Engineered Templates

Four students working together

Engineered templates provide scaffolds for assignments, reports, and in-class assessments such as prompts, guiding questions, sentence frames, and sentence stems. This strategy is part of Colorin Colorado's ELL Strategy Library and can be used to support academic language development for all students.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Strategy Overview

How This Strategy Supports Language Development

Engineered templates scaffold the language expectations of an assessment or assignment. These scaffolds are embedded within the assignments and assessments, creating the conditions for students to demonstrate their understanding of complex content and discipline-specific skills. This allows students to focus on the content.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Start with the assignment or assessment that you will be scaffolding.
  2. Identify the different sections or steps that students need to complete.
  3. For each section, write the instructions using prompts and/or guiding questions. Use thinking verbs (e.g. describe, explain, evaluate, analyze).
  4. Add scaffolds such as visuals, word banks, prompts, guiding questions, sentence frames, and sentence stems to each part of the assignment or assessment.

Lessons Learned

  • Make sure that each part of the template connects to familiar content.
  • Model how to use the scaffolds (sentence frames, word banks, etc.) throughout the unit, particularly in assessments.
  • Model how to complete the template in class.
  • If your colleagues push back against scaffolding assignments or assessments, share some examples of student work to show ways in which engineered templates can improve/increase student output, as well as explain some possible areas of confusion for students. In addition, ask colleagues what students should be able to do, write, and say at the end of the unit and clarify the language needed to reach that target objective.



  • Write the instructions in students' heritage languages (check accuracy with a bilingual colleague if possible).
  • Add sentence starters and word banks to the template.
  • Use visuals if needed to support comprehension.


  • Teach students how to create their own sentence starters using the question stem. (e.g, What are the reasons that…? The reasons that … are …).
  • Teach students how to link one idea to another using transition phrases. Have them generate a list of possible transition phrases for each type of prompt or question (compare-contrast, cause-effect, problem-solution, etc.)


  • Explicitly teach students how to engineer their own assignment template by breaking down the parts of an assignment or assessment. Show them how to list each part separately, create a sentence frame from the question stem, and use transition phrases.

Co-Teaching Considerations

Content or Grade-Level Teacher

  • Share the assignment, assessment or activity with the ELD teacher. 
  • Identify key learning targets and objectives.

English Language Development Teacher

  • During a co-planning session, engineer the assignment, assessment, or activity using the techniques described. Share this version of the task with multilingual learners in small group sessions.
  • Add additional scaffolds as needed for learners at beginning levels of language development.
  • Teach students with more advanced English proficiency how to 'engineer' their own exams by chunking and creating sentence starters from the question stems and prompts.
  • Explain this process to your colleagues so they can learn how to do it as well.


The following example of a template shows sample prompts and guiding questions. These questions are from Chapter 1 of a middle school unit on disrupting ecosystems, aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards and available on the NGSS website.

Assigment questionSentence FramesPromptsGuiding QuestionKey words
What effect does a large population of deer have on an ecosystem?

______ impacts _______ because ______.




The effects of a large population of deer are...

What happens to an ecosystem when a lot of deer are living there?

What happens to the plants and other animals?

Which animals eat deer?

What do deer eat?

  • ecosystem
  • habitat
  • impact
  • population
  • effect
Should wolves be reintroduced into the northeastern U.S.
Adirondack ecosystem? Why or why not?

I think that _____.

The evidence shows that_____.

Wolves should/should not be introduced to the Adirondacks because...

What would happen if more wolves were living in the Adirondack mountains?

What would happen if there are fewer wolves?

What animals do wolves eat?

  • predator
  • prey
  • disrupt
  • thrive
  • reintroduce


Huynh and Skelton. (2023). Long-Term Success for Experienced Multilinguals. Corwin Press.