While you are still getting your student to write lists, but when you feel that they are soon ready to move on, begin working on sentence writing. Again, this is for students of all ages, from elementary to high school level. The example sentences and your expectations for your student may be different according to their grade or age level, but the process is essentially the same. This process has to be done over and over again, revising it from time to time, incrementally more complex. The idea is to mentor your students, not either feeding them answers nor testing them to see if they understand with a sea of writing assignments that end up being filled with red marks. That is why this process is often called, "mentor sentences" but the process is not new as Charlotte Mason wrote about these concepts in the late 19th century. However you want to look at it, the essential steps are as follows:
1. You will need to find a sentence in a good book that you want to use as your example sentence. These sentences can be the beginnings of a commonplace book. Alternatively, you can write your own sentences.
2. You and your student look at the sentence, noting things that make it an exceptional sentence. You may have something you have been working on that you may bring to his attention, but you might also want to introduce other concepts that you are planning on working on later. In schools this step is sometimes left to the students to figure out because of the idea that a student will remember a concept better if he discovers it himself. It is also used in group settings in order to assess the knowledge level of each of the students. I have never found that method to be good as either a learning or assessment tool in homeschooling, so I guide him through this step. Don't be afraid of giving him too much because you are giving him the tools right now, not testing him.
3. Di-sect the sentence, looking at the grammar and/or punctuation. Review the concepts he already knows. Introduce a concept that the sentence uses. Think about this step when you pick your sentence to use.
4. Once you have thoroughly gone through the sentence, word by word, you can give the sentence for dictation. For younger students, you can print out the sentence, cut the words out separately, and have your student rebuild the sentence instead.
5. Now that he is very familiar with the model sentence, he can play with the words in the sentence. What are some synonyms for some of the words used? Getting out a thesaurus can be fun. How about rearranging the words in the sentence? How about starting the sentence off with a dependent clause? How do the manipulations change the sentence? Do they make the sentence more exciting or more clear or does it change the meaning of the sentence? Take as much time with this step as you can for much can be learned by sentence manipulating.
6. Can your student now write a different but similar sentence? Change the subject of the sentence, or perhaps the predicate, or both. This is the step where you can really begin to see the rewards for all the efforts you both have put into this.
7. Armed with what your student has learned, can he now go back and rewrite some of the lackluster sentences he has written in the past? Help him by picking out a sentence or two from his previous work that you feel lends itself to this editing. Encourage him to approach this step not as fixing something that is broken, but as an exciting application of what he has learned - a "now we can do this" attitude. Do not use any red pens or anything that strikes one as correction. This should be fun.
8. Now it is time to start the process with another concept and another sentence.
- Ideas by Jivey has a good post called Step by Step: The Why and How of Mentor Sentences.
- Buzzing with Mrs B has a good packet called Mentor Sentences Grammar Notebook that uses a similar method.
- Teaching My Friends! has an interesting post about manipulating sentences called Crafting Power Sentences, in which she uses a chart to break down the words in the sentence.
- Making Meaning with Melissa has a post entitled, Why I use Mentor Sentences to Teach Writing in my High School English Classroom.