Scaffolded reading in computing

By Rachel Arthur . Posted

Scaffolded reading can help boost literacy skills and improve students’ understanding of computing

Originally published in Hello World 20: Systems and networks, Jan 2023. All information true at the time of original publishing.

We talk about digital literacy in computing all the time, and discuss the skills and knowledge required to be an effective, safe, and discerning user of a range of computer systems ( But how often do we consider the general literacy levels of the pupils we teach? In computing lessons, low literacy levels can impact pupils’ ability to access learning. This can be because of the amount of technical language we use, the homonyms within that technical language, or even the frustration of syntax errors made purely because of a spelling mistake. In this article, I introduce the Scaffolded Reading Experience (SRE) approach, which you can use to improve literacy in your computing classes, in turn improving pupils’ ability to access and engage with the subject.

The SRE is a framework developed by researchers Graves and Graves to support reading in lessons ( Although it may seem like an obvious structure to use, it’s important to consider each of its stages when planning reading tasks in your lessons, so you can support the needs of all your pupils. The SRE is broken into three stages:

  1. Pre-reading

  2. During reading

  3. Post-reading

We will go through each of these stages using the example of teaching cybersecurity to a lower-secondary class, imagining that you have shared a newspaper article about phishing.


The role of pre-reading is to develop interest, recall knowledge, and build confidence. This can support students in accessing the reading they’re about to do and ultimately reduces cognitive load. Some common activities in the pre-reading stage could include:

  • Explaining the focus of the reading: in this example, we are looking at a newspaper article describing a phishing attack. Before you begin teaching the lesson, you need to decide the purpose of reading the article: should your pupils focus on understanding how a phishing attack takes place? Or who is most likely to fall victim? Or how to prevent a phishing attack? Once you have made this decision, you must communicate the purpose clearly to your class.

  • Whole-class recall: once the class understands the focus of the text, you can ask them to recall what they already know about the topic. This is a great opportunity to explore the technical vocabulary together before applying it.

  • Whole-class prediction: you can next ask the learners what they think might pop up in the text. By doing this, you’re helping them to establish links between the purpose of the reading and the knowledge they already have on this topic.

  • Linking to real life: find a way to make the article relevant to your class. In our example, think about how a phishing scam would impact the pupils in your classroom. Where are they likely to come across one? Do they know anyone who has been a victim of one? This helps to make the article relevant and increases pupils’ sense of belonging, which also increases girls’ engagement in computing (

  • Additional literacy or computing focus: you might ask pupils to look for certain technical vocabulary or focus on another subject-related question, depending on your scheme of work and learning objectives. For example, what are the signs of a phishing scam, and can they identify them in the article? This can help pupils establish links between the learning taking place in your lessons.

During reading

Now comes the actual reading of the text, which you can supercharge by reading out loud as a class. During reading, you can:

  • Pause, discuss key vocabulary, and ensure students don’t confuse technical terms.

  • Pull apart some key ideas in the article to help students understand the text.

  • Ask elaborative questions, which will build students’ understanding of the key language. These could be examples such as:

    • What would you do in this situation?

    • What could you do to prevent a phishing attack?

    • What advice would you give your friends to prevent this from happening to them?

  • Show pupils what to do when they come across new vocabulary they do not understand. Making this a shared experience will normalise discussing words we don’t understand and remove any shame around it.


The final step is to pull together all the learning that students have acquired from the text through an activity, the focus of which will depend on the purpose of the reading. In our example, the purpose of the reading was to use a concrete example to support pupils’ understanding of a phishing attack. Here are some suggestions:

  • Ask your class to find key vocabulary in the text. There is no getting away from the amount of complex technical vocabulary in computing lessons, and pupils’ success often depends on their understanding of this language. Unpack the vocabulary using metaphors and simple language. Ensure that you then repack the language back to the technical terms, to develop pupils’ literacy and technical understanding (this is called completing a semantic wave, which you can read more about in The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy,

  • Ask your class questions, and ask them to provide a quote from the text to show how they gained that information.

  • Ask students to write a response to the text or a follow-up article on how to prevent a phishing attack in the future.

According to the UK’s National Literacy Trust, a third of businesses are unsatisfied with young people’s literacy skills when they enter the workforce. A similar number have organised remedial training for young recruits to improve their basic skills, including literacy and communication ( Hopefully, using this approach to scaffolded reading in the computing classroom will help boost both your students’ literacy skills and their engagement with and understanding of computing itself. Thanks to Emma King and Ben Davey for their support with researching the SRE approach.

Improving literacy through on-screen reading

In computing more than any other subject, pupils will have the opportunity to read digitally. A common misconception is that digital reading isn’t as good as reading on paper or from a book. However, a report from the UK’s National Literacy Trust found that for some pupils, reading on-screen may be more beneficial:

“Those with low reading engagement are more likely than those with high reading engagement to consume reading materials on screen – potentially providing opportunities to better engage them with reading in the future. For example, one in four disengaged boy readers said that they read fiction on screen compared to just one in ten of their more engaged peers (25.4% vs 9.8%)” (


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