An ELT Glossary : Scaffolding and Priming

Scaffolding refers to the preparation for an activity provided by the teacher/materials because, without it, learners might find the activity too difficult to do. Although initially coined as a term by Bruner, and related to how an adult might talk to a child in order to help them with an activity, it now tends to be used in EFL for any preparatory activity done in the classroom. So, some examples of scaffolding for a speaking activity might be :

  • the teacher feeds in vocabulary that s/he predicts the students will need in the activity, and checks they understand and can pronounce it.
  • s/he gives the students the chance to plan what they want to say silently, thinking it through in their minds
  • s/he gives them the chance to ask for any vocabulary they think they will need in the activity
  • s/he lets them listen to an example of the activity as a model. Eg  if it is an anecdote telling activity she tells an anecdote of her own on the topic.

In Vygotsky's terms, scaffolding helps the learners move from their Zone of Actual Development  (what they can currently do without help) to their Zone of Proximal Development (what they are learning to do but can currently only do with help).

In connection with Task-Based Learning, the term "priming" is often used for activities in the pre-task stage which serve the same purpose of scaffolding the main task. For more examples,  See the article by Willis  below,

For a different use of the term, see the entry on Lexical Priming.

Related Reading 

Tedick and Lyster, Scaffolding Language Development in Immersion and Dual Language Classrooms, Routledge