Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Sentence Frames 101: Supporting ELLs

This week, I want to focus on one of the simplest strategies you can use to support your ELLs- sentence frames. Sentence frames are designed to encourage the use of academic, content and technical vocabulary, to increase the linguistic complexity (how detailed and connected the ideas are) and to help develop fluency in language forms and conventions. 

In my opinion, when working with ELLs, sentence frames should be provided for every speaking and writing activity. They provide students with quality language models, which can be assimilated into the student's own lexicon. 

Using Sentence Frames 
It is best to consider the target language- the language you want students to be understanding and using to read, discuss, and write about a topic- and to prepare your frames when planning your lesson. Follow these steps:
  • Plan your questions/tasks
  • Anticipate the content and complexity of the student response
  • Create your frames based on responses students might give
  • Differentiate your frames by proficiency level
  • Add supports (visuals, word walls)
  • Model sentence frames every time
For more advanced students, you may be able to work together to create appropriate sentence frames. The last item on the list may be the most important- be sure to model the frames for students every time you introduce a set. Just putting them up isn't enough- students 
need to see and hear them modeled by fluent speakers.

Creating your frames
The truth is, this is not as hard as it seems. For example, say we are reading the story Cinderella and talking about character traits. I might ask students "What kind of person is Cinderella?". Students might give some of the following answers:
  • Cinderella is hardworking.
  • Cinderella is hardworking because her stepmother makes her do all the housework.
  • The text says that Cinderella does everything for her stepmother and sisters, so I think she is hardworking.
From that, I can get some basic frames:
  • Cinderella is _____.
  • Cinderella is _____ because _____.
  • The text says _____, so I think _____.

Does it make it too easy?
This is often a concern I hear from teachers. They feel that providing sentence frames and other supports "dumb down" the task or activity. I assure you, this is not the case! Remember that our ELLs are learning both the language and the content at the same time. Providing sentence frames still requires the student to plug in the key content ideas (the "meat"), but it also reduces the language demand so the student can focus on content skills. 

Often times, I see sentence frames provided for lower proficiency students, but not for higher proficiency ELLs. We don't want to take away this scaffold entirely as students acquire more English, instead, the scaffold should evolve along with the proficiency level. That's where differentiation comes in!

Next week, we'll talk a little about differentiating sentence frames based on proficiency levels.

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