Scaffolding is not just a synonym for teacher´s help. It is a special kind of support that assists learners in acquiring new skills, abilities, knowledge and attitudes. This teaching strategy is more like the temporary assistance by which a teacher helps a learner know how to do something, so that the child feels able to accomplish a similar task, which in turn is indispensable to increase their learning autonomy.

Implementing scaffolding techniques requires identifying which principles are essential to support language development. Gibbons (2015) points out some illustrative hints:

Learners need to understand what is said to them and what they read. In Krashen´s terms, this can be understood as “comprehensible input”, which is not exactly “simplified language”, as suggested by Vygotsky.

Learners need to use the new language themselves. As experienced FL teachers know, the FL is much more memorable if it occurs in a meaningful context. In this regard, recent trends in the field of FLT highlight the development of problem-solving dialogue where small groups or pairs of learners solve a problem collaboratively.

Learners need opportunities to use “stretched” language. This means challenging them to move out of their comfort zone and struggle to get their meaning across. This shall obviously lead to admit error as an indispensable and natural factor in any learning process.

Learners need models of new language, especially the academic registers of school. These models should be varied and from different sources, so that they get familiar with different accents.

Learners need opportunities to build on the resources of their mother tongue (L1). Sometimes it is helpful to rely on the knowledge of our mother tongue to find linguistic similarities between L1 and the FL. Moreover, there is plenty of research on how strong students in their mother tongue are more likely to develop the necessary communicative abilities in the FL easier (Cummins 2000).

Second language learning is facilitated when students are using the new language to learn other things, such as subject content. Learning English in connection with other areas, or learning other areas through English (CLIL) has proven to be highly beneficial for children, since this approach creates natural and familiar contexts where the language is used in a hidden way.

In short, Learners need access to comprehensible input and models of new language across the curriculum, as well as opportunities for comprehensible output, stretched language, and using the resources of their other languages.


“Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning. Teaching English Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom”. Gibbons, P. Heinemann. 2017

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