Four ways to make lessons better for EAL learners

Students who have English as an additional language can benefit enormously from some simple changes, says Emily Maybanks

Emily Maybanks

International schools: One Reception teacher explains how her school balances pupils' EAL needs with the curriculum and first-language development

Students who have English as an additional language (EAL) are a hugely varied group. Some will have an excellent grasp of the language already, especially if they have grown up in a bilingual household or have been educated in English in another country. 

But for those students who do require more support, what makes for an effective lesson?  

Know your students

This is true of any class, of course, but it’s especially key with EAL learners to know where they are at with the language, what they need to do to progress and how you can support that. You’ll need to get to know your students as individuals, too: their hobbies, their background, their culture and their first language.  

Tasks for these young people should be a careful balance between playing to students’ individual strengths but also challenging their areas for improvement, so they can make progress in a way that is comfortable for them (this is especially important for new to English and early acquisition learners). If they are pushed too far out of their comfort zones too soon, they are more likely to become anxious. 

Have the right materials 

Make sure you have a variety of resources and materials that are rich in language, vocabulary and grammar. There is no limit on authentic materials and resources that can be used: newspaper and magazine articles, books (fiction and non-fiction), poetry, podcasts, videos, film clips, interviews. Anything to get students engaging with the language. 

An effective lesson for EAL students will also have a good balance of receptive skills (reading and listening) and productive skills (speaking and writing).  

Create a welcoming environment

The atmosphere and environment that students learn in is of the utmost importance. Let them know that this is a classroom (and a school) that is inclusive and welcoming of different cultures and languages, and where all staff know how to support students who use English as a second or additional language. 

Classroom displays can really help here. Have words and phrases in home languages or a “Welcome” sign translated into all the languages spoken or used in the school community. An atmosphere in which EAL learners feel welcomed, valued and safe will help them learn. 

Work on emotional awareness

The final, most paramount things that make for effective EAL teaching are trust and empathy. If students know they have an empathic, patient teacher who understands their needs and barriers to learning, and how to overcome them, it can make a huge difference. Be kind and attentive. 

Teachers often don’t receive much training in supporting EAL learners, but being willing to explore and learn for yourself can yield incredible results. And if your students know that you care and want to see them progress, they will work hard and put their trust in you. Finally, make sure there is enjoyment and laughter – let learning and developing their English be a fun and relaxing process for them.  

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Emily Maybanks

Emily Maybanks is an EAL teacher and learning support assistant at Highdown School and Sixth Form Centre

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