4 Easy Steps for Incorporating Sentence Stems in the Classroom

Some students may have difficulty responding during discussions or when completing written assignments. Teachers can help students overcome this difficulty by using sentence stems. Sentence stems are a learning scaffold that can help students respond (orally and through writing) using complete sentences.

Teachers can use sentence stems to:

  • Activate prior knowledge and to link with present content – “I already know / I think that this is similar to.”
  • Clarify information – “I thought / Can you please tell me…”
  • Reinforce use of selected vocabulary – “The text uses…”
  • Help students respond to a question – “I read that/ The text stated…”
  • Summarize information – “I learned…”
  • Structure meaningful conversations – “I agree with/ I disagree with…”

When sentence stems are used, they:

  • Reduce the pressure on students to think and formulate appropriate responses.
  • Support and improve students’ writing.
  • Help students to communicate effectively.

Sentence Stems in Practice

Teachers can incorporate sentence stems in the classroom using these four steps:

  1. Create: Using the content or activity as reference, teachers can create a list of sentence stems, taking care to include vocabulary and/or sentence structures which students need to practice.
  2. Model: Teachers can explain the purpose of sentence stems and model how to use them with think-alouds. By thinking aloud, teachers can clarify the application process.
  3. Practice: Create opportunities for practicing the strategy independently or in pairs. Teachers can plan for conversational or written tasks using sentence stems.
  4. Review: Once students have completed their sentence stems, teachers may instruct pairs to present their sentences to the class. The sentences can then be reviewed and corrected, and any questions can be clarified.

Here are some ways to use sentence stems to support learning in the classroom:

Sentence Stem posters: Teachers can prepare general sentence stem posters and display them in the classroom. During lessons, teachers can call on students and instruct them to complete a sentence stem related to the content.

Pass the list: Teachers can prepare a list of sentence stems and give a copy to each student. Students can be given 2-3 minutes to complete the list (in writing) using information from the topic being discussed. After 3 minutes, students may be instructed to swap their list with a partner and add or edit information on their partner’s sheet. At the end of the allotted time, students can be given another minute to review their edited list.

Question stems: Question stems are open-ended questions that can help students reflect and find connections between concepts or textual information. These can be used to prompt students as they respond to discussions and writing assignments.

Sentence stems help improve students’ language proficiency,  communication skills, and writing. They improve fundamental language skills as well as higher-level thinking skills, familiarizing students with sentence structure, linguistic ability, and lesson content all at once.

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January 2021 Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

About the Author
Ellen Paxton is a respected expert in education and best known as the Chief Learning Officer of Professional Learning Board. As a two-time National Board Certified Teacher, Ellen has successfully published and customized online professional development courses and Learning Management Systems for 20 years to help teachers meet their state continuing education renewal credit requirements. Through ProfessionalLearningBoard.comRenewaTeachingLicense.com, and ConnectedPD.com, Ellen has established solutions and maintained partnerships with several accredited universities, higher education institutions, teachers’ unions and state Departments of Education while setting strategic direction that makes a difference and overseeing implementation of popular online PD for schools.