Archives for primary

5 key things to think about. . .




I will start this first post by explaining how this blog might best be used:

The idea, from my perspective, is to use the blog to regularly share strategies and tips which you should be able to use straight away in the classroom–and I will try and avoid any semantics regarding EAL theories etc.! If you want to ‘talk shop’ then we can do so 1-1, and there will plenty of opportunities to do so during the EAL INSET sessions and courses which are happening throughout the year.

So, first of all, I thought I should outline 5 key things that I would politely urge you to think about seriously, if you haven’t done so already. These 5 things, as a start, should help to better develop the language proficiency of your EAL students. That said, it is important to point out here that the majority of our student body are ELLs (English Language Learners) or ‘EAL’, so the strategies which will be presented in this blog are useful to many students, not just to those on the EAL Register (and not just those who use English as an additional language). . . And let’s remember, too, that EAL is not SEN/LDD–the majority of EAL students are just as able as anyone else, it is just that their English language is not yet ‘up to scratch’ academically. . .

So, here come to the Top 5:

  • Know who your ‘EAL students’ are (e.g. the students who are on the EAL Register–you can find them on Google Docs by clicking here;
  • Arrange for your EAL students to be nearest the front of the class (e.g. nearest to the whiteboard etc. and in a place where you can monitor them easily);
  • Write neatly in blue or black–obviously, there will be times where we need to write in green and red, but bear in mind that green pen on a white board (especially if the pen is old or not working well), for example, can be very hard to read;
  • Expect them to and oblige them to speak up in each class–there are various questioning strategies etc. which can be used in order to elicit information from ‘reluctant speakers’; you probably already know many of them but if you need a hand, just let me, or anyone else on the EAL Team know;
  • Give them lots of positive praise and encouragement! It is tough for them to use academic English all day.


eal pic1

And now for a simple strategy:




Purpose: Vocabulary building/definitions of key terms. By doing this activity, students get to encounter a variety of language structures, key terms and definitions either as a plenary or as a first encounter with the language of the topic/unit of work.


Materials needed: bits of paper and pencils.


Timing: 5-10 minutes.



  1. Each student is given wither a key term or a definition to write down on their piece of paper; alternatively, you can already have these written down on paper and simply hand them to students, face down;
  2. Students crumple the paper into a ‘snowball’;
  3. Students then stand in a circle and have a ‘snowball fight’ where they throw the ‘snowballs’ at their peers;
  4. Students recover their nearest snowball and read to themselves the key term or definition;
  5. Students then need to find their ‘partner’ (e.g. the person who has either the ‘matching’ definition or key term) by walking around the room and asking a peer to read what is on their paper (students might try and simply show each other, which is not the point!)–once they find their partner, they should stand together;
  6. The students, in pairs, read out to the class their key term and definition. It is often a good idea to do this twice as it aids comprehension of the content and of the language used.

Extension:  The students can then return to their places and, individually, write out as many of the key terms and definitions as they remember. They can then share their ideas with a partner, and then, finally, with the rest of their table. Has any table got all the correct definitions?

The teacher then leads the class in consolidating their knowledge (probably by going through all the key terms and definitions which they have encountered by ‘showing and telling’; in other words, it would be good practice at this point to have all the key terms and definitions presented visually to the students either on a worksheet or on screen etc. etc.).


When should I use it?

Anytime! However, due to the fact that it is a kinesthetic activity which boosts energy levels, it might be wise to use this activity directly after lunch or sometime during the final period of the day (the ‘graveyard shift’!).

***This might not be the most environmentally friendly strategy, so I would suggest pieces of scrap paper/or recycling the pieces of paper after use!

Finding an Audience

A really important aspect to developing good writing habits in our students is to give them authentic or authentic-like activities through which to use their language.  A key ingredient to the authenticity of a writing task is to find an audience for the output.












This blog post describes a number of ways that teachers can provide authentic audiences for the students’ work.  Some super ideas for ELLs and L1Es alike.


image by Alan Cleaver 

Year 5 Inter-House Balloon Debate: Call for Contestants

Year 5s!  The annual Year 5 inter-house balloon debate is fast approaching.  This is your time to shine on the podium, show off your skills of speaking, and really show your friends your powers of persuasion, charm and wit.

So, what is a balloon debate?

