Differentiated instruction examples of scaffolds for writing can include mentor sentences, language experience approach, sentence frames, editing checklists, and collaborative writing.
“But I hate writing!”
“I don’t know what to write!”
Students staring blankly at a blank page or screen, grimacing as if in actual pain.
If you’ve taught writing for more than a minute, you’ve experienced these reactions. These students are begging for scaffolds.
There are so many differentiated instruction examples of writing scaffolds and each teacher probably has one or two favorites. However, when you want to simplify your writing instruction, and make it as effective as possible, you’ll want to use the most impactful scaffolds for your instruction. You’ll also want them to be low-prep and low-maintenance.
After spending nineteen years in classes with more than 75% of my students English Language Learners, (ELL), these are the writing scaffolds I found to be the most helpful.
Some you may already use and others may be new ideas. Personally, I can’t imagine teaching without these scaffolds.
Mentor Sentences : Learn From the Masters
The first and very powerful scaffold for writing is using exemplars of mentor texts and mentor sentences. We’ve all heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” If you think about it, a mentor sentence is actually a picture of the apex to reach for in writing.
Artists learn at first by imitating the masters. It’s no different in writing. Students who analyze mentor sentences and mentor texts understand what makes them exemplary. Then they have solid strategies to incorporate in their writing.
Focusing on one skill at a time is critical to make strong gains in an area. Again, in the analogy of an artist, if they want to learn how to create light and shadow in a painting, they’ll be focusing on that one thing. Keep the one thing front and center as you scaffold for writing assignments.
For more information on this topic, check out my two blog posts on using mentor texts and using mentor sentences. You can also pick up a free, year-long template for a mentor sentence routine in the TeacherWriter Member Vault.
Sentence Frames Get the Writing Started
Sentence frames are a spectacular way to help early learners or English Language Learners in your class. A sentence frame could be something like these:
- In the text the author states ______ because________.
- I have three reasons why I believe _______. One is _____. Another is _____. Finally, _____.
- The book titled ______ by ______ tells about ______. (This is a good one for using in book reports.)
One thing to remember about sentence frames scaffolds in writing is that you want to use them temporarily.
A scaffold for construction workers is only used during the building process. Then it’s taken away so the beauty of the building can be seen.
Sentence Stems and Sentence Expanders
These are similar to sentence frames, but are less restrictive. Sentence stems and sentence expanders can be fun and engaging for students. When you use a sentence stem, you give the students an open ended sentence to complete.
- In my opinion _______.
- I recommend this book because _______.
I love using sentence expanders as an interactive activity in a mini lesson. Once the students understand the gist of expanding sentences, they can do them independently. Here’s a quick example:
- The frog hopped.
- The fat, green frog hopped. (The students add one or two adjectives.)
- The fat, green frog hopped quickly. (Students add an adverb.)
- The fat, green frog hopped quickly across the field of clover. (Students add a prepositional phrase.)
- The fat, green frog hopped quickly across the field of clover to get to the pond.
Sentence expanding can be simple or complex. You can continue expanding and adding clauses or more descriptors. You can also stop with a simple sentence. This is especially useful in the early grades. One example of this is in this blog post, Using Sentence Starters for Writing Practice.
My Sentence Structure Worksheets pack gives you over 100 pages with many simple sentences for students to use as they practice. It includes lists of adjectives and adverbs and grammar tips.
Editing Checklists for Scaffolding Assignments
Have you ever had a student give you a blank stare when you asked them if they had edited their paper? Me too.
It took me a bit of time, but I finally realized that my students didn’t know where to begin or how to edit. That was when I developed a system for editing for my students. It can be done in under 5 minutes. I shared it with you in this blog post about CUPS: Capitalization, Usage, Punctuation, and Spelling.
When the students have a quick and easy checklist, and they know what editing marks to use, or if they’re doing it digitally, which highlighter bars to use, it becomes an automatic step in the writing process.
I consider this a scaffold for writing because it’s a reminder of all the things they should be attentive to while they’re composing a narrative or essay or any other genre of writing. You can watch a video showing the process on my Youtube channel. It’s a step-by-step overview, and you can increase the playback speed to go through it quickly.
Steps in the 5 Minute CUPS Editing System
Basically, it works like this:
- Students use about 1 minute to read/scan their writing, and all they’re checking for is capitalization. Nothing else. Anything that needs capitalization they should mark with the triple underline editing mark or with a colored highlight. They don’t fix it at this point.
- Next, for about one minute, students read the article for usage and grammar. If anything seems incorrect, they highlight it. They don’t change or correct anything at this point.
