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Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation

Content: Sentence Frames for Vocab


Social Language vs. Academic Language

Explore the distinction between social and academic language, emphasizing the significance of both. Introduce the activity of using English for school work, focusing on supporting vocabulary development through sentence frames.

Social Language

English learners (ELs) initially excel in social language, crucial for navigating schools and communities. Celebrate their ability to interact socially, fostering confidence in both classroom and community settings.

Academic Language

While social language is essential, academic language, found in textbooks and formal instruction, is equally important. It has its own vocabulary and expressions, playing a vital role in school learning.

Fluent in Conversation vs. Academic Language

Students fluent in everyday conversation may struggle with academic language. The difference arises because formal instruction, such as in math or literature, requires a distinct language style compared to everyday communication.

Contrasts in Language Use

Everyday communication involves slang, conversational speech, and incomplete sentences. In contrast, formal instruction demands specialized vocabularies, reading, writing, and precision.

Importance of Academic Language

Formal education aims to make students proficient in various fields, emphasizing the importance of academic language. Even mono-lingual English-speaking students require extensive practice with words, sentences, and various written formats.

Inclusion in English Learning

For ELs, English teaching should explicitly incorporate both social and academic language. This dual focus is integral to mastering the new language. Similar attention is needed for many American students, making formal education an ongoing effort to enhance language skills.

Starting Points

Initiate the journey to learn academic language by focusing on vocabulary and sentence structures. Understanding and practicing these elements contribute significantly to language proficiency.

Sentence Frames

The sentence is a key structure in academic language. In conversational language, we often do not use complete sentences. It’s faster not too! But in school, and in the sorts of writing that schools deal with and encourage, complete sentences are the rule. 

Quick Tip!

Every language has different conventions for forming sentences. Some of these conventions are very, very different from those used in English. So, it makes sense to give ELs patterns for complete sentences, which can easily include practice with new vocabulary (for instance, for a math or reading lesson). Perhaps with the help of your teacher or instructional team, you can make sentence frames to use with ELs involved in almost any lesson.

A sentence frame is simply a well-made sentence with a word or two left out. The idea is to improvise with the missing words. The students supply the words. For instance: 

  • In this lesson, we are learning about ____________. 
  • The most difficult idea for me in this lesson is ____________. 

If the lessons are about fractions, one might develop sentence frames like this: 

  • The fraction 4/2 also represents one of the basic operations: ________. 
    for instance: Fractions use one of the basic operations: division. 
  • The ____ number in a ____________ is the ___________. 
    for instance: The bottom number in a fraction is the denominator. 
    The top number in a fraction is the numerator. 
  • In ______________ fractions the ______________ is larger than the ____________. 
    for instance: 
    In proper fractions the denominator is larger than the numerator. 
    In improper fractions the numerator is larger than the denominator. 


  1. Look at the plan for a lesson that was recently taught or that is coming up soon. If you are not currently working in a classroom, find a lesson plan on-line to look at. 
  2. Identify three to five key ideas presented in the lesson, and be sure you understand them. 
  3. Write out the most important vocabulary (three to five words) related to each idea. 
  4. Develop two sentence frames for the vocabulary associated with each key idea. 
  5. If you are working on this activity in a group, meet to compare your sentence frames. Put them in a shared folder so everyone can access them and work on them collaboratively. 

Module: Communication and Collaboration

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