“Throw them in the deep end and help them swim”  Maggie Webster

This section will focus on learners who speak English as an Additional Language, known as ‘EAL learners’. This is a significant area to focus on within inclusion because statistics show that in recent years there has been a steady rise in numbers of UK primary pupils whose first language is other than English, from 276,200 in 1997 to 612,160 in 2013. That is a rise from 7.8% of the whole primary population to 18.1%, demonstrating that the numbers have more than doubled in a 15-year period (see graph below).

Percentage of school learners that are EAL

What exactly constitutes an ‘EAL’ learner is not always clear. Advice given in government documents, on websites for education, etc. tend to focus mainly on new arrivals. These are indeed EAL learners, but the term encompasses a wide range of backgrounds and language abilities.

Since development ranges over a time span of around two years to communicate well in English and seven years to become fully fluent, particularly in academic English (Cummins 1991, 1992 in Strand & Demie 2007, p. 276), there may be EAL pupils in a class that are:

  • ‘new to English’
  • ‘becoming familiar with English’
  • ‘becoming confident as a user of English’ but may still have difficulties with high demands of language, or
  • ‘fully fluent in English’, i.e. bilingual (Strand & Demie 2007, p. 279).

Aside from these lingual differences, they might also come from a range of backgrounds (different countries, cultures, etc.) and will have come to this country for different reasons. These might include being (Conteh 2012, p.12-13):

  • newly arrived in England
  • second or third generation members of settled immigrants
  • asylum seekers or refugees
  • children of parents who are in England for a period of time for work or study.

As a result of this wide range of factors, teachers of EAL learners must apply inclusion strategies based on individual circumstances. For this the teacher will need to get to know the pupil as much and as quickly as possible to be able to respond effectively to their needs.

Welcoming and integrating new arrivals


The first step in the inclusion of EAL learners is to make effective provision from the moment they arrive at the school. There are a number of things to consider, which are all explained and detailed with example methods through a number of resources, from official government guidelines (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/177036/Aiming_High.pdf) to Teacher’s TV to informal websites (referenced throughout this page). Key provisions to make are:

  • ways to welcome them effectively
  • assessment of their level of English and academic abilities
  • support for their various needs
  • integration into the classroom
  • links with parents or carers and the wider community

The following document (http://www.nrdc.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_4429.pdf) includes ways that schools might welcome and support EAL learners upon their arrival, through 10 case studies of EAL provision in primary and secondary schools. They were not all “outstanding” schools, and some were not considered to necessarily be exemplary in their inclusion of ‘EAL’ learners, but they do provide insight into effective provision:

  • induction packs for new arrivals (e.g. schools 1 & 3) with pre-prepared materials, including curriculum material, in various languages that are common in the school (e.g. in Turkish, Bengali, Somali – school 1). This type of support needs to be temporary, however, so integration into the classroom isn’t delayed for too long.
  • “buddy” systems. Pairing new arrivals with a ‘buddy’ who, if possible, shares the same language as them. Their ‘buddy’ may help them to familiarise themselves with the school building, school routines, people in the school, and also support them in making new friends (Conteh 2012, p. 65).

The following two-part documentary “EAL -Lost in Translation” follows the arrival of two pupils from the Philippines. One of the girls goes into the reception class. The other should be in Year 6 but due to their SATS tests she is placed in the Year 5 class to begin with, transitioning into the Year 6 class later in the year.
There are a range of things that can be learnt from this case study:

  • Focusing on settling them in on a social level to begin with is an effective mode of integration, including them in class routines and giving them roles in the classroom.
  • EAL pupils might have difficulties with methods of teaching in the UK compared to their home country, particularly with interactive learning which might be restricted by the language barrier. So this is a reason why their progress might be hindered.
  • The pupil’s age and their educational experience can play a factor in their ability to integrate quickly. It should be noted, however, that these EAL pupils were not completely new to English because they had learnt some before they came to England, so they were able to cope with at least the basics.
  • Teachers might have difficulties in assessment of ability due to not knowing whether the pupils did not understand the lesson, lacked the language to communicate or were just shy. This is why it can become more complicated once the EAL learner is in the classroom. There has been a tendency for EAL learners to be placed in low ability groups either because the teacher does not know their level or because they think the child may benefit from the extra support given in lower ability groups (Conteh, 2012, p.65). The problem with this is that the child’s issue is not their cognitive ability but the language barrier that prevents it being recognised or being given the necessary teaching to develop it. Conteh (2012, p. 65) suggests that new arrivals should be placed in middle-ability groups so that they have opportunities to develop whilst classroom and academic language is being “modelled” for them, and the teacher can then monitor their progression from there.

Including EAL Pupils in the Classroom

Although welcoming and integrating new arrivals, and providing extra support for EAL pupils are important factors in the inclusion of EAL pupils, the most effective is long-term, daily support in the classroom and within the school as a whole. Making EAL pupils a part of the school and class community, so they are respected and included is of the utmost importance. This might include:

  • use of the child’s language alongside English on class labels, posters and displays (Glazzard 2011, p.75).
  • greetings at register time in the child’s language (2011, p.75)
  • a celebration of the child’s country or culture so that other pupils in the class gain an understanding and respect for the child’s background, in turn making the child feel valued as a member of the class.
  • Learning some of their language as part of a “Language of the Month” programme (http://www.newburypark.redbridge.sch.uk/langofmonth/activitiesbooklet.pdf). This might give them the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and knowledge and for the other pupils in the class to learn about other languages too.
  • Building an appreciation of language amongst all pupils by exploring words in English that stem from other languages. Examples of such words by language can be found at http://www.krysstal.com/borrow.html and for details on word origins see http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=k

