Scaffolding Student Knowledge in Mathematics

Instructor: Tawnya Eash

Tawnya has a master's degree in early childhood education and teaches all subjects at an elementary school.

Are you trying to find ways to help your students become more independent learners in mathematics? Check out this lesson for ideas to help scaffold your students in mathematics as they learn a new concept.


Scaffolding, or providing support, can be a very effective teaching method for mathematics. Think of scaffolding as a ladder. You have a lot of support at the bottom, but as you climb higher and higher you get less support. When introducing a new concept, you need to provide a lot of support to your students. As they build an understanding, they require less and less help from you. This image of a ladder shows the different steps in scaffolding.

Steps in Scaffolding

Keep in mind, that all ladders are different, just like your students. Some ladders have many rungs to climb before reaching the top. You may not climb as quickly as you would like or you may find yourself stuck on the same step. In mathematics, some students may work towards independence more quickly than others. A few of your students may need more scaffolding than the rest. They may get 'stuck' on their way up the ladder towards independence.

Preparing to Climb the Ladder

How do you go about finding out what your students know? Before you can begin teaching your students a new concept, it is incredibly helpful to have a base as you deliver your lesson.

Activating Prior Knowledge

Let's say your students are learning about equivalent fractions. Your lesson might teach students how to look at two fractions to determine if they are equivalent. It would be helpful to gain insight into what students already know about fractions.

These are some helpful ways to activate prior knowledge:

  • Pre-tests
  • Prior records and/or lessons taught
  • Quick questions
  • Brief review
  • KWL chart (K- Already know, W- Want to know, L- What they learned)

By figuring out what students already know, you can connect to their prior knowledge and help them build upon it through scaffolding.

Steps on the Ladder

Let's talk about specific parts to scaffolding so you can help your young mathematicians reach new heights.

Show Students the Way - Model

Modeling is all about the teacher. One of the first things you do when scaffolding is modeling. You want to be able to show your students how something is done. Returning to equivalent fractions, you want to explain your thought process and actions when you try to determine if two fractions are equivalent. Since modeling is at the beginning of the lesson and students are mostly watching, you want to be able to grab their attention.

The following ideas may help:

  • Videos
  • Visuals or objects
  • Student interests

Now that students have an idea of what they will master by the end of the lesson, you can start guiding them!

Give a Helping Hand - Guide

At this point in scaffolding, you start to hand over some of the reigns. You guide your students as they work through this portion of the lesson with you. You may introduce a problem and ask the students to help you solve it.

With the example of equivalent fractions, you may roll dice to form two different fractions. Students will work with you, step-by-step, to determine if they are equivalent. Making this part as engaging as possible will help students learn and feel confident in completing the task independently.

Keep students engaged by:

  • Keeping them active
  • Providing a reference or having students take notes
  • Reaching all of your students

As the teacher, you'll want to use this time to gauge students' success. Some students will catch on quickly, while others will need more guidance. This is where the final steps come into place.

On Their Own - Gradual Release

After you have modeled and guided your students through the steps, you will want to give them more responsibility to show what they know about the new concept. Before jumping in and just having students work independently, you will want them to have some practice.

This is a great part of the lesson to have students collaborate. They can work with partners or in small groups to complete certain tasks. During this time, you'll be able to assess students' understanding to see who needs additional help.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account