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I remember my first year as a fourth-grade dual language teacher in Texas. I was the ELA/SLA teacher responsible for preparing my students for the Texas state assessments in reading and writing. Grammar plays a huge role in the Texas writing assessment. I struggled so much with figuring out how to teach my students the skills in English that they needed to pass the test while also teaching them grammar in Spanish. Different from other subject areas in which the same content can be applied in any language, grammar changes drastically from one language to the next. Learning to use mentor sentences made it so now I could teach grammar to my students in English and Spanish simultaneously. No longer was I falling behind on the district’s pacing guide as I tried to teach grammar in two different languages.
So in this blog post, I want to help you with your grammar instruction by answering three simple questions:
- What are mentor sentences?
- Why should we use mentor sentences in the dual language classroom?
- How to use mentor sentences in the classroom?
So without any further ado, let’s get started!
What are mentor sentences?
If you are wondering, “What are mentor sentences?” you are not alone. I remember telling my coworkers when I first started teaching that I wanted to start the day by giving my students a sentence that they had to fix. They immediately told me NOT to do that. That caught me by surprise because I had seen that strategy being used in the classroom many times. My coworkers explained to me that our district wanted teachers to use mentor sentences. That was the first time I ever heard those two words being used together. They went on to explain to me what mentor sentences are and effective they can be for teaching grammar.
So, what are mentor sentences? Simply put, mentor sentences are examples of good writing. They can be used to highlight a specific grammar skill while discussing style and reviewing previously learned grammar concepts. I like to use sentences from mentor texts that I am already using in the classroom, so my students have some context when we read the sentence together.
Mentor sentences provide examples of how published authors use style and conventions to effectively communicate their ideas. It is so much more engaging and effective than just practicing skills in isolation using a worksheet. And the best part is that a mentor sentence routine can be done in just 10-15 minutes every day. We can all find 10-15 minutes in our day if we try hard enough.
Why should you use them in the dual language classroom?
Although I was immediately hooked on the idea of using mentor sentences in my own classroom, I quickly ran into a problem. As a dual language teacher, I am expected to teach grammar in English and Spanish. However, my pacing guide was the same as my colleagues who taught general education. I was already struggling to find enough time to teach the concepts in both languages. How was I supposed to find enough time for mentor sentences?
During my first few months as a dual language teacher, I tried many different ways of using mentor sentences while still teaching grammar in English and Spanish. The truth is… I was drowning! Nothing was working. Until I had an epiphany! I could use mentor sentences in both languages simultaneously to help my students make linguistic connections. I could teach my students grammar in both languages at the same time by analyzing their similarities and differences. And guess what? It worked!
As soon as I introduced this new mentor sentence routine to my students, they soared! I was so impressed by all the things they were noticing style and conventions in each language. Things that once were so abstract (even with millions of examples!) suddenly became so clear to them. My students were engaged, excited, and enthusiastic to learn grammar. And now that I had figured out a way to teach grammar in English and Spanish simultaneously, I had a lot more time.
How to use mentor sentences in the dual language classroom
So, if you are wondering how to use mentor sentences in your own classroom, I got you covered. Here is the exact routine that I use in my own classroom to help me teach grammar using mentor sentences.
👉 I begin by choosing a sentence from a book I have read recently with my students that exemplifies the skill I want to highlight. I like to use books we already read together because my students understand the context. However, I have used sentences from books we had not read before. All I had to do was give my students a little background information for the sentence.
👉 Then, I Introduce the sentence to my students by displaying it on the board. I like to give my students their own copies of the sentence to glue into their grammar notebooks, too. I have noticed that when I ask my students to copy down the sentence, they can make mistakes that interfere with their learning.
👉 The next step is to ask my students to analyze the sentence. I want them to think about everything we have already learned during our grammar lesson and see if they can find examples of that in the mentor sentence.
👉 Once they are done analyzing the sentence, we talk about the things they have noticed. What is the rule? How does it affect the sentence? Could the author have done something differently?
👉 On day two, I give my students a similar sentence (that I wrote) and ask them to compare the two. This is a great opportunity to introduce any “exceptions to the rule.” We discuss those comparisons.
👉 I then give my students that same comparison sentence but written in the opposite language. For example, if our mentor sentence is in English, the second comparison sentence will be in Spanish. This is when the magic begins to happen. We compare the sentence in English to the sentence in Spanish. We focus on the differences between the languages. This helps my students bridge the two languages.
👉 Day three is all about application. I ask my students to write an original sentence using the mentor sentence as a guide. We share our sentences with a partner, group, or as a class.
👉 On this day, we write another original sentence, but this time we write it in the opposite language. We use the second comparison sentence as an example. For example, if the mentor sentence was in English, then the second comparison sentence was in Spanish. Therefore, today we will practice writing a sentence in Spanish. We share our sentences with a partner, group, or as a class.
👉 On day five, I give my students an assessment. I give them 1-3 sentences in which the highlighted skill was used “incorrectly.” They must find the “mistake” and explain how it affects the sentence. You can decide whether or not you want to use this for a grade. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t!
Once we have gone through the entire mentor sentence routine, I like to give my students opportunities to practice the skill we just learned throughout the year. My favorite way to do this is with grammar scavenger hunts.
In my classroom, I have a grammar scavenger hunt literacy station. My students absolutely love it! Here is how it works:
👉 I digitally assign a scavenger hunt board to my students using Seesaw. Each square on the board has a grammar skill they must look for in their reading.
👉 My students use whatever they are reading independently to look for examples of each skill.
👉 They snap a picture of what they found and add it to their digital boards. They can also use the drawing and writing tools available on Seesaw to explain what is in the picture (that is a requirement for some of the skills in my scavenger hunt boards.)
👉When students are done, they submit their scavenger hunt boards.
This activity is the perfect way for my students to practice the grammar skills we are learning during our mentor sentence routines over and over again. The best part is that, because students are exploring their own reading materials to complete this activity, we can reuse the boards over and over again. Every time they use a new book, they are essentially completing a brand new activity.
If you would like to give this activity a try, you can get it for FREE by clicking here. It includes three differentiated grammar boards. Printable, Google Slides, and Seesaw versions are available in English and Spanish. I promise you will love it!
Mentor sentences for the win!
I hope that after reading this blog post, the questions “What are mentor sentences?” and “How can I use mentor sentences in my classroom?”were answered. Mentor sentences are something I think all dual language teachers should be using in their classroom to help students create linguistic connections and master style and conventions in both languages. I am truly passionate about this topic, so if you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them. Just leave a comment down below.