Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mentor Sentences

     For as long as I have taught (nearly), I have used "daily oral language".  I would put the incorrect sentence on the board or a ditto and ask students to copy it correcting the errors.  We would most often check our work as a class.  I believed in this.  I purchased copy books dedicated to this strategy.  One year, I was so creative as to take incorrect sentences from each person's writing to make an individualized daily oral language.  That was a lot of work, but it made sense to me. 
    About three weeks ago I discovered "mentor sentences".  Being an internet junkie, I read all I could find about them.  They made sense.  Perfect sense.  The reasoning is simple.  Instead of taking an incorrect sentence for them to look at and ponder over, give them a good, well written example from a piece of literature.  When I read that, it was like "duh!" - where has this idea been my whole career?
    I love trying new things.  When I do, I often drive those around me crazy talking about them.  But this was one idea I could not pass by.  It simply made too much sense.  So I set about to give it a try.  First came the hard part.  Finding a sentence.  That remains to be be hard part.  I think of a grammar skill or two (or three) I want to focus on for the week.  Then I go searching through all my children's books at school  looking for a good sentence.  It is sort of like searching for the needle in the haystack, and if it wasn't so great an idea, I probably would give up.  I can forsee a summer project of looking for sentences in my future.  Once you have the sentence though, the rest is a breeze. 
    My procedures may be a bit different from other sources you may find on line, but here is what we do.  On day one, after I read the book the sentence comes from, I project the sentence on the smartboard, (or write it on chart paper).  Students take a copy of the sentence and glue it into their journals.  Then we "notice" the sentence.  We take about 10 - 15 minutes talking about things we notice about this sentence - parts of speech, interesting words, grammar, capitalization, punctuation - anything they see as important.  We list what we find underneath the sentence.
     The next day, we copy the sentence in our best writing and label the parts of speech.  All of this is done in their journals so they can refer back if they need to.
      I was a bit worried about day three.  I saw it in my mind as being a flop.  I almost didn't try it.  It would've been a huge mistake.  We pull out our journals again and focus on "improving" what he author wrote.  Pronouns become nouns.  Verbs get traded for better, more exciting ones.  We add adjectives where they would work.  It gets a total make-over.  The first day we did this, I could not believe the great ideas they came up with.  My group?  It was not only valuable, it was fun!  I was so proud of what the ideas they had.
     On day four, we use that sentence as guide and write one of our own.  The idea is to model that sentence using our own topic.  For example if the mentor sentence is a compound sentence, we try to copy with a compound sentence.  If it has things in a series, we do that.  I tell them what element I am looking for.  Their sentences were wonderful.  Did we all write that one perfect sentence?  Sorry, I teach in the real world with very real third graders.  But some of us did.  And those who didn't were coming very close.  And their teacher was doing a happy dance for anyone who listen!
     Mentor sentences - I love them.  I am thrilled by what I see as a reasonable way to talk about sentence structure.  I still wish I could find sentences to use easier, but that will work itself out. I am hoping to see transfer to their other writing.  I think it has more transfer possibilities than looking at incorrect sentences does, but time will tell.   There are lots of sites with better instruction than what I have provided.  Investigate and then give it a try.  It really is amazing!

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