This time of lockdown learning has certainly changed the way we deliver lessons to our learners. I have experienced something similar when working at an international school in Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok experienced the country’s worst floods in a lifetime. Bangkok was shutdown. Schools closed and online learning commenced. However, that is where similarities between my situation now and then finish! In Thailand I worked in an international school with unlimited resources. In the UK, I work in a UK state school where resources are limited for the school and for many of the learners who come from low social economic status backgrounds.
I have been able to engage most of the learners I support in Years’ 9,10, 11 (UK Education System). I am talking about activities I have created for EAL classes I teach at my school. The subject is chosen by some EAL learners to support them in developing their academic language skills and developing mainstream subject knowledge. The majority of learners have been able to complete tasks and activities I set. So, what works?
- I think reading and vocabulary development are essential at the moment. Both can provide valuable background knowledge for our EAL learners. I use adapted texts that my learners will study in the mainstream. Linking lessons and activities to mainstream content is essential. I focus on English, Maths and Science but this is because I am working at secondary level and my learners find these subjects the most challenging to access.
- The Bell Foundation’s EAL Nexus page – has a wide range of teaching resources for EAL learners both at the beginning and more advanced levels of English language proficiency. I have used their resources on Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth in recent weeks. This is because my EAL learners are studying these plays in English literature classes. The scene summaries and DARTS (Direct Activities Related to Text) can be used or adapted. For instance, I have added pictures to scene summaries. I have also adapted some of the DARTs activities but not many as they are really good!
- Twinkl EAL Resources – If you search around Twinkl you can find some decent resources, linked to the mainstream that EAL learners from beginner to more advanced levels can access. Again, with a little adaptation, these resources can be highly effective. Also, it means you are not creating resources from scratch.
- Jumbled sentences – a word of caution with this strategy! It works but make sure the sentences you use are sentences that your learners have had some exposure to already. For instance, from a text you have read. I recently tried jumbled sentences of sentences my learners had not encountered and they were too difficult to solve. Again, prior learning and background knowledge play an essential role in supporting EAL learners.
- Gap fills – gap fills with focused deletions and words provided in a table work with all EAL learners. For beginners, you could get them to translate the deleted words into their first language (L1) before completing the gap fill. L1 plays a crucial role in supporting our EAL learners.
- Translating key words into L1. I am lucky, the majority of my EAL learners are literate in their L1 so I can use activities such as this. Translating keywords, especially from mainstream subject areas can be highly beneficial for our EAL learners. For learners that are illiterate in their L1, maybe they could create picture dictionaries of key words? Or use a simplified dictionary such as Cambridge’s Learner’s Dictionary. This is of course, this is if your learners have access to the internet!
- Substitution Tables – if you want your learners to develop their writing skills and want them to do this within the context of the mainstream lesson, then substitution tables are another great way to scaffold writing. Again, always linking to content will make the writing more meaningful and provide vital background knowledge on topics learners will study when they return to school.
- Developing spoken language – Oral language practice is especially vital for new to English EAL learners. But how can this be developed remotely? You could ask learners to record voices on their phones and send the audio to you. Or they could record voices on a laptop or other digital device. This could be done by giving a set of questions to practice and sentence frames or sentence starters for new to English learners. Sentence starters provide learners with valuable scaffolding and make the test of answering questions much easier.
- BBC Bitesize – I’ve been using this site with my son and really like some of the videos, and lesson content, but some of the activities are a bit too easy. However, some of the explanations of content are good and even have visuals and keywords highlighted (sometimes). As the webinar from Oxfordshire EAL RIG suggested BBC Bitesize can be used with your EAL learners. Of course, where possible link the learning to tasks that learners will or have experienced themselves to give the learning real context.
- Finally, what about the TV? Movies, YouTube? EAL learners at the beginning stages of learning English will benefit immensely from hearing the English language. Are there programs that directly link to content your learners have studied? Can a TV program or movie support building background in particular areas? TV, movies and YouTube can all play their role. Furthermore, it is also possible that learners can listen to programs in their L1, again, highly beneficial to our EAL learners.
There is no perfect answer to supporting EAL learners at the moment. I do believe that lessons I set for my learners should have some context to their mainstream learning. Whether that is developing their range of vocabulary or reading abridged versions of texts learners will study in the mainstream.
I refuse to accept that EAL learners, even at the beginning stages of learning English, cannot access online learning (though this does depend on internet access). If work is differentiated to their proficiency level, makes use of their L1 and provides activities that are meaningful then EAL learners of all proficiency levels can develop their language skills and content knowledge during these uncertain times.