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Building Writers with Mentor Texts: Focusing on Sentence Fluency

Thursday, February 28, 2019
A few weeks ago, when I was looking for a book that displayed strong examples of sentence fluency, I stumbled across the most amazing book! I had never seen it before, nor had I ever heard the remarkable true story of Irena Sendler. I am very excited to share it with you today! Besides having excellent examples of sentence fluency, it is truly an inspirational and unforgettable story. (Full disclosure: Amazon links follow.) Also, since sentence fluency is a rather advanced writing trait, this lesson was designed with 4th through 6th grade students in mind.
Sentence fluency is a challenging writing trait to teach. Check out this blog post that features a sentence fluency lesson complete with a mentor text Jars of Hope and a FREE handout!

Book Summary

Irena Sendler was a 19-year-old girl living in Poland when the Nazis invaded her country and forced 500,000 Jewish people into the Warsaw Ghetto, a space less than 2 square miles. As a social worker, she was allowed to enter the ghetto. When she saw how the Jewish people were being treated inside the ghetto, she was determined to help as many as she could. She snuck food and medical supplies into the ghetto. Eventually, she realized that the Jews were being sent to death camps. She began to smuggle children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. She wrote down the names of each child and their parents, hoping that they'd someday be able to be reunited. She put the lists in jars and buried them in the ground. In all, she helped save the lives of 2500 children.
Sentence fluency is a challenging writing trait to teach. Check out this blog post that features a sentence fluency lesson complete with the mentor text Jars of Hope and a FREE handout!
Click here to check out this book.

First Reading: Identify the theme.

Because this book has such a powerful message, I recommend reading this book aloud to your students twice. First, read it with the purpose of teaching your students about the somber realities of the Holocaust in world history. After you have finished reading the book aloud and have discussed it, ask your students to identify a possible theme of the story. I believe the following two quotes from the book explicitly point to the overall themes:
  • "There are two kinds of people in this world, good and bad. It doesn't matter if they are rich or poor; what religion or race. What matters is if they are good or bad."  - page 3
  • "When someone is drowning... give them your hand." - page 5

Second Reading: Identify examples of sentence fluency.

Begin by telling your students that another reason you wanted to share this book with them is because you wanted to point out the author's superb use of sentence fluency. Ask if anyone noticed any patterns regarding the first sentence on each page. If necessary, page through the book and read a few of them. Students will quickly realize that almost every sentence is extremely short... anywhere from 2 to 6 words. Remind students that one way writers try to achieve sentence fluency is by varying the length of their sentences. In this book, the author uses these short sentences to impact the reader by stressing the importance of Irena's selfless actions.

At this point, I recommend distributing the sentence fluency handout. (Click here to download it for free!) As you can see, the top of the handout defines sentence fluency and lists some concrete strategies writers use to achieve sentence fluency. Before beginning your second reading of Jars of Hope, go over the top part of this handout with your students. Then tell your students that you will be reading Jars of Hope a second time with the distinct purpose of identifying how the author achieved sentence fluency.
Sentence fluency is a challenging writing trait to teach. Check out this blog post that features a sentence fluency lesson complete with a mentor text and this FREE handout!

Stop throughout the book and ask students to point out places where the author achieved sentence fluency in a unique way. The following images show places where you might consider stopping.
On page 3, the second to last sentence contains alliteration, which makes the sentence sound smooth and fluent.

Sentence fluency is a challenging writing trait to teach. Check out this blog post that features a sentence fluency lesson complete with a mentor text and a FREE handout!
On page 22, the final sentence shows an example of how the author began a sentence with the word "but". This breaks a grammar rule, but the author purposely did this to add an element of sentence fluency to the page.

Sentence fluency is a challenging writing trait to teach. Check out this blog post that features a sentence fluency lesson complete with a mentor text and a FREE handout!
Page 23 shows how the author began her sentences in different ways. The author could have begun each sentence with "she". (She worked 12 hours a day scrubbing laundry in prison. She was questioned and beaten... She got very little food. She couldn't get a good night's sleep. She was in prison for 3 months.) Instead, the author created sentence fluency by varying her sentences.



After finishing the second reading of the book, return to the handout. Model how to complete the bottom of the handout by picking out examples of sentence fluency from Jars of Hope and recording them on the handout.
Sentence fluency is a challenging writing trait to teach. Check out this blog post that features a sentence fluency lesson complete with a mentor text and a FREE handout!


For an assignment, you can instruct students to find strong examples of sentence fluency in other books, and record them on the handout. Then, the next day you can ask students to share their discoveries.

Finally, if you're interested in winning this book, enter the Rafflecopter below!


I would love to add a few more titles to my lists of mentor texts related to sentence fluency. In the comments below, please share some books you have found that exhibit sentence fluency! Also, don't forget to hop around to the other blogs in this link-up to read about additional mentor texts related to writing!






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Sentence fluency is a challenging writing trait to teach. Check out this blog post that features a sentence fluency lesson complete with a mentor text and a FREE handout!

Reviewing Skills with Reading Games!

