Archives for strategies

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

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.

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.

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.

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

English Language Learning and Music

Over the break I came across an interesting blog from bi-lingual booksellers Language Lizard. It’s worth exploring for ideas of how to support bilingual children in the classroom.

One article that particularly caught my eye was on using music, and particularly singing, to support langauge development.

Primary school teachers know how much children love a good sing-a-long and have used nursery rhymes and childrens songs to help teach all sorts of things from phoncs to maths to science and back again.  Unsurprisingly they work just as well for ELLs as for first langauge speakers of English.

The article describes six tips for using music in the classroom.  Have a look here and see if you could apply any of them in your classroom.

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