9 Strategies to Try with EAL Students Today

So, I promised EAL would be made easy…well…easier. EAL students have one big problem and it’s NOT learning English. It’s learning enough academic English, fast enough, to get through whatever exam is coming. Their problem is not actual language acquisition, it’s the speed of acquisition. So providing support to access the curriculum must be done in a way that allows the EAL student to put chunks of useful language to good use right away.

…their problem is not actual language acquisition, it’s the speed of acquisition…

That is why we have to start with higher academic language. An EAL student of good cognitive ability will be able to learn ‘nevertheless’ just as well as ‘but’. Remember that they do not have the same difficulties with multi-syllabic words as native-born, low-literacy students.

Chances are, they come from a language system that uses a highly complicated set of letter strings and are very used to longer words. Many other languages agglutinate, i.e., they ‘glue’ words together, like in Spanish, German, Hungarian or Turkish, resulting in hugely long words!

Top Tip: Pair work and group work allow fluent peers to model good English and EAL students to practice saying it. Work this into your lesson as often as you can for any key stage!

Below are nine general ways to build this support into your lesson structure, including how a teaching assistant (TA) can be a second pair of eyes and ears for you in your class.

Need for talk: EAL students MUST be given the opportunity to discuss class work with adults and peers. Developing spoken language is the foundation for all reading and written work and a bridge to literacy.

Comprehensible input and output: Just putting EAL students into an English-immersion experience will NOT help them build academic language. EAL students must be given opportunities to extend their speech in collaboration with TAs or other students. To have opportunities to negotiate, clarify and re-word their use of English is the most effective way to develop their academic language skills.

Visual support: Teachers should try to provide pictures and key vocabulary. A TA can walk with students around a practical lesson so that you can help them match object to vocabulary, especially in Science or Technology. Encourage their use of key word booklets and dictionaries!

Dual languages glossary: Encourage students to develop a key words list using their first language. Dictionary use for nouns is crucial. Electronic translators help as well. If you are lucky enough to have another, more advanced speaker of the same language in the class, encourage the two to talk through their ideas in their own language first! Make sure the EAL initial learner has a key words booklet.

Give dictionary-use guidance: Key word lists are not the whole answer! EAL students will pick up content words (nouns and adjectives) first, but may not have the verb or other function words that tell them what to do with the content words. (first, under, before, the, some, etc.) Show them how to look up verbs, prepositions, articles.

How TAs can help scaffold EAL pupils’ language learning

Recognise and mediate the difference between errors and mistakes:A mistake is made when one already knows the right way or answer. An error is a gap in knowledge. Correct errors of EAL students by modelling the correct use if English to them, not by overt correction of their language.

Predictability of sequence in language acquisition:Use 1 key word often. Then use it with another key word in a set phrase or sentence starter. Use the same sentence starter (spoken or written) as much as possible before introducing another.

Watch for omission, overgeneralization, and transfer: They may use: newly learned words or structures in wrong settings or contexts; content words but leave out function words; over-layering of first language structures with English words and grammar.

Look out for misuse of the really hard verb patterns in English: the third person ‘s’ and simple past tense. Scaffold through written and spoken examples the ‘bits’ they are missing.

Feedback to the EAL Lead staff, the mainstream teacher, the pastoral lead:

Write English-language notes in students’ exercise books, annotate their work, e-mail any pertinent observations/questions to involved staff as soon as time allows. All observational information and regular feedback is very important. The EAL Lead can interpret information and feedback to subject teachers, while keeping a record of student progress.

Try one or more of these suggestions and reflect before moving on to the next suggestion.