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Teacher & Training Tips

Providing Sentence Stems with Kagan Structures

Tom Searl

To cite this article: Searl, T. Providing Sentence Stems with Kagan Structures. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #62. www.KaganOnline.com

Throughout the instructional day, we ask students to respond to questions. We want students to verbalize their thoughts to a partner, teammate, or classmate. We want them to express themselves critically and creatively. We want them to explain a process or verbally review information. We want them to internalize their thinking and then express it. So why, then, are many students hesitant to answer? This is not a new dilemma in education, so it warrants various questions: Why might students be hesitant share answer? Do they not know how to answer? Are the questions unclear? Students talk outside of the classroom, but then shut down inside the classroom. How can I help them talk?

Sentence stems give students access to initiate communication, therefore reducing the anxiety of “how to get started.”

We know that when we use Kagan Structure for the first time, we should be asking easy or fun types of questions to students. These types of questions help to lower the anxiety of giving a response. When we use Kagan Structures for asking content-related questions, anxiety heightens. Students begin questioning their ability to answer. They instantly start asking themselves a multitude of questions: Did I understand the question from the teacher? Do I know what the teacher is asking of me? Did I hear the question correctly? Do I have the vocabulary with which to answer? These questions begin to create internal anxiety.

How can we help to reduce student anxiety when asking them to respond to our questions? One technique is for teachers to create and visually post sentence stems. Sentence stems give students access to initiate communication, therefore reducing the anxiety of “how to get started.” Frequently, students are more concerned about how to correctly formulate the first sentence of their answer. They get hung up with their opening sentence. Creating and posting simple sentence stems helps students move past the anxiety and allows them to focus their energies into expressing their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. It gives them a framework for communicating, talking, and even writing. Stems also provide the scaffolding needed to help students initiate their response(s) at different levels. Below are only some of the thousands of simple sentence stems that can be used for aiding student responses. The Talking Teamwork poster sets below offer sentence starters for team communication skills including: praising, paraphrasing, disagreeing politely, coaching, and more.

Question: Sentence Stems:

What is the answer to _____? “The answer is...” or “My best answer is...”
What is one example of _____? “One example of _____ is...”
Predict what you think will happen next. “One prediction I have is...”
How might you feel if _____? “One way I might feel is...”
What do you know about _____? “I already know...”
Compare and contrast ____ and _____. “They are similar/different because...”
Explain the steps of your thinking. “First I thought..., and then I thought...”

As teachers become more comfortable in creating stems, they can be organized into various categories based on the skill(s) taught. Various skills include: predicting, visualizing, giving an opinion, comparing and contrasting, cause and effect, and providing evidence.

The Talking Teamwork poster sets below offer sentence starters for team communication skills including: praising, paraphrasing, disagreeing politely, coaching, and more.

When using any Kagan Structure, enjoy the process of creating sentence stems and enjoy watching students feeling successful when they answer and respond to your questions!

Resources

Talking Teamwork Poster Set

Build team communication skills with these phrases and sentence starters your students can use during their cooperative interactions. PKTT
Click to learn more.


Talking Teamwork Poster Set 2

Based on the success of the original Talking Teamwork poster set, Kagan now offers more phrases and sentence starters to improve communication skills. The sentence starters and expressions in this set will boost your students’ communication skills and help them make teamwork a success. PKTT2
Click to learn more.