6 Scaffolding Strategies for Teaching the Writing Process

6 Scaffolding Strategies for Teaching the Writing Process

In construction, scaffolding is a temporary structure used to support workers during the completion of a project. Similarly, scaffolding in education helps support students as they learn new skills and knowledge. These supports are gradually removed as students gain the ability to work independently.

Imagine, for instance, that it’s the first day of school. You tell your students, “Write a three-page essay.” That’s it. No further instructions, examples, or guidance.

Would your students submit high-quality essays?

Probably not. Without support, students can’t learn effectively or work toward mastery. To teach writing well, it’s important to break down the process and provide resources and guidance to your students.

Here are some tips and ideas for scaffolding the writing process in your classroom.

Gather Information

In order to provide your students with the right amount of support, it’s best to do some sort of pre-assessment.

If students are given too much support, the task (like writing an essay) may be too easy. This can cause students to lose motivation and interest. On the other hand, if students aren’t given enough support, they may become frustrated and give up.

Determine what your students already know about the writing process by having them answer some questions or provide a writing sample.

This will give you a general idea of just how much support your students need. Plus, helping students tap into their prior knowledge increases learning.

Chunk the Writing Process

“Chunking” is when you break a large amount of information into smaller, more comprehensible pieces. These digestible bites make it much easier for students to grasp the material.

The writing process contains many components, so break them down into pieces. More advanced students may need fewer chunks while struggling students will need more.

These chunks could include brainstorming, researching, outlining, writing a thesis, crafting an introduction, composing body paragraphs, ending with a strong conclusion, and proofreading/editing.

Depending on the knowledge level of your students, you may also want to teach them about finding evidence and elaborating on this evidence in their writing.

Teaching the writing process piece by piece is much less overwhelming for students. They’re able to learn and master one concept at a time, becoming more confident and skilled as writers.

Model the Writing Process

Modeling is one of the most powerful scaffolding techniques. As you teach your students each step of the writing process, be sure to model how it’s done.

You can provide students with examples you’ve written or examples of prior student work. However, it’s even more effective if you can actually write in front of your students. You can do this by writing on a white board, utilizing a doc camera, or projecting your computer screen as you type.

If you’re talking to students about how to write an introduction, walk them through the process. As you write, use a “think-aloud,” talking students through your thought process as a writer.

Modeling paired with think-aloud appeals to both your visual and auditory learners. Students learn how to write and how to think about writing effectively.

Start Formulaically

Formulaic writing certainly isn’t the “best” writing, but it’s a great place to start if your students are beginners.

You can break down the writing process even more and teach students helpful formulas. For instance, you might tell students that an introduction consists of:

  • Grabber/Hook
  • Background Information
  • Thesis

You could teach that an effective body paragraph requires a:

  • Topic Sentence
  • Evidence #1
  • Explanation/Analysis
  • Evidence #2
  • Explanation/Analysis
  • Concluding Sentence

While students practice their writing, it’s a great idea to have this information written or projected where they can see it (or to provide handouts that students can reference). This way, students are practicing the “right way” and are including all of the essential pieces in their essays.

As your students develop confidence and ability, you can encourage them to branch out from this formulaic writing. More likely, students will naturally begin to develop their own style and voice as they master the writing process.

Use the Gradual Release of Responsibility: “I do, we do, you do.”

The gradual release of responsibility model is the major framework for scaffolding. It’s sometimes referred to as “I do, we do, you do.”

“I do” is the modeling phase. This is when you show students how to complete a task, preferably while also thinking aloud.

The “we do” step can include guided instruction, such as teaching students formulas, providing resources, and ensuring they know the necessary vocabulary. For example, do all of your students know what a thesis is? (Double check—you might be surprised.)

“You do” is typically divided into two phases: “you do together” and “you do individually.” If you’ve just taught students to write a thesis, they can first practice composing one with a partner or group. Next, they can write a thesis on their own. The “I do individually” step in particular should be repeated multiple times.

By following this model, you’re ensuring that your students receive plenty of support and practice as they work on a new skill.

Provide Checklists and Rubrics

Checklists and rubrics help your students know exactly what you’re looking for, which in turn helps them understand how to write effectively.

Before your students start working on a writing assignment, provide a rubric. You can use the same basic rubric each time, or you can make assignment-specific rubrics. Either way, students can use the rubric as a guide for how to write a strong essay.

Checklists can be used in the same way. You can also use checklists to teach your students how to proofread and edit. Put together a checklist of items students should look for as they proofread and edit, based on the skill level of your students.

These items might include spelling, informal language, use of transitions, correct citations, consistent verb tense, subject-verb agreement, capitalization, homophones, comma usage, etc. Make sure that you go through the checklist with your students beforehand to ensure they understand each item. This may require modeling and practice opportunities as well.

6 Scaffolding Strategies Recap

The writing process is long and complex, but scaffolding can help your students master it. Guide your students through the process by:

  • Determining how much support they need
  • Chunking the process into steps
  • Modeling each step, preferably with a “think-aloud”
  • Teaching helpful formulas
  • Giving opportunities to practice with others and individually
  • Providing checklists and rubrics

As you follow these steps, be sure to check that your students are understanding. If not, you may need to slow down or provide additional scaffolding.

Your students won’t become master writers on their own. But with your purposeful support and guidance, they’ll learn to write confidently and effectively.

Getting formative feedback is an essential step in the writing process for students. With WriteLab, students gain access to AI-driven, automated, feedback—followed by feedback from you. 

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