Skip to main

October 6, 2021

Using Scaffolds to Support Students in the Writing Process

A scaffold is a support structure to ensure each student reaches the learning target and/or completes a task or project that you have assigned to them. Scaffolds are not only best practice for students with disabilities and/or English learners, but also for each student who needs them. According to Collaborative Classrooms: 

“Scaffolding in the classroom consists of helpful interactions between the teacher and the student that enable the student to do something beyond what he could do independently. A scaffold is a temporary framework that is put up for support and access to meaning and is taken away when the student feels success and masters tasks, concepts, …” 

Scaffolding examples:  

  • Pre-teaching academic vocabulary so students understand what is being asked of them. 
  • Incorporating visual aids into instruction and/or independent work time. 
  • Giving students a graphic organizer for documenting their science experiment observations. 

You may be asking, “How do scaffolds fit into the writing process?” or “What scaffolds can I use for writing?” Well, you’ve come to the right blog. 

We’ve outlined the writing process below, but before you begin to think about scaffolds, it’s important that you explicitly teach the writing process to your students. This can be done using the gradual release model of “I do, we do, you do” or your own lesson format. Either way, it is imperative to model the writing process for your learners and work to collaboratively build a piece of writing together before you have students work independently. A community draft on chart paper works well in person, and a document camera can be helpful when teaching online. 

After providing instruction on the writing process, scaffolds should be used to support the independent work of the learner and may look different from student to student. Read on to discover scaffolds to support each step in the writing process.

1. The Brainstorm

Brainstorming is the first step a student must take as they begin to plan their writing. Scaffolds that are helpful in this step are: 

  • Pre-teach vocabulary on the topic and/or academic language the student will need to complete the process. 
  • Tap into prior knowledge on the writing topic. Help your learners link what they already know to what they are learning and what they may write. Try our KWHLAQ
  • Provide an experience. (Try to have your learners use their five senses.)
    • Microwave popcorn is not only a treat, but it also hits each sense as a perfect activity prior to brainstorming or free writing. 
    • A virtual field trip can provide an interesting, shared experience for those teaching and learning online. 
  • Encourage students to talk to each other and you about the topic.
    • Ask questions and have them answer in complete sentences. You can provide a sentence starter or sentence frame to assist them as they formulate and verbalize their answer.
      • sentence frame is a fill-in-the-blank sentence and can be effective with learners at the early stages of language proficiency.
    • A sentence starter provides the beginning of a sentence and/or question, but let’s the speaker complete the thought.
      • Example: When I go to the store, I feel ______________________________________________.
    • Let them tell stories. This encourages the use of complete sentences and thoughts even if the story isn’t always about the writing topic. 
    • Model and have students practice speaking in complete sentences. 
  • Provide and teach them how to use a graphic organizer to arrange their ideas. 
  • Show students how to use voice memos on their phones or tablets to record their ideas. 

2. The Outline

Developing an outline can help organize and structure ideas sequentially and aids in establishing a flow to the writing. Scaffolds that can be helpful at this stage are: 

  • Provide a framework for the writing. This may be a fill-in-the-blank template for a sentence, paragraph, or longer piece of writing. It can also be an organizer that simply shows the order or flow of the writing but encourages the student to complete the graphic independently. Finally, it may look more like a writing formula, like Claim-Evidence-Reasoning, to which you want students to adhere.
    • You may also include sentence frames and sentence starters for learners needing more scaffolding.  
  • Give students writing criteria and/or a rubric so they can ensure they’ve included the required components in their outline.  
  • Include visuals and/or opportunities for drawing and illustration in the outline as needed by the learner. This will help them add detail to their writing as they make the pictures and words match. 

3. The Rough Draft

This is where steps 1 and 2 come alive in the form of a writing assignment. Scaffolds will increase the likelihood and level of success a student will have with writing their draft. Consider the following scaffolds for this important step: 

  • Develop an interactive word wall before assigning the rough draft. This can be useful for assisting students with word finding and increasing their oral language and writing skills especially if they are involved in the co-creation of the word wall. You can also simply provide a word bank to students needing one. 
  • Give students who need additional support sentence frames and/or sentences starters.
    • A substitution table is another scaffold that can support grammar as well as writing. Example: 
The farmer 
The three kids 
A puppy 
My mom
because he heard a loud noise. 
his tractor is broken. 
her kids are visiting. 
it’s dark outside. 
  • Show students a mentor text and/or mentor sentences. Adult written books or work are acceptable; however, more learning may occur through your display and discussion of a high-quality student-authored piece. (Remember to remove names before sharing student work.) 
  • Screencast yourself talking about how exemplars meet or do not meet the rubric when teaching online or in a blended format. Students can refer to these recordings as they write and peer review as well as when they create their final draft.  
  • Model writing a rough draft in a small group or 1:1 with students if they need additional support. This should sound like a “think aloud” but for writing
  • Consider allowing the use of text prediction when using technology to write.

4. Peer Review/Feedback

This step in the writing process is important as learners will hear another perspective and be expected to clarify their own ideas. Peer feedback and review encourages learners to consider how they write and how others write as well. Scaffolds for peer review and feedback are: 

  • Encourage learners to discuss the writingProvide an anchor chart so students know what they should be talking about and looking for in their peer’s writing.
    • If students need support talking about their peers writing, give them sentence starters to begin. 
  • Provide a checklist for each reviewer. 
  • Ensure there are mentor texts/sentences and criteria and/or a rubric available for reviewers to refer to as needed.

5. The Final Draft

In this stage, peer feedback is actualized (as appropriate), the writing is shined up, and completed in the assigned format. Scaffolds can include: 

  • A teacher consultation provides the student with a final bit of support before they complete their writing project. Feedback here can:
    • Indicate strengths 
    • Let the student know where they are as compared to the learning target/rubric 
    • Give next steps for learning 
  • Allow the use of text-to-speech programs. Writers can hear their writing read back to them to analyze for minor edits and changes.  
  • Encourage the use of speech-to-text programs for learners with writing challenges.  

6. Publication

The final stage of the writing process is publication. The fantastic thing about this stage is the opportunity students have to share their work with others beyond the classroom. Knowing ahead of time that their work will be seen by others can increase their motivation and effort because they will want to put their best writing foot forward. This stage is also a celebration of the hard work the writer put into their piece. Scaffolds for publication may: 

  • Provide a checklist of the components needed for publication. 
  • Support students use of technology as they develop their final project for publication. 
  • Assist students with a verbal explanation of their publication. 

Whether your students are writing a topic sentence or a five-paragraph essay, using the writing process and scaffolds will positively impact the learners and their writing success.  

Interested in learning more about teaching the writing process, check out course 5015: Writer’s Workshop: Engaging Students Using Mentor Texts and Writer’s Notebooks.  

Wondering about scaffolding for English learners, register for 5025: Making Content Accessible For Your English Language Learners.  



Search the K12 Hub

More From Teaching Channel

Recommended Courses

Shifting Your Focus to the Science of Reading





Flex Credit


3 Credits


Motivate, Celebrate, and Innovate with Secondary ELA Instruction





Flex Credit


3 Credits


Building Comprehension with the Science of Reading





Flex Credit


3 Credits


Want to partner with us?

We’re always looking for new authors! If you’re interested in writing an article, please get in touch with us.

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Get notified of new content added to K12 Hub.

Pay as You Learn with our Course Bundles. Select Bundles on SALE now! Explore Your Options >>
Pay As You Learn with our flexible payment plan - starting from $75 per month! Learn More >>