Imagine someone plopping a giant box of odds and ends in front of you and telling you to figure out what to do with them with no further instructions. Without any guidance as to the purpose of the activity, specific expectations or basic information, it would be overwhelming and discouraging, to say the least. Sometimes our students feel exactly this way.

Scaffolding learning is a way to provide support for students by breaking learning down into manageable chunks as they progress toward stronger understanding and ultimately greater independence. Here are 15 ways to scaffold learning for your students.

1. Give mini-lessons.

Break new concepts down into bite-sized pieces that build on one another. Teaching a series of mini-lessons provides students with a safety net that moves them progressively toward deeper understanding.

2. Model/demonstrate.

Show your students an example of what they will be learning. For example, demonstrate a science experiment so they can see how it’s done before they do it themselves. Or gather them on the rug and let them watch you solve a math problem in a new way.

Verbalize your thought process as you demonstrate. This gives your students a model for an inner dialogue they can copy.  Click here for an example of using think-alouds to improve reading comprehension.

3. Describe concepts in multiple ways.

Support different learning styles by approaching new concepts from multiple angles. Show them, tell them, and let them try it for themselves. The more ways you approach learning, the more sense it will make for students.

4. Break large tasks into smaller steps.

Sometimes it’s hard for students to remember all the steps they have to follow for an assignment. Scaffold learning by breaking directions down into chunks that students can complete one step at a time. Give them a checklist that they can follow. By breaking it down, you’re providing scaffolds that students need.

5. Slow Down.

Here is some great advice from Tammy at The Owl Teacher. “We move so fast as teachers because we fear that we won’t get through it all,” she says. “But, when we slow down and give students more time to process, we are really helping students. It is an effective scaffolding strategy when we pause at various points of instruction and break it up. Think about it. If something is above your head, it’s immediately overwhelming, but if you break it into manageable chunks and take your time through it, you’re able to process it much better!”

6. Scaffold learning by incorporating visual aids.

Show a video, pass out colorful images, or provide a concrete object to start off a new lesson. For example, if you’re teaching a lesson on polyhedrons, place models of different types on tables for students to see and touch.

7. Front-load concept-specific vocabulary.

Arm students with specific academic language they will need to understand ahead of time so that vocabulary doesn’t become a stumbling block to higher-level learning.

8. Activate prior knowledge.

Show students the big picture. Make connections to concepts and skills students have already learned. Connect to experiences they have had, such as field trips or other projects.

9. Give students talk time.

Be sure to give kids plenty of time to process new information by partnering them up or breaking them into small groups. Have them articulate concepts in their own words to one another. Come back together as a whole group and share any insights that might be helpful to everyone. This is also a great time to implement cooperative learning structures.

10. Give students time to practice.

After you model learning for your students, take some time to practice with them. Have a few students come up to the board and try a math problem. Or write a paragraph together on chart paper. Think of this guided practice as a series of rehearsals before the final performance.

11. During lessons, check for understanding.

Check in often to make sure students are with you. A simple thumbs up, a sticky note check-in, or a desktop flip chart are a few of the ways you can check for understanding. See who’s good to go, who’s almost there and who needs some one-on-one.

12. Use graphic organizers.

A graphic organizer is a powerful, visual learning tool that teachers can use to help students organize their thinking before, during or after a lesson. They are a great way for students to classify and communicate their ideas more effectively. A simple Google search will connect you to all kinds of printable graphic organizers that you can customize to the material you are teaching.

13. Try sentence starters.

Sometimes a head start helps students gather their thoughts. Provide students with the first part of a statement and ask them to fill in the blanks. Sentence starters can especially be a great support for English Language Learners.

14. Coach students to help each other.

When learning a new concept or reading a difficult passage together, call on a strong student to answer a question. Then, call on another student to repeat, in his or her own words, what was just said. By listening and repeating, you reinforce your students’ understanding.

15. Set them up for success.

Students (like most of us) perform better when they fully understand what is expected of them. Describe the purpose of the assignment, and give them concrete examples of the learning goals they are expected to achieve. Give them clear directions and show them exemplars of high-quality work. Finally, provide them with a rubric so they know exactly what to do to successfully master the concept.

How do you scaffold learning for your students? Come share on our WeAreTeacher HELPLINE!

Plus, 20 Creative Ways to Check for Understanding.

15 Ways to Scaffold Learning