Saturday, January 19, 2013

Grammar Linky- Mentor Sentences

I came across a Linky that I wanted to share with you- it's all about teaching grammar!!  Click the link and head over to Teaching with Love and Laughter for more ideas! (after you read our post, of course)  ;O)

I'm not sure what the word grammar does to you, but it used to make me shudder.  I'm still not a huge fan of grammar, but having to teach it has better helped me to understand it.  When I used to think of grammar, I'd flashback to high school and a wretched class where I had to diagram sentences.  Now I know that SOME people (STACIA!!!!) love grammar and love diagramming sentences, but not this girl.  Apparently, grammar didn't stick with me when I was in elementary school so by the time I got to high school and had to diagram sentences, I had no clue what I was doing.  And, of course, that teacher would make us come up and diagram the sentences in front of the class (Oh horrors!! How embarrassing!  I had no idea what I was doing so I was mortified.  The effect- I hated grammar.)

So, that background given, flash forward.  I've had 13 years of teaching grammar, and I'm much more comfortable with it (although a time or two I have to double check with Stacia to make sure I am right about something, but she's very patient with me!)  :O)

For years, we were asked to incorporate grammar into writing.  This was sometimes difficult because we needed to teach grammar explicitly (because, let's face it, even though they've learned about nouns since kindergarten, the skills get harder as they get older, and you always have a few, like the kid that I was, who it just takes longer for it to stick.)  So, I would always start each year with great intentions of teaching grammar through writing workshop, but then I'd find that they needed more specific skill teaching in grammar and I'd go back to teaching grammar in isolation, but still do grammar within writing.  But, it always seemed a little random within writing workshop.  Vivid verbs here, amazing adjectives every year I knew I needed to make a change, I just couldn't put my finger on it.

Lightbulb!!  A few years ago I went to some staff development lead by my district.  One of the speakers was Jeff Anderson (here's his website).  He wrote these books:

He developed a specific structure for teaching grammar in writing.  The more I learned about this, the more I knew I HAD to try it.  I was super excited!!  This was going to be my bridge between grammar and writing.

It's called using mentor sentences.  I imagine that this is not a new idea, it was just new to me at the time.  I had done daily oral language and our school had just bought DGP.  In both of those, the sentences are written incorrectly and students are supposed to correct them.  Mentor sentences is the opposite of that.  It's a GREAT sentence that students explore throughout the week, from a grammatical perspective and a writing perspective.  Research says that students need to see correct sentences rather than incorrect sentences so that it's ingrained in their brains correctly, rather than incorrectly.  So, basically, if students work with a sentence that has mistakes all week, then those mistakes will be ingrained, not the corrections that are made later.  Make sense?  (I'm not sure if I'm explaining it clearly, sorry!)

So, I still teach grammar explicitly and we still work with grammar in writing, but I have added this piece, too.  (I know, I know, as if we can add ANOTHER thing to our plates, but I promise, it's worth it!).  Ten minutes a day, that's all we do, no matter what!  It's what I call my "bridge" between the two!

So, here's how I incorporate mentor sentences:

I choose a sentence from a book that we have all read together.  This way, when they read it, they recognize immediately where it came from (it's part of the fun of getting a new sentence each week- guessing the book it came from).  I pick based on the skills that we are covering for the week or something I may want to preview.

Last week we read The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Allsburg.  We are working on poetry and had been discussing metaphors (the entire story is a metaphor- it really gets them thinking).  This week, my mentor sentence came from that book.  The sentence was:
I type the sentence and then copy and paste it.  Then I make enough copies for the class and cut it into strips.  They paste the strip at the top of a new page in their grammar journals.  I do this because I want them to have the sentence correctly written in front of them and I can't guarantee that they will copy it correctly from the board.

I chose this sentence for three specific reasons:  It has pronouns, which is what we've been working on, commas in a series, and the simile (since we have been working on figurative language).  I would not choose a sentence like this for just starting out with mentor sentences.  We've been doing these since the second week of school, so I knew they were up for it.

I pace the mentor sentence for a 5 day week. I did not make up the names for the days, I think Jeff Anderson did.  I tell them I am "inviting" them to work with the sentence and each of these days, we do something different with it.

Day 1 (Monday)- Invitation to Notice - They tell you anything they notice about the sentence: what they like, don't like, parts of speech, figurative language- anything.  I do not guide them.  I write what they tell me (unless it's wrong and then we'll talk about it).

Day 2 (Tuesday)- more noticing.  In the beginning of the year, this is the day I guide them to what I want them to see if they didn't notice it on Day 1.  By this point in the year, they usually have gotten what I wanted them to notice because they are pros.  But, this week, they didn't notice that the commas were there BECAUSE it was a series, they just saw the commas.  So, I guided them towards that and we talked about it.  If they had already noticed everything on Monday, we just read over the sentence again and that's all.  It can be a free day so if you have a 4 day week, like next week, you don't have to double up, which is nice.

