Possible Sentences

Possible sentences is a pre-reading vocabulary strategy that activates students' prior knowledge about content area vocabulary and concepts. Before reading, students are provided a short list of vocabulary words from their reading. Students create, based on their prediction of what the reading will be about, a meaningful sentence for each vocabulary word or concept. After reading, students check to see if their "possible sentences" were accurate or need revising.

When to use: Before reading During reading After reading
How to use: Individually With small groups Whole class setting

Why use possible sentences?

  • It activates students' prior knowledge about content area vocabulary and concepts, and can improve their reading comprehension.
  • It sparks students' curiosity about their reading.
  • It teaches students to guess how words may be used in the text and create meaningful sentences.


How to use possible sentences

  1. Choose and display the vocabulary words.
  2. Ask students to define the words and pair related words together.
  3. Ask students to write sentences using their word pairs. Remind students that their sentences should be ones they expect to see in the text as they read.
  4. Have students read the text and compare their possible sentences with the actual sentences within the text.
  5. If your students' possible sentences are inaccurate, ask them to rewrite their sentences to be accurate.

Download blank templates

Watch: Powerful Predictions: A Pre-Reading Strategy to Build Vocabulary and Support Comprehension

This pre-reading strategy helps students make predictions about the content of a book based on key vocabulary. See the lesson plan.

This video is published with permission from the Balanced Literacy Diet. See many more related how-to videos with lesson plans in the Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension Strategies sections.

Collect resources

Language Arts

This example shows how possible sentences can be used with the book Rechenka's Eggs by Patricia Polacco. See example >

Social Studies

See this lesson plan for using possible sentences to help students understand difficult vocabulary in a passage about Federick Douglass. (Developed for middle school but can be adapted for younger students.) See example >


This example uses vocabulary words related to the water cycle to generate and refine possible sentences. See example >

Differentiated instruction

for second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and for younger learners

  • Have students of varying abilities work together to develop sentences.
  • Invite students to share their sentences with the class.
  • If students have never completed possible sentences you will need to model the process for your students.
  • Provide clues for younger readers by writing sentences and leaving blanks for them to fill in vocabulary words.
  • Give ESL students the vocabulary words in both English and their native language. Ask them to write sentences in English.
  • As a post reading game, students can share their sentences without disclosing which are accurate or inaccurate. Teams of students can try to decipher, based on their reading, which sentences are accurate.

See the research that supports this strategy

Moore, D.W., & Moore, S.A (1986). "Possible sentences." In Reading in the content areas: Improving classroom instruction. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Stahl, S.A. & Kapinus, B.A. (1991). Possible sentences: Predicting word meaning to teach content area vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 45, 36-45.

Texas Education Agency (2002). Teaching Word Meanings as Concepts.


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