3 ways to get EAL students speaking the language

If teachers want to encourage EAL students to practise speaking English, they can try enlisting the help of family

Gregory Adam

How to get EAL students to practise speaking English

Getting students to practise speaking can be challenging, both in and out of the classroom. This is one of the fundamental problems that teachers working with English as an additional language (EAL) students face. 

That being said, there are ways to help your students boost their language output in both of these contexts.

Encouraging EAL students to practise speaking English

Also, increasing the output a little bit will have a cumulative impact over time so that even a small effort up front is really worth the time. 

1. Use family members 

If the student has a relative in their family who speaks English at least fairly well, this should be utilised if possible.

How do you find out if they have such a family member? Ask. Speak to the parents, if one of them is reasonably proficient in English, or ask the student if they have a brother, sister or cousin who could speak to them in English.

You then need to explain to them that this is a beneficial way for the student to progress. This is because it gives the student more purpose for the language and maximises their practise time. More specifically, I recommend that you ask them to do one of two things:

  • Ask the family member to set aside 20 to 30 minutes per day just to ask the student questions in English.

This is not a very challenging request for parents who speak English, too. It also gives the student a sense that English is required beyond the confines of their classroom.

  • Ask the family member to practise a few key words per week with the student. This can be done a week ahead of the language being used in class (pre-exposure), whilst the language will be used in class for extra solidification.

This is working particularly well for me with one child in my current class. Although his parents are not able to speak English, his older brother is very good at it.

I spoke to his father and his brother about how he could help by ensuring that he understood his homework tasks, and they also have a daily conversation about school to boost everyday language learning.

This student, who originally struggled to complete homework, is now submitting it in full and is speaking more confidently in class. 

2. Morning talk time

Starting the day as you mean to go on, give the students a short 10-minute period where they can ask each other a series of questions. These can be simple, for example: “What did you do last night?”, “What did you have for breakfast?” and “What lessons do you have today?”

The purpose of this is simple; it wakes up the English language schemas. This is like warming up your muscles before starting exercise. 

This has worked particularly well for me as I am a homeroom teacher – although I see no reason why it would not be effective as a whole-school or whole-grade policy.

I simply set out some questions on the board and students need to ask them to their friends.

Sometimes, I have just one sentence and they have to ask it to many friends. This is something I do if the students demonstrate a need for more practice of a particular structure. 

3. Gamification

There are a few good games you can use to boost language output, but my personal favourite is board games.

One simple way to use these would be from a template like the image below. The students can work in pairs to first write the key words in each of the boxes (or draw a simple representation).

Then, they can play rock, paper, scissors or roll a dice to move around the board. Whatever box they land on, they create a sentence based on the image or word in said box. When they finish two or three games, the pairs can mix up and they can play other students.

This gets the students to practise their language while having fun and being self-motivated. The main reason these are effective is that they are student-led – I actually got my first “outstanding” observation in a lesson where the students spent over half the time playing a board game, with me just monitoring – so it clearly has merit!

Why it all helps

The time and effort you put into making these changes are truly beneficial.

I have worked with many students who were simply not able to access the curriculum and I have seen them make monumental improvements over the year.

I ran an intervention at the last school I worked at. It was for students who fell short of the English skills required to join the primary stage.

We worked through an eight-week curriculum that was largely based on communicative skills, although there was some reading, writing and listening integrated. All of the students passed and moved into the primary stage comfortably.

Making the most of all the avenues I had available to me made this a possible feat.

Gregory Adam is a primary teacher at Nord Anglia Chinese International School in Shanghai. He released his first book last year: Teaching EFL, ESL and EAL. A practitioner’s guide

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