Day 3 (Wednesday)- Invitation to Revise-  This is huge for us.  Kids often see revise and they think it means edit.  They rarely revise in their own writing because they think they've already written a perfect piece.  So, we talk about how we can take a great sentence and still make it better.  We list all of our ideas on the white board.  Then, I let THEM choose how they want to revise the sentence.  We don't change the entire sentence because it's already a great sentence.  We try to add to it.  Like, change a pronoun to a noun so we know who or what the sentence is about, or add an adjective or adverb.  Or, if it's a compound sentence we make it two sentences, and stuff like that.  Then they write their revised version on their paper.  My hope is this helps them learn to revise their own writing!

Day 4 (Thursday)- Invitation to Imitate- They write a sentence like this one.  We talk about what makes it a good sentence and how we can use other authors as mentors for our own writing.  Again, we list criteria for writing the sentence.  This week, I told them they had to have a pronoun, commas in a series, and a simile in their sentence.  Then, they make up their own sentence, about anything, using that criteria.  I always write the sentence I think up first and then let them come up with a sentence.

Day 5 (Friday)- Invitation to edit- This is where I get a grade from all of this hard work and it's our standardized test prep practice.  I type the sentence incorrectly (the only time they see it incorrect- but I think it's ok because they've had all week to see it written correctly).  They edit it by making corrections and then I have other sentences similar to it on the sheet with multiple choice answers (like the state test) and other questions based on the skill for this week (for us, it was pronouns).  Here is an example of the invitation to edit from this week:
(You can click on any of the pictures to download them and see them!)

Here is a picture of the anchor chart I made this week:

I write everything on the anchor chart and they write it in their notebooks.  The charts stay up all week so they can constantly see the sentence.  If you look closely, you can see how I revised and imitated the sentence.

Here is a picture of one of my student's notebooks:

After they do their revision and imitation sentence, they bring it to me and I put a smiley face next to it once I've read it.  This is also a time where I can see if they get it or how I need to help them.  Then, they LOVE to share what they wrote.  Taking that extra time to let them share has really helped them stay engaged and to do their best on their sentences.

Since it's grammar, I'm always surprised at how much they like mentor sentences.  Every Monday they ask, "Are we getting a new sentence?", knowing that we are.  I think they enjoy the structure of it- they always know what to expect every week.  It doesn't sound so fun, but apparently they think it is, which is all that matters!


If you would like to try mentor sentences in your classroom, our starter pack we created has everything you need. It is 10 complete weeks of lessons with assessments included. Click here to go to our TPT store.

Mentor Sentences Starter Pack {10 Lesson Plans, Assessment

Our school is now doing mentor sentences starting in kindergarten and all the way up to 5th grade.  It looks different at every grade level and we just continue to build upon it from one year to the next.  For younger grades, they still notice about the sentence, but instead of revision, they may make the sentence.  (The teacher types the sentence out of order and they have to cut the pieces out and paste it to make the sentence.)  Some of the teachers relate it to the word family they are studying that week or even the letter they are studying. They basically just do what they can with the sentence at the level they are teaching.  I am always amazed at what our kindergarten teachers are able to accomplish with those little kinders!!

Now, like I said, this is just one piece of what we do in grammar.  The front of their grammar notebook is full of the skills we are working on (parts of speech, run-ons, commas, etc.) and notes we take about them.  We play games and read books about grammar (some of those books you can find on Teaching with Love and Laughter since Lori blogged about them.)

The last thing I want to share is the scavenger hunts that we do.  I like mentor sentences because it ties back to what we've been reading.  The scavenger hunts do, too.  We give them a graphic organizer and during their reading time, they search for different aspects of grammar in their independent reading book.  Then, they write them in the correct column.  It's just another way for them to see grammar as part of writing, not an isolated "subject."  We change the organizers up depending on the skills we are working on.  Here is an example that you are free to use with any of your students' independent reading books (just click the picture):

A big thank you to Krista Wallden for her free graphics and borders!  They are so cute!  You can find them by clicking on her button below!

We also have several grammar units in our TpT store if you want to check them out (common and proper nouns, fragments & run-ons, subjects and predicates, types of sentences, and a grammar review pack).  You can click the link here or up at the top of our blog.

Well, we hope you found this helpful.  I know it was a long blog post, but if you read it through, I hope it made sense.  If you still have questions, feel free to leave a comment or email us if you would like some clarification. :O)  We are glad to help!  :O)

Link up with Lori about your grammar teaching strategies!  I'd love to read about what YOU do!  Or, comment here and tell us how you teach grammar!!  And, tell us what you think about mentor sentences!!  :O)



  1. Wow! What a super post. I read it from top to bottom and devoured every word. I was thrilled when I got to the part of how you do this in kindergarten, since I'm a primary teacher. I'll check out the resource books and see if I can incorporate this procedure in my room. I'll pin the post so others can benefit from it, as well. Thanks for linking up!
    Ѽ Lori
    Teaching With Love and Laughter

    1. Thank you so much! I'm not sure if his books will help with lower grades. I will get some more info for you from our lower grades teachers. Thanks for the wonderful feedback!!


