Note:  This is Dr. Mooney’s first article to review resources, with many more to come.
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Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning:
Teaching English Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom
Pauline Gibbons
ISBN:  978-0325056647

Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning (2015) by Pauline Gibbons is a book every teacher of English Learners needs to own. Moderately priced for a book these days, Gibbons provides an overview of language acquisition theory and detailed ideas for teaching reading, writing, listening, and speaking in the PK-12 classroom.

Scaffolding Explained

The idea of scaffolding content for English Learners (ELs) is common; however, many teachers do not have a clear understanding of what it is or how to do it. Gibbons describes scaffolding as “the temporary assistance by which a teacher helps a learner know how to do something so that the learner will later be able to complete a similar task alone” (Gibbons, 2015, p. 16). ELs are challenged with learning both the English language and academic content, so when a teacher provides scaffolding, such as sentence frames, simplified texts, or purposeful interaction with peers, they are giving support for the development of English so that the student can focus on academic concepts. 

No Guessing Required

One thing I particularly like about this book is that Gibbons does not write in a lofty way that makes her ideas difficult to apply to the classroom. For example, she provides several instances of actual spoken text between students and teacher, allowing the reader to “picture” how a teaching strategy might work. 

The detailed description about a suggested Progression of Learning Activities is also incredibly memorable. She provides an overview of the progression (doing an experiment; introducing key vocabulary; teacher guided reporting; individual work) and then details each part with specific insight into how to use it in your teaching. No guessing about implementation is required! Some readers have critiqued the fact that many of the examples use science content for illustration purposes. However, I have found that the theories or strategies are applicable to almost any other content (social studies, math, language arts). 

So MANY Teaching Activities

One other highlight of this book is the vast number of teaching activities that are included. Although they are divided into separate chapters about teaching reading, writing, listening, or speaking, many of them can be used to teach other domains. 

For example, the Split Dictation activity is focused on developing listening skills, but reading and writing are also involved. In Split Dictation, the students are paired and each given a portion of text. Between the two, the students have the entire passage, but each student has only one half.  The students take turns reading the text they have while their partner listens and writes down what is missing from their page. 

Something like this:

Partner A
The shape of the moon _________________.
_________________ a banana or a circle.
Sometimes you can’t see _______________.

Partner B
___________________ seems to change.
It may look like ___________________.
____________________ the moon at all.

As you can see, the content here is related to science, but passages related to social studies, language arts, or even math could be used. 


Even though ELs are the focus of this text, Gibbons’ teaching suggestions are appropriate for all learners in a classroom. The activities can be adapted to various grade levels and are useful for teaching academic language to both ELs and native English speakers alike.

I realize budgets may be tight, and resources can be expensive, but this is one to put at the top of your wish list. Ask for it for your birthday. Dig through the couch cushions and under the car seats for loose change. Forgo that pricey cup of coffee for a week or two. You won’t regret it once you see how useful Gibbons’ ideas are as you work to make your lessons as effective for your students as possible!

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