Sentence Starters and Frames in a Multi-level Class

gold frame

Purpose: Sentence starters and frames give students extra support when they are doing a speaking or writing activity. They are an example of scaffolding and work best for students who would struggle a bit too much with generating sentences on their own. The goal is for students to experience productive struggle—too much struggle is not productive.

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes

Materials: A writing task that involves writing sentences or a conversation activity; cards with the sentence starters on them and/or a board with markers.


1.     Brainstorm common ways to express ideas students can use to participate in the planned activity. For example, students will each state five things about themselves to introduce themselves to a new student. They might share

a.     I am from Burma.

b.     I have two children.

c.      I like summer.

d.     I don’t like snow.

e.     I want to visit my sister.

2.     Decide if this activity lends itself to sentence starters or frames and use the items in your list to create them. A sentence starter uses the first the words in a sentence, while a sentence frame is reusable fill in the blanks exercise (Example: First, you need to __________, and then you need to _________). Using the example above, you might come up with the following sentence starters:

a.     I am

b.     I have

c.      I like

d.     I don’t like

e.     I want

3.     Consider the ability levels of the students and choose a method to share the sentence starters or frames with students who will need them. If all students will need them, they can be written on the board or shared via a dictation activity. If a few students will need them, they can be typed onto cards and handed out.

1. Model the planned activity for students. If all students will use the starters, use them in the examples that you model. If a few students will use them, start with modeling the activity without the starters and then model again using the sentence starters.

2. Instruct students to begin the activity and observe to see who is struggling. Provide the struggling students with the sentence starters.
3. One of the keys to using scaffolding effectively is to make to extra support temporary. After students try the activity a couple times, challenge them to do it again without the use of the sentence starters.

Variations: In a class with a range of abilities, the higher level students can generate sentence starters that other students may use as needed.


image credit: open clip art

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