Five Ways to: Scaffold Classroom Dialogue

Five Ways. A series of short posts summarising some everyday classroom practices.

The essence of scaffolding is that students are elevated to a level of performance and thinking that they couldn’t achieve unaided. It opens up new possibilities. By practising in a supported way they extend their knowledge and form new habits. Then, with the supports gradually removed, they learn to use their knowledge independently. This approach is commonly deployed with written tasks but can make a big impact on student talk. Very often students benefit from specific scaffolds that help them to organise their ideas during discussions and question and answer sessions, producing more sophisticated responses than they would otherwise.

Here are five ways to scaffold classroom dialogue – in each case the scaffold needs to be modelled, rehearsed, practised and then, after a time, removed so students are encouraged to use the structure spontaneously.

Full Sentences

On obvious but powerful example. Students often offer half-formed minimal answers. Asking them to reframe in a full sentence makes them practise a wider range of vocabulary, consolidating their understanding and building fluency with formal speech:

  • What’s the key difference between these types of materials? …. Joanna?
  • Metals and non-metals.
  • Well done. Now put that in a sentence for me.
  • The main difference is that some of the materials are metals but the others are non-metals.

Step-up the vocab

Students often naturally gravitate to using words they are already comfortable using, avoiding newer words in case they are wrong or because they’re not yet confident enough to use them. State specific target words, writing them on the board, or referring to them in a text and then ask students to reframe answers include these specific words.

  • Let’s describe the graph. What pattern does it show?…… Abdi?
  • The line goes up and then goes up less steeply.
  • Yes. Good – but now let’s include some of the key words: – and say what is actually changing. (gradient, increase, decrease are written on the board)
  • Ok…. the temperature increases but then after two minutes, the gradient decreases which means temperature rises more slowly.
  • What was the witch in the story like? .. Safia, what do you think? (Choose words from the board)
  • The witch was cruel and mischievous. (Safia would otherwise have gone for ‘mean’)
  • That’s lovely well done.

Sequence the ideas.

A common challenge is simply to present more than one idea and then to organise them into a sequence. These scaffolds help students to do that. For example, ask students to describe a series of events, use Think Pair Share for rehearsal and then ask them to give their response in the specific form of the scaffold:

At first, then:

  • At first, the boy was exploring in the forest; then he lost his way and became frightened.
  • At first the ice was heating up; then it began to melt.

Firstly, secondly and finally:

  • Firstly, they would build a castle; secondly, they would defend it with archers and finally, they would fire a cannon towards the opposing army.

For a cause and effect, link use If… then…. or ‘As a consequence of______ , ________

  • If water seeps into the cracks, then it will freeze and expand creating pressure on the rock.
  • As a consequence of the bridge collapsing, the army could not advance across the river.

Express an opinion

Several simple scaffolds can be used to support students to express opinions in formal manner, helping them to explore their ideas and distinguish between facts and opinions in general. They can also be used as a form of checking for understanding and accountability for listening to others in the class.

In my opinion_______

  • In my opinion, it’s immoral for some people to be so much richer than other people.

I agree/disagree that____, because_______ (the ‘that’ makes them restate the case, which adds depth to the exchange).

  • I agree that Picasso’s work is the most significant, because he had the most radical influence on other artists’ work.

I agree/disagree with _____, because ___________ (the ‘with’ refers to another person’s opinion or analysis)

  • I disagree with Michael because I think everyone has a responsibility to protect each other, not just think about their own risk.

Comparison and analysis

A common form of analysis and schema-building is to compare, contrast and categorise. Students often benefit from prompts that support this kind of response.

On one hand.. but on the other hand …

  • On one hand, the economy in Iceland is boosted by eco-tourism but on the other hand it creates more carbon emissions through flights.

An advantage is____ ; a disadvantage is_____

  • An advantage of producing more is that the price comes down; a disadvantage is that it creates more waste.

In the past _____ but now _____

  • In the past people relied on word of mouth or official announcements but now everyone can access news directly via the media.

Both, however, whereas

  • Both poems use imagery from nature. However poem A is describing a real place whereas poem B is using nature as a metaphor.

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