10 Scaffolding Education Tips for Primary Teachers to Support Learning

Hero image
Updated | 6 min read

Scaffolding learning has become a standard in education thanks to the support it gives students as they build up their knowledge. After all, we don’t expect construction workers to get to the top of a building without the aid of temporary support. Why would we expect our young students to be able to work their way to the pinnacle of knowledge without a little help along the way?

The Teach Starter teacher team came up with some new scaffolding strategies and scaffolding teaching examples that you can implement in your classroom to create a more supportive learning environment!

What Is Scaffolding in Simple Terms?

We apologise if we’re teaching you something you already know, but we are talking about creating support for learning here, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least touch on what scaffolding means in education!

Put in simple terms, scaffolding refers to the temporary support systems teachers put in place for students to help them to understand new concepts. That support can take many forms, such as providing a model or example, breaking a task down into smaller, more manageable steps or providing feedback and guidance.

When we scaffold lessons for students, learning is typically broken up into small parts or bits, and students are given a structural tool as a mechanism for learning that ‘bit.’ Once a teacher determines the learning exists, the scaffold is removed as students no longer need it.

burger scaffold example for students

We touch on this to establish that scaffolding is not the same as differentiation. The former is part of structuring learning. The latter is about modifying the educational process to meet a child’s different needs. Although providing scaffolding to struggling learners can be a part of differentiated instruction, the two terms are not interchangeable.

Why Is Scaffolding Important in Teaching?

What’s more — there’s solid evidence that scaffolding in education works! Studies have shown that students who are required to use scaffolds show enhanced inquiry and performance vs. students in learning environments that don’t take advantage of the teaching tool. With the help of scaffolding, students build their knowledge and skills gradually so that they can eventually complete the task or achieve the goal independently.

Scaffolding can help our students by providing them with the necessary support to overcome challenges and build their confidence, as well as by helping them to see the connections between new information and what they already know.

Got it? OK, let’s talk scaffolding ideas and examples that will work in your classroom!

Scaffolding Teaching Strategies for the Classroom

Start With Important Vocabulary

Have you ever tried to read a text so dense and full of jargon that it puts you to sleep? This is a key mistake teachers can make too — sending kids right into the frustration station as they encounter word after word they just don’t understand! Defining key vocabulary and familiarising your students with the words they’re about to hear will make learning new concepts less challenging.

Teach Starter Teacher Tip: Make sure you provide references so students can check back on the meanings of all these new words, giving them time to sink in.

For example, this free scaffold created by our teacher team to help find students find the plot of a narrative text spells out the meaning of key vocabulary words such as climax, rising action, and falling action.

Anchor charts are also a great way to build a glossary with your students to refer back to as you move deeper into the lesson.

Provide Model Assignments

Ever performed a science experiment in front of the class before breaking students into groups or pairs to try it themselves? How about providing your students with examples of completed assignments from students you’ve had in your class in the past?

These are both methods of scaffolding, providing your students with a structure they can copy as they dive into their own practise.

grid scaffold example for supporting argument

Draw on Past Lessons

The educational process in and of itself is a system of scaffolding if you think about it! You start in kindergarten or foundation with certain supports, which are removed when you get to year 1 where you have new supports and so on.

While you’re certainly not going to remove prior knowledge, beginning the lesson with a look at how new concepts relate to those already learned is a powerful mechanism for activating skills. For example, if you’re teaching a lesson on persuasive writing, you may reference books you’ve read in the classroom in which the protagonist used the powers of persuasion.

Provide Organisers

Venn diagrams, flow charts, and graphic organizers all work to help students organise their knowledge in a logical way as well as break down big concepts into the smaller chunks that are at the heart of scaffolding. They allow students to make connections between the components of the lesson, deepening an understanding of the content.

2 pages of the Our Home, Australia Note-Taking Graphic Organiser on an orange background with a bright green bubble that says

Think, Pair, Share

Often hearing what other classmates are asking or saying can open students’ minds up to a whole new way of thinking! With a ‘think, pair, share,’ students are presented with a question, and the teacher gives them silent time to think about their answer. This is, of course, the think portion!

Next, students pair up with a partner, and the students share their answers with one another. To ensure both parties speak, one partner is A, the other B.

As a teacher, you then direct your sets of ‘pairs.’ For example, you might say, ‘Partner A speaks first this time,’ then after some time ‘OK switch. Now Partner B speaks.’

This ensures all students are discussing an answer.

Often when teachers call on a few students in a class discussion, some students won’t try to think of an answer because they know they won’t raise their hand and get called on. Same with a group setting. Often times those quiet, shy students don’t speak in groups. However, when you do a think-pair-share, all students get involved and get a chance to work on those oral language skills.

Once they have spoken with pairs, you can have some partners share with the whole class.

Provide Templates

In addition to completed versions, blank templates provide structure and let students know what you expect from them. They also make for fantastic classroom displays when everyone’s completed assignment has been turned in!

Here are a few you can download now:

Provide Manipulatives

Especially if you’re teaching a maths lesson, using manipulatives helps make the material more visual and less abstract for your students. For example, using MAB blocks when students are learning to write numbers in expanded form or learning to decompose numbers provides a visual representation of the concept.

Bringing these concepts to life in a hands-on way can be done digitally too. Check out our interactive MAB blocks lab!


stick person scaffold example for students

Establish Success Criteria and Learning Goals

When students know what it is you expect them to accomplish, it’s far easier to plan and predict, not to mention for them to self-assess their progress. As they internalise these learning intentions, your students can both make sense of challenging content and of what it is they need to do to meet the challenges in front of them.

Teach Starter Teacher Tip: Use measurable or active verbs like list, define, explain and differentiate to provide students with a measure of knowledge.

Use Cues

Often the question for students is, ‘where do I start?’ Cues help answer that question, providing clear starting points for students to move forward with applying their developing knowledge.

social cues poster and worksheet on a purple background with lime green bubble that reads

Practise, Practise, Practise

Practising is how students get better at new things!

Whether you’re sending them home with work that requires using a new concept or sending students off to centers to work together on related activities, it’s important to stress that this is a learning experience, and perfection is not expected.

The key to making this an effective scaffolding tool is establishing a growth mindset in your classroom so students know that learning is about discovering — not getting it right the first time.

Download dozens of templates to help scaffold learning in your classroom!

Recommended resources

  • Go to What Is the Setting? - Worksheets Teaching Resource

    Teaching Resource

    What Is the Setting? - Worksheets

    Encourage your students to identify the setting in short and simple texts with this set of six worksheets.

    1 page Year F - 1
  • Go to Story Settings - Flipbook Teaching Resource

    Teaching Resource

    Story Settings - Flipbook

    Teach your students about story settings with this hands-on flipbook.

    1 page Year F - 1
  • Go to Forest Biome Food Web – Worksheet Teaching Resource

    Teaching Resource

    Forest Biome Food Web – Worksheet

    Challenge students to create a food web and explain how energy flows between organisms with this cut-and-paste worksheet.

    1 page Year 4


Log in to comment

Get more inspiration
delivered to your inbox!

Receive the Teach Starter newsletter full of tips, news and resources with your free membership.

Sign Up