Saturday, February 7, 2015

writing with the big kids- using mentor sentences

    As my students strive to become better writers in 3rd grade, I've been using mentor sentences with them to model excellent sentences and allow for practice in better writing.  I've read about using mentor sentences in article online and started experimenting with them at the end of  last year.  I've adapted the methods I read about to something that is really working with my class.  I see results in their writing and it's only fueling them to dig deeper and produce even better pieces.  

Here it is in a nutshell: 

day 1-  introduce sentence and find it 
    I pre-select a sentence from something we will read that day.  It might be a sentence from our reading story for the week, a novel we are reading, or a select text that I will be reading aloud.  I make sure it's in context of a larger text, not just from a paragraph on a worksheet or a excerpt from a book.  It's important to be able to study the sentence as part of a bigger picture.  
     I like to write the sentence on a chart paper.  We read the sentence in several different people voices to see how it sounds with different coming from different people.  Some use more expression, others less.  I usually have a few stronger readers go first, then I read it with the appropriate expression and then I have some more reluctant readers go.  They've already heard it several times and won't be stumped by any harder words and can focus on fluency and expression.
    As we read the text, they find the mentor sentence.  They are always excited to find it. We might discuss it briefly, but save more discussion for another day. 

day 2- grammar 
     Sometimes I combine this with the first day if needed.  We look at the sentence for the grammatical make up.  Sometimes I choose a sentence based on a grammar skill we've been covering or a type of sentence I'd like to see them start writing.  
    Our third graders have English journals which are just a comp notebook we use for taking notes and gluing in samples of work.  We work through it together and I don't grade this piece.  You could grade it or take a completion grade, but all of mine do the work so I don't have to threaten them with that. 

day 3-  comprehension

   Next, we spend some time talking about how the sentence fits in with the story.  Is there a word we don't understand? Why does the author chose the word and the detail included? What's going on in the story?  What's the big picture?  
    This half sheet is used as a guide for the discussion and don't grade it either. It gets glued in their journal.  

day 4-  inspiration sentence day  (my favorite day!)
     I give them the sentence and explain why I liked it, why I chose it, and what we can gain as writers from it.   This gets glued in their journal.

I give them several quiet minutes to think and write.  At first, they wanted to rush through it and then share right away, but now they seem to enjoy the uninterrupted time to think and write one or more examples.   Then we share aloud.  They all want to share.  I don't have to grade this step either.  You could.  

I  chose this mentor sentence because it showed cause and effect. 
This little gem came from a student who is an otherwise reluctant writer. 

I challenged them to think of a way our mentor sentence could go into one of their current or recent writing pieces.  

The next two go with the mentor sentence, "The sun rose like a pearl in the rosy mist."

 Day 5- edit and rewrite
     I take the typed sentence from the days before a make a few changes.  They make their editing marks and then rewrite correctly.  I do grade this before they glue it in their journals.  

next step- application

This friend used a sentence like the our mentor sentence for the week on the weekly language test.  Application!  YES!

    This student is not a strong write in particular, but you wouldn't know that based on the sentences here.  This was in a writing response the next week.  The last bit says, "The sled was like a flying angel.  The snow was like confetti for people cheering me on.  The was like cheering people."  
      This writing strategy has had a tremendous influence on my little writers. It does not take a lot of extra time, does not involve extra grading for me, and works into what we are already doing in class.  How could you use mentor sentences with your students?