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  2. WOW! I LOVE THIS! I have to go back and reread to make sure I get it all! I struggle with grammar too. I've always taught in context but this is fabulous! THANKS for sharing!
    Beach Sand and Lesson Plans

    1. You are so welcome and thank you for the feedback! Let us know if we can help in anyway!!

  3. I love this idea - I like how it is spread out over the week. I love reading picture books to my class and this is a great way to use them. Thanks for the great idea and visuals.

    Looking From Third to Fourth

    1. You are welcome! Let us know if you have any questions!!

  4. Hi Ladies!! What a great idea! I've always taught grammar within my writing and in isolation. I also taught it through daily oral language way back when. I love this method and I love that it includes the stories that you read in class. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas and charts! =)
    Sister Teachers

  5. I HAVE to try this - we have a fabulous class reader right now and I'm sure I can find sentences that will work. What a great idea - thanks for sharing it!!

    1. You are so welcome! Let us know how it goes once you've tried it!! :O)

  6. You know I love me some mentor sentences!!! All of my team does them now, too!!

  7. I absolutely LOVE the idea of mentor sentences. Thank you so much for sharing! Have you noticed an improvement of it transferring to THEIR writing?
    The Techie Teacher

  8. Absolutely spectacular post ladies. I too devoured every single word. Am going to start doing this with my homeschooler and Francesca Simon's "Horrid Henry" series. There are some truly memorable mentor sentences in those books. And thank you for all the effort and time it would have taken to complete this post. Much appreciated.

  9. Grammar is an area of weakness for me. It scares me and I find it overwhelming to teach because there are so many rules to teach. Thanks for sharing this linky party and lesson!

    *Thanks for the comment! I am still working on getting fit but well on my way!

  10. Love all of this! Thanks for sharing....

  11. I like this idea and would like to try it. I am going to share this with our 3/4 grade teacher. Thanks

  12. Love this post! I have such a hard time teaching grammar as it was never my favorite thing in school! I know there has been a huge push to not use DOL and I understand that but I didn't know what to do instead. The idea of mentor sentences makes perfect sense! Thanks for the wonderfully detailed post, I can't wait to share it with my team. I am your newest follower,
    Kickin' It With Class

  13. Thank you so much for all this Wonderful information. I struggle with my second grade writers. I have broken down the writing process into smaller blocks, but your information does it better. I will try this during this week and let you know how it goes. I appreciate you doing the research for us all!!

  14. O.M.G. -which is NOT a good mentor sentence. :)

    I love the idea of using a mentor sentence for the entire week because of the structure of it, the things you do with it, and the fact that it comes from their real reading!!

    I am definitely going to use this idea-along with buying Jeff's books.



  15. I absolutely love this idea. Why don't you put together 40 mentor sentences with the quizzes and even weekly pictures of your student's notebooks. I'd definitely buy it from your TPT store! (PRETTY PLEASE!) :) :)

    Pinkadots Elementary

  16. I'm sorry my post messed with your mind so early! :) This post was AWESOME!! So detailed and made me want to read more. AND made me want to do this in my class NOW! Love the mentor sentence strategies. Also, I agree with Theresa-We will buy your stuff if you'll do the work!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  17. Sweet! Now, I know how I am going to tweak my mentor sentences. It makes a lot more sense. I think I may need to go back and reread Jeff Andersen's book.

    Thank you for sharing your resources and ideas!

  18. Wow. This post is's got me thinking of some new things I can do with my kids.
    This is really great and informative (for me and students).

    Digital: Divide & Conquer

  19. How long do you spend on this each day?

    1. No more than 10 minutes! It's very quick, especially when they get in the routine! :O)

  20. Loved this!!! I am so excited to implement this in my classroom! You showed 3 Jeff Anderson books - which one discusses this specific strategy and structure? Thanks for this post!

  21. I just stumbled upon your blog after visiting Jivey's blog and LOVE this idea of mentor sentences. My team and I were just thinking about how to incorporate grammar in a meaningful and engaging way and I think this is it!

    Kate :)
    McDee's Busy Bees

  22. I currently use an old-fashioned daily sentence (the kind WITH the mistakes) as my springboard for grammar and parts of speech and the kids LOVE the routine and seem to be getting a lot out of it, but I am very interested in mentor sentences. Your post explains a routine that I could totally incorporate in my fifth grade classroom. For this year, I'd have to do some kind of combination because we are invested in our other routine already, but you have certainly given me something to think about for next year. Thanks for sharing,

  23. As I sit by the pool on my last official day before the kids come back, I am refreshed and excited about using mentor sentences and applying Jeff Anderson's ideas in my own classroom after 20 years in the profession!! Hey! How about that for a mentor sentence!! 😉 Will definitely be purchasing your starter pack tomorrow!! Thanks!!!

  24. Hi! I am wanting to start mentor sentences with my kindergarteners this year. You mentioned that your kindergarten teachers use them…any examples of what they do with them?

  25. Super. I had already decided to use mentor sentences but this really helped me clarify the process. Very grateful and just wishing you produced materials aligned for 6th grade too :)

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