3 Reasons Why Should Mentor Sentences Be Used in Middle School


Mentor Sentences should be used in Middle School ELA for 3 very good reasons!

If you love grammar, then this post may not be for you.  I am not a grammar lover at.all.  To me, it's something that when taught is about as fun as watching grass grow or paint dry.  So you can imagine that it has been hard for me to teach grammar too.  Until I found Mentor Sentences.

When I say "Mentor Sentences", I am not talking about correcting poorly written sentences. Instead, I am talking about using well-written sentences as models to be emulated.

Why should one study model sentences?  Here are 3 (or 4) very good reasons:

1.  They give concrete examples of what good writing looks like.

I can't tell you how many times I have referred to this writer or that writer as a bastion of good writing.  I get a special feeling when I read these well-written pieces that make me swoon.  But, the students don't always get it.  They think I'm just being a "teacher".  Mentor sentences point out the things that make sentences great.  

2. They are bite-sized chunks that help struggling learners experience success.

With just one sentence to study and one question per day, this is chunking at its finest!  Plus, my students with special needs saw that this was something they could do.  It helped to build their confidence.  

3. They are quick and easy to implement in the classroom as bell-ringers.

Students generally can answer the one question per day in the same amount of time it takes me to submit attendance.  Then it only takes maybe 5 minutes more to go over the answers.  

4.  The students actually began to not only learn about various grammar concepts and writing conventions, but they were learning about topics such as perseverance, the history of the Poinsettia, and more!  It was fun to hear them talk about these topics with interest.

In this way, mentor sentences are actually more than just good models, they caused my students to learn more about the topic of the text as well as various grammar and writing concepts.  

Want to know more about using them in your own classroom and get a freebie to try them out for yourself?  Click here to read that post.

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If you aren't using mentor sentences as part of your bell-ringer routine in your middle school ELA class, then read this to get 3 (or more) reasons why you need to start!

Discovering Mentor Sentences for Middle School


If you think mentor sentences are just for elementary, read this post to find out how they can be used with middle school students to review grammar, writing conventions and even reading skills all in the time it takes you to do attendance!

I have a confession:  grammar is not my thing.  My own Father was an English teacher that loved diagramming sentences.  I loathed it.  So it probably comes as no surprise that I have looked for ways to make it less painful.   Years ago, I stumbled upon the concept of pulling out especially well-written sentences from picture books to use as models.  

Each day the idea was that students would do something different with the sentence like noticing punctuation or its use of adjectives or adverbs.  It was very doable and students would experience some success right away.  Best of all, the amount of time it takes to do this would be about the amount of time I would need to take attendance!

When I first shared the idea with my team, they were hesitant because they thought we would be correcting poorly written sentences.  But that is not the case - in fact, this idea is the opposite.  The sentences we study are models.  We are looking at the sentence for what the author did right.  We would look for various things that we would want the students to emulate in their own writing.

I use Mentor Sentences as MODELS of good grammar and writing.

We could also ask questions about the text to practice reading skills as well.  Things like "How does this sentence contribute to the tone of the text?"

Soon, the possibilities were endless and grammar was now part of our daily routine in very bite-sized pieces that had no resemblance to the loathsome diagram.  ;)

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Tried and True Back to Middle School Activities


Before delving into your content, take a look at these FIVE days of tried and true activities for back to middle school!

My room is ready, I've attended all the meetings, and the first day is imminent, but what should I do on that first day of middle school?  It might seem tempting to just hand out the syllabus and jump into the content but that won't set the best tone for the rest of the year. 

I want to build a community of learners where relationships are important first.  The old saying goes that the students don't care what you know until they know that you care.  That's why I spend a full week on getting to know my students and building relationships!

On the first day, I always get everyone seated in alphabetical order so everyone has a place to sit (not everyone knows everyone) and so I can accurately take attendance.  ;)  After the first week or so, I change seats once I get to know the students and their needs.

Then I always do an ice breaker.  I might do a BINGO game or a TP pass or even something else.  As long as it's active and gets everyone involved - it will get kids interested and engaged.  After we finish this, we make a little something to tell about ourselves that I can later display for Open House!

The next day, I start to get into the "rules".  Except that I do not call them rules - I call them agreements.  Students tell me what they need to be successful on a sticky note.  I ask them to place their sticky notes in a special place and then we finish the "craftivity" from the first day so that everyone has a chance to share about themselves.  Read more about creating agreements by clicking here.  

On the third day, we finish the sticky note activity to establish what our class needs to be successful and then begin to go over the syllabus.  I like to have students create either an interactive notebook foldable for the syllabus or a mini book to keep the syllabus from being one of those Charlie Brown teaching moments.  

On the fourth day, we do something collaborative.  It could be a game like "Walk the Line", Building something as a group and then trying to "sell" it to the rest of the class, or even something like the Skittles and 7-up activity. These activities always help me see who the leaders are in the classroom.

On the fifth day, we complete a survey, go over anything from yesterday (if necessary), participate in some goal-setting activities, and maybe some silent note writing and passing.  (They love the silent note-passing!)

