The Power of Scaffolding

Image courtesy of stockimages /

Image courtesy of stockimages /

Imagine that language learning is a series of stairs that children climb to reach their goal of fluency. How would we want those stairs to look? Of course, we’d prefer that each step is not too difficult to climb, yet not too easy. If each step is just the right height, learning can be smooth and fun!

Language specialists talk about the process of “scaffolding” language, which means that we give our students the building blocks they need to climb the language stairway easily. For our young learners, here are three strategies that we use in Magic Time to ensure that language learning is successful.

Scaffolding Language in Three Steps

1. From Words to Phrases

In Magic Time, we introduce six new words at the beginning of a unit. These words relate to each other in a meaningful way, such as the following words from Magic Time 2:

penguin      lion      kangaroo      giraffe      gorilla      polar bear

After students have learned the above words through picture cards, movement activities, chants, and more, we introduce a phrase (which you can write on the board):

It’s a ____________.  

Students then “climb” up the next step of the stairway by placing the picture cards of the words they have learned above the blank line. Students then learn to say, “It’s a penguin,” “It’s a giraffe,” and so on.

Students are then taught a question to elicit this answer:

What is it?

Finally, students practice fluency of this question and answer through songs, movement, games, and much more.

2.  From Receptive to Productive

As students are introduced to the above words and phrases, there is a “receptive” phase when they simply need to hear the language. It is not necessary for students to repeat the words or phrases until they feel ready. Eventually, through the chants, songs, and activities in the Magic Time pages, students move smoothly from “receptive” to “productive” language, when they are actually speaking the words meaningfully.

3.  From Group to Individual

In the first stages of producing language, it is best to invite the students to speak together as a group. Magic Time does this by introducing chants and songs which produce the language in a fun way. Students chant and sing together as they move to the language. This encourages all students to participate, from confident students to shy students. Later, when activities are introduced using the target language, students begin to practice the language individually. Since they have had group practice, they are happy and able to do so.

Here is a good example of an activity from Magic Time 2 that builds individual language practice in a meaningful way. It is a craft activity that encourages creativity. It is then used to practice the language with a partner, which builds strong communication skills. Download this free Animal Picture Viewer taken from our Magic Time 2 Teacher’s Book.

Animal Viewer 2

The directions are simple. Students color and cut out the picture strips and tape them together. They can even add additional strips with their own pictures of animals they know. They then cut along the dotted lines in the viewer, then pull the strips through it. Finally, students act out the conversation with a partner as follows:

Student A (with a picture of a kangaroo in the viewer):  What is it?

Student B (pointing):  It’s a kangaroo.

Students can take turns asking and answering questions. This activity can be continued at home, with the student and parents interacting.


Scaffolding is an effective approach to language learning. As students climb the stairs of learning, they are able to use more words and phrases, combining them and creating new opportunities for communication.

We hope you enjoy this activity with your students. Be sure to let us know about your successes!

Happy Teaching!

Kathy and Chuck

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s