Possible Sentences

Strategy #28

What is it?

Possible Sentences is a pre-reading activity. It is a whole class activity that teachers will typically use before reading nonfiction text or giving an oral presentation. This activity activates students' background knowledge about content-area topics as students make predictions about word meanings by crafting possible sentences. The teacher will give the class a list of words and the students will make predictions about the words' meanings by crafting possible sentences.

Why use it?

Possible sentences is an effective vocabulary activity where students activate their prior knowledge and think more in depth about the topic they are about to learn. It teaches students to predict the meanings of words using their background knowledge, what they know about sentence structure, and what they've learned about roots of words and affixes. This activity also keeps students engaged in the lesson because they want to find out if their predictions were accurate.

How do you use it?

  1. Choose words- the teacher will choose 8-10 key words that relate to a content-area- topic. Students may be familiar with these words, they just might not have seen it in this way, and others may be unfamiliar with these words.
  2. Introduce the topic- the teacher will introduce the topic, while making connections previous lessons, and ask students to share their ideas. If students have limited knowledge about the topic and the words the teacher can read aloud a picture book on the topic or share photos and artifacts.
  3. Define the words- the teacher will have the students define the words. Upper grade students can group the words into related pairs.
  4. Write sentences- students will compose sentences using each word. Even thought they may not be sure about the meaning or how to use the words in sentences, they will try it anyway understanding that these possible sentences are like a rough draft and can be revised later when we learn more about the topic.
  5. Share the sentences- students will share their possible sentences and talk about which ones they think are closest to being right.
  6. Teach the lesson- the students will read the text or listen to the presentation while testing how accurate their predictions were.
  7. Evaluate the sentences- students will evaluate the accuracy of their sentences and mark whether they are accurate (+), inaccurate (-), or don't know (?).
  8. 8. Revise the inaccurate sentences- students will revise the sentences that weren't correct and share them with their classmates.

When to use it?

Teachers will usually use possible sentences during thematic units to introduce nonfiction texts and vocabulary. This strategy could also be used before reading novels and stories or as a project after reading a biography. Basically anytime new vocabulary is introduced or a new unit is about to be taught.
The text says this strategy is to be used for grade levels 3-8.

I think it could also be a great strategy with English Language Learners. You could give them a group of vocab words they can make predictions about and then find out the actual definition.

Could also be used for younger grades by using pictures. The teacher could give a smaller group of words and the students could draw a picture of what they think the definition is.


Teachers can provide additional support for struggling students by:

  • Giving an oral presentation or share resources before introducing the words.
  • Having students talk about the topic in partners or groups to activate prior knowledge before introducing the words.
  • Reading aloud a picture book or having students examine photos before introducing the words.

  • For students that really struggle, you could have some possible sentences already sketched out and the student can decided if it's true or false, then as they learn they can check and see if they were right.
  • For ELL students you could also have a picture next to each word to give them a little more idea of what it could mean.

Common Core Standards

Students use context as a clue to meaning.

Students use Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to meaning.

Students consult print and digital reference materials.