Supporting New to English EAL Learners

In my current role we have a number of EAL learners that come under the DfE Code of A or New to English.  The DfE descriptors state that a learner on this code:

‘May use first language for learning and other purposes. May remain completely silent in the classroom. May be copying/repeating some words or phrases. May understand some everyday expressions in English but may have minimal or no literacy in English. Needs a considerable amount of EAL support.’

When I look at the DfE codes it is always the last sentence that tells me more than any of the other sentences because it talks about levels of support.  As you can see it says that they require a large amount of support to access the mainstream curriculum and from my experiences this is certainly the case.

The Bell Foundation classroom strategies are a very useful place to look for very practical strategies that can be used in the mainstream to provide this ‘considerable support’ that is mentioned.

You can download the classroom strategies by clicking on these links:

Primary classroom strategies  

Secondary classroom strategies

The strategies that come most highly recommended from me are these:

  • Sitting at the front of the classroom is essential.  New to English learners can pick up non-verbal clues from you, they have a direct view of your facial expressions and gestures.  All of these things are crucial to making meaning and enhancing their understanding of classroom content.
  • Differentiation of the SAME CONTENT – this is something that I am constantly amazed at.  That being that some teachers will think that because the learner is not proficient in the language they should be doing something completely different to the rest of the class.  This has an impact on a number of things such as language development, lack of content knowledge and, in my opinion, a lack of self-esteem.  Think about it, would you be happy if you were in a classroom where you were learning something completely different?  I doubt it!  New to English learners need to be learning the same core content as everyone else but this core content needs to be differentiated to them.
  • Differentiation can come in many shapes and forms including: matching visuals to key words, matching visuals to sentences, gap fills that first and foremost develop language rather than content knowledge e.g. a gap fill that has verbs missing rather than core content of the lesson.
  • Substitution tables are a great way to develop a New to English learners writing ability.  I have provided an example of a substitution table for a New to English learner writing similes and you can see it by clicking on this link
  • Print out slides that are key to the content.  I’ve found that this is very helpful when learners need to refer back to something that has already been taught in the lesson and you require learners to refer back to.  You could extend this by highlighting the specific information that you need your learners to focus on.
  • Chunking instructions – rather than delivering instructions all together chunk them into manageable units that learners can comprehend.
  • Visuals – it goes without saying that visuals play a key role in helping all learners understand concepts but you must ensure that these visuals are not culturally biased and are visuals that you know your learners will be able to make meaning from.
  • Groupings – grouping New to English learners with more proficient speakers and similar first language learners can be very beneficial for a number of reasons.  They get to hear good models of the language that is being used in the classroom, they will be able to ask questions to group members to help them to understand lessons, and they will also be able to do this in their first language if they are sat with other first language users.  Grouping New to English with other New to English is counterproductive and will not help your learners to progress both in terms of content and language.
  • Key vocabulary highlighted and refered to always – rather than just providing a list of keywords, these keywords should be provided for learners in a meaningful sentence that is related to the context of the lesson that you are studying.
  • Active listening tasks – rather than have your learners sitting there passively listening to you, include active listening task such as providing them with some key words to listen out for and circle when you are delivering classroom content.  Included in this active listening task should also be words that you know will not appear.  It is very easy for New to English learners to switch off when listening to a teacher because they feel that they do not understand and providing them with active listening tasks if of great benefit.
  • Oral language must come before writing – it goes without saying that we all learn to speak before we learn to read and write and that is no different for learners that are EAL.  Hence, they need to be provided with as many opportunities as possible to use spoken language in the classroom.  For New to English learners this will undoubtedly involve some form of scaffolding whether that is providing them with sentence frames to use in speaking or modeling the type of talk you want them to use.  Given your New to English learners as many chances to use spoken language is a must and should be an integral part of every lesson that you have.
  • Pronunciation of keywords – it is essential when introducing new vocabulary that learners get a chance to use and hear the language.  Thus providing opportunities for them to say new vocabulary is essential.  This can be done in a range of ways including: teacher models – groups repeat, teacher models – pairs repeat, teacher models – individuals repeat.  The more opportunities EAL learners have to interact with new vocabulary the better.  As I discussed in an earlier blog post here.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, EAL learners that are New to English require significant support to access the mainstream curriculum and should be given ample opportunities to do that.  Giving them alternative tasks to complete is counter productive to subject and language development.  I hope that this post has given you some ideas of how to support this key group of English language learners in our schools.

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