3 Easy Scaffolding Examples in the Classroom

These examples of scaffolding in the classroom explain steps in instructional planning. First, deconstruct standards. That uncovers concepts, skills, and additional guidance. Second, write objectives in bite-sized pieces. Finally, sequence the objectives in a logical progression.

Ms. Sneed Discusses Standards-Based Unit Planning

Our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at the side table with her student teacher.

Mr. Grow stared at a binder. “My professor has tough expectations for my lesson plans,” he said. “First, I must deconstruct a standard. Then I use that information to plan instruction.”

Ms. Sneed nodded. “Before you begin, let’s go over a few examples. In my opinion, you need to scaffold learning.”

The student teacher looked confused.

“Don’t worry,” Ms. Sneed said gently. “I’ll explain everything.”

Ms. Sneed’s Scaffolding Examples – Math

The teacher opened her laptop and searched the Common Core State Standards. “This standard will give us a good scaffolding example,” she said. Then she read the standard aloud:

CCSS 3.MD.A.1 Tell and write time to the nearest minute and measure time intervals in minutes. Solve word problems involving addition and subtraction of time intervals in minutes, e.g., by representing the problem on a number line.”

“So we need some worksheets with word problems?” asked Mr. Grow.

Ms. Sneed smiled. “Not so fast. First, we’ll deconstruct this standard. Then we’ll figure out what to do next.”

Deconstructing a Math Standard

As Ms. Sneed copied and pasted the standard into a Word document, her student teacher watched.

“So,” she said. “Let’s take a look at the nouns. In this step, I’m looking for nouns that provide key concepts.” She moved her curser to the word time, double clicked, and changed the color to orange. Without hesitation, she did the same with time intervals and word problems.

“How did you decide which nouns to choose?” Mr. Grow asked. “And you did it so quickly!”

“Actually, I’ve taught this before. Therefore, I knew what was important. In time, you will too.”

Mr. Grow looked skeptical but nodded.

“Next, we’ll look at the verbs,” Ms. Sneed said. “Hmmm, what will kids do with the concepts in orange? They’ll tell and write time.” As she spoke, she changed the verbs to a bright blue color. Then they’ll measure time intervals and solve word problems.” Again, she turned the verbs blue.

Identifying Objectives

As Mr. Grow studied the page, the objectives began to jump out at him. Color coding in the example sure helped!

  • tell time
  • write time
  • measure time intervals
  • solve word problems

“Finally,” said Ms. Sneed. I’ll turn all of the stuff that provides extra guidance green.

  • to the nearest minute
  • addition and subtraction
  • representing the problem on a number line
After deconstructing a standard, identify the objectives before scaffolding.

Writing Objectives

“Next, we’ll take a little extra time to write objectives. Deconstructing makes it easy. Do you want to help?”

Mr. Grow smiled tentatively. A few minutes ago, he would have said no. But this example really helped!

“Sure,” he said. Then he talked as Ms. Sneed typed:

  • Tell time to the nearest minute.
  • Write time to the nearest minute.
  • Measure time intervals (also known as elapsed time) to the nearest minute.
  • Solve elapsed time word problems involving addition and subtraction of time intervals in minutes.

“Fantastic!” Ms. Sneed exclaimed. “For this exercise, that’s fine. However, in my experience, you might want to break up that last objective even more. For example, in third grade, I’d probably teach addition and subtraction separately. Then, when everyone was good with that, I’d move on to mixed problems.”

After deconstructing a standard, identify the objectives.

Scaffolding Learning

“Now,” Ms. Sneed continued. “Let’s scaffold learning.” She took out a piece of paper and drew a ladder along the right-hand side. “Before we start, though, we need to look beyond the standard.”


“Think about when you learned to tell time. Then consider what was difficult, and what would make it easier.”

“Well, when I learned to tell time, we used the old-fashioned type of clock.”

“You mean analog?”

Mr. Grow nodded. “That was hard. Actually, it would be easier with a digital clock.”

“Then let’s start there.” Next to the bottom of the ladder, she wrote, “Tell and write time on a digital clock.”

“Yeah, that would be a lot easier. When you look at the time on a digital clock, that’s the way you write it too.”

“So how would you progress?”

“Well, after the digital clock, I’d move to analog.” As he spoke, Ms. Sneed added objectives. She moved from the bottom of the ladder toward the top.

“Then I’d teach them how to use the analog clock to figure out time intervals. After that, I guess they could use a number line. With that, I could show them how to add and then subtract. Then, finally, they’d be ready to solve word problems.” Mr. Grow let out a huge sigh. He sure hoped he was on the right track.

“Great!” Ms. Sneed exclaimed. “Just so you know, teachers’ scaffolded objectives may look a little different. For example, they may use different strategies. However, there’s no right or wrong. Just so the kids progress step-by-step and master the standard.”

What About the Textbook?

Mr. Grow sighed. “What if this differs from the math book? I thought I needed to follow it.”

“Hmm, I think you need a shift your perspective. Instead, use the textbook as a resource. Pull what you need from it. Then look for necessary supporting resources elsewhere.”

To scaffold a math standard, break it into small, bite-sized pieces. Then sequence them to build conceptualization.

Mr. Grow’s First Attempt – Scaffolding Examples in ELA

Ms. Sneed pulled up a sixth grade CCSS ELA standard on her computer. “Next,” she said, “I’ll support you while you deconstruct and scaffold.”

Again, she cut and pasted the standard into Word. Then she slid the laptop over. Now it was in front of Mr. Grow. “Time for you to take the driver’s seat. But no worries,” she said, “your driving instructor is right next to you.”

