How To Use Sentence Frames

› Sentence Frames

It's really hard to watch kids struggle with reading and writing. This is where sentence frames can make a huge difference for ESOL and struggling learners.

Teachers are looking for new strategies to use with all of their students. I know I do, but I consistently come back to a few core strategies, and this is one of them. However, many teachers wonder how to use sentence frames appropriately.

Sentence framing is really one of the best vocabulary strategies for any student struggling with language in the academic content areas.  I

It actually is great for differentiation as well because it doesn't take any time to make a frame very basic or much more challenging.


What Does a Sentence Frame Look Like?

Familiar Content:  "The ________ lives in a _______."

This is an example of a simple sentence frame using familiar content. It is surprisingly complex though, and requires the use of multiple vocabulary strategies.

It needs to make sense with the words that are placed in the blanks. It also requires the use of correct grammar. Students will often fill in the blanks with "monkeys" and "trees." This lends itself to a lesson in correct usage of nouns and verbs in vocabulary sentences.


Academic Vocabulary:  "Covered _________ traveled on the __________ Trail."

Again, this is a simple sentence but now it requires the use of subject specific vocabulary ("wagons" and "Oregon").


Sentence Frames at Different Levels of
Language Acquisition


Vocabulary sentences using frames can also be written for different language levels.

Speech Emergent:  

"Covered ________ traveled on the ________ Trail, but ________ drove cattle on the _________ Trail." [cowboys; Chisholm]


Speech Emergent stages will use simple sentences as illustrated above. Intermediate Fluency can move into comparative sentences, and Advanced Fluency should use complex comparative sentences.

Don't expect Pre-production and Early Pre-production learners to be able to use sentence frames yet.  It's beyond them at the moment.  

They will get there, but familiarize yourself with the stages language learners go through in the link above so you know how to best construct the frames for these students.


Steps for Writing Sentence Frames

The basic steps for creating vocabulary sentences are as follows:

First plan backwards. Begin with the end goal in mind, using an analysis of your lesson and assessments.

  • Determine the critical vocabulary necessary for comprehension of Tier 2 or 3 vocabulary words
  • Develop the sentence frames you will use for structured practice.
  • Sentences can be made to inference or understand cause and effect, but most ELLs need foundational work in understanding the differences and similarities between two things.
  • While writing the sentence frames, keep in mind the target language that you will be replacing with blanks.
  • You will also need to create a word bank for students to draw from.


After you have developed your lesson, group students of similar levels.

Show them how to select appropriate words, write them into the sentence frames and read them aloud.  As students show progress in their language usage, move them into more complex frames.

Looking for more teaching resources for teaching vocabulary?  Go here.



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