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Helping students scaffold their thinking

In their 2004 book Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, Marzano et al. review research into a range of different strategies that teachers can use to help student learning.

In one section they explores the use of non-linguistic representations such as graphic organisers/thinking organisers to help students scaffold their thinking and make meaning of the learning. Thinking organisers involve students generating mental pictures to go along with information, as well as creating graphic representations for that information.

Marzano et al. state that it has been shown that explicitly engaging students in the creation of nonlinguistic representations stimulates and increases activity in the brain. They goes on to declare that nonlinguistic representations should “add to” the student’s knowledge because when students elaborate on knowledge, they not only understand it in greater depth, but they can recall it much more easily.

There are a wide range of different thinking organisers that can be used to support and scaffold student learning. The table below shows some of the different types linked to Bloom’s Taxonomy with visual exemplars below. Larger versions of the visual exemplars (with credits) are included in the [PDF] file.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Cognitive Level Type of Activity Thinking Organiser Thumbnail
Remember Define/Name Mind Map Mind Map
Understand Explain Concept Map Concept Map
Apply Sequence/Sort Flow chart Flow chart
Apply Sequence/Sort T-chart T-chart
Analyse Compare and Contrast Venn Diagram Venn Diagram
Analyse Compare and Contrast Double Bubble Double Bubble
Evaluate and Create Cause and Effect Fishbone Fishbone
© 2016 Andrea Mapplebeck


We would like you to consider:

  • Which of these or other thinking organisers have you used with your students and with what topics?
  • How did they support the students in scaffolding their thinking to make meaning of the learning?
  • Where did the students go next in their learning?

Share your thoughts in the comments on this step.

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This article is from the free online course:

Differentiation for Learning

National STEM Learning Centre