The need for more complex sentence starters



Some initial thoughts…

Changes at GCSE and especially A Level mean that assessments will more often require students to demonstrate a higher level of knowledge, understanding and application through:

  • Analysis
  • Exploration
  • Evaluation
  • Synthesis

This therefore has implications for the way teachers prepare students to access the higher level marks.

As Lemov says, we first have to “identify particular habits of thinking [we] seek to foster, then draft phrases [we] could ask students to use to in starting sentences that would foster that type of thinking.”

Many teachers (including me) have used sentence starters and connectives like:

 Firstly…. This means that….

Also….. As a result….

or PEE (Point Example Explain)


These methods often work well, especially for weaker students, but directs them to basic explanation with one example.

In order to create more detailed and skilful answers, we need to help students to develop more complex sentences by providing them with more than single word sentence starters and connectives

Just because a student starts an A Level course, does not mean that they are suddenly able to write more complex answers than they could 3 months before when they were in Year 11. I know that the suggestion of using writing frames with Sixth formers sends shudders down the spine of some colleagues but now more than ever, I think they are essential.

Teaching the skills of developing complex sentences is now even more important considering the changes in assessment – especially at A Level.

So what might more complex sentence starters look like?

  • At first glance…….. However on closer  (ANALYSIS)
  • Although on the surface it may seem that… (EXPLORATION)
  • Throughout the text/source/article…… (identifying a common thread) (SYNTHESIS)
  • Perhaps, (writer’s name) was hinting that… (propose a tentative idea) (EXPLORATION)
  • Initially, ………..  Ultimately …………. (OVERVIEWS)
  • Overriding all other arguments…. (EVALUATION)
  • Several latent factors combine to create. .. (SYNTHESIS)
  • The balance of evidence suggests… (EVALUATION)




This post is based on Doug Lemov’s ideas that you can research in greater detail online, for example here and a presentation made by J. McMahon, Head of English and GCSE Examiner



Thinking Skills. Literacy and Numeracy

You might find these resources useful:

  • Thinking skills bingo – editable PowerPoint
  • Wordplay – Combining thinking skills, numeracy and literacy in one activity!

Take a look here: