From the category archives:



Another scaffold today, this one a reading scaffold.

Each subject area has its own way of presenting information – reading a science textbook is completely different to reading a novel. Reading in different areas is something that needs to be taught in those areas, not yet another thing the poor English teacher should be picking up. A graphic summary is a great way of introducing a lot of information and showing kids how to pick out the important bits.

It’s very simple – rule columns down the page, given the text we were working from we had four columns for Headings, Sub-headings, Bold and Figures. Then you skim through the section and fill the columns in, but with only one word per line:

graphic summaryYou can see that by the time you finish the whole section you have a really clear summary of the key phrases and how they relate to each other.

After that you can do all sorts of things to play with the information. We turned it into a mindmap using the headings, subheadings and other words as the heirarchy of branches. As we do more on the topic we’ll keep filling in the same map and getting more detail and connections. Instant summary, without all the little joining words that take time to read but don’t really add anything to understanding.

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I am a huge advocate for getting ‘literacy’ out of the timetable and into the learning areas. As I’ve said already,every lesson I teach has a literacy element – how else are you supposed to fit it all in and make it authentic? So I will be writing about some of the scaffolds I use to teach literacy, even if it’s science or maths.

My kids (yes, already they’re becoming ‘my kids,’) wrote a paragraph by themselves today. I’m very proud of them.

To set the scene a little yes it is highschool, but this is a class with many indigenous students. A lot of them speak English as a second language and many have literacy isshews. Constructing a paragraph is a big deal. In fact it’s probably a bigger deal in mainstream schools than we’d like to admit. I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet and seen how people write, I certainly don’t think it’s a given that 14 year olds can manage paragraphs.

It’s a great open-ended literacy task because those who can do it take off and write a page, the others still end up with the basic facts and they’re learning about writing as well. And never underestimate the feeling of success, if you have kids who are used to copying off the board and suddenly they’ve created something all by themself, that’s special.


The basis of a scaffold is really simple – give them the structure, give them the words. It’s about making it explicit that writing doesn’t just flow out of your hand but is planned. They’ve been doing separation techniques and a summary or review lends itself really well to paragraph structure. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the board to show you and I’m still working out how to get it interactive.

I love colour-coding, it features heavily in all my boardwork. So we had a heading, then down the left in black were the parts of a paragraph – topic sentence, supporting sentences, concluding sentence. With of course an explanation as I wrote them all up.

In the middle and in blue they provided the topics for each sentence – separating techniques for the topic sentence, then chromatography, evaporation, filtration and decanting for four supporting sentences.

On the right I put a line down the board to separate it, then in red a list of words they might use – solution, boil, solid, liquid, separate, layer etc. Getting these up before they start is important, it helps give them ideas and it reduces the shame. And the waste of time! Why should teachers spell words for each kid, just put them up and get it over with. It also takes the emphasis off the wrapping and puts it squarely on the content – in this situation I don’t care if they can spell ‘filter,’ I care if they know what it is.

Et voila. In about 15 minutes every kid in the class wrote a paragraph about separation techniques, in the process demonstrating at least a little bit of knowledge about each one. Some of the more literate wrote a page with a paragraph on each technique, but every kid was engaged at their own level and got the basics. And every kid knows a little bit more about planning their writing.

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