Friday, December 21, 2018
Have you ever heard the saying "With one polka dot, nothing can be achieved"? This saying speaks to the power of repetition. Most teachers agree that repetition plays an important role in education. If a teacher attempts to teach an objective one isolated time during a school year, chances are good that few students (if any) will remember that objective at the end of the school year. However, if a teacher periodically reviews and builds upon the objective after the initial lesson, the likelihood that students WILL retain what they learned increases. That's why the concept of a spiral curriculum is such a hot educational topic. Plus, it's the main reason why we teachers like to review concepts before our students are required to take standardized tests.

Make reading test prep meaningful and fun by using reading games! After reading a passage, students will answer 6 multiple choice questions and try to earn the lowest number of points. This blog post contains a FREE nonfiction reading passage!


A few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to create some engaging reading activities where students would be reviewing important reading skills they have already learned. In order to make them engaging, I decided to add a competitive element so that students would view them as games.

I was quite pleased with the end result! The picture below shows 1 of 12 nonfiction passages in my 4th/5th grade set.

Make reading test prep meaningful and fun by using reading games! After reading a passage, students will answer 6 multiple choice questions and try to earn the lowest number of points. This blog post contains a FREE nonfiction reading passage!



MATERIALS NEEDED

Each student needs:
  • Reading passage
  • Die
  • Pencil
  • Red pen or marker

Each group needs:
  • Directions
  • Answer Key


DIRECTIONS FOR PLAYING

  • Choose how many students you want to compete in each group. I have mainly played this game with groups of 2 to 4 students, but you could certainly play with a larger group, as well.
  • Distribute the passage to everyone in the group, and tell them to read it carefully. (Also tell your students that if they finish reading it early, they should not start answering the questions yet!)
  • When everyone has finished reading the passage, instruct each student to pick up a die, roll it, and then record a tally mark on the line beneath the passage. (Students will add a tally EACH time they roll the die.)
  • Tell students to answer the numbered question that matches the number shown on the die. (For example, if Student A rolled a 4, she should answer Question #4.)
  • Instruct students to roll the die again and record a tally mark. 
    • If a student rolls the number of a question that has already been answered, he or she should immediately roll the die again.
    • If a student rolls the number of a question that has not yet been answered, he or she should go ahead and answer the question.
  • When a student finishes all six questions, the number of tallies at the bottom of the page should be counted and that number should be multiplied by 2. 
  • When everyone in the group has finished answering the questions, have students check their answers together.
  • Students should record the number of correct and incorrect answers at the bottom of the page, and multiply accordingly. 
  • Instruct students to determine the grand total by adding the three subtotals.
  • The person(s) with the LOWEST GRAND TOTAL is the winner!
Make reading test prep meaningful and fun by using reading games! After reading a passage, students will answer 6 multiple choice questions and try to earn the lowest number of points. This blog post contains a FREE nonfiction reading passage!
Print this page for student reference.

FREE GAME

Click here (or on the image below) to download one free nonfiction game.

Make reading test prep meaningful and fun by using reading games! After reading a passage, students will answer 6 multiple choice questions and try to earn the lowest number of points. This blog post contains a FREE nonfiction reading passage! Skills include main idea, text structures, context clues, cause and effect, citing text evidence, and vocabulary.


MORE GAMES ARE AVAILABLE!

Click on any of the images below to check out the reading games I have available in my TpT store! Each set includes 12 reading passages!

These reading games are perfect for test prep! This set includes 12 fiction passages. After reading each passage, students answer 6 multiple choice questions. Reading skills include theme, character traits, context clues, cause and effect, figurative language, and more!


These reading games are perfect for test prep! This set includes 12 nonfiction passages. After reading each passage, students answer 6 multiple choice questions. Reading skills include main idea, context clues, text structures, cause and effect, affixes, and more!


These sets are designed especially for 3rd graders. 

These reading games are perfect for test prep! This set includes 12 fiction passages written for 3rd graders. After reading each passage, students answer 6 multiple choice questions. Reading skills include central message, character traits, context clues, cause and effect, figurative language, and more!


These reading games are perfect for test prep! This set includes 12 nonfiction passages written for 3rd graders. After reading each passage, students answer 6 multiple choice questions. Reading skills include main idea, text features, context clues, cause and effect, affixes, and more!






Pin for future reference:
Make reading test prep meaningful and fun by using reading games! After reading a passage, students will answer 6 multiple choice questions and try to earn the lowest number of points. This blog post contains a FREE nonfiction reading passage and game!


Writing Lesson: Reducing Sentences

Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Reducing Sentences Personal Anchor Chart (FREE!)- The author outlines four techniques writers can use to reduce wordy sentences. This blog post features two FREE writing reference charts.

Teaching upper elementary students to expand sentences and combine sentences has always been on my radar.... but reduce? Well, that's another story. Yes, I've helped students revise run-ons and shorten sentences that are longer than necessary, but I began to question whether this was enough... especially after I discovered that, according to the Common Core standards, fifth grade students are expected to expand, combine, and reduce sentences for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.3.A). Ultimately, I decided to research this topic, and I discovered a handful of practical reduction tips that can be shared with students.
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