Imagine the scene: a hot air balloon is floating gently in the tropical air above the Gulf of Thailand.  It is filled with important and famous people from all over the world.  Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a seagull lands on the balloon and, mistaking it for a juicy peach, pecks a hole in the top of it.  The balloon begins to leak air and drop slowly but inevitably towards the sea. The people aboard quickly realise that the only way they will stand any chance saving themselves is to make the balloon light enough so that it can float back to the mainland.  To do this everybody except one person must jump out into the sea, leaving that one person to pilot the balloon back to safety and send out a lifeboat to rescue everyone else.

They decide that the fairest way to decide who gets to stay in the balloon is to have a debate.  Each person will have three minutes to say why they deserve to stay in the balloon.  They will say what they have achieved in their lives and why they are more deserving than the others in the balloon.  In the end the person with the most convincing argument will stay in the balloon and everyone else will have to jump out.

What do you need to do?

We need one person from each house in Year 5 to become a famous person for an hour and argue their case for staying in the balloon.

Watch this video of the winner from the 2011 Balloon Debate for some inspiration.

This is a great example of the type of speech you will need to make.  Mr Chalmers and the winner and runner-up from last year’s competition will help you prepare.

We will hold a vote within houses to choose who will represent King’s, Theresa, Mandela, Williams, Suu Kyi and Schweitzer in this year’s competition.  As well as the respect and adulation of your house, the winner will have their name engraved for posterity on the Balloon Debate prize shield.

So, don’t delay.  If you would like to take part in the Balloon Debate, tell your teacher as soon as possible.

Engaging ELLs in Reading Tasks

Here is a really nice short video highlighting ways to engage ELLs during read-alouds.

How many do you do as a matter of course? Are there any here you’d like to try?

Tell us about your successes in the comments.

Use of Technology for Promoting Speaking and Listening

We have been experimenting with using technology to enhance learning with our students.

Funny Movie Maker is a free app for iOS devices where you can cut out the mouth of a picture and children can record themselves speaking in its place.

This Year 3 group were learning about the features and characteristics of Roman Gods and Goddesses.  They prepared a speech, then used Funny Movie Maker to take on the persona of the God or Goddess who they had researched.

These are the results.

Snowball Fight: vocab strategy

Snowball fight is a great interactive way of introducing new vocabulary, activating prior knowledge, building schema, or checking understanding of concepts.

PDF version here.

Its kinaesthetic nature goes down extremely well with younger children, but I think that older students can enjoy it just as much, given some encourgagement to join in.

You can put anything on the snowballs: pictures to match with words, definitions to match with vocab, pairs of synonyms, pairs of antonyms…the choices are as varied as your imagination.

Key for emerging ELLs is to allow them to decide on and explain their pairings.  As long as they are thinking and justifying, it doesn’t matter if the answer is not ‘right’ at this stage.

Let us know how you get on with this strategy in the comments section.

Tumblebooks: interactive reading

Making reading fun and accessible for ELLs makes for more more reading, more exposure to the langauge, development of prior knowledge, more productive lessons and ultimately a better learning experience for our children.

The TumbleBook library has hundreds of books available to view online with accompanying audio, gentle animations, activities, and teachers’ notes to bring the reading experience alive for young or reluctant readers. 

I could see this being used as a great resource for our younger ELLs.  Teachers could set listening to one of the titles as homework, in advance of using the book in a guided reading session.  Equally, it could be used as a review activity for children to re-read/hear the story after studying it in class.  Or just as a way to promote reading.

TumbleBook library can be acessed here and the username and login can be found on the library page on the school’s intranet.  Teachers, parents and students all have access rights.


Grammar Activities

We often get asked for help with improving grammar and syntax in ELLs.

Of course, refining the precision of language is done through lots of exposure to, and use of, authentic language – not decontextualised grammar drills.  That said, giving your students ‘Bell Work’ (a small task they do as they enter the classroom and settle for the lesson, which needs little or no introduction) that requires them to think about grammar and syntax and discuss with their talk partners about solutions to a grammar-based challenge is no bad thing.


The attached pdf contains a host of daily activities that you can use in your class. Basically, each day the students have to manipulate a sentence in a different way; for example add an adjective, up-level the verb and so on.  The pdf gives you the task for each day and sentences for your students to work with.  There are 30 weeks worth of activities!

I would recommend making this richer for ELLs by asking them to discuss their responses with their talk partners and critically evaluate those responses.  You can very easily adapt it to suit your age phase or subject.

Let us know how you get on in the comments box below.