Why I Use Mentor Sentences to Teach Writing in my High School English Classroom

Come see why I teach writing using mentor sentences in my high school English classroom.

This fall marks the sixteenth year that I will be returning to school as an English teacher.  Every summer I start planning for the year... what will I keep, what will I change, what will I try for the first time?  Of course, after so many years there are bound to be many things that I ditch, and even more that I tweak and adjust to better fit the needs to my students. But, after more than ten years of use, I have a favorite strategy that I always make time for -- teaching writing with mentor sentences.

Now, I can see what you're thinking, "Mentor Sentences...isn't that something used in elementary school?"  And I have to admit, some people seem surprised when I tell them that I use these in high school, but stick with me here. If we want students to be good writers, we have to model good writing and that's all there is to it.  Giving students strong models and plenty of opportunity for practice just makes sense.

So how do I teach using Mentor Sentences in my own classroom? With mini-books focusing on a specific skill.  I like to create mini-books for several reasons.  One, mini-books are just that -- mini.  For whatever reason, that makes them more special for students.  It could be the novelty or the fact that it's not just another worksheet, but students really like the half-sheet size and they hold onto them!  Next, mini-books allow for only so many pages, keeping them focused and well-organized. Finally, mini-books create a set of resources for students; they don't have to flip through pages and pages of notes to find what they're looking for.  If students need a reminder about sentence variety, they just pull out their first Sassy Sentence mini-book and there it is.

OK, so how do you actually teach using Mentor Sentences, you ask?  I like to teach each book over several weeks, breaking down one skill at a time to give lots of time for practice. I have students assemble the books (an easy process because there's no cutting necessary), and then we go through the book one spread at a time.  For each set of pages, there is a section for notes, mentor sentences as models, and space for students to write their own sentence. There are also examples in print (from popular books and short stories), space for students to search for examples in print, and space for more practice. I provide photo presentations to serve as stimulus, rather than having students think up their own sentences, relieving some of the pressure to be creative and instead letting them focus on the writing.

Finally, there are two pages for students to practice writing longer paragraphs, incorporating the mentor sentences they have learned.  Again, I provide a stimulus photo (and occasionally some notes about a topic), and students write at least seven sentences, three of which must be incorporate the new sentence rules they have learned.  This takes students from the task of just writing individual stand- alone sentences, to developing their writing style and stamina, creating a more sophisticated paragraph.

So what makes this my favorite strategy?  It's easy: every year I have students tell me that they can't believe how much better their writing has gotten!  It's exciting for all of us when they see their improvement and are proud of themselves. For that reason alone, I can't see ever abandoning this strategy.

If you'd like to try this strategy for free, download this mini-unit which teaches Sentence Structure with simple, compound, and complex sentences.  

And when you love it, click here to check out all my other Mentor Sentence resources.

I can't wait to hear what you think.  Give them a try today and let me know!

**UPDATE** I've now converted these resources to digital format, too, so if you're transitioning to a blended learning approach, you can use these resources on electronic devices.

1 comment

  1. I'm an aide in a middle/high school special ed class, and this is fantastic! We have kids of all different levels here, so having something they can all use without making anyone feel stupid or left out is wonderful :)


I love comments! Can't wait to hear from you!