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Scaffolding Instruction Toolkit: Scaffolding with LibGuides

Background information, tools, resources, and ideas for learning more about and implementing scaffolded instruction

Why scaffold with your LibGuides?

Process Scaffolding
Process scaffolding breaks a complex task down into smaller, more manageable parts that slowly increase in cognitive complexity in order to form a cohesive whole (University of Waterloo, n.d.; Schroeder, 2012). By breaking down major assignments into several components, you can focus on the skills or types of knowledge students require to successfully complete the larger assignment, and support them in a way where student engagement is increased, rather than assigning a single assignment that might be initially confusing and overwhelming (Writing Center, University of Colorado, n.d.).

Sequencing these assignments is crucial: you must order them in such a way that students master a skill set that is important to develop the next. The process allows students to see the bigger picture and allows you to empower students to work towards it independently.

Benefits of Process Scaffolding
Student Benefits:

  • Makes the process of developing what might otherwise seem like a complicated assignment seems much more feasible.
  • Assignments that could appear unmanageable are presented as a set of understandable tasks.
  • Gives students a chance to gain expertise with a set of academic skills in a graduated way.
  • Helps students to develop transferable skills that can be used throughout their entire academic career.

Instructor Benefits

  • Makes the learning process more transparent, and sets a clear path to achieving learning outcomes.
  • Presents assignments as integrated activities aligning with course goals, in a logical sequence.
  • Allows for intervention at important junctures in order to provide feedback and keep students on track.
  • Helps students develop Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS), and empowers them to see connections between tasks.

Adapted from Ryerson University's Teaching and Learning Office: Best Practices: Instructional Scaffolding.

Scaffolding Images

Image of a gray and brown scaffolding

"Scaffolding"by hkfuey97 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Learning Strategies Using Process Scaffolding within LibGuides

Scaffolding Research Tasks
In the table below you will find steps for breaking down a research assignment and scaffolding within a LibGuide.

Examples can be found at the bottom of each row.

Research Assignment

Smaller Assignments Within Each Step

Topic Selection

  • Identifying a problem, issue, area of interest, and developing a research question
  • Mind mapping/brainstorming
  • Proposal
  • Development of thesis statement
  • Consider scaffolding instructional concepts in a LibGuide like Joan Hopkins (Benedictine University) does in Research Topics

Finding Background Information

  • Refine a broad topic area
  • Revise initial proposal, thesis or research question based on information gathered during preliminary research
  • Brainstorming
  • Concept mapping
  • Class discussion to share findings on a topic, changes to research focus, questions that have arisen
  • Consider scaffolding instructional concepts in a LibGuide like Megan McGuide (Mesa Community College) does in Choosing a Topic


  • Library session demonstrating where and how to find the best resources
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Research Log/Journal
  • Analyze a Single Article in Depth
  • Concept map
  • Consider scaffolding instructional concepts in a LibGuide like Maria Atilano (University of North Florida) does in Creating an Annotated Bibliography

Evaluation of Sources

  • Literature review
  • List of supporting/refuting evidence (Critical Review)
  • Compare and contrast discussion of a topic in different types of sources (scholarly vs. popular)
  • Critique a source
  • Investigate a scholar/scholar biography
  • Consider scaffolding instructional concepts in a LibGuide like Jeanine Williamson (The University of Tennessee Knoxville) does in Using Mind Maps in Engineering Literature Reviews or Cynthia Hunt (Goodwin College) does in Reading and Critiquing Research


  • Outline
  • First Draft
  • Consider scaffolding instructional concepts in a LibGuide like the Pfeiffer Library (Tiffin University) does in Drafting


  • Peer revision
  • Formatting
  • Bibliographic formatting
  • Self-assessment and reflection
  • Consider scaffolding instructional concepts in a LibGuide like the Pfeiffer Library (Tiffin University) does in Peer Reviews or like Kat Wohlpart (University of Northern Iowa) does in Formatting your Thesis/Dissertation 


Adapted from Fedko and Skene’s “Assignment Scaffolding,” University of Toronto Scarborough, and Nowak’s “Scaffolding Research Assignments,” Columbia College, Vancouver, B.C.

Guidelines for Implementing Scaffolding

Implementing Instructional Scaffolding

The following points can be used as guidelines when implementing instructional scaffolding (adapted from Hogan and Pressley, 2003).

  • Select suitable tasks that match curriculum goals and students’ needs.
  • Allow students to help create instructional goals (this can increase students’ motivation and their commitment to learning).
  • Consider students’ backgrounds and prior knowledge to assess their progress.
  • Use a variety of supports as students progress through a task (e.g., prompts, questions, hints, stories, models, visual scaffolding “including pointing, representational gestures, diagrams, and other methods of highlighting visual information” (Alibali, M, 2006).
  • Provide encouragement and praise as well as ask questions and have students explain their progress to help them stay focused on the goal.
  • Monitor student progress through feedback (in addition to instructor feedback, have students summarize what they have accomplished so they are aware of their progress and what they have yet to complete).
  • Create a welcoming, safe, and supportive learning environment that encourages students to take risks and try alternatives (everyone should feel comfortable expressing their thoughts without fear of negative responses).
  • Help students become less dependent on instructional supports as they work on tasks and encourage them to practice the task in different contexts.

Adapted from Hogan, K., and Pressley, M. (1997). Scaffolding student learning: Instructional approaches and issues. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.