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September 15, 2017

Mastering Grammar With Mentor Sentences, Part 1

By Mary Blow
Grades 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    After 13 years, I am still shaking my head in frustration over grammar. I don’t think I am alone. I suspect that there are multiple reasons grammar has become our students’ nemesis. First, I believe students need repeated exposure to a grammar concept or skill over extended periods of time, more than we can offer with our over-packed curriculum. Secondly, social media and the social acceptance of informal language or texting plays a role. It feels like the social value placed on grammar is declining.

    Another consideration is that students may not be developmentally ready for the level of grammar that the Common Core State Standards requires of our emergent writers. In any case, I usually start the year, like many of you, reviewing parts of speech. However, covering five years of grammar in one year is impossible, so before long, panic sets, and I move on. Does this sound familiar? Part one of "Mastering Grammar With Mentor Sentences" explains my pedagogical approach, walks you through designing your grammar lessons, and introduces the first of the five-day bell ringers.

    A few years ago, I wrote about grammar journals, which I feel are an effective method for teaching grammar. The disadvantage is that they don’t provide the extended time required for my struggling students to master grammar skills, nor do they relate to the texts we are reading in the classroom. Over the summer, I read Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson and attended a free online webinar Implementing Mentor Sentences in Upper Grades sponsored by Ideas by Jivey (Jennifer Ivey). Immediately, I went to work adapting the work of these two outstanding educators to support the diverse needs of my students.

    This year, I am using mentor sentences with two goals in mind: 1) to create lessons that spiral and review grammar vocabulary and concepts; and 2) to integrate grammar with the texts we are reading in the classroom. So begins the marriage between grammar journals and mentor sentences. My 5-day grammar lessons are 10-minute bell ringers designed to meet these goals, yet not gobble up instructional time.

    What Grammar Lessons Do I Teach?

    Many teachers have asked me for my list or sequence of lessons that I teach each year. I simply take notes on my paper folders as I grade. I created a chart of common sixth grade grammar mistakes and Grammar Lessons that I teach in sixth grade. However, my curriculum is driven by my students’ needs, so the list changes and the sequence shifts.

    Whenever I grade writing assignments, I jot down my sixth graders’ most common grammar errors. From this information, I create my list of lessons and begin searching for mentor sentences from the text that we are using in class. For example, after evaluating a class set of papers, I noticed that many of my students were struggling with incomplete sentences. Others were struggling with run-on sentences. I decided to review simple sentences followed by compound sentences, scaffolding the complexity of the lessons. Other years, I have started with capitalization rules. It all depends on my students’ immediate needs. If you are a Scholastic Scope subscriber, you can download my simple sentence lesson, the student handout, and teacher answers, which I reference in this article.

    If you manage a Google classroom, you might want to use Kami, a PDF and document mark up tool, which I shared in my post "7 Google Apps, Extensions, and Add-ons for English Teachers" (April 4, 2017). Kami's recent updates include the ability to link to students' Google Drives, allowing them to open, edit, and save handouts in a few clicks.

    Planning and Preparations

    Since Scholastic Scope magazine is my go-to classroom resource, I start by searching for the perfect mentor sentences in “From War to America” by Kristin Lewis (September 2017). We will be reading this article for two weeks, so I look for mentor sentences for both simple and compound sentences, two weeks of lessons. If I were to use this article for three weeks, I’d pull a third mentor sentence.

    I don’t worry about finding mentor sentences that target the focus skill. If the piece of literature is good, it doesn’t matter what you are reading. As you can see from the image, the challenge isn’t in finding great mentor sentence in the articles. The challenge is in choosing one golden nugget from the gold mine. I selected a sentence that would hook my students’ interest and motivate them to read.

    As my sixth graders enter the classroom, the Weekly Grammar Bell Ringer (PDF) handout is projected, ready for them to begin work. Like you, my time is precious, which is why my colleague Renee Krusper and I created a Weekly Grammar Bell Ringers handout in Microsoft Word format that you can download to edit or revise to meet your classroom needs. We simply plug in the weekly mentor sentence. Some of my students have spiral binders. These students glue the page onto the left-hand page, leaving the right-hand side for journal entries if they extend beyond a sentence. Some students have three-hole binders, so I hole-punch the right-hand side of the handouts so the handout can be referenced when writing in the journals. This method seems to work better.

