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European Centre for Modern Languages

Step 2: Teaching

In this section, you will find different scaffolding techniques you may use in your teaching. For example, how to support your students in writing, speaking, and reading tasks, and in what way you could draw on students’ first language in your teaching.

Definitions: Scaffolding, “Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)”, and mediation

Image associée Scaffolding: this concept has been developed by the American psychologist Jérôme Bruner (1983). It is based on Lev Vygotsky’s theories of mediation and Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)”. The ZPD is the difference between what the learner can already do without help and what s/he can achieve with guidance or mediation. Learning objectives adapted to the learner should belong to his ZPD.

How to scaffold a student struggling with language?

Scaffolding has a broader meaning today and in language aware classes it may, for example, consist of different kinds of activities the teacher uses to support the student.

As a starting point the teacher needs to have a clear picture of the different phases of ‘language aware’ learning: what should be learnt and in which order? According to the Finnish National Agency for Education (2017) language aware teaching includes three different phases:

  • Phase 1: The teacher gives a model of the ability/skill to be learned. For example, in math, the teacher proceeds to the mathematical rule to be learned through illustrative examples while interacting with students to co-construct knowledge.  If teachers know their student’s first language, they may also translate key words or concepts to insure students’ understanding.
  • Phase 2: When all the students understand the rule, it is time to work together. Here, the responsibility for learning moves slowly towards the student but s/he continues to be scaffolded by the teacher whenever in need of help. Working together may include, for example, summarizing the different phases of a calculation on the smartboard or on a tablet.
  • Phase 3: In this phase, the students have learnt the matter that was practiced and they are able to start working independently. 
Finnish National Agency for Education (2017)

Read more about scaffolding techniques

In classrooms, scaffolding can occur at all phases of learning, from the initial evaluation of learners’ knowledge and ability through lesson and task completion. Bruner (1983) gives examples of six different scaffolding means to be used by the teacher. These are summarized in the table below and adapted to a language aware subject matter:


What does the teacher need to do?

Planning the teaching unit

(hard scaffolding)

Teaching the class

(soft scaffolding)


Get students interested in the task.

*Find problems connected with real life

*Explicit learning: state and explain both subject and language objectives in advance

*Be aware of the language needed to understand and follow task instructions

*Make students themselves discover the problems and the gap in their content and language knowledge on this topic.

*Take into consideration what the student already knows in the subject but also in his/her first or second language (L1 and L2)

*Ask students to repeat the task in another way, or in his/her L2

Reducing the degrees of freedom

Take over the parts of task that are more complex

*design ZPD integrated objectives

*Use clear instructions

*Avoid cognitive overload

*Divide the task or reduce it

*Give useful vocabulary, verbs and language structures

*Write models for the beginning of sentences that students will need to complete the task

*Ask students to think of ways of succeeding in the task including language goals: genre, tense… (see examples in the Tools)

*Help students to use clear, precise language when talking about the task

*Ask students to first answer orally or on the blackboard


Maintaining direction

Keep the learning on target.

*Regular feedback: give students a self-evaluation grid including language and subject goals

*Ask students to build their own self-evaluation grid (see models given)

*Give different kinds of feedback and do it frequently

*Provide student information on his/her performance

*Encourage the students positively


Highlighting critical task aspects

Show the students the differences between what is expected and what they have done

*Give learning objectives for next lesson

*Show errors/ success

*Ask for others possibilities of solving the task / saying or writing the answer

Controlling frustration

Avoid the possibility of failing for student

*Provide clues or suggestions but do not include the full solution

*Check comprehension frequently

*Ask questions in a simple way

*Give enough time to answer


Offer behaviour for imitation, including skill demonstrations.

*Give students written examples of good answers

*Show students how to proceed

*Give examples of good answers

*Allow students to look at models they have already built (see the Tools)