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Strategy Guide

Using Generative Sentences to Apply Academic Vocabulary

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Using Generative Sentences to Apply Academic Vocabulary

Grades 4 – 12

Scott Filkins

Scott Filkins

Champaign, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English

Strategy Guide Series Developing Academic Vocabulary

See All Strategy Guides in this series 


Research Basis

Strategy in Practice

Related Resources

In this guide, you will learn how to use generative sentences to give students challenging and creative opportunities to apply their knowledge of new words in writing.

Research Basis


Graves (2007) notes that “vocabulary instruction is most effective when learners are given both definitional and contextual information, when they actively process the new word meanings, and when they experience multiple encounters with words. Said somewhat differently, vocabulary instruction is most effective when it is rich, deep, and extended” (p. 14). Engaging students in the generative sentences strategy (Fisher & Frey, 2008) offers students a chance to use writing to deepen and extend their knowledge of words and how they function in relation to other words in context-rich sentences.


Graves, M.F. (2007). Vocabulary instruction in the middle grades. Voices from the Middle, 15(1): 13-19.


Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2008). Word wise and content rich: Five essential steps to teaching academic vocabulary. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Strategy in Practice

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  1. Mid-way or at the end of a unit of study, share or project the key vocabulary students have been learning.

  2. Introduce the generative sentences activity by explaining to students that they will show what they know about words by using them in an original sentence—but with some rules attached. Tell students that for each word they will be practicing, they will either be told the number of words the sentence can have and/or the position in the sentence the word must occupy.

  3. Share a few examples to familiarize students with the guidelines:

    • apprehensive in a seven-word sentence: She felt apprehensive about the big test.
    • pristine as the fifth word in a sentence: After the cleaning, the pristine windows reflected anyone who walked by.
  4. Then model how to generate a sentence by asking students to choose a word from the list and the sentence length or position in sentence for you to try. Stress the importance of showing knowledge of the word, including part of speech, and applying knowledge of how words work together to form sentences. Think aloud to demonstrate the complex problem solving the task sets forth.

  5. Put students in pairs or small groups and then share the words and sentence rules, giving them time to discuss word meanings and possible approaches for sentences.

  6. Ask for volunteers to share their sentences. Have others provide feedback on how well the sentence demonstrates word knowledge and creativity in approach given the constraints of sentence length and/or word placement.

Related Resources

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