Lesson planning

19 May 2023

10 ways to scaffold your lessons, according to our experts

Melanie McGhee

School Support Officer

When you’re new to the classroom, it can be challenging to meet the differing needs of your pupils. In this blog, we’ll provide 10 easy-to-use strategies you can build into your lesson plans and teaching resources.

Each of your pupils is on a learning journey. You will have a clear idea of what your pupils’ desired outcomes are academically. However, they are all individuals with differing needs and understandings of the world. How do you make sure that all of your pupils reach their full potential?

The answer can lie in ‘scaffolding’.

What is ‘scaffolding’ in teaching?

Scaffolding in an educational context refers to the extra steps or support your pupils might need to reach the desired educational outcome.

You can picture this process like building physical scaffolding too. Imagine that we all need to reach the top of a tower. The tower represents the journey that pupils must embark on to reach the pinnacle of their learning success. Some are easily able to climb. Some will require additional steps, or scaffolding, put in place in order for them to reach their goals and climb to the top.

As classroom teachers, it is important that we aid those pupils who need additional support on their journey, and offer them adequate scaffolding so that they can climb to the height of their abilities.

Whether you’re using teaching resources from Oak or another provider to get a head-start on planning, or creating your own from scratch, there are lots of ways you can adapt them to scaffold for your pupils.

How to adapt your resources to scaffold for pupils

1. Explicitly pre-teach vocabulary

Research shows that gaps in children's vocabulary are quick to form if not addressed, and it can have a lifelong impact (1).

To address the needs of all pupils, and to make sure your curriculum is accessible and well-scaffolded, scan the teaching resources you’re going to use and select vocabulary that may not often appear in conversation to explicitly teach before exploring lesson content. This scaffolding will bridge vocabulary gaps and help your pupils to access lessons.

2. Adapt your class dialogue

The knowledge gaps that interrupt learning opportunities do not only apply to the teaching resources you use. Your class explanations are vital for animating the learning process and transforming teaching resources into a lesson for pupils.

Consider the sentence below about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

‘Romeo and Juliet is a renaissance tragedy about two lovers from feuding families’.

What assumptions are made in this explanation that may make it inaccessible for pupils with vocabulary and knowledge gaps? Although this knowledge might be second-nature to you, your pupils may be new to the content and concepts you introduce to them.

Think carefully about the resources you’re going to use and what adaptations you may need to make to the explanations you use in your class, so all pupils can access the learning. By choosing your vocabulary carefully, you can build in additional scaffolding for your pupils.

3. Change pace

Changing pace can act as a tool for both increasing challenge or scaffolding pupils who need additional support.

Remember that learning is not simply covering a topic, it is promoting good understanding and knowledge that can be retained and transferred. If your classes need additional time to enable this to happen, adapt the teaching resources to change the pace to make sure their scaffolding needs are met.

4. Build in increased teacher modelling

Pupils who need additional steps and scaffolding to assist them in their learning journey will benefit from consistent and high-quality teacher modelling, or demonstration. Pupils will benefit from clear step-by-step exemplars from their teacher in order to help them understand (2).

If you don’t know what you are doing wrong, you can never know what you are doing right.

Matthew Syed, Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success

Make sure you regularly build modelling into your lessons and that new tasks are always modelled. To scaffold for pupils, you will need to adjust or increase the frequency of modelling to continually demonstrate tasks. You may also build in ‘I do, we do, you do’ tasks in order to harness the benefits of modelling and transfer independence to pupils.

Alongside the teaching resources on our website, you can view recordings of experienced teachers delivering lessons. Watch these to observe experienced teachers explaining a subject or topic you’re new to or not so familiar with.

5. Extend practice time

When pupils are working to build new skills, it is important that enough lesson time is reserved for deliberate practice. Not only will some pupils require additional time to master skills, they will require additional deliberate practice to retain knowledge and skills. In the words of Lemov, ‘practice makes permanent’ (3).

6. Give pupils a ‘success criteria’

Be really clear about what you would like to see in your pupils’ work and create a ‘success criteria’ so that they can check this during tasks and assess their own success after completing. Not only will this help to generate automaticity and reinforce deliberate practice, it will also increase independence and autonomy for pupils, creating responsibility for their own outcomes.

7. Adapt repetition quantities

Research suggests that memory can rapidly deteriorate. The natural deterioration of memory can hamper future learning where past knowledge is key to understanding, making it harder for pupils to understand content and concepts (4).

Make sure repetition of core knowledge is embedded thoroughly into your curriculum and lesson plans to improve retention. Some classes may need this more regularly than others. Regular low-stakes quizzing can be a great way to do this. Search our teaching resources for quizzes to use in your next lesson.

8. Use cold-calling to sample all class members

Consistently sample your whole class and check their understanding. Keep this simple through cold-calling or using a randomiser in order to ensure all voices are heard and all misconceptions are addressed. This continued formative assessment will also allow you to diagnose if additional scaffolding is required.

9. Prioritise quality over quantity

Prioritise pupils mastering small, high-quality chunks of learning over breadth. You can secure depth over breadth by mapping out clearly your priority content, key vocabulary and concepts through your curriculum plans. Make sure you capture how you plan to measure success.

Not sure where to start? No problem. Our lesson and resource directory can give you an overview of our teaching resources or use our curriculum plans as your starting point. Use as much or as little as you need.

When pupils are working hard, reward their efforts to motivate their learning and recognise the learning journey that they are on, fostering strong relationships in your classroom and reinforcing good habits. Change and improvement will not happen overnight, but building good habits and continually reinforcing knowledge, will motivate pupils and help them on their journey step-by-step.

10. Quickly address misconception and revisit these

By addressing misconceptions quickly in your lessons, you give them less opportunity to become embedded. Instead, you lay a foundation of accurate knowledge and understanding so that high-quality learning can be built upon.

Our quiz questions are crafted to expose common misconceptions and mistakes, so they could be the perfect starting point for checking understanding. Simply search by subject, topic or key stage and use them in whatever way works for you.

New to teaching?

If you're new to teaching, you may also be interested in these videos to support in observing, deconstructing, analysing and adapting lessons.

(1) David Didau, Closing the language gap: Building vocabulary

(2) Barak Rosenshine, Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies that all Teachers Should Know

(3) Doug Lemov, Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better

(4) Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel, and Peter C Brown, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning