Trainee Teachers: Ten Tips for Successfully Supporting EAL Learners

Training to be a teacher is hard but rewarding work.

Completing a successful teaching practice demands intelligence, determination and skills not dissimilar to those of a street entertainer, plate spinning being one of the most obvious. Alternatively, you could try spraying yourself silver and posing as a statue to gain your pupils’ attention, but, be warned, even this might not work!

In April, English PGCE students at Bristol University engaged in a training session before the start of their final school placements. They thought about English as an Additional Language (EAL) from a theoretical and practical perspective and talked through ideas for including pupils learning EAL into their teaching plans.

EAL-related questions students ask…

Some of the questions asked at the session showed a real awareness of the issues facing student-teachers and experienced colleagues alike:

“How can I engage a newly arrived, Spanish speaking pupil when I’m teaching Romeo and Juliet?”

“The class teacher’s put the pupil at the back of the room with a Teaching Assistant and a girl who doesn’t talk to him. Should I move the EAL pupil closer to the front so he can engage with me?”

So, how can student teachers begin to tackle these, and other challenges, in the temporary space of a borrowed classroom?

 Here are ten tips that will improve your practice:

  1. Think about the way you speak and the language you are modelling to your pupils

Why? So that EAL pupils hear academic language used in clear, well-constructed sentences that they can copy in spoken and written texts.

  1. Pre-teach and display keywords and phrases related to every topic

Why? So that pupils have a better understanding of what you’re teaching, and you can refer to keywords and concepts in class.

  1. Deconstruct, explain and/or modify texts, looking out for culturally specific references and tricky idiomatic language

Why? So that pupils learning EAL, whatever their English language levels, can understand and access part, if not all, of your lessons.

  1. Always use a wide range of visual materials like photos, DVDs, graphic organisers, labels, diagrams, illustrations, real objects etc.

Why? So that your lessons have a clear, understandable context. This will help everyone.

  1. Differentiate work using a range of strategies like substitution tables, close exercises, matching games etc.

Why? So that pupils can access mainstream work at an appropriate cognitive and linguistic level. See our Teaching Resources page for ideas.

  1. Draw explicit attention to grammatical forms (how verbs change, for example – buy, bought) and functional language (how we use specific words/phrases for particular texts, for example when comparing things – whereas, both, however, the same as etc. )

Why? Because whatever subject you are teaching, you are an EAL teacher and pupils must learn how the structure of the English language works and how it changes in different contexts.

  1. Greet newly-arrived pupils with words and phrases in their home language

Why? Because it makes pupils feel welcome and respected and shows that you are a risk taker with a new language too.

  1. Buddy-up newly arrived pupils with students who will support and encourage them

Why? Because they need to hear good English role models discussing, repeating and rehearsing new vocabulary and ideas, even if they don’t understand the whole of your lesson.

  1. Organise plenty of collaborative activities in mixed ability groups

Why? So that pupils at all EAL levels, including new arrivals, access quality discussions that use key vocabulary and relevant functional language. See our Stone Age Reading Comprehension Activity as an example.

  1. Include material and references that relate to your pupils’ heritage backgrounds

Why? So that the curriculum reflects the cultural and linguistic diversity of the children you teach and therefore has greater interest and meaning for them.

But, above all else, smile and have fun.