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Using sentence builder frames for GCSE speaking and writing preparation

Some teachers have cottoned on to the fact that sentence builders (aka substitution tables) are a very useful tool for helping students prepare for their GCSE speaking and writing tests. My own hunch is that would help for students of all levels of proficiency, but may be particularly helpful for those likely to get lower grades, say between 3-6. Much depends, of course, on how complex you make the table.

To remind you, here is a typical sentence builder, as found on the frenchteacher site. The topic is talking about where you live. A word of warning - formatting blogs in Blogger is a nightmare when you start with Word documents, so apologies for any issues. It might have taken me another 30 minutes just to sort out the html code underlying the original document.

Dans ma ville (in my town)

Dans ma région (In my area)

il y a (there is/are)

des banques (banks)
des cafés (cafes)
des centres sportifs (sports centres)
des cinémas (cinemas)
des écoles (schools)
des gymnases (gyms)
des hôtels (hotels)
des jardins publics (parks)
des magasins (shops)
des musées (museums)
une piscine (a swimming pool)
des pubs (pubs)
des restaurants (restaurants)
des supermarchés (supermarkets)
un centre commercial (shopping mall)
un hôpital (hospital)
un office du tourisme (tourist information)
un théâtre (theatre)
une gare (railway station)
une gare routière (bus station)

On peut
(You can)

faire du sport (do sport)

faire les magasins (go shopping)

aller au restaurant (go to the restaurant)

visiter des monuments (sight-see)
faire des balades (go walking)
aller au centre commercial (go to the mall)
aller au cinéma (go to the cinema)

J’aime ma ville (I like my town/city)

Je n’aime pas ma ville
(I don’t like my town/city)

parce que

c’est très animé (it’s very lively)

il y a beaucoup à faire (there’s lots to do)

c’est trop pollué (it’s too polluted)

les transports sont bien (transport is good)




les magasins sont variés (shops are varied)

il y a trop de bruit (there’s too much noise)

la vie nocturne est super (night life is great)

je peux voir mes amis facilement (I can see my friends easily)

 Normally the table would be formatted in landscape mode. One point I would make straight away is that much of the language which can be used for the conversation part of the Speaking test can be recycled for written compositions. So, especially for middle-attaining pupils, they need to really grasp that the chunks they set to memory can be used in both contexts and need to be forced in as far as possible (without evading any requested bullet points, of course). In terms of how you actually use the frames for revision, I would probably go back to how they might be used with younger learners to start with. Here is a possible teaching sequence: 

1. Read aloud some examples.
2. Do some choral repetition.
3. Do teacher-led translation, English to French.
4. Hide the grid and do some dictation, possibly gapped.
5. Alternative: display the gapped version of the grid on the next page and get students to complete in pairs or with you (see below).
6. With the grid hidden, pairs make up sentences from memory.
7. If possible, pairs attempt to out-do each other remembering or inventing new examples or variations on the existing ones.
8. Written translation from English to French.
9. Students could prepare short memorised talks in preparation for oral exams. To scaffold the task you could include a gapped version of the frame, as below:

Dans ma v…. (in my town)

Dans ma r……. (In my area)

il .. .. (there is/are)

des b…… (banks)
des c…. (cafes)
des centres sp…… (sports centres)
des ci…… (cinemas)
des éc….. (schools)
des gym…… (gyms)
des ho…. (hotels)
des jar…. pub….. (parks)
des mag…… (shops)
des mu….. (museums)
une pi….. (a swimming pool)
des pu.. (pubs)
des …………… (restaurants)
des super…… (supermarkets)
un centre comm…… (shopping mall)
un hôp….. (hospital)
un office du t……… (tourist information)
un th…… (theatre)
une g… (railway station)
une g… routi…. (bus station)

On peut
(You can)

faire du s……. (do sport)

faire les ma………. (go shopping)

a…… au restaurant (go to the restaurant)

v……… des monuments (sight-see)
faire des ba……… (go walking)
aller au centre co………… (go to the mall)
aller au c…….. (go to the cinema)

J’aime ma v…. (I like my town/city)

Je n’aime … ma v….
(I don’t like my town/city)

p….. que

c’est tres ani... (it’s very lively)

il y a beau…. a faire (there’s lots to do)

c’est trop poll.. (it’s too polluted)

les tran…… sont bien (transport is good)




les mag….. sont var… (shops are varied)

il y a trop de br… (there’s too much noise)

la vie noc….. est super (night life is great)

je peux voir mes a.. facile…. (I can see my friends easily)

Then it's a question of practice, practice, practice. Yes, I'm talking about a rote learning approach, which many pupils depend on to produce acceptable outcomes.Departments might consider producing a booklet of, say, ten or a dozen such frames as a Speaking and Writing revision booklet, a sort of knowledge organiser, if you like.

I believe this would be a very usable aid, appreciated by students, including, as I said above, highr proficiency ones. For the latter, the grid could be a staring point on which to build further - a sort of comfort blanket.Do comment if you'd like to add anything. I may look at this as a projecty for my site, gicen that I have quite a few of these already written. Or you could use mine and supplement or edit them for your own purposes.


  1. This is just the sort of advice I needed. Am definitely going to trial it with my classes. Will aim to do 10 in total to broadly span the 5 Edexcel topic areas. Use treasury tags for the booklet so they can add more if needed. Thank you for the inspiration. you think it's too late in the day to use them with Year 11?

    1. Not at all. They might welcome them, even if only as a revision guide. Thanks for commenting.


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