The Importance of Explicit Language Teaching

What do these have in common?

  • Writing to describe
  • Writing to argue
  • Writing to persuade
  • Writing to recount
  • Writing to explain
  • Writing to evaluate

Yes, they all involve writing but more importantly each genre or type of writing listed above will have specific language features that are needed to write in it successfully. In addition, within different curriculum or subject areas there will be subtle changes to each genre but I would argue that each genre will have standard features that need to and must be taught to EAL and non EAL learners.

As Gibbons (2009) states ‘each genre has a number of characteristics that make it different from other genres.’  Gibbons (2009) outlines three particular characteristics to bear in mind when considering each genre:

  • Each has a particular purpose
  • Each has an overall structure or organisation
  • Each has typical language features

I would argue that all learners and not just EAL learners benefit from explicit teaching of language features. I have seen the impact of explicit language teaching in my own practice both in the mainstream classroom and in interventions sessions that I have taught to my EAL learners. Research suggests that all students benefit from structured and reflective approaches in which the teacher gives explicit guidance in how to write in a particular genre (Polias, 2007). It is not enough to just continually practice and receive feedback from the teacher on what went well and what you need to do next time to make it better. We must raise our learners conciseness of the langauge features of the genre that they are writing in.

I wrote an earlier blog post entitled ‘Using the Teaching and Learning Cycle in the Mainstream Classroom’ in which I outline a particular approach to teaching genres that I have found very useful and you can read that article by clicking on this link.  In my own classroom experience, using the teaching and learning cycle is a comprehensive approach to teaching the genre that you want your learners to write in.  It involves a range of strategies and approaches that help to elicit key language features.

Some of the strategies that I recommend for teaching key language features include:

When I have explicitly taught key language features to my learners I have seen marked improvements in their style of writing, their fluency and their success in the mainstream classroom.  Explicitly teaching language features must always be linked to the mainstream and we have to raise the awareness of our EAL learners in writing in different genres by asking them to think of which subjects do you write to argue in? for example.  There must always be something for them to hook the language learning of.  Therefore the best place for language features to be taught is in their mainstream classrooms.  When I have collaborated with my mainstream colleagues and highlighted the need to explicitly teach language features they have also commented on the progress and success in their curriculum and subject area.

In summary, key language features for a particular genre need to be explicitly taught and the best place for that to happen is when EAL learners have something to hook the teaching of, the mainstream classroom.  A range of strategies and approaches should be used to help highlight language features and the teaching and learning cycle is an extremely useful framework to use when considering how to teach the language features.


Gibbons, P. (2009) English Learners: Academic Literacy and Thinking.  Learning in the Challenge Zone. Heinemann. Portsmouth

Polias, J. (2007) Supporting ESL Students with Written and Visual Texts across the curriculum.  In Teaching ESL Students in the mainstream classroom: language learning across the curriculum.  Government of South Australia.  Department of Education and Children’s Services.



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