EAL teaching: strategies to help your pupils succeed

Use these teaching ideas and resources to support your English as an additional language (EAL) pupils

As teachers, we want to do the best for every pupil in our class.

Just like other pupils, children with English as an additional language (EAL) have a range of different needs and barriers to learning. EAL learners are not a homogenous group.

But the lack of understanding of good EAL teaching means that many schools don't have the knowledge or confidence to support individual EAL learners.

A good EAL strategy puts language in context and taps into pupils’ prior knowledge.

Get your EAL policy right

A whole-school approach to EAL teaching is valuable for ensuring consistency across classrooms, maintenance of first language and an inclusive environment that brings the best out of your pupils.

Watch our webinar on creating and implementing an effective EAL policy. Find out about:

  • a whole-school approach to EAL policy, with examples of what it should contain
  • making EAL-aware pedagogy a part of every classroom
  • common misconceptions about EAL teaching that you can address.

Download the EAL model policy for a template to clarify your values, visions and expectations for teaching in your school.

Think about transition

The transition process is particularly complicated for EAL. As a teacher you should get detailed information about pupils’ linguistic history, their cultural background and socio-economic status from their primary school – knowing your class is even more essential for EAL pupils, who can have such a wide range of experiences.

For practical ideas to support new arrivals at your school (or even to the country), see this case study of a school where more than 90% of the children are learning English as a second language.

A key consideration is to make children and their families feel welcome and integrated from the start, through translating communications, encouraging participation in activities and recruiting staff from a variety of communities.

Using English proficiency codes

Diane Leedham's article about using English proficiency codes explains how they can also be useful for developing a deeper understanding of EAL learners and their varied needs.

The article also includes some useful resources, including an EAL assessment framework.

EAL learning alongside content learning

Back in the classroom, consider ways that pupils can learn English while learning through English.

EAL pupils benefit from being given language objectives which sit alongside content objectives.

In his webinar explaining good EAL practice, Hamish Chalmers explains that language objectives should be:

  • subject specific, using the vocabulary of the lesson
  • differentiated, matching your pupils’ language proficiency
  • explicit: this is what will be covered and learned.

It's also important to bear in mind that some pupils will be both EAL and SEND. A language barrier could make it difficult to identify where additional support is needed. 

Perfect your vocabulary teaching

There are three tiers of vocabulary that your pupils will learn as they acquire the English language.

  1. Tier one is basic vocabulary: simple words like ‘sad’ that shouldn’t require teaching if you’re in a language-rich environment.
  2. Tier two is multiple domain vocabulary: words like ‘repel’ or ‘argue’ which appear frequently in different contexts.
  3. Tier three is context specific, low frequency words like ‘rhombus’.

As an EAL teacher your biggest gains are likely to come from focusing on tier two words to improve your pupils’ fluency in a whole range of contexts.

Watch the presentation on vocabulary teaching for classroom ideas on bringing vocabulary to life.

Don't neglect first language

Too often teachers view EAL pupils' first language as an obstacle, not an opportunity.

In fact fluency in first language can support fluency in a second. You should look to:

  • build English fluency from a first language base, through support pre- and post-lesson
  • encourage explicit conversations about language use in the classroom
  • promote multilingualism throughout the school.

Read more ideas about effective use of first language and find out more about supporting EAL learners in the early years – the fastest growing group of EAL learners. 

Last Updated: 
16 Feb 2022