what-are-mentor-sentences

What Are Mentor Sentences and Why Are They So Important For Teaching Writing?

If you are wondering what mentor sentences are or if aren't quite sure how to get started using mentor sentences in your classroom, good news: mentor sentences are one of the most powerful tools to teach grammar and writing, and I've got all the details on how to get started with them today!

A mentor sentence is a sentence taken from a published work that you can use in your classroom to highlight the use of language.

You can use mentor sentences in a lot of different ways depending on your objectives, but typically teachers use mentor sentences in a few of the following ways: observe what's going on in the sentence, consider parts of speech and writing techniques used in the sentence, and imitate the structure of the sentence.  

When students observe and emulate great writing, it to help them think differently about their own writing; essentially it gives them a tool they can use when they write.  

Aside from an actual mentor to guide you through your teaching journey, mentor sentences may be your most helpful ally as you teach writing. 

Image of classic literature books with a banner over them that says "What are mentor sentences and why are they so important?"

My love for mentor sentences is deep. Not only did they save me from grammar lessons where I wanted to gouge my eyes out from boredom, but mentor sentences allowed me to bridge great literature with grammar and writing instruction. They showed my students HOW to write like published writers--essentially, they allowed them to interact with language more fully. 

Behold, the power of teaching grammar and writing with mentor sentences. Let's jump in. 

Here's a sentence from T.C. Boyle's book Tortilla Curtain.

This is a great mentor sentence because it uses language richly, and in a way that most high school students will notice if their attention is drawn to it. However, students likely won't write in this way on their own. 

If I were using this as a mentor sentence in my classroom, first I would ask students what they observe. What words stand out to them? Why? 

I love the opening adjectives in this sentence, but if this was one of our first times using mentor sentences, I'd see if anyone notices on the verbs and go from there. 

I mean look at all those verbs! Threw, plunged, drank, drowned! All in one sentence. 

I might push them a little more. What if different verbs were used instead? What if "put" was used instead of "plunged"? 

What I'm doing is drawing their attention to the fact that sentences are crafted. They don't generally spill out of a person perfectly. They are thoughtfully created. 

After observing the mentor sentence, you can allow students to craft a similar sentence. You can provide part of the sentence for them, requiring them to just focus on the verbs. 

Background is a blue blurb against a white backdrop. The quote inside the blurb is an imitation sentence.

If you'd like to see how I use sentence frames, check out this blog post "How To Use Sentence Frames."

Sometimes, if students need more scaffolding before I jump into having them write their own sentences, I'll have the class brainstorm a list of vivid verbs, we'll write them on the board, and they can use those if they need to.  

By doing this, students are pushed to try something new with language--using several verbs in a single sentence, as well as using vivid verbs. The structure is given for them which allows them to attempt something a bit new. 

Last, I'll give them a prompt and require them to write their own original sentence using vivid verbs. 

They don't necessarily have to write their original sentence with the same structure as the mentor sentence, but they still have the mentor sentence as a guide, if they need it. I love using picture and video prompts to engage students for this part of the lesson. If you'd like to see some of my favorite video prompts to use, check out this blog post "3 Excellent Short Films To Use In Your ELA Classroom."

Finally, we evaluate and share. 

This may seem unnecessary, but it is soooo good for them to think about their own writing, take pride in it, and share it with others. This is what can flip the switch in a student's brain from "I'm not a good writer" to "Oh, maybe I can be a good writer." And this is huge.

mentor sentence examples on a handout

Where can you find mentor sentences? 

Well, if you're an English teacher, you're already an avid reader. Make a note of any interesting sentences as you read, and before long you'll have a pretty good list compiled that you can incorporate into your lessons.  Once you start thinking in this way, they'll start popping out at you. Before I started teaching with mentor sentences, I never noticed delayed adverbs. But now I see them everywhere! 

Another idea is to put your students to work. Tell them to find 3 sentences from their independent reading book that have vivid verbs. Give them a week to find those sentences, so they're not stressed about it. 

blue background with a torn paper on top of it. The words on the paper say, "to find mentor sentences put your students to work!"

Once they turn those in, you've got dozens of sentences from the books they are enjoying, and you can use these in your future lessons. 

Lessons That Use Mentor Sentences

If you want to see how a structured lesson that uses mentor sentences works, I'd love to send you a free lesson that showcase how to use these in your classroom. It even includes editable slides so you can add your own mentor sentences as you find them. Click on the image below to grab it! 

vivid verbs lesson with mentor sentence link

An Entire Year of Mentor Sentences

Once I started using mentor sentences to teach grammar and writing concepts, I couldn't stop. This is (by far) the most effective way I have found to teach grammar. Once I realized how effective it was, I took the concept and ran with it. I made a complete curriculum based on the concept. It's an entire year of grammar including a full scope and sequence for grammar instruction. I put it together in an easy-to-use, completely customizable curriculum so that other teachers could implement it with almost zero prep. You can check it out HERE

A preview of what learning grammar with mentor sentences looks like

Now, that you're no longer wondering what a mentor sentence is, start experimenting with using mentor sentences to showcase grammar concepts and allow your students to emulate these sentences. 

Related Articles

Sentences That Matter, Mentor, and Motivate from The New York Times

How To Get Started With Mentor Sentences by Bespoke ELA

15 Mentor Sentences From Black Authors and How To Use Them To Teach Gr (abetterwaytoteach.com)


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