- Now the students spend about a minute reading their writing again. This time they’re checking for punctuation. Do sentences have periods, question marks, or exclamation points? Are quotation marks and ellipses used when appropriate? Again, the students don’t fix anything yet.
- Finally, students take one more minute to read their writing again. By this time, they should practically have it memorized! All they’re looking for now is spelling. If they are unsure if a word is spelled correctly they should circle it or highlight it, but not fix it. They should do the same for homonyms, such as their, they’re, and there, or to, too, and two.
After finishing this 4-5 minute review of their work with a CUPS checklist, they’re ready to make corrections. They can consult with their peers or a teacher about usage or spelling. They can consider how to add clarity to a sentence with their writing groups or alone. The students should spend whatever amount of time is reasonable to edit, revise, and finalize their document.
Scaffolding Writing With Technology and Apps
Voice to text is a wonderful tool in Chrome and other apps and programs. The benefit of this is that students who struggle with keyboarding can speak what they want to write.
Have you ever had a student who struggled to write, but didn’t have any trouble at all speaking his or her mind? Voice to text is for that student!
A student and I sat down together to use voice to text for his first time. The classroom was buzzing with worker bees. When we checked his writing, it was full of random words and phrases.
“I never said that!” he cried, indignant and frustrated.
It became a perfect teaching moment.
We talked about how the microphone would pick up background noises. Together, we edited his writing. Now he understood editing as a critical step in his writing process. He polished his writing with his CUPS checklist and read the text aloud to ensure it said what he really wanted to say.
This sounds simple enough, but it was monumental fir him. Once he mastered using voice to text, his fear of writing evaporated. He turned in stellar papers after that, and began to love writing. He had found a way to express himself without hurdles or boundaries.
This writing scaffold opens up a world of expression for students who previously may have been muted.
Language Experience Approach (LEA)
The language experience approach isn’t new, but it’s something that’s still used because it’s so effective. Reading some works by Stephen Krashen, a well known researcher in language development and acquisition, was the first time I heard about this approach.
Some of the pieces to this process include having a student created language experience. Word walls, sound walls, personal dictionaries, small group discussions, and clear systems and processes are things to integrate in this approach. The Daily Writing Journal that I mention in Tip 7 integrates the language experience approach into daily quick writes.
You can find many scholarly articles on the subject in the ERIC database. Stephen Krashen also has written and made many videos about the subject. This article from a teacher professional development website describes five steps to follow when using this approach to scaffolding writing assignments.
- First, share an experience or develop background knowledge around an experience.
- Next, create the text together on chart paper or another method.
- Third, have the students read it aloud. They can decide on any edits or revisions it needs.
- After revising, have the students read it again aloud. Perhaps there will be more discussion about revising.
- Read it one more time. (Three is the magic number in reading, writing, and Aladdin’s wishes.)
- Finally, an extension activity or exploration will top off this practice.
These are all strategies that are integrated and folded into all of my writing and editing assignments. Even my Hooray It’s Your Birthday cards incorporate the language experience approach to writing. It’s definitely something you’ll want to consider and embed into your daily teaching practice. After you’ve incorporated it a few times, perhaps during read aloud time or morning meetings, you’ll find yourself using this reading and writing scaffold effortlessly.
Daily Writing With Quick Writes
Several times each month you can find tips for teaching writing on my Instagram.
Using a calendar of days you can find celebrations and observances that are interesting for students. Morning meeting or during a writing mini lesson is a good time to use these calendars. You can talk about the day, what students know about it, why it’s important or interesting, and share other thoughts and opinions.
After the class discussion, everyone should have something to write about the topic. As a quick write it’s perfect. In the beginning of the year, you might practice more collaborative writing, but as time goes on, the students will become more independent and eager to write on their own.
I’ve incorporated this daily quick write system into my Daily Writing Journals. I try to find age appropriate videos to share and those are included in the journals. Teachers have the option to preview the videos and choose how or if they want to use them. They can share them with the class, allow the students to view them independently, or they can delete the video from the journal if they want to do that. This part becomes a shared language experience.
Daily writing is a key scaffolding strategy. It takes practice with the process to finally gain independence. If you’re wondering how to start a daily writing habit in your classroom, this blog post about having a cue, routine, and reward with daily writing will get you started.
This post with over 52 journal entry starters will make sure you never come up short on creative ideas for writing prompts.
What Are Your Best Writing Scaffolds?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are many more scaffolds for writing. Pick the ones that resonate with you so that you don’t ever have to hear, “I don’t know what to write!” again.
Do you have a favorite scaffold that I didn’t mention? Before you go, please leave a note about it in the comments. That way we can enrich every teacher’s toolbox.
P.S. You can grab a packet of graphic organizers for writing right here in my Member Vault.