Effective Teaching of EAL

The context for EAL pedagogy

Learners with EAL have a dual task at school: to learn English (language) and to learn through English. For this reason, EAL teaching aims to teach English using the mainstream curriculum as the context. These relationships can be seen in the graphic. Specific teaching strategies and resources are therefore necessary to make the language of the curriculum accessible to learners who use EAL.

Rationale for EAL pedagogy

EAL pedagogy is underpinned by the following principles:

  1. Bilingualism and multilingualism are an asset – the ability to use more than one language is a valuable skill that learners who use EAL bring with them, regardless of whether they are New to English or not. Learners actively use the languages they already know to learn English.
  2. Cognitive challenge should be kept appropriately high – high expectations around cognitive challenge should be maintained. Access to the curriculum is needed, but this does not imply the “dumbing down” of the content. For example, a learner from Greece might be highly skilled at Maths but using English as the language of instruction might be preventing them from engaging fully in the Maths lessons in England.
  3. Learners’ proficiency in English is closely linked to academic success – Research has found that proficiency in English is the strongest predictor of academic achievement (Strand and Hessel, 2018)

Underlying teaching principles

Given the principles underpinning EAL pedagogy, effective practice for learners using EAL is likely to include:

  • Activating prior learning
    Activities that enable learners to activate their prior knowledge of the topic of the lesson facilitate greater understanding and engagement. Example strategies include taking advantage of the learner’s first language and finding out what the learner knows through questioning.
  • Providing a rich context
    EAL learners will benefit from being provided with additional contextual support to help them make sense of the information conveyed to them in English. The use of images and graphic organisers (e.g. diagrams, grids, charts, timelines) are very useful for this purpose.
  • Making the English language explicit in the classroom
    Within the context of the curriculum, learners with EAL can be encouraged to notice the language used and understand how it is used. This implies pointing out key forms and structures that allow pupils to meet the language demands of the tasks. Strategies include providing oral and written models and scaffolding speaking and writing through speaking and writing frames.
  • Developing learners’ independence
    The independence of learners who use EAL can be fostered by developing their organisational, thinking and social skills (for instance, working co-operatively with others, taking turns and asking for help). In terms of organisational and thinking skills, teachers can provide learners with opportunities to model and extend what has been taught and support them in developing note taking and summary-writing skills. Social and cultural norms in the classroom will need to be made explicit to the learners. Pupils might be used to different rules and codes of behaviour in school in other countries; for instance, in Japan it is inappropriate to look a teacher in the eye whilst many teachers will expect it in an English school. Teachers can convey information about school social skills by translating simple lists or presenting them pictorially for the learners. Providing a new arrival learner with a buddy speaking the same language, who can explain these different cultural school norms, is another way of doing so.
  • Supporting learners with EAL to extend their vocabulary
    EAL learners at all levels need to be given opportunities to grow their English vocabulary range. This could be done by taking advantage of their first language(s) through translation, the use of flashcards and images. It is important to remember to develop the learner’s academic language skills, for instance by focusing on the differences between formal and informal vocabulary.

EAL strategies from The Bell Foundation

The Great Ideas pages are a collection of 20 different strategies that any teacher could use in their classrooms to support learners who use EAL. 

It is very useful for teachers to have the support of additional adults in the classroom, particularly when working with learners using EAL who are New to English or at the Early Acquisition stage.

Homework is an important part of helping learners develop their English language skills, as well as supporting the development of their first language(s).

Classroom Support Strategies, which are linked to the EAL Assessment Framework, contain dozens of strategies relevant to different bands (levels) of English language proficiency.