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Mentor Sentences – Teach It So They Remember It!

January 6, 2018 7 Comments



Each year you and your colleagues teach grammar and mechanics, yet they still don’t know how to write complete detailed sentences?

Research has shown that completing numerous grammar worksheets or editing sentences with mistakes do not transfer to writing. You know this to be true, too. How many times have you said, “I taught it and they STILL don’t do it!”

It’s time for a different approach. Students need to see great sentences to be able to write great sentences.

You have shelves filled with great sentences within the books your students are reading. All you need to do is identify a sentence that has the kinds of words or skill you want to teach. This is known as a mentor sentence.

Let me give you an example from Ready Freddy! Snow Day Dare:

  “I can’t go to school without my blue shark mitten,” I explained.

My skill focus this week is using quotation marks. In addition, I can weave several other mini-lessons throughout the week in the context of this authentic literature. This sentence includes: contraction, adjective, common nouns, past tense verb, verb, preposition, and using a comma with quotation marks!  Of course you can’t bombard your students with all that in one lesson.

The idea behind mentor sentences is to provide short daily mini-lessons using the same sentence for a week. Think of it like a mentor text that you reread through different lenses. Each new mini-lesson provides students with the opportunity to dig deeper into what writers do. Instead of looking at sentences filled with mistakes, students are invited to notice an author’s style, craft, and use of grammar. These lessons do not replace writing workshop, but rather support it.

Here is a typical routine I follow:

Day 1Read the Story – We read the story that the sentence will come from. This can be your guided reading book, read aloud novel, or basal story.

Day 2 –  What Do You Notice? – I show the class the mentor sentence I have selected. The students are asked to write down everything they notice about the words the writer used.  Today is kid generated, not teacher lead. This is a powerful step because the students are actively processing the information. Plus you will get a great deal of information based upon their comments which you can use to guide your future lessons. (10-15 mins)

Day 3Focus on a Skill – This is the time when you point out the convention or grammar focus for the week. It is critical that you are explaining while referring to the mentor sentence. Provide each student with a copy of the mentor sentence that they can mark up. I might have them circle in red all the nouns. Underline the subject in green. Box in the past tense verb. I try to focus on this week’s grammar skill and review previous learned terms. (5-10 mins).

Day 4 – Revise it – Revising and editing are important writing skills. For this mini-lesson I have the students add or change words in the mentor sentence.  Lead a discussion about ways the mentor sentence can be made better. Remind the class that authors try out different ways to say something. Revising and adding details can make a good sentence even better! (5-10 mins)

Day 5 – Imitate – Students will create their own sentence. How can they use the mentor sentence as a model in their own writing? This day allows children to experiment with craft and style while writing an original sentence. It is a time to provide encouragement to be creative, take risks, and try to apply what they’ve learned. (5-10 mins).

Here are a few important things to keep in mind when choosing a mentor sentence:

First, it is more meaningful when it comes from a story the kids are reading.

Second, each lesson is a mini-lesson. Keep it short and focused. It supports other ELA instruction.

Finally, the more you do it, the more they remember. It works!!!

If you use McGraw Hill’s WONDERS program, I have good news for you!!

I have created lesson plans and student response pages for every story in the 2nd and 3rd grade textbooks!

Ready to give it a try?  Click on the textbook you use to connect to their Mentor Sentences Resource.

Alison Monk

When I started teaching, I quickly realized that student teaching didn't prepare me for the real challenges of being alone in a classroom full of young children. The learning curve was steep and time was limited. That is why I created the Literacy Garden. My hope is this will be a place for inspiration, mentoring, and connecting.

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  • marcyhowe January 14, 2018 at 10:11 AM

    Thanks, Allison. I love mentor sentences, and each year I promise myself that I’ll use them more. I have yet to do the weekly structure, but I hope to give the whole process a try. Lucky 3rd grade teachers to have you creating mentor sentence work for the text!!

  • triedandtrueteachingtools January 10, 2018 at 12:12 AM

    Thanks for all the great tips, Alison! I love using mentor texts also; they are such wonderful models for our students.

  • Michelle January 8, 2018 at 8:10 PM

    I really like your idea of focusing on a mentor sentence within your mentor text. The students will get a lot more out of focusing on that mentor sentence.

  • […] Mentor Sentences – Teach It So They Remember It By Alison Monk of the Literacy Garden […]

  • socrateslantern January 8, 2018 at 4:07 PM

    I so agree with what you’ve written here. Speaking from a middle school point of view, some kids come into my room with poor writing skills, like they’ve forgotten everything that they’ve learned. With your tips, they will surely remember what they were taught about sentence structure and writing. Thanks for sharing.

  • Tracy January 7, 2018 at 9:21 PM

    Allison! I’ve been around the block a couple hundred times, and I’ve never used mentor sentences. I’m excited about your post ahd how you told “the story” of a way you’ve used them. You’ve inspired me, and I can’t to give them a try. My fifth graders need a grammar and punctuation intervention…STAT!

    • Alison January 8, 2018 at 6:34 PM

      Thanks Tracy! I’ve started using mentor sentences with my 2nd graders this year and I can already see an improvement in their writing. Also, they enjoy doing the activities. They feel like word detectives!

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    My name is Alison. I'm a veteran teacher with a passion for supporting teachers like you with practical effective tips and engaging resources. I love children's literature, Golden Retrievers, and gardening. Read More

    About the Literacy Garden

    When I started teaching, I quickly realized that student teaching didn't prepare me for the real challenges of being alone in a classroom full of young children. The learning curve was steep and time was limited. That is why I created the Literacy Garden. My hope is this will be a place for inspiration, mentoring, and connecting.

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