.Working with your buddy - dual language display spanish-english words how do you feel today dual language

An article in The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2011/nov/07/eal-students-classroom-teaching-resources) provides some examples of providing for the EAL learner in the classroom while at the same time not taking any time or attention away from other pupils in the class (an important thing to remember when implementing inclusion strategies). These examples include:

  • discrete ways of using the smartboard or other forms of ICT to provide visual clues next to vocabulary, to help EAL learners make connections.
  • visuals with the use of pictures, object and puppets (Glazzard 2011, p.75) to embed the context, especially when telling stories.
  • the use of symbols for different aspects or stages of the lesson which, if used regularly, will help children to gain independence in the classroom.
  • the teacher’s use of verbal and body language being carefully considered to convey meaning in the clearest way possible. This may involve planning beforehand, but it is a way that the teacher can communicate in a way that will reach all pupils.
  • a classroom that is “a language-rich environment” (Conteh 2012, p. 71), with lots of opportunities to see and hear words, to play with them and to use them, which will benefit all pupils in the class as well as EAL pupils that are developing their English.

What all these things allow is the possibility for EAL learners to be included in the mainstream classroom and in whole-class activities, but with provisions made that allow them to have some clarity about what is happening and what they are learning, despite the language barrier. It should be noted also that advice consistent throughout all the literature on teaching EAL learners is that they should be encouraged to use their first language, when appropriate. By using their first language alongside English, they can continue to develop both languages and, perhaps more importantly in the classroom, they can focus on development of their academic and thinking skills, rather than being restricted by their English ability. If there is more than one speaker of the same language in the class is may be beneficial to let them discuss their ideas together.

Teachers will need to plan very carefully for EAL learners, ensuring they provide the necessary language needed for the pupil to access the curriculum content (Conteh 2012, p. 54) and simplify the learning objectives to make them more accessible. Simply putting them into a group of pupils and hoping they can do the activity would not suffice. They will need scaffolding, just like any other pupil, but perhaps of a different sort, i.e. the language. Where academic vocabulary is different from everyday use, this should be emphasised. For example, in maths, the words ‘table’, ‘power’, and ‘mean’. This will also include language structures for talking “academically” within the curriculum area (2012, p. 55), e.g. language for working scientifically. Finding out what pupils already know will be beneficial in being able to provide adequately for the pupil, since they will become frustrated if they already know the content but cannot demonstrate this due to the language barrier (2012, p. 54).

The following document was given to me by an EAL teacher. It provides a list of suggested classroom approaches for EAL learners within listening, speaking, reading and writing activities. These ideas will be useful for teachers to adapt their activities or worksheets to include EAL learners and give them more and varied opportunities to achieve learning objectives:

suggested classroom approaches to EAL

In terms of the curriculum as a whole, the potential experience and perspectives that EAL pupils may be able to share should not be underestimated and rather celebrated. The history of maths from such a wide range of cultures around the world, for example, is worth sharing. Also, take for example this example of multiplication in maths by a child in Japan. If you had a Japanese pupil in your class who could work out a sum in this way let them share it with the class to show what they can do and to build awareness of how the same things are done in different ways by different cultures around the world.
Japanese Maths

Extra Support for EAL Pupils 

Other ways to provide support for EAL Pupils might include:

  • Bilingual teaching assistants
  • Pre-teaching vocabulary and content before it is taught in the main classroom. With time limitations and the amount of pupils to be catered for, this may be unrealistic for some schools, but effective where possible.
  • Dual-language texts, which provide opportunities for EAL pupils to develop their first language and English together, or to allow them to understand and enjoy a story whilst also seeing it translated into the language they are learning. A good website for reading dual language books online, for potential use at home, is http://en.childrenslibrary.org/. According to Glazzard (2011, p.75), when reading or writing the use of both languages should be encouraged so that they can switch to the other when having difficulties. This is important for maintaining the pupil’s confidence in their ability to communicate or work academically as opposed to their being slowed down by their knowledge of the language itself.
    bookstartduallanguage child reading a dual language book
  • Use of ICT, particularly in terms of their English Language Learning. Crick Software (http://www.cricksoft.com/uk/products/tools/clicker/home/language.aspx) is a useful website for teachers to create support resources for their pupils or for pupils themselves to create their own talking books or dual language books, for example. Opportunities can be created for practising and learning vocabulary and grammar, as well as for reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.

Finally, the following video (http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/Teachers-TV-English-as-an-Additional-Language-6047644/) is of a lecture on Teaching EAL learners, by Maggie Webster, a Senior Lecturer of Primary Education. Throughout the lecture she provides a summary of all that has been discussed above, and gives examples of case studies. It is an interesting watch for those who want to learn more. Her key advice to take away is “throw them in the deep end, and help them swim”. EAL learners have their whole school life to build up their language skills, so having them immersed from the beginning then will be the most effective way to progress.

EAL Wordle

Useful Resources

Reference List:

Armstrong, F. 2011. “Inclusive education: School cultures, teaching and learning” in Teaching and Learning in Diverse and Inclusive Classrooms. Ed. G. Richards & F. Armstrong. Routledge: London.

Conteh, J. 2012. Teaching Bilingual and EAL Learners in Primary Schools. Learning Matters: London.

Glazzard, J. 2011. ‘Including all Learners’ in Primary Professional Studies, Ed. A. Hansen. 2011. Learning Matters Ltd: Exeter.

Strand, S. & F. Demie. 2005. “English language acquisition and educational attainment at the end of primary school”. Educational Studies, 31 (3), pp. 275-291.


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