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my thoughts

Sentence Frames and Technology

In my previous posts I’ve discussed the role of technology in the language classroom, but something I feel like deserves equal attention is the role of technology in our content classrooms, particularly for our language minority students. I can’t address all of the possibilities of technological interventions for these students but in this post, I’d like to explore possible means of using tech for introducing sentence frames.

For those who aren’t familiar with this term, sentence frames (also known as sentence starters) are a modeling strategy that use partial sentences with blank areas for students to fill in. They are traditionally used as language supports for English Language Learners in content courses, but they have also been encouraged as a means of introducing “academic language” to all students. There are existing sentence frames that have been categorized based on the task that the students would likely need to accomplish within their subject.

Here’s an example used for comparing/contrasting:

The majority of _______ are ________, while _______are _________.

Here’s an example used for expressing opinion:

I believe that ___________ because _________.

The blanks are often filled with content words including key vocabulary which can be taught and reviewed using technology, but for now, let’s focus on the sentence frames. How could we use technology to effectively implement the instruction of sentence frames for our language minority students in our content classrooms? Here’s what I came up with:

1) For in-class presentations, provide Google-slide/PowerPoint templates with sentences frames embedded for students to fill in to introduce the appropriate forms for each part of formal presentation. Then, follow it up with a post-task with no supports, but they can reference the first presentation.

2) Create comprehension checks/homework assignments that use sentence frames. Plenty of online learning management systems (LMS) have platforms for multiple choice and short answer quizzes. Provide a content-based video for the students to watch and have a post-video quiz that uses sentences frames to be filled in with key vocabular in the form of multiple choice or short answer responses. Finish it up with an essay question and encourage students to use sentence frames seen the quiz.

3) Have students create their own digital sentence frames dictionaries. Provide students with readings that use the content vocabulary and that model the appropriate sentence forms. Have the students “farm” the text by copying and pasting first the content words into their digital vocab glosses complete with images, then seen what is left in the text. Have explicit discussions about the sentence forms and the tasks they help us to accomplish, then have students store them away for future reference. Teach them how to navigate it easily with a word search function.

4) Use an LMS to make everyone’s assignment visible to everyone. I know there may be some shy students, but you could make the written works anonymous. Each student becomes a language model now for their peers and students can see examples from their classmates of how to accomplish academic tasks using different language forms. Do you have a student who doesn’t use traditional academic language? Don’t cave to prescriptive pressures—use this as a teachable moment and praise students for creativity; talk to students about where academic language comes from and what they can do to exert their own agency/creativity.

What are your ideas?

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