“There is no teaching without learning” (Paulo Freire): So, what are the principles of good EAL teaching?

According to the research of Lucas T. Villegas, A-M. & Freedson-Gonzalez, M. (2008)* 5 principles will help EAL pupils in our classes:


Children needs lots of opportunities to talk with other pupils – not just out in the playground, where they will pick up conversational language, but in the classroom during meaningful and scaffolded activities.

Conversational and Academic interaction

Pupils need to learn the key vocabulary and functional language that goes with the demands of the curriculum. Therefore, they need to interact with a variety of people during the school day to increase their exposure to different language forms and functions.

Recognising L1 as an asset

Teachers who recognise the importance of children’s bilingual or multilingual skills are more likely to set high expectations for those pupils.  They will also realise that pupils with a strong home language can achieve as highly as monolingual pupils, if not better.

Teaching vocabulary and grammar

Pupils need to be shown how language has different forms and functions, depending on its social and academic context.  For example, explaining something to friends in the playground will use a different type of language compared to presenting work in class.

A safe and welcoming environment

Without feeling safe, valued and secure, no child can thrive. For children who are new to a school and new to English this is vitally important. They desperately want to fit in but teachers also need to value each child’s unique identity and the life experiences they bring to school with them.

What does this mean in practice? Here’s a simple checklist:

1) Know your pupils – what language or languages do they speak at home? Who do they share these languages with and how proficient are they in each one?

2) Include your pupils – make sure you reflect your pupils’ experiences in the tasks and activities you set so that children can relate to them. If pupils can’t see how a task is relevant to them, they will either create their own relevancies (which could be seen as a challenge to your teaching!) or they will switch off (which could also be seen as a challenge to your teaching!) Either way, the solution is in your hands.

3) Additional support – give pupils the best head start with activities by making them as meaningful as possible. Use visual clues, graphic organisers, pictures/photos, DARTs (Directed Activities Related to Texts), pre-teaching of vocab and content.

4) Adapt and re-write texts – this will make the difference between written information being accessible or not. Speech is also a text so think about how you explain things and modify your own language to make your thoughts and instructions accessible.

5) Simplify language – what you say, write or use in the classroom needs to suit the levels of your learners. This includes reducing the amount of idiomatic language you use (and we use a lot without knowing it sometimes!).

6) Give clear instructions – in order to avoid waffle or multi-layered explanations that children can’t understand. Beginners of English often function on getting the gist of what’s going on and this is easier to do if the content of what they are hearing is simple and supported with visual clues.

7) Use children’s home languages – to support their learning at all levels. Using bilingual skills shouldn’t just be seen as a gateway to English, they are important to help pupils learn at all stages of their EAL journey, whether they are beginners of English or more competent speakers.  Help can be given through accessing translated texts, translating key words or using bilingual assistants to work alongside pupils.

8) Plan meaningful activities – give children lots of opportunities to hear, rehearse and use new vocabulary and structures in a supportive environment.  If children are working together, they have a better chance of understanding what is going on around them by asking questions and negotiating meaning. This is an important part of learning English as an Additional Language.

Think about your classroom planning and see if these elements appear in the lessons you deliver to your EAL learners.

Are you teaching in a way that your EAL pupils can learn?


*Linguistically Responsive Teacher Education: Preparing Classroom Teachers to Teach English Language Learners