    At the beginning of the year, I have students fill out the heading because there is a lot of grammar to review in the heading. Later in the year, after my sixth graders have internalized the grammar skills in the heading, I fill it in for them before sending it to the copier or Google Classroom to save time.

    Day 1: Invitation to Notice

    The goal of this activity is to get the students of all abilities to engage, analyze and discuss sentence structures, which also improves comprehension of the article. In addition, I want my young writers to develop grammar vocabulary. Some of you are probably cringing at the thought of teaching grammar terms, but I am seriously struggling with the lack of common vocabulary. I believe that students zone out or get lost in grammar lessons because they don’t share common grammar terms. For example, in the past we struggle to discuss compound sentences because my tweens remember something about subjects and predicates, but it is fuzzy. To explain subject and predicates, I end up backpedaling to review nouns and verbs (parts of speech), which can be time-consuming, and which is when the frustration and panic sets in.

    We do not spend time memorizing the terms and definitions. My role is to clarify labels and introduce content area vocabulary during the discussions. With weekly exposure, students will absorb the vocabulary naturally and begin using it. Below is the simple sentence lesson using the mentor sentence that I selected from the Scholastic Scope article.

    Our 10-minute grammar bell ringer activity looks something like this:

    Me: What do you notice about this sentence? Take about two minutes to list three things you notice.

    Me: Turn to your partner and discuss what you noticed [one minute].

    Me: Now, let’s take a few minutes to share as a class. [Set the timer for six minutes]. You may add to your list of observations if you hear something new.

    Student 1: Jacob’s age is hyphenated.

    Me: Does anyone know why? [No answer.] That’s because “fifteen-year-old” is an adjective that describes Jacob. [I circle the name Jacob.] You only hyphenate the age when it come before the noun or pronoun. [Draw a backward arrow to the adjective.] Do not hyphenate the age if it comes after the name. For example: When Jacob was fifteen years old, he was awakened by his mother’s urgent voice. In this case, you would not hyphenate. The rule: if the age comes before the noun, it is an adjective. It needs hyphens.

    Student 2: “Mother” has an apostrophe.

    Student 3: That’s because it is shows ownership.

    Student 2: What does the mother own?

    Student 3: Her voice.

    Student 4: Why do we sometimes see the apostrophe after the “s”?

    Me: [Silence] Well, “mother,” without an “s” is singular. By adding an ‘s to “mother,” you have one mother owning something. Mothers is plural, showing that there is more than one mother. You would add the apostrophe after the “s” to show that more than more than one mother owns something. Think about: student’s books or students’ books. Can someone explain the difference?

    Student 5: In the first example, there is one student who owns many books. In the second example, there is more than one student who owns the books.

    Student 6: There is a period at the end, so I think it is a statement.

    Me: Yes. Thank you for pointing this out. We often overlook ending punctuation in our writing, which causes run-ons. All sentences require ending punctuation. And, yes, it is a statement, a declarative sentence.

    Notice that students are analyzing, thinking, discussing, and recalling. My students aren’t expected to master everything during this one lesson. My job is to clarify, review, or introduce terminology. I point out relationships. Weekly exposure increases retention, so my young writers develop a deeper understanding of the vocabulary and concepts.

    As we read the article, students may point out other simple sentences that we certainly can discuss. For example, look at sentence on page six: “Hours passed.” Jeff Anderson refers to these as the “smack down” sentences, two word sentences consisting of a subject (noun) and predicate (verb). These two words spark a great discussion on simple subjects and simple predicates. It may be a better mentor sentence for struggling students if you need to introduce or reteach the concept of a simple sentence.

    Additional Resources

    If you teach younger writers and are looking for picture books or you are too just too busy to design your own curriculum, you will appreciate Scholastic's new release: Conventions and Craft (grades K-5). Each kit contains a year’s worth of instruction in the language skills writers need most — kills in grammar, sentence structure, punctuation and capitalization, word knowledge, and editing. It doesn't get any easier than that. It's the busy teacher's answer for teaching grammar with mentor sentences.

     

    Stay tuned for part two of "Mastering Grammar With Mentor Sentences" scheduled to release next week, where I share the remaining bell ringer activities for teaching grammar. This is the first year that I am trying this, jumping in with both feet, so I anticipate tweaking the activity to meet my students' diverse needs. Feel free to join my journey and ask questions or post comments. It will be fun having others share the journey with me.

