Learning Center


Scaffold You-do writing experiences

october 9, 2023

Scaffold Writing Experiences - Product & SupportMany teachers presume that students should always generate pieces that they wrote all by themselves. However, when just learning a new genre or a type of writing, it may not be appropriate to expect such a large and complete product in the first assignment.

Oral writing

Rather than having all of the students struggle to generate their own pieces of writing, consider leading an oral writing by standing at the board or the document camera and capturing the students’ thinking for all to see. The students pool their ideas; they talk to each other and develop a whole-class product. This approach allows them to focus on the content of the message. The students put their energy into the gist of the ideas and organization of information, rather than on the mechanics of spelling, capitalization, paragraph indents, and other grammar skills.

The thinking behind such “oral writing” is that if students can’t think it to say it, then they can’t think it to write it.

Partial piece

A slightly more rigorous product would be for students to create a partial piece. These are generated after teaching several new skills for a genre—but not all of them. As a mini-unit comes to a close, the teacher assigns a new from-scratch product that includes only the known skills. Here are a couple of examples of partial pieces:




    • 3 SKILLS TAUGHT: Sequence the steps of a process; Reveal order with transitions; Develop each reason.
    • MINI-UNIT PRODUCT: Use the simple list of 3 steps provided on how to go through the lunch line. Develop each reason into its own paragraph, explaining in detail how to execute it with cautions, suggestions, and adaptions. Turn in only the 3 body paragraphs; no beginning or ending.

By assigning a partial piece, students can experiment with a few skills at a time in a smaller product. They can receive feedback and additional instruction before more, new skills are layered in a future mini-unit. As new skills are rolled out, students continue producing partial pieces that include all previously-taught skills.

Framed writing

After ALL skills for a particular genre are taught, expect students to generate a complete product—but perhaps not completely from scratch. This is where a framed writing might work well. This is a set of words and phrases that serve as a skeleton or framework for the different ingredients required for a particular genre or mode of writing.

Many teachers already use frames, but don’t realize it. For example, somebody. . .wanted. . .but. . .so. . .then is a very common frame for asking students to write a narrative summary. The power of a frame is that the teacher is indicating the type of information that must be included in the written product and the organization of that information.

For example, Cinderella (Somebody) wanted to attend the ball, but her stepmother wouldn’t let her go. So, she enlisted the help of her fairy godmother. It’s then that Cinderella met Prince Charming.

Thoughts on Support

Scaffold levels of support for student writing.In addition to the size and scope of the writing product, also consider the level of independence students are ready for. That oral-writing task was executed as a whole class. But a partial piece could be done alone if students are ready. If students need a little more support, consider allowing pairs or small groups of students to generate a product together. It’s not always that they need more teacher help or instruction. What they might need is more support.

When progressing through mini-units in writing, scaffold students’ experiences to honor their developmental readiness. For each assignment, pair the most appropriate writing product with a level of support that honors students’ current ability and understanding. Over time, gradually release students to be able to produce a complete first draft all by themselves.

5 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

I always appreciate the clarity in Kristina’s explanations. Thank you for thinking aloud the rationales behind each writing teaching technique.

Liz Shockey
Liz Shockey
Reply to  hong
1 year ago

Thank you for your kind words! Kristina’s focus on thinking aloud as she teaches teachers is a great example of how teachers can take the same technique into their own classrooms. Using a Think Aloud with your students helps them understand the process of thinking so they can apply it in many different ways beyond just the present focus.

CompCON 2024
Create a Writing Curriculum of Mini-Units


Create a writing curriculum of mini-units

Introduce 1-2 New Skills Per Mini-Unit


Introduce 1-2 new skills per mini-unit

Create Group Products with Think, Ink, Pair, Square


Create group products with Think, Ink, Pair, Square