Frame Concepts to Build Skills

One of the most important ways to reach all students in classrooms is through the differentiation of instruction. This is especially true when supporting the linguistic needs of English learners (ELs) and linguistically gifted learners. Through the incorporation of scaffolding techniques, students can access differentiated content while building their language skills.

One of the most critical components of scaffolding is lesson preparation. Instructional leaders must ask themselves how they might break down any barriers that are keeping students from accessing the same content as their peers using the University of Wisconsin’s WIDA English Language Development (ELD) Standards.

Questions to consider throughout the lesson-planning process and when making decisions about instruction include:

  • What are my students’ language levels according to WIDA ELD standards in the domains of reading, writing, listening, and speaking?
  • How can I use the WIDA “Can Do” descriptors to inform scaffolding techniques for the language domains of reading, writing, listening, and speaking?
  • What are my content and language objectives for this lesson?
  • How can I help students make authentic connections to bridge their prior knowledge and experiences and the content I am teaching?
  • What vocabulary will my students need to know and use to access the content of this lesson?
  • How will I introduce these words to my students?
  • How will my students have an opportunity to engage in the lesson?

Scaffolding Strategies

After lesson planning, it’s time to create scaffolds to support student engagement in the lesson. Below are a few ideas for simple yet effective scaffolds and examples of how they might be used in the classroom:

Sentence frames. A sentence frame (“The main characters are ___ and ___,” for example) is a structure for students to use to explain their thinking, answer questions, and engage in group discussion, as well as for writing.

In our school, we find that students score much higher in the domains of listening and reading than they do in speaking and writing. Speaking and writing are crucial to EL students, and sentence frames allow them to express their thinking while also learning new academic language. They also expose EL students to essential vocabulary, which supports understanding of the words, future usage, and students’ confidence to engage in discussion.

Supplementary materials. Visuals, pictures, manipulatives, and realia (objects pulled from everyday life) provide students with concrete experiences and deepen their understanding of concepts. When teaching vocabulary, for example, pictures and labels can provide students with multiple exposures to each new word and ongoing opportunities to use the words in context.

In math, manipulatives allow students’ understanding of concepts to move from concrete to pictorial to abstract. You might allow students to use base 10 blocks when adding, subtracting, or comparing numbers, taking the language demand out of the task to allow students to show what they know even in their native language. You can also allow students to explain their thinking by pairing manipulatives with sentence frames; for example, providing a mat that includes space to build numbers and a sentence frame such as “___ is greater than/less than ___.”

Hands-on activities can also aid in science and social studies instruction by providing students with authentic experiences that increase their comprehension.

Authentic assessment. Give students multiple ways to demonstrate their comprehension. Sentence frames allow demonstration of understanding through writing, and manipulatives can help demonstrate knowledge of math concepts. Let students who are newcomers (WIDA Level 1) use drawing and labeling to show their understanding of a concept.

Student response in whole-group settings. Use “I say, you say” or “My turn, your turn” to ensure that all students participate in whole-group instruction. This might mean having students repeat letters, sounds, and words during whole-group phonics instruction. In planning a dictated sentence, for example, have students say the sentence multiple times, count the number of words in the sentence, stomp out the number of words, then repeat the sentence to give them multiple opportunities to hear the correct sentence and repeat it before they need to write it down.

Scaffolding techniques are critical to supporting EL students, but such supports should be temporary. Use informal assessment data to determine when it’s time to adjust the level of scaffolding needed for each student based on their language needs.

Leslie Kapuchuck is principal of McGaheysville Elementary School in McGaheysville, Virginia.