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Reading Lessons: 12 Ways to Scaffold Texts for Students

Stephanie Wrobleski

Reading Lessons: 12 Ways to Scaffold Texts for StudentsWould you dump a load of building supplies on a lot and tell a random person to "build a house"? Hopefully not! 

For the same reason, it is unwise to deposit an academic novel and some study guide questions on a student’s desk and say, “read it.” Student readers, like builders, need a foundation and a blueprint to be successful.

Getting students to read academic novels can be difficult. Students usually lack interest in “school” books for three reasons:   

  1. 1. they lack prior knowledge to support their comprehension,
  2. 2. they don’t know the words on the page and
  3. 3. they don’t understand the format of the particular genre.  

If we are going to really teach, and not just assign, we have to do some prep work. Teaching students about the novel’s topical concepts, about unfamiliar vocabulary, and the genre of an academic text will pique more interest in that text.  

Let’s face it, interested readers are better readers.
Students of all levels need some scaffolding; they need a plan and some knowledge in order to build a foundation for deeper understanding. There are many ways to approach the task of scaffolding depending upon the age group of the students and the text’s level of difficulty. The following 12 ideas can be modified to meet the needs of any grade or ability level.

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Research Before Reading

Assign a simple research task that requires students to investigate topical information from the text. This may include historical events, cultural beliefs or practices. Students can then become the teachers by presenting the information to the class via Power Point, a poster or Photo Story.

Introduce the Text's Author 

Writers often compose stories based on personal experience. Familiarizing students with an author’s background gives insight into the subject of the text, the author’s style of writing, or the main idea. Show students a video biography of the author or set them off to research the author in the library. Ask students to connect the authors’ experiences back to his/ her writing.

Introduce the Text's Characters 

Provide students with a character list and lead them through getting to know the characters. Equip students with the characters’ traits before they read. Based on what they know, ask students to draw a picture of the character or create a conversation between two or more characters.

Provide Pictures to Accompany the Reading

Help students see the setting or other concepts of the novel through visual aides. Present students with video clips, a montage of internet photographs or even original photographs to show them what the setting or other concept looks like. You can also ask students to bring their own images to class.

Create Controversy

"Anticipation guides" ask students to consider certain ideas or themes connected to the novel. Choose topics from the novel and compose provocative statements that will spark thought and discussion. Then, ask students to what degree they agree or disagree with the statements. Use the same activity both before and after reading to gauge the novel’s impact on students.

Read Aloud

As the teacher, you are the best reader in the classroom. Demonstrate what a good reader sounds like with a dramatic reading from the first chapter. In later chapters, invite students to read aloud, too.

Ask Questions Associated with Text Themes

Pose a “what if” question to students based on an incident, topic or theme in the story. Allow students to explore this idea from their own perspective before reading it from the character’s or author’s point of view. 

Introduce Vocabulary

Unfamiliar vocabulary is often the biggest reason students fail to understand a text. Highlight words students may not be familiar with and help them become more comfortable with the terms encountering them in the text.

Outline the Text's Plot 

The plot of a story does not always have to be top secret.  Provide a list of major events from a chapter or section, leaving out one or two events.  Ask students to fill in the missing events they read.  As you read further, leave more events out, forcing students to do more of the work.

Make Connections 

Connect ideas in a novel to real world events by using recent articles from newspapers, blogs or other media. Allow students time to write about and discuss these real world events before they tackle the reading.

Explain the Text's Genre 

Help students understand the format or structure of the text’s genre. For example, give a mini-lesson on how a play is written differently from prose before actually reading one.

Provide a Focus Question  

Let students know exactly what they are working toward. Use your final essay question as the starting point; as the unit’s focus question. Teaching doesn’t always have to be about the sneak attack method.

Background knowledge is a key factor in elevating reading comprehension.  Scaffolding is important to all readers and should not be reserved for the “at risk” or “low” readers.  Even a good reader, one who knows all the words on the page, will find difficulty with unfamiliar concepts in a text. Scaffolding is not about giving away the answer, but about building a foundation for reading success.

How do you prepare students for reading texts? Share in the comments section!