How often we see bored students and tired teachers! As they claim, it is the result of low-level prior teaching or too complicated students’ books provided by a school. We know a perfect tool for catering to their demands — scaffolding!

What is scaffolding?

ZPD Scaffolding Skyteach

This term was introduced by Jerome Bruner (in the late 1950s’), who defined scaffolding in teaching a second language as “a process of setting up the situation to make the child’s entry easy and successful and then gradually pulling back and handling the role to the child as he becomes skilled enough to manage it”(1983, p. 60). Bruner coined the term “scaffolding” taking into account the ZPD (zone of proximal development) theory developed by a Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky. According to it, learners make the biggest progress while doing challenging tasks, which they can perform individually or with some help of peers or a teacher. The amount of scaffolding depends on the students’ needs at every step of a lesson.

Teaching learning zones based on Marianis 1997 teaching style framework Skyteach


Scaffolding techniques can be divided into 2 categories due to the degree of teachers’ dynamicity, thus tasks prepared in advance are called fixed (or hard) scaffolding (for example, pre-reading exercises), and teaching aid appeared during task performance is adaptive or soft (for example, instructions and encouragement). These two types are interconnected and accompanied by diagnostics of students’ ZPD.

More detailed classification of scaffolding types:

1. Linguistic scaffolding

In case a class or an individual struggles with a text, a teacher can simplify the instructional language, introduce vocabulary before reading, write down instructions, slow down the pace of the speech, provide students with direct explanations of form and meaning.

2. Cognitive scaffolding

It provides a supportive framework for meaning, for example, charts, visuals, checklists, games, simulations, experiments, authentic materials, websites, condensed materials, body language, modelling, etc.

3. Metacognitive scaffolding

Students with the help of a teacher analyse their own thinking process for more efficient learning (examples: “thinking aloud”, planning how to accomplish a task and self-assessment). Metacognitive scaffolding can be in the form of questions, guides, prompts or sequenced interactions.

4. Social scaffolding

It involves social interaction, such as group and pair work, teacher’s assistance, native speakers’ help.

5. Cultural scaffolding

Students’ prior knowledge and familiar cultural context put a student in the habitual environment reducing anxiety and placing new information on a solid basis.

6. Emotive scaffolding

As the name shows it covers teacher’s approval and encouragement of students’ performance.

Tips for using scaffolding

  • Constantly define the ZPD of your students and choose appropriate scaffolding techniques.
  • Keep a diary of the effectiveness of scaffolding methods used in your lessons.
  • Be flexible and use various scaffolding forms.
  • Mind individual cognitive and emotional characteristics of your students.  
  • Set an engaging, challenging context for learning English, scaffolding will help to make it accessible.
  • Use group and pair scaffolding to improve relationships of your students and atmosphere during the lessons.
  • Stop using scaffolding at the stage of independent production.

Scaffolding became an inseparable part of lessons, but we need to step back and look at a big picture. While helping students, try not to harm their initiative and autonomy, as scaffolding is just crutches. Thus, if students are able to perform a task independently, let them do it. Be glad that their ZPD is growing and set new goals!

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