Scaffolding Writing Instruction

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Scaffolding Writing Instruction Hero

It’s no secret that being a strong writer can impact your future success in school and career life. However, none of us start off as solid writers. In fact, it might take years for many to achieve their writing goals, whether that’s writing a college essay you’re proud of or being an editor on a blog. Scaffolding writing instruction provides the support that students need to grow as writers. Scaffolding can vary based on the support needed. For example, some scaffolds focus on providing appropriate feedback, while others help to create a safe space for students to share their writing. Ultimately, as students complete the smaller steps along the way, they can improve their writing skills and achieve more complex goals.

What Is Scaffolding in Writing?

Scaffolding in writing breaks down the complex writing process down into smaller, more manageable steps. Ultimately, scaffolding in writing is an ongoing process that motivates students to achieve their goals.

Generally speaking, one article defines a scaffold as support provided to students to help them achieve specific learning objectives. This support can vary; for example, in writing, the support can look like providing a graphic organizer for the story-writing planning stage or a paragraph outline to help students master writing a paragraph. As students master tasks and become more independent, the supports are gradually removed.

How to Scaffold Writing

According to an article by Dr. Susanna Benko, scaffolding in teaching writing can be broken into three aspects: task selection, interactions during instruction, and teachers’ stance:

Task Selection

  • Ensuring that writing tasks are appropriately challenging for students
  • Finding ways to provide ownership for students

Interactions During Instruction

  • Simplifying writing tasks when necessary to allow students to properly manage subtasks
  • Providing useful feedback (focus on more than correcting punctuation/grammar or revising a word or phrase) to help students continue to make progress
  • Modeling writing using real-world writing as mentor texts

Teachers’ Stance

  • Sharing their own writing to help students feel more comfortable to share their own
  • Fostering a positive classroom environment by creating spaces for students to support one another, such as through peer review

The table below provides writing scaffold examples based on the above guidance.

Scaffolding Writing Instruction Examples


Support Needed

Scaffold Example

Task Selection: Ensuring that writing tasks are appropriately challenging for students

A student does not feel ready to write a 5-paragraph essay.

Have the student instead list the three main points that would become the body paragraphs.

Task Selection: Finding ways to provide ownership for students

A student needs help understanding how to write a literary analysis essay.

Before writing the literary analysis, the student can practice by analyzing their favorite film or television/streaming show.

Interactions During Instruction: Simplifying writing tasks when necessary to allow students to properly manage and potentially perfect subtasks

A student struggles to understand how to write a complete essay.

Have the student use a formulaic style, such as a 5-paragraph essay, to help write a complete essay.

Interactions During Instruction: Providing useful feedback (focus on more than correcting punctuation/grammar or revising a word or phrase) to help students continue to make progress

A few times, a student has improperly paraphrased sources.

Next time, rather than only pointing out the errors, share what parts of the essay need to be revised, using examples to show the student how to properly paraphrase the sources.

Interactions During Instruction: Modeling writing using real-world writing as mentor texts

A student struggles to write a persuasive paragraph.

You can share real-life examples of persuasive writing, such as travel brochures, advertisements for products, or well-done paragraphs written by other students.

Teachers’ Stance: Sharing their own writing to help students feel more comfortable to share their own

A student struggles to write a persuasive paragraph.

You can share your own writing with students.

Teachers’ Stance: Fostering a positive classroom environment by creating spaces for students to support one another.

Students view an upcoming writing assignment as intimidating.

Help students feel more positive by encouraging them to share their thought processes about the assignment through collaboration.

Using Technology for Scaffolding

Digital writing programs, like Writable, have built-in tools that can support educators in determining how to scaffold components of writing instruction. For example, according to Writable research from Dr. Troy Hicks, in the program, educators can scaffold, in particular, writing practice by:

  • Choosing from various genre-based assignments to assign writing practice that includes prompts, guiding criteria, writing models, and opportunities for peer and self-review
  • Using AI to assign practice and save time
  • Viewing real-time analytics from students during the writing process, noting strengths and weaknesses through ongoing, formative assessment to determine where additional scaffolds are needed
  • Applying differentiation to any assignment based on the different levels of writers

Many supportive EdTech writing programs embed scaffolding tools throughout. Read more about the additional features that make digital writing tools effective.

