EAL: Supporting teachers to plan for linguistic diversity

Written by: Kamil Trzebiatowski | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Many of our EAL students will likely have suffered a language learning loss during successive lockdowns. Kamil Trzebiatowski considers ideas and resources to help support teachers who have such learners in their classrooms

Since the introduction of the first lockdown in England in March 2020, most learners’ schooling has been disrupted. While remote and socially distanced learning will have affected most pupils’ attainment and progress, many learners using EAL also experienced language loss, having been exposed to less English language and having had fewer opportunities to speak, read and write in English.

In research published this month, (Scott, 2021), among those teachers who were able to comment, 69 per cent reported negative impact of school closures on the language skills of learners using EAL; 15 per cent of primary and 22 per cent of secondary teachers also reported that learners using EAL lost confidence to speak to their peers or in class.

This means that it is even more important now for mainstream teachers to be able to plan for linguistic diversity and adapt their teaching for multilingual learners. This article discusses how schools can support their teachers in this endeavour.

Quality first teaching and distinct EAL pedagogy

Quality first teaching (QFT) is a term regularly used by teaching staff. Its main characteristics include high demands of pupil involvement and engagement with learning, high levels of interaction for all pupils, appropriate use of teacher questioning, modelling and explaining, insistence on pupils taking responsibility for their learning and using praise as a motivational tool.

However, it is also worth pointing out that universal QFT strategies do not meet the needs of all learners at all times. For instance, high levels of interaction might be difficult to achieve with a learner who is new to English during their so-called “silent period”, when they are only listening and reading in English as they are acclimatising to their new learning environment.

In such cases, implementing distinct EAL approaches will likely be more suitable. It is, therefore, not either universal QFT or the distinct EAL pedagogy that is needed to support multilingual learners, but both.

When planning to support teaching staff so that they can best support learners using EAL in their classrooms, schools need to keep in mind that inclusive pedagogies might fail the learners they intend to support unless they are properly resourced and backed up by appropriate teacher expertise and knowledge (Leung & Creese, 2020).

This implies the need for CPD, but it also means that QFT approaches might not bear fruit unless they are underpinned by teachers’ robust understanding of EAL pedagogy and associated strategies.

The importance of EAL assessment

In order to plan their lessons, adapting their teaching appropriately to the needs of their learners, teachers need to understand their learners’ strengths and areas for development. In the case of EAL learners, this means understanding their current levels of proficiency in English and how this might affect their ability to access the curriculum fully. Some of the ways for teachers to gain this understanding include:

  • Assessing the English language proficiency of learners using EAL. The Bell Foundation’s EAL Assessment Framework for Schools is a valuable tool for this purpose and assesses the skills of listening, speaking, reading and viewing, and writing in curriculum contexts.
  • Training mainstream teachers as well as EAL staff to use the framework through dedicated and practical EAL assessment training. When EAL assessment is conducted by teachers across the school, and not just by EAL experts, it can provide a more accurate picture of the learners’ English language proficiency.
  • Conducting EAL assessment of learners at regular intervals, at least once a term.
  • Ensuring that the information about learners’ English proficiency, as well as essential background information such as languages spoken, prior educational history, refugee status and SEND status (if any), is disseminated to and easily accessible by teachers through documents such as EAL pupil profiles and the EAL register.
  • Considering adapting tests used by teachers in your school so that they are more EAL-friendly. For instance, can instructions be translated into certain languages so that it is easier for learners using EAL to demonstrate their knowledge and be less hindered by the language barrier?

Training and EAL pedagogy

In addition to EAL assessment, teaching staff will need to develop their awareness of relevant EAL strategies to be able to adapt their lessons and materials appropriately. However, it is important to remember that any differentiation should be sensible to avoid increasing teachers’ workload.

