I have been very lucky in my teaching career to work in a variety of schools in Bradford, Peterborough and Leicester. All these organisations have a diverse ethnic mix of students, and my experiences in them have helped form tried and tested ideas about effective ways to support EAL students.
I recently invited a specialist EAL teacher into my classroom to observe my support of EAL students. I got some great feedback which led to the development of the “5 minute EAL student support plan” based on Ross McGill’s “5 minute lesson plan” model.
I have designed the plan to help teachers focus on what I feel are the four essential areas to support EAL learning: model phrases, visuals, student discussion and short, succinct teacher talk. If you are interested in the thinking behind it, please read on, if you just want to download it click here.
As well as providing support for students with key words, it is important to help them with model phrases which provide examples of how key words are used in sentence structures. You can decide what these phrases are before the lesson. This can help you measure progress within the lesson, for example, a key word may be “photosynthesis” and the phrase you want your learners to say, or write, might be “plants make their own food from sunlight using photosynthesis”. Students may be able to repeat the key word, but a higher level of learning would be to use the word in the sentence.
Another example might be when a student learning about animal adaptation is trying to describe the use of fur says “too much fur for the cold”, you might lead them to say “thick fur helps keep the animal warm” then get them to practice the sentences with a partner.
On the 5 minute EAL student support plan this is written as “resources to support learning”. It is helpful for EAL students if your language is accompanied by illustrations or demonstrations. Students may struggle to access your spoken language, but may be able to make more sense of what you say from pictures, props or prompts which you bring into your discussion as you go.
Whether EAL or not, students respond well if given time to discuss their learning. If you have EAL students who share a common first language, it can help build students’ confidence if they are encouraged to discuss the learning in their mother tongue. Students may need to answer exam questions in English, but for me, they can learn the concepts in any language. It is important however, that they also get the balance right, so you might want to have them sit together for some activities and then apart when you need them to practice key English words and phrases or build their confidence in speaking to students with English as a first language.
My work with EAL specialists has helped me understand how important it is that teacher talk is done at a speed that EAL students can process. When it was pointed out to me how quickly I normally spoke it took a bit of practice to get used to, what felt to me, quite slow speech. I would recommend getting a colleague into your lesson to check this for yourselves.
Teacher talk should also be clear, with good grammar, and not at length without visual prompts. Signpost important points and draw attention to the fact you are discussing the key points. Try not to talk in “foreign speak”, for example saying “You find pen please” to students new to English may seem like you are making the phrase more simple for them to understand, but this will reinforce poor grammar. Just speak slowly and clearly, model good English e.g. “Please find your pen”. This might not be a great example, but hopefully you get the idea.
I hope you find the EAL student support plan useful. Please feel free to share any ideas about how you have used it, or how it could be improved.