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Practicing, testing and scaffolding instruction

When designing a lesson, teachers build in opportunities for student practice of a skill or concept. Yet sometimes this practice ends up being a test, rather than a chance for students to practice and receive feedback on the skills and strategies they are trying to learn. Here are some scenarios with discussion questions to help you think about practicing, testing and scaffolding instruction for your students:


Discussion questions

Mrs. Jones has taught her students the difference between the long a sound and the short a sound. Now all the students are independently completing a worksheet on this skill.

  • When is independent work a test and when is it practice?
  • What would Mrs. Jones be doing if this worksheet were guided practice?
  • What would Mrs. Jones be doing if this worksheet were a test?
  • Could the phonics practice be conducted with partners or in small groups? How? Why or why not?
  • What other ways can students practice phonics (instead of or in addition to using a worksheet)?
  • Do all students need to complete this assignment? Why or why not?
  • What can Mrs. Jones do if some students cannot complete the worksheet?
  • What can Mrs. Jones do if some students are done with the worksheet in five minutes?

Mr. Adams has students rotate to literacy centers during his guided reading groups. He explained the activity at each center. Amy is at the writing center and the activity asks her to write a poem about a sunny day.

  • What might happen if Amy does not know what a poem is? How could Mr. Adams help?
  • What might happen if Amy is not yet writing letters to match the sounds she hears in words? How could Mr. Adams help?
  • What other activities could be placed in a writing center? Do these activities meet your learning objectives for students? Do these activities meet the varying needs of your students? How could you structure the activities to meet different student needs?

Think of a time when some of your students needed a lot more practice with a skill, while others learned it in the first five minutes of the lesson.


  • What subject was it in?
  • How did you handle it?
  • Think of three other ways you could have dealt with this situation. Try one of these the next time the situation arises and continue to brainstorm alternatives to use in the future.