Engagement Strategies - Complete Sentences


This strategy requires students to engage with learning by giving full sentence answers to questions.  It enables the teacher to check for understanding and provides the student an opportunity to practise clearly articulating a recently taught concept. Insisting on complete sentence responses improves oral and written language and provides an opportunity to rehearse academic language.


  Use in the Classroom

Before we can expect students to give clear, full sentence responses, teachers need to model a complete sentence and provide sentence starters. The question must elicit a full sentence response and may follow a short answer question. Prior to calling on an individual student to respond, teach, ask a question specific to what has been taught, then:

  • provide a sentence starter.
  • pause and/or pair-share, thus providing students with thinking time and an opportunity to practise articulating the response prior to being called on to ‘stand and deliver’. 
  • select a non-volunteer to articulate the answer, provide effective feedback.
  • may ask the whole class to chorally repeat the complete sentence. 


  • At the start and end of the lesson, students can state what they are learning or have learned. Teacher says, “Tell your partner what we learned today, starting with ‘we learned to’” Students respond, “We learned to add numbers of two and three digits”; “We learned to read and spell words with the trigraph ‘igh’.” 
  • Mathematics: the teacher says, “A pattern is something that repeats itself. How do you know that this is a pattern?” The student responds, “I know this is a pattern because it repeats itself.”
  • Science: the teacher says, “In what ways are emperor penguins different from other birds you know about?”  Teacher models reading the sentence starter so that students can respond, “Emperor penguins are different from other birds in a number of ways.  First,…

  Personalised Learning

When students with additional needs are engaging with learning by giving full sentence answers to questions, there can be some potential barriers that need to be considered.

These may include the articulation of speech, the complexities of oral syntax and vocabulary knowledge and recall. Some students may have an increase in anxiety when speaking aloud in front of their peers.

Some potential adjustments may include:

  • Model example and non-example responses and teach any content words to be used in the sentence. This may include visuals of key words.
  • Teach the student how to take the words in the question and use them to begin their complete sentence response.
  • Allow additional processing time or encourage practice with a partner before responding and giving a complete sentence independently.
  • If the student uses fragmented syntax, model complete syntax back to them. This may include using five fingers or blocks as a visual to count out the number of words to be used to make up a complete sentence and to show that sentences are made up of several words.
  • Provide sentence starters and prompts or sentences where the student can fill in a word and then repeat the whole sentence with the teacher.
  • Use of a communication device such as a voice output or a communication aid whereby the student records the sentence and plays it aloud for the whole class.
  • Use of sentence strips to re-arrange words into a complete sentence or provide several sentences and the student chooses the complete one.
  • Allow choral responses in pairs or small groups to articulate the complete sentence or the teacher types the complete sentences provided by other students and the student reads back the sentences.


DataWorks Lesson Video Gallery

This video provides explanations about how to use the complete sentences engagement strategy.  

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TES Sentence Starters

This website has two free documents to download with sets of sentence starters in speech bubbles to facilitate discussion and reasoning in mathematics lessons.

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