Last week I blogged about using mentor texts, and now I’d like to share a mentor sentences routine with you. I often blog about ways to simplify writing instruction , and I have to be honest with you. Using mentor sentences as an integral part of your writing routine is one of the best ways to simplify teaching writing.
First, Where Do You Find Mentor Sentence Examples?
I’m so glad you asked! 🙂 Any texts that are well written, in any genre can have excellent choices to use as mentor sentences. My friend April at Teach, Travel, Read, quotes an article from the National Writing Project that indicates mentor sentences can be found in poetry, music lyrics, newspaper articles, essays, and even comic strips! (I’m thinking Calvin and Hobbes, here. How about you?)
I’m discovering new sources all the time. I recently discovered JourneyNorth.org which is a site that tracks migrating animals and insects. While I was working on a post about the Migration of Monarch Butterflies, I discovered their newsletter, Journey North News. It’s perfect to use as a mentor text. Plus, it will help you teach literacy across the curriculum.
Second, How Do You Teach With Mentor Sentences?
That’s the perfect follow-up question! You’ll want to integrate them into your daily activities, as April over at Teach, Travel, Read does. She mentions that she began small with daily read alouds, then using the mentor sentence to teach grammar. Later, she advanced into teaching writing strategies, social/emotional concepts, and more.
I read a book aloud for fun with the students, and at the end, ask the students if they noticed any descriptive passages that they especially like. Then we go back and reread that passage and notice what the author did to create a certain feeling or sensation. I try not to stop in the middle of a book because I don’t want to interrupt the flow of the story.
Third, How Do You Create A Routine Around Mentor Sentences?
I love these questions! There are as many ways to create a mentor sentence routine as there are teaching styles. But the key here is to:
Work With a Mentor Sentence Every Day
I have a free set of templates you can use to set up a routine you can use with your class every day. I wrote about the importance of having a daily writing routine in your class, and this can be part of that activity.
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Parts of a Basic Mentor Sentence Routine
- Day 1 Read and Notice (We talked about this in the section above.)
- Day 2 Analyze
- Depending on the grade level, students may notice grammar structure, or figurative language, or other specifics about the sentence. You can do the analysis however you prefer; in groups, in pairs, or together in the beginning to establish the routine.)
- Day 3 Revise and Imitate
- In this step, students will take the sentence and change the wording WITHOUT CHANGING THE MEANING OR INTENTION. In other words, they might change some of the adjectives, adverbs, expressions, or other stylistic parts. They’ll learn how to put together a sentence for the best effect.
- Day 4 Create and Emulate
- This is where students get to create another sentence using the same text structure as the mentor sentence, but they make a brand new sentence. It’s where they choose to use the word tools they’ve been working on during the week.
- Day 5 Review and/or assess
- You can make this a quick, informal assessment or you can make it formative or even summative.
It’s best to make your students accountable for discussing and analyzing mentor sentences in a meaningful way. You can do this by teaching group discussion norms. They can present their findings to a group, to the class, or on a video platform.
How Do You Choose a Mentor Sentence?
This is another great question! April at Teach, Travel, Read talked about how she chooses mentor texts. I’ll recap those here and give some examples of what I’ve used in my classes.
First, she writes, “Choose a book based on a skill you want to teach.”
I LOVE this. I taught inference in third grade with the book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg. It’s a story about a magician who turns a boy’s dog Fritz into a duck. Or does he? Students have to use expert word detective skills to infer whether or not it really happened in the story, or if it was just an illusion. I love using this book to teach inferences because it leads to such rich discussions. It was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1980.
Here’s a mentor sentence from that book:
Fritz barked with laughter as he galloped out of sight.
There’s so much you can do with this sentence beyond grammar.
Do dogs bark and laugh?
Do dogs gallop?
Why did the author choose these words?
Get ready for some deep discussions as students grapple with those questions.
Next, April writes, “Multicultural literature is a must.”
Absolutely! There are so many books that I love to use, but for an example I’ll choose one of my favorites, Martina the Beautiful Cockroach : A Cuban Folktale by Carmen Agra Deedy. This playful story of a young cockroach whose abuela gives her advice about a “coffee test” to help her find the best husband will have your students laughing and delighting in the language.
It’s appropriate for upper grade students as well, as it’s full of allusions, alliterations, and animations of the characters. You’ll find a plethora of mentor sentences to choose from this book while the students learn a little bit about Cuban culture and the Spanish language.
The Teach, Travel, Read blog post ends with, “Mentor texts can be almost anything.”
Yes again! Wherever you find exemplary writing, you can find a mentor sentence to use.
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Do you want to learn how to set up a mentor text routine in your classroom? You can take a mini-course today and be ready to start tomorrow!
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