5 Tips for Using Scaffolding in the Classroom

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Last edited: January 15, 2024

We all want our students to be successful. Sometimes when we introduce new concepts, they pick them up quickly and we can move on to the next unit. Other times, our students struggle, and we have to provide extra support for them. When we provide that extra support, we are scaffolding our lessons.

Let’s explore why scaffolding is important and how you can use it to help your students succeed.

Tips for Using Scaffolding in the Classroom

If you asked anyone outside of education what “scaffolding” is, they would probably tell you that it is a temporary structure used during the construction of a building. The scaffolding provides support for the work crew and their supplies as they build the structure. In education, scaffolding provides support for our students. As teachers, we help them get everything they need to fully understand a new concept. Just like a building’s scaffolding is temporary, we can remove our support once the students understand the concept.

All of your students are coming to you with different skill sets and varying amounts of background knowledge. Some of them also lack confidence in themselves and need more help from you. Scaffolding allows you to meet the students’ needs and help them make progress toward mastery of a concept. By scaffolding your lessons, you are breaking the content up into chunks that are more manageable for your students.

There are a lot of different ways you can scaffold your lessons. We’re going to explore five of the most common ways to provide support for your students.


Scaffolding Idea #1 - Use graphic organizers.

When I think of scaffolding, I like to think of steps. Your students can’t jump right to the top of a staircase. They need to go up the steps one at a time. Each level of support you provide is one of those steps.

When you’re starting a new writing piece, you don’t expect your students to finish a published piece on the first day. They need to take steps to brainstorm their ideas, write a rough draft, revise, and edit before working on a final copy.

Graphic organizers are a great way to support your students. They help them collect and organize their ideas. The type of graphic organizer you provide for your students will depend on their grade level and the type of writing they’re doing.

You can use these graphic organizers to help your upper elementary and middle school students with narrative writing. This set of persuasive writing graphic organizers is perfect for all grades because there are three different levels of difficulty.


Scaffolding Idea #2 - Use an “I do,” “We do,” “You do” model for your lessons.

Planning your lessons in three parts provides scaffolding for your students. When you start by modeling a new concept for them, you are providing that first step for them. They get to see you do it and watch your process. In math, this could look like you solving a problem and doing a think aloud.

Next, have your students try the new activity with you. Give them a chance to solve a problem with your support. You could write a new math problem on the board and have your students solve it at the same time on paper or on a whiteboard. Allow them to work through the steps and ask any questions about parts that might be confusing.

At this point, some of your students will be ready to complete similar problems independently. They no longer need your scaffolding, and you can send them off to work by themselves. However, you will have other students who are not ready to have that scaffolding completely removed yet. You can provide more support for them by pulling them in a small group to solve more problems together. Once they understand the concept, remove the scaffolding and have them solve problems independently.


"Scaffolding allows you to meet the students’ needs and help them make progress toward mastery of a concept. By scaffolding your lessons, you are breaking the content up into chunks that are more manageable for your students."

Scaffolding Idea #3 - Provide a lot of examples for your students.

Before sending our students off to complete an activity, we can provide support by showing them examples of what we expect them to do. I also like to make the examples available for them to examine as they are working. This helps them know if they are on the right track and allows them to use their resources if they have a question.

If you use mini lessons for reading, this is the perfect time to show your students examples of the reading strategies they will practice. Use a picture book to model the strategy, and write your example on chart paper. By creating an anchor chart with examples, your students will be able to see exactly what they are supposed to do during their independent reading time.

When you send them off to read independently, have them work on the same strategy you modeled during the mini lesson. They can write about it on a response sheet or use a post-it to take notes. If they’re not sure what to do, they can refer to the examples you wrote on the anchor chart. This allows you to provide scaffolding even if you are meeting with a reading group or conferencing with another student.


Scaffolding Idea #4 - Use think-pair-share.

Allowing your students to talk about a new concept and share ideas with a classmate is another great way to scaffold their learning. They might hear you say something ten times and still not understand it, but discussing an idea with a peer can make it click.

When your students express their ideas verbally, they are able to check their understanding and see if another student agrees with them. They can ask questions and clear up anything that is confusing. This strategy also helps your students who lack confidence in their own abilities. This stepping stone can prepare them to share their ideas with the whole class.

Scaffolding Idea #5 - Teach vocabulary before content.

Difficult vocabulary words can create a barrier to students learning new content. Whether they’re reading a story or learning a new scientific concept, challenging vocabulary words can keep them from understanding the new information.

One way to overcome this problem is by scaffolding your lesson. Go through the curriculum ahead of time and pick out any vocabulary words that your students may not know. Before diving into the content, take a few minutes to go over the meanings of the new vocabulary words. By providing this support at the beginning of the lesson, you increase your students’ chances of being successful as they work to apply the new learning.


While scaffolding is a great way to support our students and boost their confidence, we don’t want them to become dependent on it. We want them to become independent learners. Lev Vygotsky said, “What a child can do today with assistance, she will be able to do by herself tomorrow.” It’s important to remember to remove the scaffolding once your students can apply the concepts themselves. This shows them that we are there to help and support them, but we know they can be successful on their own.

Browse our Curriculum Support Resource Hub to find more curriculum materials to accommodate the more challenging learning needs of your students.

About the author

Tara Dusko


About Tara

Tara Dusko is a reading coach who helps teachers implement a reading workshop model in their classrooms. She previously taught 5th grade for one year and 3rd grade for 13… Read more

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