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



Taking video notes

Whilst supporting in a GCSE RE lesson on Monday I saw a great little strategy to help students take notes whilst watching a video clip.

Often when viewing a video clip in a lesson, many students struggle to write all the useful information down. In addition, many will miss important visual points whilst they have their head down writing. The strategy below enables all the relevant information to be recorded and then shared within small groups.


Working in a group of four, decide who will be student A, B, C and D

Student A – Write down what you see

Student B – Write down what you hear

Student C – Write down relevant facts 

Student D – Write down something you didn’t know before

Once the video has finished, share your ideas with each other.

I liked the way that this strategy focused the students note taking and ensured that they also had time to watch the video without spending the whole time scribbling notes. 

Silent conversation – Fake text messages

If you have ever tried to conduct a ‘Silent conversation’ activity in lessons, you may have found them a useful way for students to communicate their ideas, ask questions about a starter image, discuss an issue and peer assess each others work. Although a very useful activity, I have come across a couple of challenges:

  1. How do students record the information so that they each have a copy in their books to review at a later date and to show you what they have done and understood?
  2. How do you motivate those who find writing unappealing?

How about using iPads (if available), or school computers to conduct the same task but creating a stream of text messages which can be printed out and stuck into books?

There are numerous websites that allow you to do this, two such examples are (Click on image):

fake text


ios 7 fake


You can use it for a calm and quiet start to a  lesson to interrogate an image, after a piece of extended writing to question each other about what they have done or as a summary task where students can ask each other questions about the work they have done that lesson.

Checking progress and understanding

I often found myself relying on one method when checking understanding in lessons – usually asking questions and students putting hands up – lazy I know. I can’t remember where I got hold of it, but I found a ppt where different tasks were displayed to check understanding. If this looks similar to something you originally produced a few years back then thank you for the inspiration – also let me know and I will credit you.

I have modified it and you can see the result by clicking on the image below:

plenary grid hat

Every now and again, to check understanding (and break things up a bit) stick the ppt up and get a student to pull a numbered card from a hat. Click the number on the ppt which takes you to the appropriate task and the student responds.

Nothing mind blowing or revolutionary, but I found it a useful way of remembering to vary tasks a bit. Each term take one or two out and replace with new ones.

Questioning techniques. Some ideas


Increase ‘wait time’ ask a question & give wait time. Ask another question, then go back to 1st one

Phone a friend – Struggling student asks for answers from three peers. They then choose the best one

Colour coded paper planes for different questions (via @LauraLolder)


Use ‘no hands up’ to keep students on toes

Use Olympic medal method: Bronze (state) Silver (describe) Gold (explain) questions in stages of complexity

Questioning to promote learning: Some ideas

Think Pair Share. Always worth a reminder and this post puts it very well


What, how and why? In ‘The Secondary A-Z Of…’, how do teachers ask effective questions? From theory to practical tips, this programme explores the approaches of eleven teachers from across the UK. Watch the video here:

Same students keep answering your questions? Use a random name generator. Populate for your class here 


Higher order thinking skill dice to support students questioning:


Differentiation. Some ideas

Below are a selection of ideas and resources to help when planning for differentiation in the classroom.

Create a learning ladder for a lesson with tasks based on stages on Blooms revised taxonomy


Differentiated outcomes on horizontal line shows students how to progress.  Simple and effective.


Try an ‘Enable Table’. Resources to support or stretch – accessed at students’ discretion


Differentiation deviser – 80 ways to differentiate


Some great differentiation tips here for teaching lessons for lower ability students


VIDEO: ‘Learning Compass’ differentiation strategy