Including EAL children

This page will form a resource for ourselves and other Student Teachers in order to help them with approaches to creating an inclusive environment for pupils with English as an Addition Language (EAL). The subject is of particular interest to me, because English is not my first language and I would love to develop my practice to be inclusive of those for whom English is an addition language.

012592708_prevstillThe inclusion of those who speak English as an addition language is one of the national priorities. This is perhaps not surprising considering that in the UK there are more than one million children between the ages of 5 and 18 that are  speaking language(s) other than English in their homes. Out of those, over 600,000 are in primary schools (Dfe, 2013). The implications for teachers are very significant and affect teachers from the moment they start their practice. Yet, only 45% of Newly Qualified Teachers feel confident in their level of training in working with EAL pupils (NALDIC). As teachers we have a duty to provide an education for all of the pupils in our classroom, helping them to overcome any barrier to learning they may face, and this includes language barriers.

Interestingly, the statistical data tell us that the attainment gap between EAL and monolingual pupils is narrowing. In primary, both 58% of pupils with English as a first language and pupils with EAL achieved the expected level in the ‘Phonics Screening Check’ (DfE, 2012). And although at Key Stage 2, 5% more native English speakers reached the expected level than those with EAL), it is interesting to note that 2% more pupils with EAL than those with English as their first language progressed by two National Curriculum levels between Key Stages 1 and 2 (DfE, 2012).

So how can we as practitioners help meet the needs of the children with EAL? What does good practice look like? How can we ensure that the EAL pupils continue to make progress after leaving primary school?

Government policy states that schools are accountable for ensuring that EAL pupils have equal access to the National Curriculum (DfE, 2005; Overington, 2012) therefore school policy and classroom practice are crucial elements to inclusion. It is often good to look at a variety of stories and contexts from different schools who are managing the multilingual nature of their pupils in order to seek best practice for ourselves. It is also important to note, however, that EAL pupils are not a homogeneous group – they may come from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, including 2nd or 3rd generation migrant families,  with different levels of English proficiency, schooling experiences, emotional contexts etc. These are all important factors when planning interventions aiming at “closing the gap”.


Although seen as unethical in the past, the withdrawal, or induction period, of those who do not speak English, has recently made a come back. It is especially beneficial for those who have only just arrived to the UK and are new to English language. Some schools have set up specialist EAL units where pupils attend basic English classes, alongside some mainstream classes such as mathematics and PE, in order to help them with their progress when they are moved permanently into the mainstream classroom.

It is important to note however, that the teaching of English language should still be contextualised and linked to the National Curriculum. Those intensive English lessons should aim to not only raise the language confidence, but also prepare the pupils for entry into the mainstream classes.

Planning for these classes can be quite a challenge – whilst they need to pose a challenge cognitively, they should not be to linguistically challenging in order for the pupils to be able to access the task.


A contrasting approach to inclusion of EAL learners is immersion in mainstream schooling from the start. The strong argument behind this approach is that the learning of English can take place as much in science, maths, ICT and foundation subjects as it does in English and literacy lessons. Language learning can also take place in the “hidden curriculum” and therefore excluding EAL learners from these learning activities might disadvantage them in the long term (Graf, 2011)

However, some research has found that whilst immersion is promoted in many schools, the EAL pupils are being withdrawn within these mainstream contexts:

…there is an awareness amongst the Coordinators that EAL pupils are best served in the mainstream classroom and in inclusive environments in order to give them good models of English. However the practice is to place them in groups together with pupils with a range of SENs where they work with TAs. Sometimes these groups work outside the mainstream classroom and pupils very new to EAL may work one-to-one with TAs on basic vocabulary outside the classroom.

The immersion strategy has considerable implications on schemes of work – teachers need to accommodate these to the low levels of English, with focus on visual resources, graphs and pictures. However, we need to ensure that whilst we accommodate the teaching to our learners needs we do not automatically assume that lack of English proficiency equals low ability levels.

Using their first language 

It is recognised that bilingualism has cognitive benefits and plays a considerable role in identity formation, learning and acquisition of further foreign languages (NALDIC). It is therefore important to nurture those skills within the school environment as well as establish and maintain home-school links with the parents and carers of pupils with EAL because such links are an indicator of inclusive practice.

Pupils should also be encouraged to develop their ideas and complete some work in their mother tounge (National Strategies, 2011). Skills developed in a first language can be transferred to other languages, and therefore if a pupils’ first language is continually developed, it is likely that it will aid their English language acquisition alongside.

