How scaffolding can improve your CLIL lesson

June 8, 2015


You might or might not have heard this term before, but I can assure you: it’s a key term in CLIL. Scaffolding is not just an important part of regular education, its use is even more important in a language learning environment like CLIL education.

What is scaffolding?

The obvious thing to do when you don’t know a word is to look it up right? So, that’s what I did. According to the online free dictionary the definition of scaffolding is:



  1. A scaffold or system of scaffolds
  2. (Building) the building materials used tomake scaffolds

But that’s not very helpful for us, is it?

A more “CLIL” way of looking at scaffolding is explained by Rosie Tanner and Liz Dale in their book “CLIL Activities”

“The idea of scaffolding is based on work by Wood, Bruner and Ross (1976) and Vygotsky (1978). Builders use temporary scaffolds to support a building during construction, and then – once the building can stand alone – the scaffold is removed.”

In other words: Scaffolding is the process of supporting your students during their learning process and gradually removing that support as your students become more independent.

This is very different from helping, which is the process of figuring out an answer together with a student.

What scaffolding implies for your students

Scaffolding will help your students to understand new concepts and develop new skills in a faster way. I am not providing any scientific research here, but I noticed it a lot in my own lessons. If your students lack any kind of structure, they will fail in their learning process a lot more often.

Whenever I find students falling behind, I check for my scaffolding. Did I structure their learning in a logical way? Quite often I would find I skipped a step or slowed down too much.

A more practical example: whenever I provide my students with a task that requires multiple steps, I will structure this for them. This will help them to understand the content a lot better and faster.

Just one more thing.

I want my students to take notes of whatever is important on the blackboard. However, students have almost never been instructed on how to take notes, let alone determine what is important or not! When preparing your lesson, think about what you want your students to take notes of and scaffolding this part so students have a set of step by step instructions to follow instead of a large text.

Language and Learning

You can scaffold both the language as well as the learning process of students.

Scaffolding a language can be done by providing language frames or example sentences.

Scaffolding learning can be done by providing the step by step instructions for the task ahead. This can also be an example exercise.

Four examples of scaffolding

So what can you do to scaffold your lessons? Here are four different examples of ways I use scaffolding in my lessons.

Focus on language

  1. When you ask a student to explain something, provide him/her with sentences to be used in the explanation. This will help students who are not sure about their language to focus on the content explained instead of worrying about the words to be used.
  2. Provide example questions for your students to ask in case they don’t understand something. This can also be combined with tasks that require students to come up with questions on their own.

Focus on learning

  1. Create a framework students can fill out to structure your instruction. This might be a gapped text during a listening exercise or a partially filled in worksheet your students need to complete.
  2. Explain how to tackle a different exercise. Not by doing it for them (that’s helping!) but by providing them with the steps to follow. If at any point students can’t seem to figure out what to do, you can point to the steps and ask if these have been followed.


How do you apply scaffolding in your lesson? Let me know!

  • Thank you very much for sharing your ideas. For scaffolding lessons, I write the target sentences/phrases on the board and I ask students to come up with their own sentences. For giving instructions, I write the step by step process on the board.

    • Both are great examples of scaffolding indeed. Step by step instruction show how structure and help students to focus on the learning instead of the procedure. And writing down target phrases to initiate thinking is a great way to make sure students do not need to start from scratch.
      Thanks for sharing!

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