With over one million pupils in UK schools speaking English as an additional language, it’s extremely likely that you’ll welcome an EAL child into your class at some point – assuming you haven’t taught several already.
Whether this is a relatively new experience for your school, or indeed the school is already made up of a large portion of EAL pupils, you don’t tend to learn a great deal about this aspect of teaching from your PGCE or QTS studies. The most likely scenario is that you will need to learn on the job – but don’t panic.
You’re already used to helping a diverse mix of pupils to develop, and assisting EAL children is really just another variable to your existing skill set. Trust in what you know about classroom dynamics and the rest should fall into place.
To help you on your way, here’s our six top tips for integrating a new EAL child into your classroom – and ensuring the transition goes smoothly.
1. Equip yourself with visual resources.
A native child that is new to a school can easily be overwhelmed by all the new faces, logistics and rules; throw in an unfamiliar culture and language, and the situation can become very confusing indeed.
By using graphics to illustrate key elements of the classroom, you’ll take much of the guesswork away. Where new vocabulary is introduced, a corresponding image will give essential context; so, you may need to get creative with your worksheets and classroom signage.
2. Enlist a buddy system.
Is your classroom already populated by EAL pupils? If so, you may find that a child who is already settled can assist your new starter by translating the necessary tasks.
However, you should approach this method with caution; the pair may decide to simply converse in their first language, which won’t help them to develop their English skills, or integrate with the rest of the class.
To avoid this, try using a group of three; two who share a native language, and a third who is an English speaker. With a bit of luck, the integration will be more balanced.
If your classroom isn’t quite diverse enough to facilitate this, don’t despair. An English-speaking buddy who can simply ensure that the new pupil is engaged and happy will be very useful indeed.
3. Put a spotlight on your EAL learner’s culture.
Learning about a new pupil’s country and culture will raise their status in the classroom, as well as giving them some extra confidence, with a chance to discuss a topic which they are truly knowledgeable about.
If their family can contribute to some displays or discussions, all the better!
4. Activities should be short and punchy.
Lessons in an unfamiliar language aren’t just a mental challenge – they’re physically tiring, too.
For this reason, you should offer short, regular breaks to ensure that your EAL pupils aren’t burning out.
Similarly, try to allow for extra thinking time, so that the children can process what they are being told; although it’s tempting to provide a continuous crutch, don’t jump in too early. Quiet consideration is an important part of developing their understanding.
5. Follow up written tasks with meaningful discussion.
Over time, your EAL pupil is likely to make good progress with literacy activities – but there’s a difference between writing and comprehension, of course. Some children manage to keep up with writing tasks, while simultaneously understanding very little of what they’re writing about.
Discussing a task after completion will help to ensure that its context is fully absorbed. Similarly, don’t be alarmed if EAL pupils digest writing tasks differently to the rest of the class – some cultures teach writing as a mostly oral activity, while reading aloud is core to memorising information.
Over time, the pupil will soon pick up your classroom practices, however much they differ.
6. Trust what you know!
Your time-honoured teaching practice applies just as much as ever; helping all children to feel safe and comfortable in your classroom is paramount and will support every child to learn. So, don’t panic over adjusting your entire teaching strategy – teaching EAL pupils should simply be an additional string to your bow, not a new instrument entirely.
It’s not uncommon for an EAL child to experience a ‘silent period’ – and for this to last several months. So, don’t be alarmed or worry that you haven’t helped them enough to settle; this is all part of the process.
As long as you provide a truly welcoming environment, with plenty of access to support, the child will reach their true potential.
If you’re looking for a classroom resource to develop the literacy skills of Primary children, Mighty Writer can help. Suitable for a diverse range of ability levels, including EAL pupils, this highly visual and tactile tool is guaranteed to get results – almost overnight. Why not arrange a free trial today?
About the author
Emma Ralph was an Assistant Head Teacher at Hillbourne Primary School in Poole, where she helped to improve the school’s literacy standards. Spotting a gap in the market for a literacy resource which taught children the fundamentals of punctuation, vocabulary and sentence structure in a visual, fun and engaging way, Emma developed her own product: Mighty Writer. It is now transforming the literacy of tens of thousands of children in over 550 schools around the world.