    After 13 years, I am still shaking my head in frustration over grammar. I don’t think I am alone. I suspect that there are multiple reasons grammar has become our students’ nemesis. First, I believe students need repeated exposure to a grammar concept or skill over extended periods of time, more than we can offer with our over-packed curriculum. Secondly, social media and the social acceptance of informal language or texting plays a role. It feels like the social value placed on grammar is declining.

    Another consideration is that students may not be developmentally ready for the level of grammar that the Common Core State Standards requires of our emergent writers. In any case, I usually start the year, like many of you, reviewing parts of speech. However, covering five years of grammar in one year is impossible, so before long, panic sets, and I move on. Does this sound familiar? Part one of "Mastering Grammar With Mentor Sentences" explains my pedagogical approach, walks you through designing your grammar lessons, and introduces the first of the five-day bell ringers.

    A few years ago, I wrote about grammar journals, which I feel are an effective method for teaching grammar. The disadvantage is that they don’t provide the extended time required for my struggling students to master grammar skills, nor do they relate to the texts we are reading in the classroom. Over the summer, I read Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson and attended a free online webinar Implementing Mentor Sentences in Upper Grades sponsored by Ideas by Jivey (Jennifer Ivey). Immediately, I went to work adapting the work of these two outstanding educators to support the diverse needs of my students.

    This year, I am using mentor sentences with two goals in mind: 1) to create lessons that spiral and review grammar vocabulary and concepts; and 2) to integrate grammar with the texts we are reading in the classroom. So begins the marriage between grammar journals and mentor sentences. My 5-day grammar lessons are 10-minute bell ringers designed to meet these goals, yet not gobble up instructional time.

    What Grammar Lessons Do I Teach?

    Many teachers have asked me for my list or sequence of lessons that I teach each year. I simply take notes on my paper folders as I grade. I created a chart of common sixth grade grammar mistakes and Grammar Lessons that I teach in sixth grade. However, my curriculum is driven by my students’ needs, so the list changes and the sequence shifts.

    Whenever I grade writing assignments, I jot down my sixth graders’ most common grammar errors. From this information, I create my list of lessons and begin searching for mentor sentences from the text that we are using in class. For example, after evaluating a class set of papers, I noticed that many of my students were struggling with incomplete sentences. Others were struggling with run-on sentences. I decided to review simple sentences followed by compound sentences, scaffolding the complexity of the lessons. Other years, I have started with capitalization rules. It all depends on my students’ immediate needs. If you are a Scholastic Scope subscriber, you can download my simple sentence lesson, the student handout, and teacher answers, which I reference in this article.

    If you manage a Google classroom, you might want to use Kami, a PDF and document mark up tool, which I shared in my post "7 Google Apps, Extensions, and Add-ons for English Teachers" (April 4, 2017). Kami's recent updates include the ability to link to students' Google Drives, allowing them to open, edit, and save handouts in a few clicks.

    Planning and Preparations

    Since Scholastic Scope magazine is my go-to classroom resource, I start by searching for the perfect mentor sentences in “From War to America” by Kristin Lewis (September 2017). We will be reading this article for two weeks, so I look for mentor sentences for both simple and compound sentences, two weeks of lessons. If I were to use this article for three weeks, I’d pull a third mentor sentence.

    I don’t worry about finding mentor sentences that target the focus skill. If the piece of literature is good, it doesn’t matter what you are reading. As you can see from the image, the challenge isn’t in finding great mentor sentence in the articles. The challenge is in choosing one golden nugget from the gold mine. I selected a sentence that would hook my students’ interest and motivate them to read.

    As my sixth graders enter the classroom, the Weekly Grammar Bell Ringer (PDF) handout is projected, ready for them to begin work. Like you, my time is precious, which is why my colleague Renee Krusper and I created a Weekly Grammar Bell Ringers handout in Microsoft Word format that you can download to edit or revise to meet your classroom needs. We simply plug in the weekly mentor sentence. Some of my students have spiral binders. These students glue the page onto the left-hand page, leaving the right-hand side for journal entries if they extend beyond a sentence. Some students have three-hole binders, so I hole-punch the right-hand side of the handouts so the handout can be referenced when writing in the journals. This method seems to work better.