Teaching and learning methods 

As outlined above, whether the EAL pupils are immersed or inducted into the mainstream classroom, the teaching and learning methods need to be appropriately adapted in order to accommodate continuing language acquisition as well as access to the National Curriculum at a challenging level. In order to do so, it is crucial to understand the time scale necessary for children to adapt to their new linguistic environment and acquiring a new language. These can be observed via three main stages of language acquisition:

Silent period – During the ‘silent’ or ‘non-verbal’ period, which can last up to 6 months, children need time to acclimatise to their new context, environment and to begin to ‘tune in’ to the sounds of the setting . Children might use this time in order to ‘rehearse’ speech and practice it in private in order to build up confidence in communicating in the second language. They need to know that they are accepted members of the group and so they need reassurance and encouragement from the adult (Drury, 2013).

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills – these have been described as the”surface” skills of listening and speaking which are typically acquired quickly by many students; particularly by those from language backgrounds similar to English who have been immersed into the mainstream classroom and interact regularly with the native speakers. It can take, however, up to 2 years for the children to master these skills (Cummins, 2000).

Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency -describes the basis for the child’s ability to cope with the linguistic demands placed upon them in a variety of academic subjects. It takes between 5-7 years for a child to be working on a level with native speakers as far as academic language is concerned (Cummins, 2000).

So how can we ensure that our teaching is inclusive of the needs of those with EAL? 

A good start is to make our classrooms a welcoming place, with visual signs and pictures annotated in a language of your EAL pupil(s) if possible. These signs can help pupils make connections between the written code and spoken language, but also aid comprehension in the classroom.


Moreover, it might be a good idea to use a native language of the EAL pupil in the classroom, even if it is just for answering the register.

Planning our lessons to include and reflect variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences of our pupils might be another way to include all learners. Such approaches can be taken cross-curricularly – for example, we can learn bout different religions in R.E., draw on parallels between important historical events across the globe in history or learn interesting geographical similarities and differences between the UK and the country of origin of our EAL pupil. However, whilst we highlight the differences it is also important to highlight that that we are all from the same world and are connected in a variety of ways. This could be done via story reading in KS1 and in PSHE classes with KS2.

The initial worry of most pupils arriving in a new school is making friends, having that one person who will stay with you and help you find your way around as well as help you make other friends (DfE, 2003). It is therefore recommended that EAL pupils are buddied up with a fellow pupil, if possible of the same language as themselves.

Considering the length of time it can take a pupil to gain confidence in communicating in their additional language, it is important to allow those pupils time to rehearse their answers, give them thinking time. This can be done by informing the pupil beforehand that he will be asked a question to allow him or her to prepare and access the necessary vocabulary and grammatical structures necessary to form a correct answer. Moreover, if a student gives an answer that is grammatically incorrect, a role of the teacher is to recast, i.e. give implicit corrective feedback (Fukuya and Zhang, 2002). For example:

Student: ” I go to the park yesterday”

Teacher:  “You went to the park yesterday ? How lovely, who else went with you?”

In the conversation above the teacher communicates with the student using a question to confirm what the student had said, whilst at the same time correcting the error (changing ‘go’ to ‘went’). Recasts are not overt corrections, and some degree of repetition is a natural part of normal speech so that the feedback given is non-thretening to the child’s confidence.

EAL in my placement

In my SBT 1 I have been working closely with two EAL pupils in year 4 – one (X.) whose first language is Spanish and the other (V.) who is from Russia. Both were born outside the UK. X. has started his UK education at 7 years old and V. has been attending from Reception.

Both V and X speak their native languages exclusively at home and their parents have limited English. The children are therefore required to translate for their parents on a daily basis, and even attend parents evenings and translate the teacher’s comments.

Even though the children appear to speak English fluently, it often transpires that they have significant gaps in Academic Language Proficiency. V. struggles with mathematical concepts and vocabulary for operations. To help her with this the teacher gave her the operation cards with symbols (+, -, x, ÷)  and words associated with them:

VocabWhilst X’s reading is fluent, he has some troubles with comprehension. Also, he has significant difficulties with spelling. This might arise from the fact that his native language is phonetic whereas English spelling can be quite tricky at times. He attends phonics intervention group and the teacher decided to place him in the top group for literacy in order for him to work with a pupil whose handwriting and spelling are very good.

Throughout her planning, the class teacher remains very language aware. She focuses on the support that the EAL pupils might need whilst also keeping in mind the cognitive demands. She provides a lot of visual support to the learners, usually in a form of pictures or videos so that the content of the task and the related language are not a barrier to learning. Because of these supportive elements, the cognitive demands can be kept high, i.e. pupils are appropriately challenged.

References (where links not provided):

Graf, M. (2011) Including and Supporting Learners of English as an Additional Language. London: Continuum


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