Scaffolding in the EFL Classroom

Seminar Paper, 2009

17 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 What is scaffolding?
2.1 Scaffolding in theory
2.2 Scaffolding in practice

3 Presentation and analysis of the data

4 Discussion of findings

5 Conclusion

6 References

1 Introduction

In this paper I will deal with the topic of “Scaffolding in the EFL classroom.” Scaffolding plays a crucial role in the classroom and can help to contribute to good teaching. Nevertheless, most teachers are neither aware of the huge benefits of scaffolded instruction, nor do they know anything about the concept of “scaffolding” or the strategies related to it. Even if they sometimes happen to make use of scaffolding strategies, they also often miss the opportunity to apply them when it might have been appropriate to do so. Hence, the aim of this paper is to provide theoretical as well as practical information on scaffolding and to show that and how it is used in class.

As to the structure of my paper, I will first provide some theoretical information necessary to understand the concept of “scaffolding“. After this I will take a look at how scaffolding can be applied to the classroom.

In the last two sections, I will then present, analyse and discuss three examples from a classroom to illustrate some of the strategies and features discussed before.

2 What is scaffolding?

2.1 Scaffolding in theory

When dealing with the topic of “Scaffolding in the EFL classroom“, it is useful to first provide some theoretical information serving as a basis for my further explanations.

Let me start by looking at the term „scaffolding“ itself: Literally, a scaffolding is something placed around buildings, thus enabling the builders to access the emerging structure. As soon as the building can support itself, the scaffolding is removed (Gibbons 2001:13).

The term has also been taken up as a metaphor in educational research (Mercer 1994:96). Wood et al.(1976) were the first to apply it to describe the nature of parental tutoring in young children‘s language development (Gibbons 2001:14). Besides its initial use in the context of parent-child scaffolding, the metaphor has later on also been taken up in the context of classroom interaction, where it portrays the assistance teachers provide for their students to help them to accomplish a task they would not have been able to solve on their own, so that they will eventually be enabled to complete such tasks alone (Mercer 1994:97). It is this kind of scaffolding – often called “instructional scaffolding” - that will be of interest in the rest of the paper.

As to the theoretical underpinnings of instructional scaffolding, they can be traced back to Vygotsky’s learning theories (Gibbons 2001:20), that is his sociocultural theory and his concept of the “zone of proximal development” or “ZPD” (Van der Stuyf 2002:6). According to Vygotsky, learning is socially and culturally based (Mercer 1994:92). Thus, it is not an individual process but a social one and can therefore only occur in the interaction between individuals (Gibbons 2001:20). He also came up with the notion of the “ZPD” or, in other words, the difference between what a learner can do without any help and what he or she can do with the assistance of more capable peers or under adult guidance (Meyer 1993:42-3).

Having discussed the term “scaffolding“ as well as its theoretical underpinnings, let me now consider some features that are crucial to instructional scaffolding: One important feature is the teacher support. It should be timely, that is provided at the point of need, and temporary (Meyer 1993:47). Apart from this, extending understanding is another feature. The term signifies that the teacher is able through his support to extend what his learners know (Gibbons 2001:15). Furthermore, macro and micro focuses are an important point: The tasks chosen by the teacher should always serve curriculum related goals (Gibbons 2001:17-8). Other features are the appropriateness of the instructional level, dialogue and non-evaluative collaboration (Meyer 1993:47-9).

2.2 Scaffolding in practice

After dealing with the theoretical basis of scaffolding, I will now turn to rather practical concepts by explaining how it can be applied in the classroom.

According to Mercer (1994), there are several scaffolding techniques. First, the teacher can set particular themes and elicit responses to draw the learners along a certain line of reasoning (Mercer 1994:99). One way to do this is to pose a follow-up question after the student has given a response instead of just saying “right”, which would end any further discussions. Hence, the learner is required to engage in further talk by giving extended or reformulated answers. Thus, he or she can - with the teacher’s support - absorb new information into his or her existing understanding (Sharpe 2001:52).

Another way to draw the students along a line of reasoning is by extending or reformulating their answers, thereby creating a “section summary“ or a “metastatement” serving as a hook for the students (Sharpe 2001:53).

Moreover, the teacher can cue responses, for instance through the form of his or her questions (Mercer 1994:99) or by referring to shared experiences (Sharpe 2001:45).

Other scaffolding strategies are the elaboration and redefinement of the requirements of an activity and the use of “we“ to show that the learning experience is shared by the teacher and his or her pupils (Mercer 1994:99).

The techniques of offering explanations and inviting the students to participate in class are some other techniques mentioned by Hogan and Pressley (1997).

Additionally to these techniques, Sharpe (2001) also discusses some scaffolding strategies usually used to help students do develop technical vocabulary. Among these are the repetition as well as the recasting of student remarks, which means that the teacher acknowledges the answer but then modifies it so that it is technically more appropriate. Finally, there is also appropriation, that is the transforming of the student’s answer by taking up the general idea behind it and offering it back in a technically more appropriate way (Sharpe 2001:49).


Excerpt out of 17 pages


Scaffolding in the EFL Classroom
Saarland University
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ISBN (Book)
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Scaffolding, Classroom
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Anja Sticher (Author), 2009, Scaffolding in the EFL Classroom, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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