6 Tips for supporting EAL children

Posted on: 10/05/2022


6 Tips for Teaching EAL Children
After completing my NQT year, my first teaching position was in a vibrant school in North London where thirty-nine languages were spoken. It was a hugely rewarding experience to teach multilingual children from all around the world and with such rich and diverse heritages. A significant number of children were in the early stages of learning English and picked this up in day-to-day lessons, in the playground and it was incredible how quickly children absorbed the English language. Many teachers across the country support children who are in similar situations, and it can be a challenge to know whether one is providing the best provision for these children to access speaking, reading and writing lessons in English.
At the Literacy Tree, we work with teachers regularly who are doing an amazing job day-in, day-out to support EAL children and we have decided to put together some of the great practice that we have observed during these visits as well as discovered in our own research.
Book Choice 
We would always advocate using quality literature to provide the context for English lessons. The class book can provide meaningful and multicultural contexts for writing. They also provide scope for EAL children to access the story and develop language around the visual text. There is a rich array of picture books that would be ideal for this. Please check our booklist attached for some of our favourite.
Pre-teach Vocabulary
An important strategy is to regularly pre-teach specific vocabulary. This can be done by a teaching assistant in an intervention group or as an activity at the start of an English lesson – all children benefit from this.
Be specific about the word class that you want children to learn in that lesson, whether it be nouns, verbs, adverbs or adjectives and link this to the writing outcome the rest of the class are working towards. For example, if the class are writing a description of some sort, focus EAL children’s attention on relevant adjectives. If the rest of the class are retelling part of a story, focus on relevant verbs (begin in the infinitive form before moving on to tense). Start by distilling the writing expectation down into tier 1 vocabulary (happy/sad) before introducing tier 2 vocabulary as the year progresses (ecstatic/miserable).
Share also with parents and carers the vocabulary that their children will be learning that week and ask them to practise this at home. Parents can be provided with a copy of the class book as well as a word bank and key sentence structures children will be writing over that week.
Explore Vocabulary 
Introduce new vocabulary through games and investigations and ensured that there is lots of visual support (as well as words in children’s home language). There are many software packages designed to support teachers with just this. Games and investigations can help children: revisit known vocabulary in new contexts, order and group words, match synonyms and antonyms, match adjectives and nouns, spot word families and spelling patterns (big, bigger, biggest), match words to pictures or home language, spot phonemes and cut up words and sentences to put back together. Children need to have fun and explore vocabulary, developing more sophisticated ‘word taxonomies’ as they grow more proficient in English.
Activities such as the ones outlined above, allow children to buddy up in the classroom, completing tasks in pairs or small groups. This is essential for EAL children to pick up the language around games and play in a structured environment. When possible, partner them up with children who are more fluent English speakers.
Be Clear about the Sentence 
When children start to move from word-level work to sentence-level work, it is important that we are clear on the sentence structure needed to embed the vocabulary. Early sentences could take the form of “This is a (noun)/that is a (noun)”, “She/he has (noun phrase)/She/he is (adjective)”. Use sentence strips and post-it notes to keep this interactive and kinaesthetic before recording in books. Children can be given the sentence structure for the lesson on a sentence strip and use post-it notes to replace key words. Children can start to link these basic sentence structures with coordinating and subordinating conjunctions when ready.
Model Writing  
All children benefit from seeing and hearing the teacher write in front of the class and the child or group of children who are at the early stages of learning English will benefit hugely from this. Sit with this group and model write their sentences. Talk aloud about the thought process around writing. saying the sentence and words clearly for children to imitate and appropriate. Model selecting key vocabulary and substituting it for other words, explaining why.
Role Play
Once children have got a few different statements under their belt (they may also have gone on to learn different sentence types), they should have multiple opportunities to rehearse these. Take children on a walk around the school, practising sentences and describing things they see. Partner children up and encourage them to role play questions and answers within the context of the book. It can be fun to put together a readers’ theatre, selecting a book that a group of children have enjoyed. Children can be assigned characters from the book and together write out a basic script which they can perform.
Use technology to help on this journey too. Ipads are now a common tool in classrooms and translation apps can help EAL children record themselves and decode written text quickly. Although not always perfect, translation apps can also help you record simple instructions and words of encouragement to children also in their home language. Hearing sentencing like “You are really brave” and “You are doing an excellent job” in their home language, will help children feel settled and confident in lessons.
These 6 tips are by no means exhaustive but if you are using some or all of these strategies you are certainly on the right track to support children on their English language journey.

The Literacy Tree™, Literary Leaves™, Spelling Seeds™, Home Learning Branches™ and #TeachThroughaText™ are all Registered Trademarks of The Literacy Tree Ltd.
The Literacy Tree, LF 1.9, The Leather Market, Weston Street, London, SE1 3ER | Company Registered no: 07951913