Accomplish Just about Any Learning Goal with Scaffolding


Have you ever heard about a worthwhile learning activity that sounded great but wasn’t achievable for your learners? Your learners might still be able to tackle that challenging activity, with the help of scaffolding. In fact, many worthwhile learning goals such as answering higher order thinking questions, participating in role plays, listening to speeches, and giving presentations are complex, making scaffolding a vital teaching skill

(Did you react to that list of complex tasks by saying that your learners can’t do those things? Keep reading!)

Scaffolding, in education, means making a complex task achievable by offering students temporary supports. There are many ways to scaffold. As an example, let’s say a beginning level ESL class would like watch the president’s inaugural address. How might a teacher turn this into a valuable learning experience?

Break it Down
Select one brief, high interest section of the address to watch, lasting perhaps five minutes.

Thinking Time
Give students time to predict and discuss what they expect to hear. After watching the video, give students more time to think and then list what they remember and what they’d like to watch for on the second viewing.

Watch the excerpt of the address multiple times, as long as there is still interest. Slow down and listen to a key sentence several times.

Graphic Organizer
Provide students with a very basic outline of the excerpt from the address with some missing pieces of information that they fill in after watching the address a few times.

Make Abstract Ideas Concrete
If a key sentence uses figurative language, define that language in terms the students will understand. If the address refers to complex concept, find a way to explain the concept with visuals and examples.


Any learning goal can be broken down until the steps become manageable, whether it is an adult emergent reader who wants to get a driver’s license (learn to recognize and interpret traffic signs)or an intermediate ESL student who wants to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing (learn basic anatomy terms).

Other useful steps for scaffolding include pre-teaching key vocabulary, discussing what students already know about a topic as an introduction, sentence starters to start a conversation activity, question prompts to use during a game, and studying multiple examples of a role play or writing samples before producing your own.

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