Sentence starters

Asking participants to finish a selected sentence can be a good way to get people talking if a group is quiet or unwilling to express opinions. You should get an idea of what participants see as significant or noteworthy when they do this. You may decide to try to elicit who, what or where people experience positive and negative wellbeing.

Research method Preparation time Time to gather data Time to analyse data Not suitable for ... Does data indicate wellbeing? Who, what, where people experience wellbeing? Is it an activity in itself?
Sentence starters 30 mins – to prepare starter sentences 10 - 20 mins Fast if recorded as notes, possibly longer if video/audio recording Non-verbal communicators Yes – if people talk freely Yes No
 Suitable for:

  • young children who might struggle in a longer/more open discussion
  • participants who are otherwise reluctant to speak.

What information is collected?

  • direct quotes from participants
  • information about who, what, where influences the wellbeing if you choose your sentence starter carefully
  • it works well alongside or as a follow-up to a more in-depth method or to evaluate an activity if you’re looking for specific information
  • more open/less focused sentence starters are more useful in research e.g. I am expecting… rather than I enjoy…

How is information collected?

  • written notes, video or audio recordings of what people say.

Watch out for:

  • bias in your sentence starters. Try to keep these as neutral as possible eg. ‘I feel..’, rather than ‘I’m happy because’
  • people copying each other, being affected by others in the group
  • people trying to please you as researcher or activity leader.

Method

Sentence starters

Materials/equipment needed: pen and paper or video/audio recorder.

Method: ask the group to sit or stand together and then take it in turns to finish the sentence any way that they want to. Always start the sentence with ‘I’, e.g. ‘I feel…’, ‘ I’m thinking about…’, ‘I’m going to…’ ask everyone to complete the same sentence in their own way. You may want to start with something easy such as ‘My favourite place is…’ before moving on to more descriptive sentence starters such as ‘Right now I feel…’ Use our sentence starter examples if you need some help getting started.

Adaptations: you could do this at the beginning and end of each session and compare what people say. You could also use what people say as the basis of further group discussion. Picture cards can be used as a visual stimulus instead of a sentence starter: ask people to say the first thing that comes into their head when they see the picture (if you are able to use pictures of the group, activities and surroundings then they can relate this directly to their experience).

Pros and cons: sentence starters can help you to get at specific information about your woodland activities, however they can also lead to bias if you start the sentence with something leading. This method works well with people who are unsure about talking in public as it gives them a framework to start from. By going round each person you can make sure that everyone is represented in your research.