What Is the Scaffolding Theory?

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The Scaffolding Theory is based on the Social Development Theory of Learning by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s theory is that “social interaction plays a functional role in the process of cognitive development” (Encyclopedia of Educational Technology).

The term "scaffolding" comes from the works of Wood, Bruna, and Ross (1976) and is meant to represent the support and assistance provided by the teacher or mentor in the learning process. "Scaffolding" is a metaphor that describes the way a teacher provides assistance to the students during the learning process in much the same way that construction scaffolding serves as a temporary support until the building can stand on its own.

Breaking Tasks into Manageable Parts

Teachers explicitly present the different parts to any task or assignment so that students can see logical steps in a sequential order that makes sense to them. Then the teacher leads the students through each of the steps so that students can clearly see how to successfully get from the beginning to the end of a project or assignment.

Thinking Aloud

Often referred to as “think alouds,” this strategy involves verbalising the thinking processes involved in completing a task. The teacher may talk through the steps as she demonstrates them to the class, for example, or she may devise a mnemonic chant or song that is easy for students to remember that cues them to the steps involved and the proper order.

Cooperative Learning Techniques

Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory of learning contends that students learn from peers as well as from teachers. The Scaffolding Strategy involves students' working in groups to collaborate on specific tasks and projects. In this way, they are able to support one another in the process of achieving an assigned goal.

Prompts and Questions

Teachers can use questions to trigger the students’ memory. For example, if the student is working on how to create a PowerPoint and is learning how to insert pictures, the teacher may ask, where did you find the last picture you used? This will help the student remember to repeat a step that was successful in a previous exercise. Prompts are used in this same way. Simply showing a cue card with a picture of a file will help the student recall that pictures are stored in a particular file.


In the Scaffolding Theory, modelling the steps in a task is an important strategy. When the students see that a specific behaviour produces the desired result, they can imitate that behaviour with confidence and ease.