Instructional Scaffolding to Improve Learning

Manuel Campos


Instructional scaffolding is the support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals.

Teachers provide successive levels of temporary support that help students reach higher levels of comprehension and skill acquisition that they would not be able to achieve without assistance.

Essential Features of Scaffolding

Some of the signs that help us know when a scaffolding has been implemented successfully are the following:


  1. Moves learners toward stronger understanding.
  2. Leads to greater independence in the learning process.
  3. Is temporary and it helps learners reach higher levels of comprehension.
  4. Bridges learning gaps (The difference between what students have learned and what they are expected to know)
  5. Requires a collaborative interaction between the learner and the expert.
  6. Requires learning to take place in the learner’s zone of proximal development.
  7. Needs support from the expert to be gradually removed.

Effective Scaffolding

  1. The selection of the learning task: The task should ensure that learners use the developing skills that need to be mastered. The task should also be engaging and interesting to keep learners involved.
  2. The anticipation of errors: After choosing the task, the teacher needs to anticipate errors the learners are likely to commit when working on the task.
  3. The consideration of emotive or affective factors: Scaffolding is not limited to a cognitive skill but it also relates to emotive and affects factors. During the task, the scaffolder(expert) might need to manage and control for frustration and loss of interest that could be experienced by the learner. Encouragement is also an important scaffolding strategy.

Benefits of Scaffolding

In addition to facilitating learning, the scaffolds:

  1. Simplifies the tasks and makes them more manageable.
  2. Helps learners on achieving a specific goal.
  3. Reduces frustration and risk.
  4. Clearly defines the expectation of the tasks performed.

Scaffolding and Zone of Proximal Development

The zone of proximal development, often abbreviated as ZPD, is the difference between what a learner can do without help, and what they can’t do

Scaffolding is a process through which a teacher or a more competent peer helps a student in their ZPD as necessary and tapers off this aid as it becomes unnecessary.

Common Mistakes Language Teachers Make

These are some of the most common mistakes that Language Teachers make when they are implementing scaffolding strategies.


  1. Introduce the vocabulary during the presentation stage and the tasks that make up the practice and production stage require a different set of words for those tasks to be completed successfully.
  2. Introduce another grammar topic  that it is more difficult that the one the learners haven’t mastered yet.
  3. Teach vocabulary and language structures that are not necessary to complete the task that students have a head.
  4. spend time working on task which really don’t help learners achieve the goal of the class.
  5. don’t model what they expect learners to do in one of the several tasks done during the practice stage.
  6. create tasks that haven’t been simplified and that require excessive help from the instructor.

Scaffolding vs. Differentiation

As a general instructional strategy, scaffolding shares many similarities with differentiation, which refers to a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment.

Because scaffolding and differentiation techniques are used to achieve similar instructional goals—i.e., moving student learning and understanding from where it is to where it needs to be—the two approaches may be blended together in some classrooms to the point of being indistinguishable.

More Resources for Teachers

These are some posts that you might be interested in:

  1. 5 Great Strategies to Cut Teacher Talking Time
  2. 14 Essential Characteristics of a Good Language Learner
  3. 12 Best Tips for Teaching Large Classes
  4. 10 Characteristics of Teacher-Centered Instruction
  5. PPP Framework: Presentation, Practice, and Production
  6. 6 Fluency Activities for the ESL Classroom
  7. 10 Characteristics of Student-Centered Learning
  8. 5 Challenges English Language Learners Face
Manuel Campos, Docente de Inglés

About manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English

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