor sentences) helps students see the relevance of grammar to reading and writing.
To teach grammar aligned with the science of reading, it’s important to integrate grammar instruction into the broader context of reading and writing instruction, which is precisely what the mentor sentence routine does!
Traditionally, grammar has been taught in isolation and only focused on defining grammar rules and correcting errors. This approach does not support grammar’s relationship with meaning.
Mentor sentences, on the other hand, integrate grammar with reading and writing instruction and allow students the opportunity to analyze the relationships among words, phrases, and clauses at the sentence level. Students develop an understanding of grammatical rules (syntax) and the strategic use of words and phrases to carry meaning (semantics) through the mentor sentence routine.
Examples provided in the research surrounding the science of reading suggest using reading and writing activities to give students opportunities to apply grammar concepts and to see the role of grammar in making meaning. Some suggestions include having students identify and underline the nouns and verbs in a sentence they read or writing sentences that include a specific grammar concept they are learning. Mentor sentences routinely incorporate all of these ideas.
It’s also important to note that the science of reading recognizes the significance of oral language development in supporting reading and writing. The conversations and discussions surrounding grammar and language during the mentor sentence routine help them build their oral language skills AND develop their understanding of grammar.
Mentor Sentences and Language Comprehension
Breaking down “Language Comprehension” on Scarborough’s Reading Rope, it’s easy to see how mentor sentences support all five strands that must be mastered in order to build a strong reader.
As teachers, we know understanding different subjects, topics, and ideas can help students better understand what they’re reading. The books used as mentor texts are strategically chosen to provide students with connections to other subject matter as well as build vocabulary, too.
Mentor sentences help students understand the functions of words, as well as see the relationships between them. By teaching students the meanings of “grammar words” such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives, they are better equipped to understand the structure of sentences and the relationships between words.
Language Structures (aka Syntax)
Mentor sentences help students understand how words are organized in logical and meaningful sentences. If students don’t understand how to refer to a noun used in a previous sentence using a pronoun, for instance, they won’t be able to comprehend complex texts. Developing knowledge of language structures strengthens the ability to comprehend text.
To develop syntax using mentor sentences, students examine how sentences are built, learn to expand sentences, and even how to imitate the author’s sentence structure and craft. Teaching students how to construct different types of sentences, such as simple, compound, and complex, also helps students understand how words and phrases are combined to form coherent sentences when reading.
Verbal Reasoning (aka Semantics)
Mentor sentences help students develop a knowledge of language, and even allow them to alter the meanings of words and phrases. Students need support with complex text structures and word choice. Exposing students to just ONE sentence that contains figurative language or low-frequency words helps them learn how to read increasingly complex texts successfully, and in turn, learn how to manipulate and imitate complex sentence structure in writing as well.
The books chosen for mentor sentence lessons expose students to a variety of genres, word choice, and craft. Some upper grades teachers hesitate to use picture books for their lessons… but along with a whole laundry list of reasons why they are perfect for your students, the most important here would be that students are exposed to a variety of genres and styles, which develops students’ literacy skills.
How to Begin the Mentor Sentence Routine
Not using mentor sentences in your classroom? I’d love to help you get started!
Head to this post to read more about them, and download a free week to try them out for yourself.
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