  • Schools can arrange EAL training for staff on sensible differentiation. Smaller-group training (for example within a subject department) is advisable where possible, as it is often more effective.
  • Planning a thematic series of sessions on EAL, including, for example, input on strategies (such as graphic organisers, barrier games, or reading for meaning), joint planning, opportunities for rehearsing specific techniques, and follow-up evaluation and refining of the strategies is likely to be more effective than offering a single one-off session once a year.
  • Every teacher can be issued with a document with a bank of EAL strategies, ideally linking the strategies to both English language proficiency levels and to the four domains of language use (listening, speaking, reading and viewing, and writing). The Bell Foundation’s Classroom Support Strategies document can be used for this purpose. The Bell Foundation’s Great Ideas pages could also be helpful.
  • Multilingual learners should be encouraged to translanguage – speak, write and/or translate to and from their first language (or any language they speak) and English, to support their learning. You can learn more about translanguaging on the relevantGreat Ideas page and view the Taking advantage of learners’ first language guidance video as well.
  • Learners should have access to bilingual dictionaries where online software such as Google Translate is not appropriate to use; schools could purchase a number of bilingual dictionaries and ensure that teachers can get hold of them when needed.
  • Informal training can be just as effective as formal. Senior leadership teams can arrange time slots for mainstream teachers to visit EAL practitioners during their lessons and vice-versa, with the view to advising on the appropriate EAL strategies, sharing practice and considering ways forward.
  • If there is an EAL coordinator or teacher in the school, schools can organise EAL Open Doors, a time when any teacher can visit the EAL staff in their room and ask for advice.

Teachers who are new to adapting teaching for learners who use EAL will understandably need more time and support to do so. Therefore, senior leaders should consider ways to protect those teachers’ EAL planning time so that the outcome can be of high-quality. It is important for early career mentors not only to ensure that teachers can experiment freely with EAL strategies in the classroom, but to actively encourage and support them to do so.

Establishing a linguistically diverse ethos

Senior leadership can help with the full inclusion of learners using EAL across the school and take steps towards the establishment of a positive ethos surrounding them.

Teachers’ planning for linguistic diversity will be greatly facilitated by a school-wide climate recognising the importance of multilingualism and the benefits stemming from linguistic, cultural and ethnic diversity.

The suggestions below do not always relate directly to classroom teaching, but they can be a catalyst for a more inclusive learning environment, making the process of planning for linguistic diversity considerably easier:

  • Ensure that different languages used by members of the school community are visible around the school, for example in multilingual displays in the school reception and corridors as well as door signage. You might find the multilingual posters at School Links to be useful for this purpose (see further information).
  • Establish your own Young Interpreters Scheme – the programme offers bilingual/multilingual learners the chance to become interpreters to perform tasks in school, such as being new EAL arrivals’ buddies and assisting parents who speak little English during parents’ evenings and other meetings. You can find out more about the scheme from Hampshire EMTAS Services.
  • Foster an atmosphere of high expectations of learners using EAL. The English language barrier need not be a reason for lowering expectations; language barriers can be removed by using relevant EAL strategies, so that the learners can engage with the curriculum. The Bell Foundation’s webinar recording of Maintaining high expectations of learners who use EAL provides a number of practical solutions on how to ensure high expectations for this group of learners.
  • Set up a team of teachers or heads of departments (not only EAL specialists) to meet at regular intervals to discuss how to meet the needs of linguistically diverse learners. Topics for discussion can include adapting different subject curricula to be more easily accessible for this group of learners, department-based EAL training, more effective deployment of EAL strategies and of teaching assistants to work with learners using EAL.


By ensuring that effective EAL assessment is in place, providing EAL training and establishing and maintaining an ethos of multilingual and multicultural appreciation and high expectations, senior leadership can support their teaching staff in planning for linguistic diversity. Given the language learning loss resulting from the atypical circumstances of schooling during the past year, doing so is more crucial than ever in order to reduce the learning gap experienced by learners using EAL.

  • Kamil Trzebiatowski is digital resource developer at The Bell Foundation, a charity working to overcome exclusion through language education. Read his previous articles in Headteacher Update via http://bit.ly/htu-trzebiatowski

Further information & resources

  • The Bell Foundation’s Great Ideas pages can be found via https://bit.ly/3vbVD7J
  • Leung & Creese: English as an Additional Language: Approaches to teaching linguistic minority students, Sage Publications, 2010.
  • Hampshire EMTAS Services: Young Interpreters Scheme: https://bit.ly/2WER0EX
  • School Links: Dual Language Posters: https://bit.ly/3vaMUTl
  • Scott: Language and learning loss: The evidence on children who use English as an additional language, The Bell Foundation, June 2021: https://bit.ly/3vjCXD2

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