English Learners

Sentence Frames for ELL Students

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Communication is key in a classroom community. Whether turning and talking about character traits or writing entries in a dialogue journal, students and teachers are engaging in constant communication. However, not all students feel comfortable raising their hand during a discussion or writing a response to a prompt. That’s where scaffolding tools, like sentence frames, come into play. Sentence frames support all learners, especially ELL students, in confidently writing and speaking in the classroom.

Students who are learning English do not fit neatly into a single label and come from a range of cultural, linguistic, and educational backgrounds. We use the common phrases multilingual learner, English language learner, along with the acronym ELL, but we recognize that any label is imperfect.

What Is a Sentence Frame?

Sentence frames are structures for writing and speaking in which words have been removed from a sentence. Students then complete the sentence by filling in the removed words to practice and build on language skills, such as academic vocabulary. This fill-in-the-blank format can provide students the structure to confidently ask and answer questions. Sentence frames can also be used to engage students in writing or participating in verbal discussions across subject areas, including English language arts, math, science, and social studies.

Why Are Sentence Frames Important?

Sentence frames serve as a scaffolding tool, providing students with a framework for oral and written language. With sentence frames, students have the support to take part in academic discourse and organize ideas when writing. Sentence frames provide structure, so students can focus on expressing their thoughts. This tool also helps students incorporate newly-learned vocabulary into their responses and develop more sophisticated sentences. As students use sentence frames, they will go on to develop the skills needed to be able to write and communicate without them.

How Do Sentence Frames Help ELL Students?

Multilingual learners benefit from the structure sentence frames provide as they work toward mastering English sentence structures, which are often different from their first language. Sentence frames model English grammar and syntax and expose students to content area vocabulary; this allows them to focus on what they want to communicate rather than on how to phrase their response. Sentence frames can also support students with communicating reading comprehension strategies, such as making connections and predicting. For example, in an “If ______, then ______” sentence frame, students learn to express a fundamental idea that’s independent of language, which is actions have consequences.

Teachers should differentiate sentence frames according to students’ language levels. Some students may need a word bank to help express themselves. For students requiring a higher level of sentence frame scaffolding, each blank could be labeled with the part of speech they should use to fill it in.

Response frames take sentence frames one step further and offer multilingual learners additional language support. Using response frames is a strategy used by English language development expert, researcher, and practitioner Dr. Kate Kinsella that offers students a scaffolding tool to support structuring a written or verbal response. Unlike a traditional sentence frame, response frames embed academic vocabulary within the frame, specify a grammatical target, and provide a focused word bank with precise word choices. Response frames are available throughout English 3D, authored by Dr. Kinsella. To learn more about response frames and access a set of printable response frames, download “A Guide to Response Frames.”

Sentence Frames for Writing Instruction

During a writing lesson, students may need scaffolds to start a story or respond to a prompt. Sentence frames help support all students in writing. Sentence frames provide a structure to guide students in organizing and constructing ideas; plus, they model English sentence structure and syntax. This way, students become familiarized with how to form a sentence and can apply that knowledge in the future to write their own sentences.

Sentence Frame Examples

Lead academic discourse and support students in writing with the following sentence frames examples.

  • English Language Arts: The main problem in the story is ______ and is resolved when ______.
  • Math: The strategy I used to solve the word problem was ______ because ______.
  • Science: I observed ______, so I hypothesize ______.
  • Social Studies: ______ is an event that changed the course of history because ______.

Sentence frames are powerful scaffolding tools to build multilingual learners’ confidence in writing and speaking in the classroom. With sentence frames and other scaffolds that leverage multilingual learners’ existing linguistic assets, their English proficiency will continue to grow.


Address the range of English learners’ needs with our English language development programs.

Join Dr. Luz Yadira Herrera and Dr. Giselle Carpio-Williams for a learning session and discussion about honoring and building upon multilingual learners’ existing strengths in the webinar, "Building From Strengths: Centering Multilingual Learners’ Cultures and Language Practices."

Download our free guide to using response frames with multilingual learners.

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