Key teaching strategies

The National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC) have identified five principles of good practice in EAL teaching and learning (NALDIC 1999). These were also endorsed by Ofsted (2004) PDF. They are:

  • activating prior knowledge in the learner
  • providing a rich context
  • encouraging learners to communicate in speech and writing
  • pointing out key features of English explicitly
  • developing learners’ independence.

Based on these principles, a number of key teaching strategies can be seen to be particularly helpful for EAL learners. Many, if not all, of these strategies are also useful for other groups of learners, e.g. learners with a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, or for all learners.

Activating prior knowledge in the learner

If learning that is taking place in the classroom is related to the learners’ prior knowledge (of content or language) they will understand it better. Strategies that activate learners’ prior knowledge include:

  • finding out what learners know about a topic through questioning
  • mind-mapping in pairs or small groups
  • use of first language
  • relevant curriculum taking account of learners’ cultural background
  • discovery tasks
  • KWL charts (what we Know, what we Want to know, what we have Learned).

Providing a rich context

EAL learners need additional contextual support, such as visual support, to make sense of new language and information, and to make links with their existing knowledge. This means making the verbal more visual, using key visuals or graphic organisers such as:

  • maps
  • diagrams
  • tables and grids
  • graphs, charts and pictograms
  • timelines
  • flow charts
  • videos
  • computer graphics.

Additional contextual support can be provided by translating key words and encouraging learners to make links between their first language and English.

Encouraging learners to communicate in speech and writing

The active use of language helps learners to process that language at a deeper level. It also provides assessment opportunities so the teacher can see what aspects of language to target next. EAL learners need lots of opportunities for speaking and listening, and to be encouraged to use their first language. Key strategies include:

  • peer tutoring and coaching
  • collaborative learning activities
  • drama and role-play
  • questioning strategies (asking questions where detailed response is required, allowing sufficient waiting time before expecting an answer)
  • scaffolded writing activities (using writing frames, modelling, using notes, tables or planning boxes)
  • opportunities to rehearse language orally before writing.

Pointing out key features of English explicitly

EAL learners need to notice the language that is being used as well as understand the content. This may mean pointing out key forms and structures. In order to do this the teacher will need to analyse the language demands of the task and think about ways of supporting EAL learners in carrying it out. Strategies include:

  • drawing attention to specific grammatical forms used in texts or in speech
  • providing oral and written models
  • modelling and extending their use, providing opportunities to practise them
  • scaffolding speaking and writing through the use of speaking and writing frames
  • making links between specific features of English and the learners’ first language, or encouraging learners to do this.

Developing learners’ independence

Learners need to become increasingly independent by developing skills of organisation and planning, thinking skills and social skills such as working co-operatively. It is important that this development is planned into lesson content and support is gradually lessened. Strategies include:

  • providing opportunities to model and extend what has been taught
  • scanning texts to look at subheadings and diagrams prior to reading
  • note taking and note making.

NALDIC’s five principles do not specifically include anything about the need to support EAL learners in extending their vocabulary and developing their facility to use academic language, although this is clearly an integral part of encouraging communication in speech and writing, pointing out key features of English explicitly and developing learners’ independence. This aspect of language acquisition is important at all levels, but perhaps particularly for advanced EAL learners. Strategies include:

  • focusing on key phrases rather than key words
  • encouraging learners to develop strategies to decode unfamiliar words, including using dictionaries (English and bilingual) and thesauri, asking a teacher, etc.
  • encouraging learners to make adventurous vocabulary choices in speech and writing.