    At the beginning of the year, I have students fill out the heading because there is a lot of grammar to review in the heading. Later in the year, after my sixth graders have internalized the grammar skills in the heading, I fill it in for them before sending it to the copier or Google Classroom to save time.

    Day 1: Invitation to Notice

    The goal of this activity is to get the students of all abilities to engage, analyze and discuss sentence structures, which also improves comprehension of the article. In addition, I want my young writers to develop grammar vocabulary. Some of you are probably cringing at the thought of teaching grammar terms, but I am seriously struggling with the lack of common vocabulary. I believe that students zone out or get lost in grammar lessons because they don’t share common grammar terms. For example, in the past we struggle to discuss compound sentences because my tweens remember something about subjects and predicates, but it is fuzzy. To explain subject and predicates, I end up backpedaling to review nouns and verbs (parts of speech), which can be time-consuming, and which is when the frustration and panic sets in.

    We do not spend time memorizing the terms and definitions. My role is to clarify labels and introduce content area vocabulary during the discussions. With weekly exposure, students will absorb the vocabulary naturally and begin using it. Below is the simple sentence lesson using the mentor sentence that I selected from the Scholastic Scope article.

    Our 10-minute grammar bell ringer activity looks something like this:

    Me: What do you notice about this sentence? Take about two minutes to list three things you notice.

    Me: Turn to your partner and discuss what you noticed [one minute].

    Me: Now, let’s take a few minutes to share as a class. [Set the timer for six minutes]. You may add to your list of observations if you hear something new.

    Student 1: Jacob’s age is hyphenated.

    Me: Does anyone know why? [No answer.] That’s because “fifteen-year-old” is an adjective that describes Jacob. [I circle the name Jacob.] You only hyphenate the age when it come before the noun or pronoun. [Draw a backward arrow to the adjective.] Do not hyphenate the age if it comes after the name. For example: When Jacob was fifteen years old, he was awakened by his mother’s urgent voice. In this case, you would not hyphenate. The rule: if the age comes before the noun, it is an adjective. It needs hyphens.

    Student 2: “Mother” has an apostrophe.

    Student 3: That’s because it is shows ownership.

    Student 2: What does the mother own?

    Student 3: Her voice.

    Student 4: Why do we sometimes see the apostrophe after the “s”?

    Me: [Silence] Well, “mother,” without an “s” is singular. By adding an ‘s to “mother,” you have one mother owning something. Mothers is plural, showing that there is more than one mother. You would add the apostrophe after the “s” to show that more than more than one mother owns something. Think about: student’s books or students’ books. Can someone explain the difference?

    Student 5: In the first example, there is one student who owns many books. In the second example, there is more than one student who owns the books.

    Student 6: There is a period at the end, so I think it is a statement.

    Me: Yes. Thank you for pointing this out. We often overlook ending punctuation in our writing, which causes run-ons. All sentences require ending punctuation. And, yes, it is a statement, a declarative sentence.

    Notice that students are analyzing, thinking, discussing, and recalling. My students aren’t expected to master everything during this one lesson. My job is to clarify, review, or introduce terminology. I point out relationships. Weekly exposure increases retention, so my young writers develop a deeper understanding of the vocabulary and concepts.

    As we read the article, students may point out other simple sentences that we certainly can discuss. For example, look at sentence on page six: “Hours passed.” Jeff Anderson refers to these as the “smack down” sentences, two word sentences consisting of a subject (noun) and predicate (verb). These two words spark a great discussion on simple subjects and simple predicates. It may be a better mentor sentence for struggling students if you need to introduce or reteach the concept of a simple sentence.

    Additional Resources

    If you teach younger writers and are looking for picture books or you are too just too busy to design your own curriculum, you will appreciate Scholastic's new release: Conventions and Craft (grades K-5). Each kit contains a year’s worth of instruction in the language skills writers need most — kills in grammar, sentence structure, punctuation and capitalization, word knowledge, and editing. It doesn't get any easier than that. It's the busy teacher's answer for teaching grammar with mentor sentences.

     

    Stay tuned for part two of "Mastering Grammar With Mentor Sentences" scheduled to release next week, where I share the remaining bell ringer activities for teaching grammar. This is the first year that I am trying this, jumping in with both feet, so I anticipate tweaking the activity to meet my students' diverse needs. Feel free to join my journey and ask questions or post comments. It will be fun having others share the journey with me.

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Susan Cheyney

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