My Experience with Mentor Sentences

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This is a year of adjustments.  There is new leadership in our school – our principal is the same, but one of our assistant principals is new.  Plus, I’ve decided to make some changes in my classes as well.  With all of that, I’ve had a slow time getting into the groove this year.  (Hence the lack of a blog post in August!)

I read a couple of books over the summer.  Most specifically, Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, and Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson.  These books inspired me to try new tactics this year.  The first (inspired by the Gallagher and Miller books) is to foster a culture of reading in my classroom.  I’ll tell you about that in a future post.

The second change I wanted to make (prompted by the Anderson book) was to incorporate mentor sentences as a part of grammar instruction.  I made this plan to have a theme for every day:  Mentor Sentence Monday, Tinker Tuesday, Word Day Wednesday, Three-Things Thursday, and Frivolous Friday.

Frivolous Friday just means that I can choose whatever I want to do that day – whatever my kids and I need at the end of the week.  Grammar review, free reading time, writing instruction, or just a continuation of what we’ve been doing the rest of the week.

On Three-Things Thursday, students have a three-question assignment.  Usually it’s a review of things we’ve covered up to that point in the week, but sometimes I’ll ask about the kids’ free-read books, or I’ll ask a question that prepares them to think about something we’re about to cover in class.

Word Day Wednesday is a continuation of what I’ve been doing for a number of years.  My honors classes have always had vocabulary lessons on Wednesdays – one of them actually named it Word Day Wednesday – and I started structured vocabulary with my regular 7th and 8th grade classes last year.  I don’t love the way I do it, but I was changing too many other things to change that this year.

Mentor Sentence Monday is where I would present students with a well-written sentence that exemplified the grammatical concept I wanted to teach that week.  The idea is that instead of a poorly-written sentence that kids had to correct, the Mentor Sentence is a good example to imitate.  I’d look through the books or stories we’re reading in each class to find the sentences, so that the sentences were authentic for kids.  I had students write the Mentor Sentence in their notebooks, and then we’d break it down with the grammar I wanted to teach – subject verb agreement with compound subjects or inverted sentences, for example.  Then on Tinker Tuesday, we’d tinker with the sentences – change them in some way to make them more personal to the students, or just make an improvement, but keep the same basic sentence structure.

But here’s the thing.  I’m hating Mentor Sentence Monday and Tinker Tuesday.  I’m taking way too much time to look through the students’ reading to find an appropriate Mentor Sentence.  And then, I don’t feel like I’m teaching the grammar as well or as efficiently as I did before I used Mentor Sentences.  I’m spending more time but doing a worse job!  Not okay.  I gave it a good month, but now I’m getting rid of it.  At least with this grade level at this time of year, I think I need to be more didactic in my approach.  After we get through all the grammar standards for the year (which usually happens by March), then maybe we’ll try mentor sentences again to make their writing stronger.

If you’ve used Mentor Sentences for grammar instruction, I’d love to hear about it.  Maybe you’ve got some tricks I haven’t thought of that would make it work better for me.


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