Target Sentences and Scaffolding


One of the biggest mistakes I see new teachers or home school parents make is a lack of planning around what they are trying to teach their students. This can be especially true when we are dealing with ESL, as what may be obvious to us may not be obvious to our students.  

Target sentences provide a focus for your lesson and help you zero in on what exactly you want your child or student to learn. It will also help you structure your ideas so that they all lead to an ultimate learning objective. This means you can make sure your child knows what they need to know to improve.


As well, incorporating your target sentences into a larger scaffolding plan will help you design the most effective lesson for your child. It may take some work at first to get used to, but once you get into the groove of it, then it will become easier. If you have any questions about how to scaffold or plan your target sentences, please send us a message. You can do that by clicking here or on the picture below. 

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What is a Target Sentence?

A target sentence is a sentence that you want your child to learn how to say by the end of your lesson. Usually, a target sentence is going to try to focus on a single grammar point or set of vocabulary. 

Target sentences do not have to be rigid. If you are teaching your child a new verb, then you would expect your child to be able to conjugate that verb properly and use it with multiple subjects and nouns. Your target sentence can adapt to fit these differences.

As well, target sentences are not supposed to be about memorizing an important sentence. Rather, it is supposed to be a kind of sentence that shows their mastery of whatever piece of grammar you want them to be able to use. The ultimate goal of a target sentence is to give your child focus while learning something they will need to be able to use to become a better English speaker.


Examples of Target Sentences

In this section, we will give you some examples of grammar points or vocabulary that you might want your child to know. This will be followed by a target sentence that you could use to help teach your child those points.

These are just examples to give you a sense of what a target sentence can look like. You will need to customize your target sentences based on what your child is trying to learn. 

To Have in the Present Tense

What do/does (subject) have/has?

(subject) has/have a _______.

What does John have?

John has a toy car.

Colors Vocabulary

What color is it?

It is _(color)_.

What color is it?

It is blue.


What is this/that?

This/That is a(n) _(animal)_.

What is that?

That is a duck.

What are these/those?

These/Those are _(animal)_.

What are these?

These are snails.


The Importance of Scaffolding 

Scaffolding is how we build one lesson on top of another until your child understands the particular grammar point you want your child to master. When we are teaching young learners, we cannot just start by asking them a question and expecting an answer. Instead, you need to make sure that they understand every step that gets them to that question and answer.

Let me show you what we mean. 

We want our child to be able to ask and answer questions describing a dog. Those final target sentences might look like this:

Which dog do you like?

I like the _(adj)_ dog.

I like the big dog.

If you know English, then this probably looks easy enough. But, let’s take a look at what you need to know to be able to make these sentences.

  1. Adjectives
  2. Pronouns “you” and “I”
  3. “The” vs “a/an”
  4. Present Tense “to Like”
  5. Questions Words like “which”
  6. Sentence patterns for declarative sentences and questions

Looks like a lot when you lay it out like that right? Chances are your child already knows how to do some of these already. So, maybe you only need to teach your child adjectives or question words. But, if they don’t, then you will need to think about the most logical way to get to where you want them to be.


What Should Scaffolding Look Like in English?

When you are scaffolding, you should think about the most logical way to teach everything you need your child to know to get to your target sentence. 

So what should you think about when planning your scaffolding? I would lay it out this way.

  1. Teach any fundamentals they do not know (how to use “the,” different pronouns, etc.)
  2. Teach the necessary vocabulary (the adjective vocabulary you want them to know)
  3. Teach the declarative sentences (I like the small dog.)
  4. Teach the Question (Which dog do you like?)
  5. Put it all together and make sure that they understand everything

Depending on how many fundamentals they need to know, this list could take a long time. You may even need to choose a new target sentence as this one may be too hard. 

It is important that the language you are trying to teach is difficult but attainable. Too easy and they won’t improve, too hard and they will get frustrated. 

For example, if they don’t know how to use “you” and “I” yet, then this sentence is probably too hard for them. Maybe start with the target sentence: 

Who is/are ____?

_____ is/are _(name)_. 

Who is she?

She is Mary.

Using English Activities to Teach

Once you finish outlining what target sentences you want your child to learn and the involved scaffolding, the next thing you have to do is figure out how you’re going to teach them. Flashcards? Games? Field trips? It is totally up to you.

You want to think about what you are teaching and how you can involve that in an activity that is relevant to your child. This can be relevant because it is something important to them (toys/food/animals), or it is a new experience that they will enjoy (cooking/field trips/games). 

People learn things better when they are interested and when they can understand why learning this English could help them do something that they like. If you are interested in looking over some of our ideas for games and activities, browse our posts on vowels and consonants games, music, and board games for teaching English. 

You could also look at our posts on food in English, which all come with activities you could to help teach your child English. You may not want to teach them about food, but the ideas there might help you come up with some ideas of your own. 


Final Thoughts

When you first start teaching your child, scaffolding and target sentences may not be something you immediately think about. However, they are an incredibly useful tool to structure your lessons.

One of the most important things to do when you are teaching your child English is to teach in a thought out, systematic way. Each lesson should build on the one before it. While you are planning your lessons, you should have end goals in mind that you are building towards.

It can be very easy to get lost in all of the things that you want your child to learn. It may seem like a waste of time now, but by stopping and thinking out a more long-term plan, you will save time in the long run. If you have any questions about this, feel free to send us a message by clicking on the link below. 

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