Mentor sentences: tried and true success!

Hi, my name is Mikey and I'm going to tell you my story....

Does that make your hair stand on end?  I cringe inside when I see students start their writing like this.

It took me a few years to get on board with mentor sentences.  But about three years ago, I tried some with my students.  What a difference it made in their writing!  These are the mentor sentences I used.

We always start by talking about books.  What makes you want to keep reading a book?  Does the first sentence have to grab you?  The first few?

And then I share a few beginnings with them.
From Restart by Gordon Korman:

I remember falling.
    At least I think I do.  Or maybe that's just because I know I fell.

I start asking questions.  What do you think happened to this person?  Did he or she just fall down or was this somehow a "big" fall?  As they begin to infer, students realize how many different ways this story could go!

From If I Stay by Gayle Forman:

Everyone thinks it was because of the snow.  And in a way, I suppose that's true.

Again, questions for the students.  What do you think happened?  When someone mentions that it was "because" of the snow, what does that make you think happened?  Could you start a story that was "because" of something?
One of my favorites, from Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (this is actually from the second chapter because I find the first chapter more like a prologue):

I can't talk.  I can't walk.  I can't feed myself or take myself to the bathroom. Big bummer.

I have to admit students' eyes widen as they hear those lines.  Their brains are working, trying to figure out how they can reconfigure those sentences into something of their own.
Scaffold their first tries so they aren't overwhelmed.  I give my students something that looks like a Mad Lib, with words taken out.  

They write for a minute or two, and then some of them share what they've written.  As other students give them their thoughts, you see ideas take shape.  Not just with the person sharing.  As you glance around the room, other students are erasing, rewriting, narrowing their word choices.

Does it work?  I have 56 students.  Only one student couldn't get started.  After he and I talked for a few minutes, he was off and running!

Makes this teacher heart happy!
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