Supporting SEND / EAL Learners

How many more times will you hear EAL and SEND used in the same bracket?

EAL most definitely isn’t an SEND but there are EAL learners with SENDs. Furthermore, I have found, from my own practice, that many of the strategies and approaches I used with EAL/SEND learners are suitable for English first language SEND students. I do not profess to be an expert in SEND but I have worked with a number of EAL learners that are SEND. Below are some of the strategies and approaches I have found most helpful for them.

Obviously, all learners need a safe and supportive environment but for SEND / EAL learners this is of upmost importance. They must feel as if they are part of the class, that they can take part in class activities and they can develop their skills and knowledge. We as teachers can easily provide them with this. For example, sitting with same first language (L1) speakers, if their proficiency in English is at the beginner level. This can be highly supportive because the L1 ‘buddy’ could help with explaining lesson content, developing language in English and L1, and supporting with activities. If you don’t have same L1 speakers then consider such things as: Google Translate, Microsoft’s Immersive Reader, or I Translate on IPads.

Hands on manipulatives are a great way to engage EAL / SEND learners. Activities or tasks such as picture to word or sentence matching, games such as memory or sorting / matching activities can be extremely useful. These sort of tasks allow learners to learn content, language and vocabulary and should be directly linked to curriculum / content goals or objectives.

The classroom environment is of upmost importance for EAL / SEND learners. They must feel comfortable and part of classroom tasks and activities. I find it is often a good idea to use strategies such as think, pair, share, think, pair, square share or talk partners before asking them to answer questions in front of the whole class. Such strategies give them a chance to orally rehearse answers and build confidence before answering in front of the whole class. Seating arrangements should be such that they are paired with same L1 buddies that can also support the development of English language skills and make them feel comfortable about working in the classroom.

Teaching assistants play a crucial role in that they can help to explain classroom tasks, they can support them with answering questions in front of the class and they can model the types of language needed if being asked to write in a particular genre.

Writing frames, substitution tables and gap fills are very important for EAL / SEND students if they are expected to complete writing tasks. Any sort of writing that does not provide them with such scaffolds can create tension and anxiety in the learner which is something that needs to be avoided at all costs. These scaffolds should model the typical language features of the genres you are expecting learners to write in. Depending on the proficiency of the learner will influence how much scaffolding learners require. For instance, a beginner will need a greater deal of scaffolding in terms of writing frames, substitution tables or gap fills than a more proficient EAL learner. For beginners, I often find that providing word banks alongside writing frames and gap fills highly supportive.

In reading, highlighting parts of a text that you intend to focus on will take away some of the pressure of locating specific answers to questions. I also find that margin questions are of great help to EAL / SEND learners once again they help learners know where they can find answers to questions. Prior to reading building background or making explicit links to prior learning can help to make comprehension of complex academic texts much easier. Obviously, visuals, pictures and charts are also very supportive but these need to take into account the culture and language of the learner.

EAL / SEND students benefit from many of the same strategies that other EAL learners benefit from. It is crucial that they feel comfortable in the classroom and that teachers provide them with a non-threatening environment in which language can develop and content knowledge and understanding can be gained.


An excellent booklet on SEN and EAL and is available from The Bell Foundation by clicking here.

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