Archives for professional development

Dr. Pauline Gibbons visit

Next week, we have the pleasure of inviting back to the school Dr. Pauline Gibbons, a leading expert in EAL. This year, she will be working exclusively with the Senior School.

A brief biography can be found below:

Pauline Gibbons

Dr Pauline Gibbons 

Biographical Statement

Professor Pauline Gibbons began her career in the UK, but has lived in Australia for almost thirty years.  She has taught postgraduate and undergraduate TESOL courses at the University of Technology Sydney for the past twenty years, prior to which she worked as an advisor in the school sectors, working with school staffs to improve outcomes for English language learners. Before moving to Australia she spent nine years in Hong Kong, working at the Polytechnic University, and later returned as a visiting professor to the City University Kowloon. Her work with teachers has also taken her to Sweden, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia, China, South Africa, Marshall Islands, Iran, Germany, UK, and USA, among other locations. Since her ‘retirement’ from university life she has been working with teachers in remote indigenous communities in Australia, with teachers across Australia, and in international schools.

Her research in recent years has focused on the ways that teachers can provide an intellectually challenging curriculum for their English language learners, while at the same time providing them with the linguistic scaffolding essential to the development of academic language and literacy across the curriculum. This focus on a ‘high challenge, high support’ learning environment is the context for much of her current work with teachers.

She has published extensively in the area of ESL education, including Bridging Discourses in the ESL Classroom: students, teachers and researchers (Continuum, 2006), and three books published by Heinemann for teachers: Learning to Learn in a Second Language (1993); Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: teaching ESL students in the mainstream classroom (2002); and English Learners, Academic Literacy and Thinking: Learning in the Challenge Zone (2009).

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!

Comprehensible Input – Krashen makes the case

In this three minute clip, Stephen Krashen, celebrated scholar of linguistics, language acquisition and teaching, makes the case very clearly for comprehensible input.

The lesson still stands thirty years or so after this speech was made.  Your students will stand a far better chance of acquiring English if you make the content of your lessons comprehensible.

The SIOP books in our professional library and resources online are the perfect starting point to understand how you do this.  Drop by the EAL office if you want to explore some ideas.

Why we need to teach academic vocab

The two videos below make an excellent case for why we need to teach academic vocabulary explicitly.

Firstly, John Cleese gives us a tour of the inner workings of the human brain…

… then we are treated to a game of cricket through the eyes and ears of our American cousins.

While these two clips do a great job of satirising two situations where the language can sound utterly incomprehensible to even the most proficient user of English, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that many ELLs risk finding ‘normal’ mainstream lessons just as baffling as what you have just watched.

There is a good summary of why and how we should teach academic vocabulary here.

An invaluable resource for delving deeper is Pauline Gibbons’ book ‘English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking‘. We have a copy in the EAL office, which colleagues are welcome to consult.

Helping ELLs become more effective readers

Recently we delivered an inset session to colleagues in the senior school on some of the issues surrounding ELLs and reading, and suggested some ways of thinking and strategies to help ELLs become more effective readers.

Click here to download a PDF of the presentation we used.

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.


This year we hosted the FOBISSEA EAL job-a-like workshop and conference.


We were joined by delegates from all over the region; from Kathmandu in the west to Ho Chi Minh City in the east, from Beijing in the north and Jakarta in the south and many many, many places in between, for two days of sharing good practice, establishing networks, and discussing developments in the field of English language learning.

The workshops were led by peers and included ones on key assessments, co-teaching and co-planning, teaching academic language, and approaches to outreach within and beyond school to promote English language learning in a wider context. The quality of the presentations and discussions was excellent and served as a reminder of how collaboration across the Federation, among staff with similar responsibilities, is critical to driving practice forward and helping to ensure that it is informed by the best principles and the strongest evidence.

We were really proud of how the conference was received and want to share the comments of some of the delegates who made it the success it was.  We are really looking forward to next year’s event.


Many thanks to you for organizing such a rewarding JAWS. It has definitely surpassed my expectations and the discussions have triggered a lot of food for thought and I will be sharing them with my EAL Faculty members very soon. Hopefully with all the ideas and strategies, we will be able raise the awareness of how significant the EAL Unit is in ensuring the success of our Second Language Learners. Thank you again for your hospitality and for organizing such a successful JAWS. – Garden International School, Kuala Lumpur

Thanks to you for extending your invitation to me as I, too, not only had the opportunity to present my work but I also walked away with a lot to think about as I move forward in my role here. Thanks once again for your flawless organisation and hospitality. NIST has a long way to go to even begin to rival what you put together for us this past weekend. – NIST International School, Bangkok

A big thank you to you for hosting/organising such a great event! I got so much out of it – so many great ideas and tips to feed back – so much inspiration to make EAL more effective. And I’m sure I’m not alone! Keep up the good work. – The British School, Kathmandu

Thank you formally for hosting the event and making it such a successful learning experience for everyone. It was clearly well organised and seemed to go seamlessly. Thanks also to your team who worked tirelessly to make us all comfortable with our surroundings and they were all so helpful and patient with any issues I had like ‘How do I get to Tescos?’ – British International School, Beijing

