Planning for Language Development in an EAL Aware Curriculum

For EAL learners, language development is an essential part of their education. Research from Lindorff and Strand (2021) suggests that proficiency in English (PIE) is the key indicator of attainment above all other measures such as gender, social economic status etc. Therefore, EAL learners need opportunities to develop proficiency in English in a curriculum that is aware of their needs. It could also be argued that such approaches will not only benefit EAL learners but other groups too.

One of the common misconceptions I find is the perception that EAL learners need to spend time outside the classroom developing PIE in interventions or other classes which first develop PIE before entering the mainstream classroom. This is not true and is supported by the research evidence which suggests that EAL learners’ PIE is best developed in the mainstream classroom. This is because the mainstream classroom provides the context within which PIE can and will be developed. That is, if the curriculum is EAL aware and planning for language development in the curriculum is planned and systematic. Of the cuff, ad-hock language teaching is not the way forward. Schools should consider carefully how they plan for and develop EAL learners’ PIE in meaningful curriculum contexts.

Whether you teach Science, Maths, English, History, Geography, Art, ADT, Religious Studies etc, each subject will have particular genres that EAL learners need opportunities in developing and using in your classroom. Each classroom genre will have certain language features that should be taught and learned. Explicitly teaching the language of your subject will provide EAL learners with increased opportunities for success. Where possible, schools should consider the shared curriculum genres used in different subjects. For instance, comparing in Science will use similar language features to a comparison in English. If schools have a shared language or metalanguage (talking about language) of comparing and contrasting then this will provide a clear context to EAL learners of how to use the language of comparison and what are some of its common language features. For instance, connectives which compare and contrast.

Language plays a crucial role in all learning. It is through language that we communicate our knowledge and thinking. Therefore, if we explicitly teach the language of the subject we teach then we are opening up the opportunities for all learners to share their knowledge and thinking.

There are various planning tools which can be used to systematically plan for language development in the curriculum. The two that I will highlight in this post are Mohan’s (1986) Knowledge Framework and Gibbons (2002) Question Asking Framework. I have used both and if planned in conjunction with mainstream colleagues they can be highly effective in developing a more EAL aware curriculum. Let’s look at both:

Mohan’s Knowledge Framework

Although Mohan suggests his framework is more an analysis of discourse and social practice, I have used it in planning for language development in the curriculum. Mohan researched topics within the curriculum and how they were structured. As a result, he created the framework shown below.

I like to use Mohan’s framework especially when it makes you consider the use of key visuals. To Mohan, key visuals come in many forms but in particular graphic organisers. Graphic organisers are such a helpful way to organise content into manageable chunks for EAL learners. I wrote about them here. As well as key visuals, Mohan’s knowledge structures (shown in the table) also come with thinking skills. It is from identifying thinking skills that one can plan for the associated language that learners will need to use when expressing their thoughts.

As an example, Mohan suggests under the knowledge structure of description, a learner might use the thinking skills of compare and contrast. Now the thinking skill(s) have been identified, you can plan for and teach the language, in this case the language of comparison and contrast.

Mohan’s framework took a bit of getting used to but I used it as part of my Masters dissertation. I found it really helpful and my research showed that using the framework does lead to more frequent uses of the language taught.

Pauline Gibbons Planning Framework

Gibbons framework again can be used to plan for a teach language in subject areas. The example shown in the table below is taken from a Year 10 (14 – 15 yr old) English literature class. As can be seen, the framework asks you to identify language functions as well as language structure and vocabulary. I like it because activities are central to the framework. I find activities can really help to develop language in all subjects. Linking language learning to content is extremely beneficial for all learners especially EAL learners. EAL learners need explicit teaching of language if they are to excel at school.

TopicActivitiesLanguage FunctionsLanguage StructuresVocabulary
MacbethComparing and contrasting Macbeth in Act 1 and Act 3Classifying
In Act 1 Scene 5 Macbeth is shown as ambitious and cunning.
In comparison, Macbeth’s persona has totally changed
Firstly, secondly…

I’ve used Gibbons framework both in EAL intervention classes and when co-planning with mainstream teachers. The language functions and structures identified mean that teachers can plan for language teaching in all content areas. Identifying key vocabulary can help EAL learners build their vocabulary base.

In summary

EAL learners benefit from explicit teaching of language. Large bodies of research show that the best place for this to happen is in the mainstream curriculum. The two planning frameworks above can be used by all teachers to support the development of language for EAL learners in their classrooms.

Other useful articles / links

Slater, T. & Gleason, J.S. Integrating language and content: the knowledge framework

Somani, N. & Mobbs, M. Using Pauline Gibbons Planning Framework: Examples Of Practice

Thorley, P. & Vasquez, M. Classroom Practice and Pedagogy: using the Knowledge Framework approach
in the classroom


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