Now I have spent 5 days getting to know my students and set a tone for positive interaction and engagement.  I have learned what students click well together, who are my leaders, who may need some TLC and many other things.  With all of this in mind, I can craft better lessons to reach all learners.

If you'd like some ready to go sets of resources to match the activities, I mentioned, take a look at this bundle:

Spending time building community and establishing relationhips is what the first week back to school is all about!  Use some of these ideas to make it a great first week of middle school!

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4 Great Ways for Middle School Students to Practice the Reading Standards


FOUR great ways for Middle School students to practice USING their reading skills to analyze text!

My Middle School Students have a way of looking like they understand something, can even verbally tell me what something like the theme of a text is (definition wise), but then struggle to pull it out of a text.

So, I set out to 

1. Deconstruct the standards (the first 8 reading anchor standards)

2.  Create a systematic way to teach the steps of using a reading skill like central idea or theme

And now I want to share four ways I have provided some practice:

1.  Two-Choice Menus

These menus offer students 2 choices as a way to practice using the standard. I offer choices like completing a kind of graphic organizer, writing a paragraph, completing a sorting activity, or creating something like a flipbook or anchor chart as a reference.

Why TWO choices?

1.  To provide students an opportunity to take some control over how they learn.  This is highly engaging to students. Why?  Well, think of it from your perspective.  You are much more motivated to attend the PD you choose to attend than the PD you have to attend (after school, in the media center/cafeteria, with people telling you things you already know).

2.  To provide some structured project-based learning.

With 2 choices, I can ensure that students can not only get started but complete an activity in one class period because I will be better able to facilitate and get to all the students in that environment.

3.  To provide differentiation.

Differentiation is providing multiple ways to reach the same standard.  I might even tweak a choice to suit a student on the fly to help him/her get what is needed.

2.  Digital Practice Game

However, if you are teaching in a digital environment, you may find the project-based learning menus too cumbersome.  In that case, I would recommend something like a digital game.  I have created one for each of the first 8 reading anchor standards:

3.  Remediation Practice

Sometimes, even after this careful practice time, students need even more practice based on their quiz results.  Now it's time for remediation.  I offer another menu of 2 choices that are both focused on review.  One has students review the quiz against their notes and one has them reviewing the content with a special video.  Or I have these students play a digital escape room game to review critical content.

This text-based digital escape game gets middle school students practicing with using central idea to analyze text!

4.  Enrichment Practice

What do the other students do during that remediation time?  They are given an enrichment menu to allow them to create something new based on the standard.  In a digital environment, I'd ask these students to make a video to teach someone else the critical content for the standard.  They can use PowerPoint, iMovie and many other apps that they already have on their phones.  

Practice is a key part of learning and to truly "get" the standards, students need to do something themselves or even with a partner to experience using the skills.  It's not enough to just know what theme is, student needs to be able to use that skill.

Want to try out my printable Theme Unit that uses these practice ideas?  It's FREE in my Resource Library:

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Middle School Students needs time to process and practice what they have learned.  Use one or all of these ways to provide standards-based reading practice in your classroom!

Organizing Standards Based Instruction in Middle School ELA


Find out how this Middle School ELA teacher fits in all the Reading and Writing Standards into one year with 50 minute class periods!

As an ELA teacher, I am tasked with teaching reading and writing in one 45 minute period.  They ask me to throw in a bit of conventions and grammar when I teach writing too.  

At the beginning of the year, it seems like I have sooooo much time to do all of this and it will be "no problem". But then, it always seems like I run out of time for one reason or another. 

So, to avoid that for the future, I decided to sketch out the year as a kind of pacing guide.  I didn't write out full lesson plans here - just laid out what I will teach when to make sure that I am not scrambling anymore and to be more intentional about how things fit together and flow.

For example, it makes sense to start with the central idea and theme standard as it includes supporting details and summary writing.  These are foundational skills for just about everything else. And then this also means that informative writing has to come before argumentative writing as a result.  

Get a free copy of my full-year Middle School ELA Curriculum and Pacing Guide by clicking here.

Then drilling down to the everyday, I use a 6 step process for teaching my standards.  But I don't use all 6 steps in one day - they are spread out over a week.  Here's my lesson plan:

These Middle School ELA Lesson Plans for Teaching Theme show how to incorporate the 6 steps for teaching the reading standards.

As you can see, I teach a full standard in about a week and a half on average.  Of course, there are times when I spend more time on a topic or less time on a topic depending on my students and depending on the text.  Sometimes there are just some really great things we need to do with a text in addition to analyzing it for the standard.  ;)

You can get a free copy of the entire Theme Unit (with the lesson plans you saw above) in my Free Resource Library:

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Get an outline for teaching all the reading and writing standards in your Middle School ELA class.

6 Steps for Teaching the Reading Standards in Middle School ELA

Increase your middle school students' learning gains using this highly researched pattern of teaching!

In the past, I have talked about how I "teach" this short story or that short story.  But what I have come to realize is that while utilizing these amazing short stories is part of the process, it is not what I really should be "teaching".  What I need to teach are the standards.  So first, I needed to deconstruct the standards.  Then I can use the short stories as examples for my lessons to analyze the text.

