EL Support Lesson

Exploring Sequence with Signal Words

Use this lesson to teach your students how to retell the beginning, middle, and end of a story using sequencing words and phrases. This lesson can stand alone or be used as a pre-lesson for the *Story Structure Rollercoaster* lesson.
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Students will be able to identify the elements of a fiction story using a story map graphic organizer.


Students will be able to put story events in sequential order with signal words and phrases using sentence stems.

(3 minutes)
  • Ask students to think about the process of something familiar, such as brushing teeth or getting cereal for breakfast. Call on a volunteer to share the process, and record any sequencing words or phrases used in the explanation. Keep these words hidden from the students until the debrief.
  • Display the list of sequencing words or phrases that you jotted down while the student explained the process. Explain that these words helped you follow the sequence of events in the process, and that these types of words and phrases are important when we are explaining or retelling a story.
  • Go over a student-friendly language objective such as: "I can put the events in a story in the correct order using words that show beginning, middle, and end."
(10 minutes)
  • Display the Vocabulary Cards and introduce students to the tiered vocabulary. Explain that these words will be found in today's lesson and it will be helpful that they know them in order to comprehend the passage.
  • Read each word aloud and have students repeat it. Then, give an example sentence for each word and have students repeat it. For example, for the word shiver, say, "I shiver when I am cold."
  • Distribute a Glossary to each student and instruct them to draw an image of each word based on the definition. Allow students to discuss their ideas together before drawing.
  • Ask students to share their visual definitions with the class.
  • Model labeling the empty column on the Glossary as Synonym and show students how to find a synonym for the word shiver. Utilize a thesaurus or an online version. Record the word shake on the Glossary and allow students to record it on their copies, too.
  • Give students time to work in partnerships to find synonyms for each of the tiered vocabulary words. Share out as a class and record the answers on the teacher copy to serve as a reference for the rest of the lesson.
(8 minutes)
  • Refer to the Introduction of the lesson when a student explained a familiar process, and remind students of the signal words they used. Explain that there are many signal words that indicate sequence, or the order of events, and today they are going to learn some of them.
  • Display the following signal words: First, Second, Third, In the first place, First of all, In the first part, Then, Before, After, Last, Meanwhile, Now, Finally, For one thing, Next, In the end.
  • Ask students to suggest any additional signal words they have used or heard. Keep this list displayed for the remainder of the lesson.
  • Engage the class in a discussion about how to sort the words and phrases into three categories, Beginning, Middle, and End. Create a T-Chart to sort the words or label them with a B, M, or E on the board to signify when each signal word or phrase would be used in an explanation.
  • Have students take out a whiteboard and whiteboard marker. Instruct them to work with a partner to create a sentence for the beginning, middle, and end of a familiar process or book using a signal phrase from each category.
  • Invite partnerships to share out their favorite sentence they created, and write example sentences on the board and point out the comma after the signal words. Point out that the comma is there to tell us where to take a slight pause in our speaking.
(12 minutes)
  • Distribute a copy of the Signal the Story Structure worksheet to each student. Go over the information in the box at the top about the signal words. Have students choose three different colored writing utensils to visually categorize words and phrases to use at the beginning, middle, or end of an explanation. Instruct them to highlight, underline, or circle the words.
  • Read aloud the first passage and ask students to circle any of the tiered words they see. Have them put a star next to any new word they wish to discuss.
  • Model completing the sentence stems to indicate the beginning, middle, and end of the story.
  • Choral read the second passage as a class.
  • Have students work together to complete the sentence stems for the second passage. Call on nonvolunteers to share their answers.


  • Allow access to reference materials in home language (L1).
  • Define key vocabulary terms from the read aloud texts with a written and visual definition.
  • Have learners repeat instructions and key vocabulary to the teacher.
  • Provide a sentence stem for students to use when sharing their images in the Word Level activity, such as: "My image shows ____."


  • Allow learners to utilize glossaries and dictionaries for unfamiliar words.
  • Choose advanced ELs to share their ideas first in group and class discussions.
(5 minutes)
  • Explain that the exit ticket for today's lesson will include a short read aloud of a passage and then completion of the sentence stems.
  • Provide each student with a blank piece of paper and instruct them to copy the following sentence stems on their paper:
    • In the first part, ____.
    • Then, ____.
    • In the end, ____.
  • Read aloud a short fictional passage or direct students to think about a fictional text that was recently read together as a class, and give students time to complete the sentence stems.
(2 minutes)
  • Call on nonvolunteers to share their sentence stems from the Formative Assessment. Provide feedback and praise, and record exemplar sentences on the board.
  • Remind students that the use of signal words helps to show the reader or listener that we are telling something in the correct order. These words help to show the sequence of events in a story.

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