How to Use Sentence Starters and Paragraph Frames

Effective communication can be tricky for many students, especially when writing is involved. How then, can we support our students who struggle with getting their thoughts out? That’s where sentence starters and paragraph frames come into play. Let’s take a closer look at what they are and how to use them.

Why Do Sentence Starters Matter?

Sentence starters, or sentence stems, provide an opportunity for all students to participate, orally or in writing, using complete sentences.

While sentence starters are useful for all students, they are a necessary support for English Learners. This is because English Learners are always balancing their attention and learning between the content or the the cognitive task and the linguistic load or language requirements of the task.

Using sentence starters can lighten that linguistic load while providing practice with vocabulary and structures of the language that the teacher wants to highlight. A double win!  As teachers plan and prepare to use sentence starters in the classroom, there are a few steps go through.

Steps to Use

First, create a list of possible stems that can be used with the content. Be sure to include key vocabulary and specific language structures that may be needed in that content or task. Also, don’t forget to plan for students with different proficiency levels by providing stems that meet their linguistic needs at a variety of levels.

Next, provide a model for how to use the sentence starter. This can be done through think alouds or examples provided by the teacher.

Finally, plan activities and opportunities for practice. This can be as a whole class activity or in pairs or small groups. Don’t forget that sentence starters are useful in both speaking and writing activities.

Types of Sentence Starters

There are many different kinds of sentence starters. Some stems may be more general and used in a variety of classroom activities daily. Others may be created for a specific activity or content and only be used during that time.

The purpose of the sentence starter will determine how they are presented. For those stems that are general and used more frequently, teachers may want to provide posters for quick reference. For those sentence starters that are more specific to the content or activity, they may be provided on the board with the daily objectives or on the instructions for the activity to be completed.

Whatever the use and mode of presentation, sentence starters are an essential piece to any sheltered classroom. Here are a few examples of general stems that can be used regularly in the classroom.

Clarifying:

  • To be clear, you’re saying that…
  • I am confused when you say ____, can you elaborate?
  • This reminds me of…

Elaborating:

  • So you’re saying that…
  • I hear you saying that…
  • I chose ____ because…
  • I would add ____ because…

Building on the Idea of Another:

  • ____ mentioned that…
  • Yes, and furthermore…
  • Adding to what ____ said, I think…

Agreeing:

  • I agree with ____ because…
  • ____’s point about ____ was important because…
  • ____ and I are coming to the same position that…

Disagreeing:

  • I see it differently because…
  • I agree that ____, but we also have to consider that…
  • I disagree that…

Summarizing:

  • Overall, what I’m trying to say is…
  • My whole point is…
  • I learned…
  • In my opinion…

Paragraph Frames for Support

What about students in your class that just can’t seem to get started with writing? Paragraph frames can provide the needed support to help them get going. Paragraph frames can be used for many different kinds of writing tasks such as summary, comparison, or persuasion.

The important thing to remember about paragraph frames is that they are a scaffold. They can be especially useful for English Learners at beginning and intermediate levels of writing proficiency, but are often not needed after that.  Otherwise, the writing can appear formulaic, something we want to avoid. Formulaic writing can often be the cause for students to become disengaged with writing. Here is one example of a paragraph frame that compares two things.

________________ and _________________ are similar in several ways. They both ____________. They also ___________________________________________________. Furthermore, each ______________________________________________________. Because of these similarities, ________________________________________.

            However, _______________ and _____________________ differ in some key areas. First, _______________. In addition, __________________________. In contrast, ________________________________. These differences help us to see ____________________.

(Zwiers, J. 2005).

Finally, the great things about both of these linguistic scaffolds is that they can be used in the face-to-face classroom and in the distance learning classroom! This illustrates that both sentence starters and paragraph frames are truly versatile supports that can allow teachers to continue to shelter their instruction in any classroom setting.

Download your free copy of sentence starters to support your students.

Cody Fernandez

Cody Fernandez

Cody is the Program Manager for ESL here at Region 13.

View all posts

Add comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *