Archives for secondary

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 

Writing Like a Historian – EAL strategies make it into the mainstream

The guardian has published a short piece about the frustration felt by a Year 9 history teacher when confronted with otherwise academically proficient students’ lack of finesse in their written work:

My year 9 class are typical of many classes I’ve taught over the nine years of my teaching career; enthusiastic, bright, of limitless academic potential. But when it came to marking their written work I would be left tearing my hair out at their inability to express their understanding clearly.

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with the principles of teaching of ELLs (especially colleagues who have done the TESMC or ESLEL courses) that students must be given opportunities to bridge the gap between talk-like language and written-like language on the register continuum.  It is great to see the value of these learning principles being acknowledged for E1L learners too, and reflects the field’s long held and demonstrable* assertion that good EAL teaching raises attainment for all learners.

The author describes the seeming dissonance in teaching English in a History lesson, and counters well:

“Why are we doing English in history, sir?” came the question as I asked my year 9 history class what kind of word disarmament was. Having anticipated this kind of reaction I had an answer prepared: “Do we only use language in English lessons?”

He also remarks on the oft voiced concern that teaching language comes at the cost of curriculum content.  One might argue that without the  language skills to effectively communicate content knowledge, then the possession of that knowledge is of questionable value.  But the author goes further and demonstrates that in fact the language is used in the service of learning the curriculum content, and as such each is strengthened by the other.

Read the full article on the Guardian website here.

* see for example Eschevaria, J 2012

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.

Self Assessment of Discursive Writing

Student self assessment using rubrics and checklists is a powerful tool for all students.  It is especially helpful to English Language Learners (ELLs).

ELLs do not necessarily come to the classroom with the same knowledge of texts types that their English proficient peers do.   English proficient students are more likely to understand through experience that certain registers, vocabulary and styles are used in different genres.  Put (over)simply, they know that a story begins with “Once upon a time…’, that a letter to the local council is not signed off ‘Love from…’  and that a recipe needs imperative verbs.  ELLs need to be specifically taught these ‘rules’ for a particular genre or type of writing in order to succeed in re-creating and innovating on them.*

Using student checklists and rubrics is a great way of explicitly showing ELLs what is needed in order to succeed at the task, and to guide their process of proof reading and editing.

One of our EAL Specialists, Naen, put together the rubric below to help the Year 7 classes who have been studying discursive writing this term.  It has helped to make all the students aware of where they are succeeding and how they can improve their work.  The ELLs have found it particulary helpful.

Click for PDF version

Have a look and let us know in the comments section how it went down with your class.

*You can read more about the challenges and solutions to writing across the curriculum in Scaffolding Language; Scaffolding Learning by Pauline Gibbons.  We have a copy on order for the EAL library at Shrewsbury International School, which teachers here are welcome to borrow once it has arrived.

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.

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.