Scaffolding Writing Activities

Because writing is a multistep process, providing students with various opportunities to practice along the way ultimately allows them to develop the skills they need to become better writers. Wondering what writing scaffolds you can incorporate into your lessons? The activities we’ve included below can scaffold different steps of the writing process to help all students succeed.

Activity 1: Brainstorm to Generate Writing Topics

Even just a few minutes of brainstorming before writing can allow for creative topic generation. However, not all brainstorming techniques are the same, and the brainstorming step could even span several days. Brainstorming activities can serve as scaffolds for the planning stage and can look like jotting down the first ideas that come to your head after learning about the topic.

Activity 2: Engage Students in Freewriting

Freewriting is like brainstorming and can support the planning stage. However, during freewriting, students should be forming more than ideas but full sentences and paragraphs, and freewriting happens before the draft writing stage. Additionally, freewriting allows students to unload all their thoughts about the topic and later use those ideas to form their initial draft.

Activity 3: Conduct a Thesis Statement Workshop

Writing a strong thesis statement can be tricky to pin down. Writers must summarize the main idea of the writing piece and what they plan to cover in one sentence. This activity can serve as a scaffold to students who are stuck on writing an effective thesis statement. Workshopping writing a thesis statement, such as viewing weak/strong examples, practicing, and receiving feedback, can help writers complete this crucial step. Mastering a thesis statement can help students write more impactful introduction paragraphs and essays.

Activity 4: Use Graphic Organizers

There are plenty of graphic organizers that can be used as scaffolds throughout the writing process, whether that’s during the brainstorming stage or even while writing. Graphic organizers act as visual aids, allowing writers to make sense of the ideas in their minds and organize information. Graphic organizers can support students who are writing brief paragraphs or long, more complex essays and papers. Explore our range of graphic organizer templates.

Activity 5: Support Students with Sentence Frames

Sentence frames can also be used to scaffold writing instruction. These tools provide students with support for organizing their ideas and an overall framework for writing. This scaffold is especially useful when teaching multilingual students; you can read more about sentence frames in this article.

Activity 6: Guide Students in Integrating Sources

As students work on more complex writing pieces, they’ll need to know how to properly incorporate sources to support their writing. Conducting workshops to help students integrate sources, such as choosing trustworthy sources, paraphrasing, quoting, and listing references, can help them reference research with confidence.

Activity 7: Schedule a One-on-One Writing Conference

A one-on-one writing conference refers to a conversation teachers have with students to help them approve their writing. Writing conferences can be conducted in various ways, but this article breaks conferences down into three parts:

  • Discovering what students know
  • Assessing how well students are doing their writing work and deciding what to teach them
  • Teaching students how to do their writing work better

Writing Scaffolding Templates

Above, we covered how graphic organizers can support students with their writing, and below, we’ve included four you can use in your instruction:

  • Planning Chart: Support for the story-writing planning stage that allows students to think about the story’s purpose and audience
  • Story Map: A graphic organizer that provides support during the story-writing planning stage, with space for students to write down the story’s setting, characters, plot/problem, events, and outcome
  • Introduction Paragraph Outline: A framework that allows students to organize the parts of an introduction paragraph, such as the opening statement/hook, transition statement, supporting details, thesis statement, and transition sentence before the next paragraph
  • Five-Paragraph Essay Outline: A framework that helps students visualize an essay’s introduction, thesis, body paragraphs, and conclusion

Find all the templates below, or download each one individually.

Download Planning Chart

Download Story Map

Download Introduction Paragraph Outline

Download Five-Paragraph Essay Outline

Share Your Examples of Scaffolding Writing Strategies and Techniques

Writing is a complex process; even determining how to conclude a writing piece can be daunting. Continuously scaffolding writing instruction can push students to become better writers. Share your scaffolding strategies for writing with us via shaped@hmhco.comInstagram, or Facebook.

Read more about teaching writing to students based on grade level:


Learn how Writable supports scaffolding instruction and practice in writing.

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