Deconstructing an ELA Standard

Mr. Grow stared at the standard.

CCSS RI.6.2 Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal judgments.

At first, he couldn’t decide what to do. But then it began to fall together. “Nouns first,” he said. Slowly, he selected central idea and changed it to orange. Then he did the same for summary. 

As he turned to Ms. Sneed for affirmation, she nodded. “Right. You’ve found the key concepts: central idea and summary.”

Mr. Grow turned back to the computer. “Now for the verbs.” With no hesitation, he turned determine and provide blue.

“And then the extra guidance,” he continued. “First – how it is conveyed through particular details. And second – distinct from personal opinions or judgment.” As he spoke, he changed the words to green.

Ms. Sneed nodded her approval. Then she chuckled. “See? That wasn’t so bad after all.”

To decompose a standard, identify key nouns (concepts), verbs (skills), and extra guidance.

Scaffolding an ELA Standard

Mr. Grow took a deep breath. He knew what was coming next: scaffolding.

Ms. Sneed slid a piece of paper in front of him. As expected, he drew a ladder along the side. Then he stared at it in silence – for a long time.

Finally, Ms. Sneed came to his rescue. “In my years of teaching,” she said, “I’ve learned a thing or two about informational text. For example, it’s written hamburger style. The top bun illustrates the introduction. In it, you generally find a thesis statement, which teaches the main idea, and supporting details. The bottom bun – if there is one – does pretty much the same thing. That’s the conclusion. And in the middle, you have the burgers, or juicy details.

“Anyway,” she continued, “when kids know this, they can find the central idea. Where? In the introduction and/or conclusion. They also know where to look for supporting details, which they need to write a summary.”

“This is way harder than I even thought,” said Mr. Grow.

Again, Ms. Sneed smiled gently. “Give it time. And until then, get advice from veteran teachers. You know, I’ve been teaching for decades. But I still bounce ideas off of my colleagues. By asking and listening in the teachers’ lounge, I learn something new every day.”

Sequencing the Objectives

With Ms. Sneed’s guidance, Mr. Grow made a list next to his ladder. From bottom to top, it read:

  • understanding informational text
  • identifying the thesis statement
  • identifying specific text structures
  • summarizing
  • discriminating between fact and opinion
  • stating a central idea
  • explaining a central idea


“Fantastic!” the mentor exclaimed. “Now, just as a refresher, how might you differentiate a unit like this?”

With a sigh, Mr. Grow studied the list. Then a small smile flickered across his face. “In my opinion, content differentiation would work best. For kids who struggle, I would use shorter, less complex texts.”

Ms. Sneed nodded. “That would definitely work. Good job.”

A scaffolded learning progression for CCSS.RI.6.2 begins with understanding of informational text structure. Then kids explore thesis statements, specific text structures, summarizing, fact versus opinion, and central idea.

“That’s enough for today,” Ms. Sneed continued. “My brain is fried, and I’m sure yours is too.”

Mr. Grow chuckled. “No kidding,” he said.

“But we’ll work on another standard tomorrow.” She clicked around on her computer and selected a fifth grade standard from the Next Generation Science Standards. After copying and pasting it into a document, she printed it.

“Take this with you. Before we meet tomorrow, please identify the nouns, verbs, and extra information.”

Mr. Grow’s Second Attempt – Scaffolding Examples for Science

After school the following day, Mr. Grow hurried to the side table.

“Ready?” asked Ms. Sneed.


Deconstructing a Science Standard

The student teacher pulled out a color-coded version of the standard.

NGSS 5-PS1-2 Measure and graph quantities to provide evidence that regardless of the type of change that occurs when heating, cooling, or mixing substances, the total weight of matter is conserved.

Ms. Sneed studied it and nodded. “Okay, after deconstructing this standard, how did you interpret it?”

“Well,” said Mr. Grow with a smile, “I happen to have taken a lot of chemistry classes. For that reason, I already had good background information for this standard. After reading it over, I realized that the key concept was actually located in what I had tagged as extra information. Here,” he pointed, “it indicates that students should discover the law of conservation of mass.”

“Haha!” said Ms. Sneed with a laugh. “Good job! What else?”

“To me, it looks like kids need to explore all kinds of changes in matter. In addition to stating ‘regardless of the type of change,’ it also names heating, cooling, and mixing.”

Ms. Sneed nodded. “Go on.”

“So kids will experiment with matter. But not just that. They’ll also measure the changes and then graph their data.”

“That’s fantastic. You’re now thinking like a master teacher. Time for some scaffolding.”

Before scaffolding a science standard, deconstruct it. That way, you'll locate important concepts and skills, as well as extra guidance.

Scaffolding Examples for  a Science Standard

“Additionally,” Mr. Grow continued, “I have some scaffolding examples.” He pulled out a paper. On it, Ms. Sneed noticed a hand-drawn ladder and some notes.

The student teacher smoothed out the paper and positioned it so Ms. Sneed could see. “I thought about what you said. And I wondered what kids would need to know. You know, prerequisite knowledge. Then I decided to have them climb the ladder this way:

  1. how to measure matter
  2. matter has mass
  3. matter takes up space
  4. properties of matter
  5. physical changes
  6. chemical changes
  7. conservation of mass

“Hey,” said Ms. Sneed, “that’s really good! After these scaffolding examples, we only need to discuss one more topic: interdisciplinary planning. Let’s meet next week and get started on that.”

Mr. Grow smiled. “Thanks. You know, as I gain confidence with this, I enjoy teaching so much more.”

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