One of the most effective ways to teach grammar and writing is by using mentor sentences and mentor texts. By observing what other great writers do, your students can start to pick up on techniques and use these techniques to craft their own writing. I give a lot more explanation about how to do that in this blog post: "What Is A Mentor Sentence and How To Use It In Grammar Instruction."
One of the difficulties in teaching with mentor sentences is actually finding well-crafted sentences to present to your students for discussion and imitation. The fact is, it takes time to find these sentences. Finding great sentences from people of color can be an added obstacle, because, as you probably know, the literary canon is pretty white.
So, I’ve taken the time to compile some beautiful and powerful sentences from Black authors that you can use when you teach grammar and writing. I’m listing them here, and I plan on adding to this list over time. If you have a great sentence that you’d like me to add, please leave it in the comments or email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll also be creating more lists like this that are specific to Latinx writers, Asian writers, and more.
Mentor Sentences From Black Writers You Can Use To Teach Imagery
“The sun was setting, and the sea and sky were all stained with blood.”
Langston Hughes, “Bodies In The Moonlight”
“I could smell the sizzling garlic and onions from the street. I didn’t remember the last time Ma had cooked for us.”
Jason Reynolds, All American Boys
“Dusk crept in from the woods.”
Zora Neale Hurston, “Spunk”
“Gaunt, hollow stalks. Huge shadows falling. Dredges in the golden mist; dredges on the lagoon.”
Eric Walrond, “The Palm Porch”
“Earth stones, up from the bowels of the sea, rattled against the ribs of scaly pipes like popping corn.”
Eric Walrond, "The Palm Porch”
Mentor Sentences For Teaching Well-Placed Adjectives
“Off on the edge of the water, the moon rose round, golden, and lazy.”
Langston Hughes, "Bodies In The Moonlight"
“It came again, loud, quick, angry.”
Rudolph Fisher, “The City of Refuge,” in The New Negro
“His trousers were big and baggy and limp, yet not enough to to hide the dejected bend of his knees.”
Rudolph Fisher, “Vestiges” in The New Negro
“Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams, and misunderstanding more thrilling than understanding could ever be.”
Toni Morrison, Beloved
Mentor Sentences You Can Use For Parallel Structure
“Then she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirtfront, and shook him until his teeth rattled.”
Langston Hughes “Thank You, Ma’am”
“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”
Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
“The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
“It cut, dazed, and dazzled you.”
Eric Walrond, “The Palm Porch”
Powerful Sentences To Teach Any Number of Things
“One could actually see the pain he was suffering, his eyes, his face, his hands and even the dejected slump of his shoulders.”
Zora Neale Hurston, “Spunk” in The New Negro
"We courted death in order to call ourselves brave and hid like thieves from life."
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
How To Use Mentor Sentences For Grammar and Writing Instruction
You can use mentor sentences to directly teach grammar and writing concepts, by allowing students to observe and imitate these sentences. For this type of lesson, it’s best to focus on a specific skill or concept like well-placed adjectives, parallel structure, vivid verbs, or any other grammar concept you’d like to focus on. For a sample lesson that walks you through how to do this, check out my vivid verbs lesson for free here.
Another way to work mentor sentences into your regular classroom routine is through using them as bell ringers. You can showcase a different mentor sentence each day, or you can stay on the same mentor sentence for a few days in a row and allow students to practice imitating different parts of the sentence. Here’s an example of how that can look in your classroom:
If you’d like to try using mentor sentences as bell ringers, I’ve created 50 different bell ringers you can use in your classroom, which you can grab HERE.
Allow Students To Find Their Own Mentor Sentences
A powerful exercise is to allow students to find sentences that stand out to them, and imitate those sentences. You can do this when you read any text at all, provided it’s written well. Consider stopping periodically when reading an article or a novel, and allow students to highlight sentences that stand out to them for any reason. Allow them to focus on content or craft, meaning the sentence might stand out to them because of what it’s saying or the way it is saying it.
Then, spend some time going around the classroom just reading these powerful sentences. You can make a class list of some of the sentences that are particularly well-crafted, and allow students to imitate these sentences.
If there’s a sentence that is inspirational or addresses a class theme, consider hanging that in your room permanently, or making a section of your bulletin board devoted to mentor sentences your students have found themselves.
Power In Imitation
Whether you use mentor sentences every day or only once in a while, know that it is time well spent. There is so much power in imitating what seasoned writers do, and it doesn't take away from your students' own voices. It gives them more tools they can implement in their writing.
By using Black authors and other great writings from people of color, you can make your classroom a place where all voices are considered, respected, and celebrated.
Related Links For Resources Mentioned In This Post:
For More Reading On Mentor Sentences:
Related Links For Bringing More Diverse Authors Into Your Classroom: