By Mike Gershon, author of How to Teach EAL Students in the Classroom: The Complete Guide
When I first started teaching, I worked in a school where our students came from a huge range of different backgrounds. This was in central London, close to the Houses of Parliament and the River Thames. More than 40 different nationalities were represented. Many of our students had lived in London all their lives, but others had only recently arrived. Some had moved through choice – their families had come to London for work – while others had moved because they had to, travelling to London as refugees.
All of this meant I was teaching classes in which at least a handful of learners would be speaking English as an additional language (EAL). Some of those learners were such skilled speakers of English that you would not have known they were on our school’s EAL register, whereas others were right at the start of their English language development. And, of course, there were plenty of learners in between.
Then I Realized…
It quickly became apparent to me that, in this particular context, balancing the needs of the whole class with the needs of individual EAL learners was an essential part of good teaching. At the same time, I was aware that my time was limited. So, I needed to look for strategies and techniques I could use to support my EAL learners while also teaching the class as a whole. These would be supplements. Things I could add into my teaching, planning and assessment to cater to the needs of EAL learners, without creating an unsustainable workload.
I noticed that many of my colleagues struggled with this balance. They either found it difficult to support their EAL learners or struggled to do so without making huge amounts of additional work for themselves. And it was this which led me to write my book, How to Teach EAL Students in the Classroom: The Complete Guide.
My aim was to provide a compendium of resources any teacher could use to support their EAL students, while also focussing their attention on whole-class teaching. I brought together more than 40 practical strategies, activities and techniques I had discovered, developed and used as part of my own teaching. This meant teachers had a one-stop shop they could call on for tools to support their EAL learners which were both effective and didn’t require huge amounts of time to implement.
For example, one of the techniques in the book is using culturally specific images on lesson slides to supplement new vocabulary. So, if I was teaching about the kings and queens of England, I might include images of various English kings and queens, alongside images of royal figures from my EAL students’ countries of origin.
Activating EAL Students’ Prior Knowledge
The benefit of this technique is that it uses something with which the EAL student is already familiar as a way of helping them make sense of that which is new. This means we are activating the learner’s prior knowledge, making it easier for them to contextualise the new knowledge we are teaching them.
Using this technique in lessons had an instant impact. You could see the increased sense of recognition in the faces of my EAL learners. It wasn’t that the culturally relevant images did all of the work, but it was the case that they made it easier for these learners to feel connected to the lesson and to call on their prior knowledge. And, as all teachers know, you can never underestimate the power of motivation to improve a student’s engagement and performance.
Order your copy of Mike Gershon’s How to Teach EAL Students in the Classroom: The Complete Guide today.