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On sentence stems and ‘extreme modelling’

Back in October, which feels like a lifetime ago, I had the pleasure of seeing a #rEDSurrey presentation given by the brilliant Lyndsey Caldwell on what she called ‘extreme modelling’ using sentence stem scaffolds. Lyndsey is one of the most compelling people I’ve seen present on English leadership and her approach made so much sense in terms of giving structure and support to students with the very demanding task of analytical writing. Lyndsey has kindly agreed that I may share the sentence stem sheets we’ve put together and which I reference here.

In brief, Lyndsey’s approach is to model analytical writing at sentence level. Students are regularly shown model paragraphs and analyse how they’ve been put together – Lyndsey showed us a few photos from students’ books and you could see how regularly they are shown and pick apart these model responses. Students are also walked through the process of putting a response together and build up from teachers chunking the analytical writing (e.g. ‘I’m going to give you all a few minutes to write your first sentence – what’s the BIG idea that you’re going to explore in this paragraph?) to giving students time to use the sentence stem sheet to write full paragraphs and then full essays on their own.

A couple of my team were with me and we left inspired to trial Lyndsey’s sentence stem sheets. We started using them before Christmas and they were a bit of a game changer. They take a while to put together but the investment of time is definitely worth it. We create PDF documents so that we can print them off as small A5 booklets which students can then keep in their exercise books.

Here’s an example year 7 sentence stem sheet for The Odyssey. We’ve adapted Lyndsey’s sentence stems to fit more closely with the approach we’ve been using in our department (e.g. the inclusion of sentence stem 7). Essentially what students do is build up their sentence stems using this as a support – they use some of the phrases as they appear but they add parts (e.g. [insert theme]) and change the parts of the sentence that given an idea of things you might say (e.g. the story of Orestes) because these are just included to give an idea of how a sentence might be structured.

We’ve been really impressed with how students have responded to the sentence stem sheets. Students who struggled to write a few sentences independently are now able to form whole paragraphs and, what’s probably more important, their experience of success means that they’re feeling much more confident with analytical writing.

Our trial was so successful that we’re now working on writing sentence stem sheets for all of our core texts. I’m sharing all of the ones we’ve produced so far but, as this is a work in progress, I’ll be updating as we go. Feel free to use, share and adapt. We hope they prove useful.

With thanks to my colleagues Lorna Allwright (@MissisAllwright) and Linda Evans (@missljevans) for allowing me to share the sentence stem sheets that they’ve written.

TBC = to be completed

Year 7

The Odyssey – here and here.

Oedipus Rex – TBC

Year 8

Romeo and Juliet – here.

Frankenstein – TBC.

Year 9

Dracula – here.

Dystopian fiction – TBC

GCSE

An Inspector Calls – here and here.

Macbeth – TBC.

Jekyll and Hyde – TBC

Power and Conflict Poetry – TBC

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