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Linguists including Derewianka (2001), Droga and Humphrey (2003), Knapp and Watkins (2005), and Gibbons (2009) suggest that scaffolding writing is critical in helping English as an additional language (EAL) learners become effective writers. 

Scaffolding involves a teaching and learning cycle that incorporates a sequence of activities that take an explicit approach to the teaching of writing and support increasing learner independence in writing. This approach involves helping learners to understand not only the necessary content with particular attention on integrating new vocabulary but the purpose and audience for a text, the text organisation and the associated language features of that text type.

All teachers, not just EAL specialists, need a good understanding of the key aspects of text types in order to communicate these clearly to their learners and to ensure learners understand the purpose of the text type and what they might use it for. For this reason, teachers need to be able to identify the common text types and the features of these text types that are used in their own subjects and teaching contexts. 

One particular example of the teaching and learning cycle used to scaffold writing has four stages: building the field, modelling the text type, joint construction, and independent writing (Gibbons, 2009). 

The first stage involves helping learners to develop content and vocabulary knowledge. The activities that are normally used in a subject class including practical tasks, discussion viewing media on the topic, reading about the topic and field trips all contribute to this stage. Additional language-focussed activities could include mind-mapping, graphic organisers, word walls, barrier and matching activities. As the focus in this stage is on knowledge and vocabulary acquisition, it can be appropriate for learners to work in their first or home language for some activities.

The second stage is modelling the text type. This is when learners become familiar with the purpose, organisation and language features of the text type. In this stage, learners need to read good models and focus on the way the text is organised and the key language features. Many education authorities produce guidance and examples of text types for schools to use. There are also commercial resources with example texts such as Beverly Derewinaka’s book, Exploring How Texts Work (1990) and Anderson and Anderson’s Text Types in English (1997).  In New Zealand, teachers commonly use the texts available in The English Language Intensive Programme and this resource is freely available to teachers worldwide. Activities to support learning about text organisation and use of key language features include; highlighting a model text, reconstructing a jumbled text or part of a text, substitution tables, speaking frames, dictogloss, split dictation, clozes that focus on a particular language feature e.g. past tense for narrative text, modals and connectives for an argument or persuasive text, imperatives for a procedure text.

The third stage, joint construction, combines both content knowledge and language features. In this stage, the learners and teacher co-construct a text or part of a text. This is sometimes referred to as shared writing. It is advisable that the topic of the joint construction relates to the area of study but is not identical to the topic that the learners will eventually write about. The learners suggest the text which the teacher writes, typically on a whiteboard. During the writing process, the organisation and vocabulary choices can be discussed. The final ‘product’ can look very untidy with many edits and crossings out but, importantly, this teaches learners that writing is a process and that writers do not ‘get it right’ the first time. There are some excellent videos of teachers using this strategy on YouTube, some of which have been uploaded by PETAA (the Primary English Teaching Association Australia). However, this strategy can be used from primary right through to pre-tertiary level and with beginner learners of English to more advanced learners.

The final stage is independent writing. By this stage, learners should have developed knowledge of the topic, the vocabulary, the text organisation and the necessary language features needed to write independently. During this stage, it can be helpful if learners have access to the model texts used and a checklist which they can use to review their own or other learners' work, provide feedback and make edits.


Anderson, M., & Anderson, K. (1997). Text types in English (Vol. 2). Macmillan Education AU.

Derewianka, B (1990). Exploring how texts work

Derewianka, B. (2001). Pedagogical grammars: Their role in English language teaching. Analysing English in a global context: A reader, 240-269.

Derewianka, B. & Jones, P., 2016. Teaching Language in Context.  2nd ed. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press. 

Droga, L., & Humphrey, S. (2002). Getting started with functional grammar. 

Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching second language learners in the mainstream classroom. 2nd ed. Portsmouth: Heinemann. 

Gibbons, P. (2009). English learners, academic literacy, and thinking: Learning in the challenge zone.

Knapp, P. & Watkins, M. (2005). Genre, text, grammar: Technologies for teaching and assessing writing. unsw Press.

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