When you became a teacher, your goal was to reach every single student in your classroom. From the high-flying scholars who could compose better essays than most of the school’s teachers, to the frustrated kids still grappling with the basics, it was your mission to help all students meet their learning standards while improving their reading, writing, and thinking skills.
Of course, this remains your mission. But with some classroom experience (even if it’s just a little!), you came to realize just how hard this task can be, especially if your classes contain a wide range of student experiences and abilities. Fortunately, we have some ideas for making this process a little easier for you. Here are our favorite 4 quick and easy tips for scaffolding lessons.
1. Graphic Organizers
At EB Academics, we’re all about graphic organizers! Our EB Writing Program includes many editable organizers to help you out. But of course, you can create your own, as well!
Remember, though, that not all organizers are created equal. To get the best bang for your pedagogical buck, make sure to design them differently for students who need extra support. For example, if you have an organizer to help students plan an essay, you can include topic sentences on the organizers of students still learning the basics. You can also give students choices, rather than having them create all their ideas from scratch. Caitlin, one of the owners of EB Academics, has had a lot of success by giving students three or four claims to choose from before they write.
For higher level students, you can make the graphic organizer more challenging by building in sections for more writing. Strong writers can write an extra body paragraph, use more examples for support, etc. And for your expert writers, consider releasing them from the organizer entirely, so they can show you what they know on their own!
2. Essential Questions
Essential questions are, well . . . essential. They are questions that get to the heart of the topic that students are learning, and they are great for giving students focus and guidance as they read. We recommend letting an essential question guide any large unit you’re teaching!
When a unit is leading toward an argumentative or literary analysis essay, our EB Academics teachers use evidence trackers to support the essential question. An evidence tracker is a graphic organizer that reminds students of the essential question, and their essay’s claim will be their answer to this question. As students read their novel or story, they use their trackers to form a working claim and collect support from their text. When their reading is done, they have all the support they need to write their essay!
For students who struggle with understanding class reading or have trouble writing essays, you can give students options for essential questions, rather than using one question for the whole class. This way, students can choose which focus they are most comfortable with as they read. Here are some sample essential questions to give you an idea to offer choice. These are from Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street:
- Do neighborhoods help to shape the people living in them?
- How do childhood experiences affect a person’s worldview?
- How does stereotyping affect the way people view themselves?
- Can writing improve our lives?
For stronger readers and writers, you can assign them an especially challenging essential question. Or, you can give them a short list to choose from, but offer extra credit for addressing an essential question that is especially tough!
3. Socratic Seminars
Socratic seminars are another way to address learners with a range of skill levels. This might just be our favorite of the 4 quick and easy tips for scaffolding lessons. A Socratic seminar is essentially a whole-class discussion, usually based on a text or set of texts. Differentiating them can be easy!
First, find a website like Newsela, which allows you to search articles by topic and reading level, so different students can read about the same topic at different levels. Then, when creating questions for the Socratic seminar, take care to write questions that all the articles could address. This way, every reader can be involved!
Additionally, remember that some students will have trouble speaking to the group. In addition to awarding points for sharing thoughts, make sure to give points for nonverbal participation, like nodding in agreement and giving the speaker their attention. You can also give points for making eye contact with speakers, although take care not to require this of students who are stressed by this (such as those on the autistic spectrum). Additionally, you can give points for preparedness (coming to the discussion having read the text, answered questions in writing, etc.).
4. Go Beyond the Bundle
Teachers in the EB Academics Teacher’s Club receive a lesson for grades 5-6 and a lesson for grades 7-8 month. We call these lessons issues, or bundles, and they all include an Into, Through, and Beyond lesson based on a certain topic. Our monthly bundles now include a “Beyond the Bundle” resource to help with challenging high level students and supporting students who need help. But whether you are using one of these bundles or planning your own rigorous lesson, we have a few tips to help you scaffold students’ learning.
First, make your expectations reasonable, but keep them high. Plan your lessons with the belief that your students can succeed! With that in mind, however, also know that it’s totally okay to hold students’ hands throughout any lessons in which they need extra support. Students need to feel success in order to stay motivated to keep learning. Here are few ways you can do this:
- Read texts together with students
If your lessons include texts for students to read, read them together as a class before students interact with them. This will give them the knowledge and confidence they need to perform more rigorous tasks.
- Begin the lesson as a whole class
Before releasing students to work independently or in small groups, begin a lesson’s activity together. This will show students how to work through the activity, and it will also allow you to informally assess where students will need extra guidance once they’re on their own.
- Give more time
If a lesson or activity is particularly rigorous for your students, give more time! It’s okay to slow the pace to help students reach a lesson’s standards.
- Remove parts of lesson if needed
Of course, you don’t always have time to slow things down. Another great option is to remove activities as needed. For example, maybe you have two activities for the middle of your lesson, and they address similar standards. You can remove one to give students time to focus on other activities. Additionally, you can take out activities that are too challenging for your students at this moment, or replace them with something more easily attainable.
We hope these 4 quick and easy tips for scaffolding lessons help you on your journey toward an inclusive, effective, and engaging classroom! Have another idea of how to scaffold students’ learning? Please leave a comment below!