Here's how I teach the standards using texts:

1.  Vocabulary

After I have deconstructed that standard, I know some critical vocabulary that has to be taught.  I make sure to do this very intentionally by including words that are used in the test item specifications for the standards too.

Not only do we go over the definitions, we practice with them.  Then we are ready to discuss them in terms of how to use them.

2. Notes

Before we begin this phase, we read a text.  Then as we go through the steps that we will use to analyze the text for whatever standard we are studying, I will use the text we read for the examplesWe have great discussions of the text at this point and I always use a Cornell style of notes so that students write a summary when we complete them.

3.  Practice

After we have completed the notes, it's time for students to process the information.  I like to give my students a menu with just 2 choices to practice with what they have learned in the notes. They use a new text and complete an activity in one class period.  I sometimes also give students the option to work with a partner. 

4.  Assess

The day after we have time to practice, we go over the products and then we have a short quiz.  Now I can see who "gets it" and who needs "extra help".

5.  Remediate/Enrich

On the day after the quiz, students who score 80% or better are given an enrichment menu of just 2 choices where the students make something new related to the standard.

Students who score less than 80%, are given an "Enhancement" menu for remediation.  These students will review the standard with 2 new choices that are focused on reviewing and applying the steps.

6.  Final Common Assessment

Finally, we have our grade level common assessment for the standard.  At my school, all students in the same grade and same subject take the same final assessment.  In this way, we can compare data more deliberately.

So why this process?  Three reasons:

1.  It's a  well-researched pattern of teaching.  Everything you know about the fundamentals of teaching pedagogy is incorporated into this structure.

2. It helps to reach all learners as differentiation is built-in with the menus and in using remediation and enrichment to develop students' skills.

3. The menus give the teacher more opportunity to facilitate learning (by being the guide on the side instead of the sage on the stage) in the classroom by walking around and discussing concepts with students as they work.  Plus, it is a great pattern that is easy to follow and easy to use.  

What makes this even easier is that I have made all of these components (vocabulary, notes, practice, quiz, reteach/enrich - excluding the common final assessment for obvious reasons) for each of the first 8 Reading Anchor Standards in a printable version.  You can get them all in one money-saving bundle or you can buy each standard separately.

There is also a digital version of these lessons but without the menus.  The menus are absent because project-based learning via distance learning was so much more difficult to do. So instead, I made a digital game for processing the information, there are videos for remediation and NEW escape room games for extra practice.  For enrichment, I suggest having those students make their own digital game or video about the standard.

I hope that this helps you teach the reading standards in your own middle school ELA classroom.  If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email!  :)

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Find out how this Middle School ELA teacher implements these steps in her own classroom!

What Does It Mean To Teach The Standards?


Find out how this middle school ELA Teacher gets to the nuts & bolts of the Reading Standards!

As a person who has now been teaching for 27 years, I can look back and see the evolution of instructional practice.  Can you believe that when I first began teaching there were no standards?  Not even standardized tests!  When I asked for something akin to standards, the Assistant Principal gave me a kind of curriculum guide with some suggested pacing.  That's it!  Talk about a pendulum swing to now!

But no matter if you have been teaching for a little or a long while, sometimes teaching the standards still isn't exactly clear.  One might think that if they talk about the main idea when going over a text that they have "taught" the standard.  But actually, this isn't the case.

To teach a standard, the teacher must deconstruct the standard and teach students the steps to using the standard.

So let's take that main idea standard from the common core reading anchor: "Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development;  summarize the key supporting details and ideas."

To get to the heart of the matter, I ask myself questions to define key terms and to decide on the steps that should be taken to achieve the desired result of the standard.

The questions I ask myself are:

1. What does it mean to "determine" the theme?  What are the steps?

2.  What does development mean?

3. What does it mean for a theme to develop?  How does one trace that?  What are the steps?

4. What does it mean to summarize? What are the steps?

5.  How does one find supporting details?  How does one use that in a summary?  What are the steps?

This may seem like a lot to remember, so I put this all together into a FREE checklist for Deconstructing the Standards:

In the end, when I can answer the questions in ways that I can share with students, then I know I am preparing to teach the standard.  I will most definitely use a text, but I will do much more than just talk about the theme.  I will give students a plan for determining the theme, kind of like a recipe that we will keep in our notes.  I will do the same for tracing development (although I like to do that when I focus on character development because it makes this topic easier to grasp).  And I will explicitly show students how to find supporting details and how to write that summary when we shift the focus to the non-fiction portion of the standard (central idea). 

If you're thinking that all of this deconstruction takes a lot of time, you'd be right. I've spent a considerable amount of time breaking down the first 8 Reading Anchor standards and creating vocabulary, notes, practice materials and assessments to match.  

You can try the Theme Unit for free!  You'll find it in my FREE Resource Library.

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This anchor chart shows how I broke down my middle school reading standard to teach students how to USE theme to analyze a text.  Get a free guide in this post!