Sentence Walls/ Frames Enhances Writing and Oral Expression of English Language Learners

25 Feb
“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”      Dr. Seuss 

For most English Language Learners, content literacy (using reading, writing, speaking, and listening to gain new knowledge) depends on the proficiency in the language of the text, the majority of which is English (Carrier, 2006).

Sentence Walls/ Frames

Sentence walls/ frames are similar to word walls that are prominently displayed in the classroom.  They provide a visual display of well-formed phrases and sentences, allowing students to communicate in classroom discussions about content.  Sentence walls/ frames provide the language necessary for talking and writing about a given topic.  It allows English Language Learners to become familiar with vocabulary and sentence structures. (Carrier, 2006)


  • available for immediate use
  • expands use of language (labeling and simple sentences to complex and grammatically correct statements)
  • demonstrate knowledge of new concepts (assessment)
  • helpful for struggling native English speakers in constructing well-formed sentences in their writing


  • may create a challenge to develop questions and statements for sentence wall/ frame in advance

(Carrier, 2006)

Developing Sentence Frames/ Walls

  1. Write sentences that express the target language function.
    1. Compare/contrast
    2. Problem/solution
    3. Cause/effect
    4. description
    5. Replace target vocabulary with blanks.
    6. Create a word bank of the words.

(Donnelly, 2010)

Language Level 2 3 4
Expected Outcomes Simple Sentences Comparative Sentences Complex Comparative Sentences
Sentence frame with vocabulary underlined Oranges are sweet.Lemons are sour. Oranges and lemons are both fruit, but oranges are sweet, and lemons are sour. The main difference between oranges and lemons is oranges are sweet, while lemons are sour.
Sentence frame with vocabulary removed ___ are ___. ___ and ___ are both ___, but ___ are ___, and ___ are ___. ___ and ___ is ___ are ___, while ___ are ___.
Example taken from: Donnelly, W.B. & Roe, C.J. (2010). Using sentence frames to develop academic vocabulary for English learners. The Reading Teacher, 64(2), pp. 134


The best way for students to learn about sentence walls is through modeling and plenty of examples for when and how to use sentence frames/ walls.  Modeling helps the student learn proper pronunciation and intonation. (Carrier, 2006)


  1. Listen to teacher say sentence.
  2. Student says sentence with teacher.
  3. Student says sentence to teacher.
  4. Student says sentence to a peer.

The main purpose is oral practice, but should equally be used for written practice. (Donnelly, 2010)


This a great opportunity for classroom teachers to share sentence walls with their English Language Education teachers.  This can further enhance the child’s language development.

Connections to Multiple Intelligence

Linguistic Intelligence

By using sentence frames/ walls students are learning to use language.  They are able to express their ideas about the concepts being taught.  As an end result, it is hoped that the child can remember and in turn show what they have learned.

Spatial Intelligence

This may be a stretch, but hear me out.

Language has certain structures and patterns.  As Donnelly’s article shows, you need to think about and target the language function (compare/contrast, problem/solution, etc.).  Each of these has a certain pattern and structure to follow.  Once a child knows the pattern of a compare/contrast statement, they will be able to independently develop their own statement down the road.

Connections to Universal Design for Learning

Provide Multiple Means of Representation

1. Provide options for perception

• Options that customize the display of information

• Options that provide alternatives for visual information

2. Provide options for language and symbols

• Options that clarify syntax and structure

3. Provide options for comprehension

• Options that highlight critical features, big ideas, and relationships

Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

4. Provide options for expressive skills and fluency

• Options in the scaffolds for practice and performance

5. Provide options for executive functions

• Options that support planning and strategy development

• Options that facilitate managing information and resources

• Options that enhance capacity for monitoring progress

 Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

8. Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence

• Options that foster collaboration and communication

Let’s Put It All Together

This clearly shows how sentence frames/ walls are linked to the UDL principles.  Sentence frames display information in a visual format, showing students the proper language structure, which can show relationships in language, such as a problem and solution statement.  Teachers will scaffold instruction to the point where students will become less dependent on this tool.  Sentence frames help students plan and manage their ideas and how to express those ideas.  It is also a handy assessment tool for teachers to monitor student progress in written and oral language.  It also allows opportunities for the student, classroom teacher and the English Language Educator to work together.


Carrier, K.A. & Tatum, A.W. (2006). Creating sentence walls to help English-language learners develop content literacy.  The Reading Teacher, 60(3), pp. 285-288.

Donnelly, W.B. & Roe, C.J. (2010). Using sentence frames to develop academic vocabulary for English learners. The Reading Teacher, 64(2), pp. 131-136.

Here is a great story frame to use with your students to learn about story elements.

Here is a Cinderella story frame.

Look sentence frames can be used in math!


Posted by on February 25, 2011 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “Sentence Walls/ Frames Enhances Writing and Oral Expression of English Language Learners

  1. dkelley717

    March 23, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Hi Michael,

    This strategy is great! In my experiences working with students who are English Language Learners, they have excellent thoughts and ideas but don’t have the words to clearly express themselves. Using this strategy provides students with the organization and words to express their thoughts. While I have used this strategy for oral sentence formulation, sentence writing, and comprehension I hadn’t considered using it in math. The link you provided on using sentence frames in math was great and I can adapt the strategies for the students I work with.
    While your post focuses on using this strategy with students who are English Language Learners, have you found that using this strategy with students who are language impaired is beneficial?

  2. Terri Spear

    April 6, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Your blog regarding the sentence walls and frames came at a perfect time for me. I am in the process of evaluating my first ELL student. After reading your blog, it gave me some ideas that I could recommend to his teacher. When I think about the students I currently have on my caseload, most of them gravitate to using visual strategies; I could see where this strategy would be a helpful visual tool during whole group, small group or individual instruction. Your link to the Frame, referenced “readers read more like writers.” This statement reminded me of discussions our elementary schools have had during writing workshops regarding the correlation between reading, language and writing.
    I certainly like the idea of using word clues to focus on sequencing written thoughts. In the past I’ve used word banks for assessments, but after seeing your example I plan to try them with simple sentence frames during writing instruction. I could also see the benefit to the frame when I think about some of my students who just don’t know where to begin expressing their written thoughts. The simple sentence frame would provide them a means to successfully participate in the writing process, but at a differentiated level specific to their ability, then they could make their thoughts grow! I feel this could be a valuable data collection piece. As educators we always need to know if our students truly understand a concept, and with our LD student/ELL students it’s not always easy to collect the evidence. This could be a quick but accurate tool to collect data that demonstrates the child’s ability to express their knowledge at their developmental level. Somebody once told me when I first entered teaching that if you want to use an effective LD strategy then use an ELL strategy or tool. While this is an effective support for ELL students, could this be effective for LD students with working memory deficits? Your blog is well designed and easy to navigate. I hope you keep it going even after the class ends!
    Terri Spear


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