Posted in Teaching Techniques

Scaffolding Techniques

Hello, everyone! This is Chris, the other half of the Dinosaur Sensei blog. Today I want to write about what is, in my opinion, one of the most useful techniques you can use in your EFL classroom: scaffolding.

Think back to if and when you learned how to ride a bicycle. Did you just sit on it and go? Maybe, but probably not. You needed incremental steps. Here’s how I learned:

  1. Someone showed me first. They demonstrated where my hands go, and where my feet go. They told me the rules, such as “stop at an intersection.”
  2. I looked at the bicycle and sat on it. It had training wheels so I did not fall over.
  3. One of my parents helped hold me steady and pushed me a little from behind.
  4. Eventually, the push went away, as did the training wheels.
  5. Finally, I was able to ride by myself and with friends.

This is a great analogy for English Language Learners (ELLs). You can’t just expect them to be able to speak with their classmates after simply modeling the language. They need to know the language, the rules/grammar, and you need to facilitate their progress, just like the parent with the child on a bicycle.

Let’s consider a roleplaying scenario with a small group of ELLs and follow similar steps:

  1. Demonstrate. Show > tell.
  2. Give the students “training wheels,” such as a sentence frame to work within. They can plug & play to experiment. For example, “What (animal/color/food) do you like?” and “I like (thing).”
  3. Teach explicitly, but correct implicitly. Side-coaching is great as long as you don’t single out students and offer lots of positive reinforcement.
  4. Shift the focus of your instruction from teacher-centric to learner-centric. After they have practiced all together and/or with the teacher, have them practice with each other with you observing.
  5. Finally, they should be comfortable enough to experiment and go beyond the basic pattern you taught them.

I have had a lot of success with this style of instruction with young children, teens, and even adults. For adults, in particular, I enjoy doing this set pattern with roleplay dialogs:

  1. Pre-teach vocabulary, key phrases, and grammar points.
  2. Take turns reading the long-form dialog. For example, shopping in a departments store or taking a taxi.
  3. Act it out with the text, where the students take turns speaking with me as the lead role.
  4. Act it out again, but with students only.
  5. Write a new, original, and simplified version on the board with the students.
  6. Act it out again like with the text.
  7. Erase the board and do improvisation of the topic.

This was the framework I used with my adult students last year, and even the most shy students had great “aha!” moments. I distinctly remember an accountant who quickly became very confident and willing take risks in the English lesson.

What do you think? Have you had any good experiences using similar techniques? Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope it was useful for you!



Hello! I am a native English teacher in Kyushu, Japan. I have lived here with my wife since 2012. My education background is in theatre and voice & speech, and I have a K-12 license in theatre education. I enjoy collecting pottery, making models, and photography.

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