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Public Education Educator Resources Scaffolding

Many teachers assume that scaffolding and differentiation are the same thing. It is important to understand the difference between these two important teaching strategies. Differentiation is modifying instruction, assignments, or assessments to fit the learning style and readiness of a student. On the other hand, scaffolding focuses on the teacher’s role of giving the student temporary support in each stage of the learning process with the idea that the support is incrementally removed once students are ready to learn more independently.

Scaffolding can be easy to do with appropriate preparation. Below are three ways to scaffold in your classroom today.

  1. Utilize prior knowledge.

Determining a student’s prior knowledge is the cornerstone of all effective teaching. You cannot determine what a student needs to learn without understanding what they already know. Some easy ways to determine prior knowledge is to utilize a K-W-L chart, having students list keywords to describe what they know, or a simple think-pair-share with a partner. By assessing prior knowledge, the teacher will have the opportunity to offer individualized support to each student.

  1. Use visuals.

While visuals may not work for every lesson, they are a great way to model a complicated topic. Visuals can be pictures, videos, graphic organizers, 3-D models, or even a demonstration.

Teacher modeling is a great way to offer support to students and it is something that all students can benefit from, regardless of where they are in the learning process. The teacher should model multi-step instruction and/or the most difficult aspect of a lesson or assignment. The next step in scaffolding would require the class to practice the task as a whole or in a small group with support from the teacher before attempting the task individually.


Scaffolding is a great way to offer support to your students and is an excellent support for effective differentiation in the classroom.



Woodleywonderworks. (Oct 11, 2009). First Grade Reading-Small Group Breakout [n.d.]. Retrieved from