Sentence Stems for Academic Discourse

Type of Activity:



Example, Subject Area and Grade Span: Any Subject, Grades K-12

What it is:

Academic discourse provides students with the language tools (vocabulary and syntax) necessary to competently discuss the topic using complete sentences. Structured dialogue in the form of “sentence stems” provides a scaffold for students to use and internalize academic language in useful context. Group and partner activities provide an opportunity for this important dialogue.

What it looks like:

  • Model for students’ fluent use of response starters and have them repeat prior to their use in partner and group discussion.
  • Examples of sentence stems:
    • “The text is about…”
    • “The main idea is…”
    • “The most important details are…”
    • “The text structure is…”
    • “The text features include…”
    • “To summarize the key ideas and concepts…”
    • “I learned…”
    • “My partner pointed out…”
    • “My partner mentioned that…”
    • “We agreed that…”
    • “We decided that…”
  • Pose a question to students for the purpose of partner/group discussion
    (ex: “What are the most important details in this passage?”).
  • In pairs, have students use specific “sentence stems” to support the use of academic language (ex. The most important details in this passage are...”).
  • Have students write their responses in complete sentences using academic sentence stems.

How you know it’s working:

  • Students use academic language when speaking and writing.
  • Students respond and discuss in complete sentences.
  • Develop a rubric to evaluate the effective use of academic language.

Things to consider:

  • This is an effective strategy to support English learners. 
  • This strategy can be utilized across the curriculum.
  • Partner students carefully according to their language needs.


Feldman, K., & Kinsella, K. (2005). Narrowing the language gap institute: Academic language and vocabulary development for all students PreK-12. San Diego, California.

2007 Board of Education, San Diego County. All rights reserved.