Mentor Sentences: A Better Way to Teach Writing Skills

October 30, 2020 No Comments
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What do you think of when you hear the word ‘mentor’? Do you think of a person who helps a child become more than expected? After all, people mentor people, right? Let’s rethink that.

Your favorite author can be your mentor, or do the ‘words’ mentor you? Take the book series, Harry Potter. As famous as it is, the content is what draws you into the story. JK Rowling just has a great imagination and a wonderful editor. Using a mentor sentence for writing is like being a famous writer. A mentor sentence creates a learning pathway from reading to writing…a great imagination (story) to a wonderful editor (writing).

When you are a teacher, teaching skills in writing can be subjective. Look at teaching through the lens of mentorship. Take a high-interest book and find a sentence that matches the skill, e.g. simple sentence, parts of speech, etc. This is what I did when I was constantly bugged by the state department of education when they were at school assessing our ELA/Reading program.

Day 1: INVITATION TO NOTICE: The mentor sentence was written on a large sheet of paper and taped on the whiteboard. The students were asked about what they noticed about how the sentence was written – grammar, rules, spelling? All the ideas were written on the whiteboard. Then we would either read the book or watch a video of someone else reading it.

Day 2: LABELING THE SENTENCE: The students were asked to label the parts of speech that they knew. This could be done on paper or computer through Word or Docs. We focused on the 8 parts of speech. After they wrote what they knew, we diagramed the sentence on the board (I liked to color code for engagement). I drew arrows pointing to words that explained each other such as blue hat, or phrases like the boy ran faster, explaining the relationships.

DAY 3: REVISE: We looked for grammar rules that helped infer meaning to the sentence. This action is very scaffolded at the beginning and then gradually released as the year progresses.

DAY 4: CREATE: We revised the sentence but kept the meaning by changing a verb, noun, or phrase. This was fun for the students because they get to make the sentence better than the author.

DAY 5: Make an imitation sentence. This is where the rubber hits the road. They have to really think about the sentence and create one that matches the style and structure of the mentor sentence. Don’t forget to hang the original mentor sentence on chart paper as an anchor chart in the classroom.

Here is a link to the Scholastic Grammar Mentor-Sentences-Week-At-A-Glance activity for Mentor Sentences.

Lisa Anderson

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I'm a 20+ year veteran of teaching! My experience has led me to teach students in rural to urban schools and loved every minute! From teaching kids to teaching adults to mentoring teachers (and some administrators), it is a blessing to help move learning forward! I love my career! Read More

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