Teaching Tuesday: Scaffolding Instruction for English Language Learners

By Dr. Tracy Vasquez and Danielle Remy

Teacher writing on a blackboard to provide visuals for ELL students

When teaching English Language Learners (ELL), we must be aware of additional student needs regarding access to the curriculum. As we consider strategies for scaffolding, it’s important to remember that these processes not only support students during the lesson but also provide strategies for independence in future activities. As teachers, we can support English Language Learners through instructional scaffolding, procedural scaffolding and prompting to generalize the strategies. 

Instructional Scaffolding

As we prepare for a lesson, we can add instructional strategies to the lesson framework to support scaffolding. To determine appropriate types of scaffolds, we first need to identify our target learning objectives as well as any potential challenges for our ELL students. With both factors in mind, we can select the appropriate strategy that will support students and determine the best engagement strategy. 

Common strategies for instructional scaffolding that benefit ELL students include reading aloud, modeling metacognition, providing visuals and adding movement or music to the lesson. When we read aloud, students hear correct pronunciation, cadence and rate, which can increase comprehension. Including visuals provides multiple modes on input and enables ELL students to make connections to spoken or written words and their meanings. By using movement or music in a lesson, teachers activate different learning styles of students which enhances comprehension and memory.

For example, in a science lesson with an objective related to students knowing Newton’s Laws of Motion, we can introduce each law with meaningful gestures. The class can also engage by learning the gestures step-by-step while repeating the law in simplistic language. Throughout the rest of the lesson and unit, we can support students’ learning by repeating the laws and gestures, providing multiple input sources for students and increases understanding. When we adjust the instructional inputs to meet student needs, the opportunities for higher level learning increase.

Procedural Scaffolding

In addition to scaffolding input, we can scaffold output to enable students to demonstrate their understanding in meaningful ways. This can be accomplished by creating procedural scaffolds that support guided and independent student practice. Again, we must consider outcomes and potential challenges to select the appropriate strategy. Some common strategies for procedural scaffolding are providing additional think time, breaking activities into smaller tasks, providing organizers or sentence frames or adjusting the method of response. It is beneficial to narrow down an outcome and focus on one to two aspects of an objective to determine how to scaffold a learning procedure.

For example, in the objective, “Students will be able to demonstrate understanding of adjectives by writing one descriptive term next to each of the provided pictures,” we should consider which aspect enables the student to meaningfully demonstrate understanding. For ELL students, producing words and writing may create additional challenges that hinder ability to complete the activity correctly. To scaffold this assignment, we could provide word cards with corresponding images so students can match the appropriate adjective to the given noun.

Generalizing Scaffolding Strategies

By using strategies repetitively, we are teaching students how to generalize the strategies for applications in many different academic situations. This way they can learn to be learning advocates for themselves and feel empowered to make academic achievements. Eventually, you will start to see what works best for them and can coach the students on recognizing their own success through applications of the strategies. As they take ownership of their learning, they will progressively internalize their own capabilities for learning, bolster their curiosities and begin to apply the learning supports not only inside, but also outside of the classroom.

Learning opportunities outside the classroom demonstrate their abilities to generalize the scaffolding strategies and demonstrate an ability to be successful in real-life learning situations by applying learned classroom strategies and skills.

Scaffolding supports learners with diverse needs, providing opportunities for success and independence. By planning scaffolding strategies into lessons, we create meaningful learning opportunities for all students. The benefits of scaffolding extend beyond the targeted student group and lesson, making this an important skill for all of us as educators and future educators to develop and utilize in our daily routines.

Want more? Check out all of the articles from Teaching Tuesday and return each week for a new post. Learn more about Grand Canyon University’s College of Education and our degree programs and join in our efforts to elevate the education profession.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

Scroll back to top