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Differentiated Tip: Is that Telling or Asking

Differentiated Instruction

Mr. Abernathy was ready and eager for his monthly coaching visit with Janie.  He had prepared lesson plans to teach his students about sentences that tell something and sentences that ask.  When he had pre-assessed his students (a strategy Coach Janie had taught him in a prior visit) he determined that several students didn’t understand the difference between the two types of sentences.  His question for Janie was what could he do?

Janie explained that pre-requisite skills must be taught to these students in a small group setting. She provided an oral and written activity to address the students’ difficulty.  First, they applied the strategy to sentences that tell, and then to sentences that ask.


Sentences that Tell

Janie guided Mr. Abernathy through the following activity:

Mr. Abernathy: We are going to learn about sentences that tell.

Coaching Tip: Janie coached that IF students need to have the term “statement” in their repertoire, add to this definition: Sentences that tell are called statements.

Mr. Abernathy:  Here are some examples of sentences that tell:

  • I go to school because I love to learn. That sentence TELLS why I go to school.
  • I come home in the afternoon. That sentence TELLS when I come home.
  • I put my clothes in my front closet. That sentence TELLS where I put my clothes.
  • The dog has a red coat. That sentence TELLS what has a red coat.
  • My father is a very tall man. That sentence TELLS who is a very tall man.

Now, you give me sentences that tell.

Coaching Tip- “When you are certain that students are firm in giving you sentences that tell, bring in non-teaching examples-sentences that DON”T tell.”

Mr. Abernathy: 

My turn- My dog is big. This sentence TELLS me how big my dog is. IS my dog big? This sentence does NOT TELL how big my dog is.

My turn- I came home at 8 PM. That sentence TELLS when I came home. Did I come home at 8 PM? That sentence does NOT TELL when I came home.

Coaching Tip:  “Continue to model teaching and non-teaching examples. Once your examples have been given, then ask the children to orally identify whether a sentence tells or not.”

Mr. Abernathy:

The dog is walking. Does that sentence tell?

The house is on a quiet street. Does that sentence tell?

Is my mother tall? Does that sentence tell?

Coaching Tip:  If students answer incorrectly, correct by saying- My turn- that sentence does NOT TELL me if my mother is tall. It ASKS if my mother is tall.  Continue to orally present teaching and non-teaching examples of telling sentences.

CAUTION- be careful not to form a recognizable pattern when giving teaching and non-teaching examples- 2 sentences that ARE telling, 2 sentences that are NOT telling. Some students will think that they can get the correct answers by determining the pattern. The pattern should be random:

  • 2 teaching examples
  • 1 non teaching
  • 4 teaching examples
  • 2 non teaching examples

When students are firm on answering orally, then have them identify telling sentences and sentences that don’t tell in writing. First teach the end mark.

Mr. Abernathy:  IF it’s a telling sentence the mark at the end of the sentence is a period. What do we call the mark at the end of a telling sentence?

Students:  A period

Mr. Abernathy:  Yes, a period. (Have students point to the end mark.)



Janie explained that when students are firm on sentences that tell, then Mr.  Abernathy could introduce questions. 

Mr. Abernathy: There are other kinds of sentences. Some sentences don’t TELL us anything, some sentences ASK something. Sentences that ASK something are called questions.

Coaching Tip: Teacher should give teaching examples of questions. Follow the same format as when teaching sentences that tell.

Mr. Abernathy:  My turn, if I say a sentence that ASKS something say question, if it DOESN’T ASK something, say no.

Is my house small? Is that sentence a question? (Students respond question)

My school has a playground. Is that sentence a question? (Students answer no)

Coaching Tip:  Once students are firm on sentences that tell and question, then combine the two.

Mr. Abernathy:  If I say a sentence that tells, say tells, if I say a sentence that asks something say question.

Coaching Tip:  Be careful to intersperse “question sentences” and “telling sentences” randomly.  Once students are firm orally, then they should respond in writing. Teach the end mark for questions.

Mr. Abernathy: If it’s a question, the mark at the end of the sentence is a question mark. What is the end mark of a question?

Students: A question mark.

Mr. Abernathy:  Yes, a question mark. (Have students point to a question mark.)


Additional Strategies

 If further differentiation is needed:

  • The naive group can continue to identify whether a sentence is a telling sentence or an asking sentence.
  • A more proficient group can turn a telling sentence into a question sentence and vice versa. (A dog is red- Is a dog red?)



Pre-assessment and ongoing assessments are essential to effective instruction and more specifically integral to successful differentiation. After identifying the instructional needs of students, teachers need to identify the skill or sub-skill that needs to be taught, reinforced and brought to mastery for each student.  This is best done via small group instruction. 

Students should first be taught what something is, and once that is firm, taught what it is not (teaching and non-teaching examples).  Using well paced questions that draw responses from students is an effective and engaging instructional strategy.

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