Looking around the room I think everyone was engaged. The immediate feedback we received was positive. I enjoyed my first JAWS experience and have taken away a lot of ideas. Thank you to you and your team for all the organisation that went in to it. Please pass that on to the others. – Bangkok Patana School, Bangkok

Many thanks for everything this weekend. Not being an EAL specialist I thoroughly enjoyed the course and certainly learnt a great deal so thanks to you and your team for their support throughout the whole event. – St. Christopher’s International School, Penang

I was going to write and say how much I enjoyed coming over to Shrewsbury and meeting all the other teachers. It was great! It has certainly given us food for thought. Thank you for all the great organisation. You made us all feel very much at home. – St. Andrews, Bangkok

Thank you.  Everyone was talking about how useful, motivating and professional the conference was. Hopefully the next one will be equally as good – but they have some big shoes to fill now! – Alice Smith School, Kuala Lumpur

A big thank you to you too for a very constructive two days. As you know I was one of the doubters for putting Primary and Secondary teachers together but I found we did complement each other nicely and it was good to have a better understanding of where the students are coming from lower down the school. – Garden School, Kuala Lumpur

I’ve just got back to Beijing and wanted to thank you very much for a fantastic 2 days.  Met so many great people and am now armed with many more fab ideas to use in the classroom.  Thanks again and hopefully we can catch up next year. – Harrow International School, Beijing

Google Docs for Joint Construction

This week we have been experimenting with joint construction of texts using Google Drive.

photo 2

The idea here is to allow students to share their ideas on-line then each take a specific role in using those ideas to create a text after a particular genre.

In the Year 7 class pictured, students were first asked to brainstorm ideas using a virtual bulletin board at www.padlet.com for a balanced argument for eat or banning shark fin soup.  They then deconstructed a model discursive text that had been shared with them on Google Drive.  The students were then given specific roles to use the brain-stormed ideas to write either the introductory paragraph, the ‘arguments for’ paragraph, the ‘arguments against’ paragraph, or the conclusion.  Each student could see the work of their peers being created as they worked on their own.  They were able to mold their contribution to the evolving document and could share ideas using the chat feature of the software.

Once they had finished their first draft they shared the document with other groups in the class for proofing and editing.

It’s fairly early days for us with this approach, but we are finding it a very interesting way to get all students working together and sharing ideas and expertise in the pursuit of a common goal.

We’ll post some of the resulting work in due course.

Digital Literacy and Staying on top of Professional Development

Last time you updated iTunes or downloaded the latest iOS to your phone you may have noticed an app or feature called iTunes U.  This is essentially a section of the Apple ecosystem dedicated to podcasts, vodcasts and other resources for an Open University-type approach to learning.  You don’t have to be an attendee of any of the institutes running the courses to take advantage of the media they publish.

I  was having a browse when I came across a course of lectures from Columbia University on TESOL and Applied Linguistics.  One of the lectures was by Dr. Patsy Lightbown entitled ‘Easy as Pie? The Myth of Child Second Language Learning’.

I highly recommend watching the lecture and reading the accompanying paper which is available on-line as a downloadable PDF here.

There is a lot in her talk which is very relevant to our situation here and some interesting food for thought.

To find the lecture on iTunes, go to the iTunes store and search for TESOL in iTunes U or just click this link.

Dictogloss – Shrewsbury Staff Inset

This term the EAL Department delivered an Inset session to colleagues in the Senior School to help ELLs with their writing.

Over the course of our work this year a number of concerns have been voiced by mainstream colleagues about writing proficiency.  We looked at the four chief concerns and decided on a strategy that would help to address them.

These were the concerns:

•Students find it difficult to write in the correct register
•Students have problems with their tenses
•My curriculum is overloaded with content and therefore I do not have time to teach language
•I don’t know enough about grammar to teach it to my students
It seemed to us that a dictogloss would be a perfect solution to these concerns.
You can read more about how to do a dictogloss at an earlier post on this blog.  In this session we wanted to reiterate some of the advantages of using the tool.
A dictogloss uses a real life example of the kinds of text our mainstream colleagues are wanting their pupils to recreate in their own work.  As such this helps to deal with three of the four key concerns straight away:
  • In using the dictogloss you give the student direct experience and practice of the genre which interests you, addressing the register concern.
  • Because you are using text drawn from your subject you can double up langauge learning with curricilum learning, killing two birds with one well aimed stone.


  • A specialist teacher will know the genre inside out, and therefore the grammar asociated with it.  There is no need to know the meta langauge or ESL jargon in order to point out where something sounds right and where it sounds wrong – addressing the ‘I’m not a langauge specialist’ concern.

In order to help address the issue of tense we suggested that they add one extra reading to the dictogloss where they ask the students to note down only the verbs that they can hear.  Having listened for, then noted the tense form, they stand a better chance of precision in their use of tense in their own work.

The presentation is on the school intranet here*. 

*only available onsite

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