Scaffolding Curriculum Subjects for Secondary Pupils New to English

NALDIC held its virtual 28th conference in November 2020. The keynote speakers were interesting, but the presenter who offered an enormous amount of practical advice was a teacher from Cockburn John Charles Academy, Leeds. Anna shared her school’s approach to modifying curriculum work for secondary pupils in the early stages of acquiring English; those working at levels A (New to English) and B (Early Acquisition).

Here is a summary of the excellent practice Anna advocated for teaching geography. The scaffolding principles can be used as a template for other subjects.

Step 1: Key Vocabulary

Key vocabulary is identified then introduced to students using a variety of pre-teaching methods.

These include:

  • Word mats with key words and supporting visuals to illustrate an object or concept
  • Grids with simple definitions for pupils to read, then questions for them to answer
  • Word books for children to write down new vocabulary and its meanings
  • Homework where students read simplified texts, illustrated with graphics or pictures, that explain key concepts. They then use a blank grid to write a definition next to each new term in their own words
Step 2: Visuals
  • Diagrams and graphics are created to support pupil understanding of the various concepts that are being introduced
  • Practice is encouraged using grids for pupils to fill in with information gained from the visuals
Step 3: First sentences

Students are supported to write some initial sentences on the topic. They use:

  • Visual guides that help them respond to questions presented in table form
  • Substitution tables to answer more abstract questions, e.g. in physical geography, “What is relief?”
Step 4: Exam questions

Exam questions are presented as tables, alongside relevant key vocabulary and explanations of terms that students will need in order to complete the question.

Step 5: Speaking practice

Students practice speaking about a topic using strategies such as Vanishing Close. This starts off with a whole text, then gradually reduces the number of visible words, substituting a line in their place. Students ‘read’ the text each time, adding in the missing words from memory. This activity helps them to hear and understand the structure and form of the text and the way key vocabulary is used to answer a question.

Step 6: Scanning

Using tables of simple information and visuals, students are guided on how to scan for key information. Significant words are highlighted in bold and, where possible, linked to a picture for context. This reading activity is followed up by a written activity with comprehension questions.

Steps 7 and 8: Reading and Reading (text adaptation)
  • Class texts are simplified into summaries that answer specific exam questions
  • More complex texts are broken down into simpler chunks that have key words and concepts explained
Step 9: Independence

Pupils are given work that involves:

  • Defining key concepts
  • Reading simplified texts and answering questions
  • Picking out key information to write a list of reasons for specific actions or consequences
  • Labelling pictures of key concepts or events
  • Answering literal questions e.g. what, where, who

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