One thing that I’m actually doing this year is teaching writing! Obviously I have always incorporated writing into my instruction, but I was never responsible for teaching standards for grammar and writing. That changed this year with my transition to fourth grade and to the Common Core State Standards.
While I’m obviously still working out the kinks in our schedule, one thing that I piloted last week was a mentor sentence routine. I saw the fourth grade writing teachers at my previous do this, and while I never had the time to fit it in when I taught fifth grade reading, I knew that I wanted to try it out in fourth. And y’all, I am OBSESSED! I love that this routine is going to spiral in skills in a really authentic way, and I have a feeling it will really broaden my students’ writing horizons!
I have set up my mentor sentence routine to be as simple as possible, with each day focusing on a different task. I pull the sentences from a text we have read aloud together. In the beginning, I am specifically selecting sentences that have something obvious I want the students to notice, whether it be repeating a letter to add emphasis (“A baaaaaaaaaaaad seed.”) or onomatopoeia.
The Weekly Routine
Monday: Noticings. On Mondays, I introduce the new sentence and we remember together what book it was from. Students glue their sentence organizer into their notebooks, which they will use all week. I give my kids four minutes to look at the sentence and jot down two things: what they notice, and why they think the author did that. I make sure to have sentence stems up on the board to help my students who are learning English and who receive special education services. They’re also a great reminder for all of my kids to write in complete sentences!
Next, I have the kids share with a partner what they noticed. I call on a few kids to share out and I jot down their answers on my organizer, which I project on the screen. I also model for them thinking about what I noticed, and thinking about why the author wrote this way. For example, I might write, “I think the author did this to emphasize that the seed was really bad.”
Tuesday: Parts of Speech On Tuesdays, we talk about the grammar and nitty gritty of the sentence. This will change based on what the sentence includes. Last week, we reviewed what a noun is and what an adjective is. Then, we labeled the nouns and adjectives in the sentence. This week, I will make sure to explicitly point out and label the onomatopoeia used in the sentence.
Wednesday: Revise On Wednesdays, we make the sentence better but keep the meaning the same. When we were working with the sentence “I’m a bad seed. A baaaaaad seed,” we started by brainstorming synonyms for the word bad. Then, we chose a synonym and rewrote the sentence, keeping the format the same but changing the adjective to a stronger choice. This gives them a quick practice in revising and also prepares kids for writing a sentence of their own on Thursday and Friday.
Thursday: Imitate On Thursdays, our routine takes a little longer because the kids are writing their own sentence. I’m hoping that they get faster at this as the year goes on and we settle into this weekly routine. I model doing a quick brainstorm, selecting a topic, and writing my own sentence using the same format as the mentor sentence. Then, I send them off on their own to do the same thing. As they’re writing, I am circulating the room and providing feedback and corrections. I try to check in with each kid during this time–because they’re only writing a sentence, it doesn’t take me long to look at their work and give them a comment.
Friday: Publish! On Fridays, we continue the work that we started the day before. Once I’ve checked a student’s sentence, they get a sentence strip and publish their final draft. I still have to circulate and check for spelling and capitalization–many kids corrected it in their notebook but then make the same mistake on the sentence strip. I also use this time to check back in with kids who are taking longer to finish their sentence. Once the students are done, I post their sentence on our bulletin board!
And that’s it! So far, it’s proven to be a simple yet effective tool in spiraling in writing and revising skills, and I’m excited to see the impact that it has on my students’ writing throughout the year. If you have any questions or comments on how you use mentor sentences, let me know!