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Bringing EAL learners out of the ‘silent phase’

Speaking in English can be the last thing that pupils with EAL acquire. This doesn’t necessarily reflect their ability to understand the language, but more to do with having the confidence to speak aloud e.g. worried about pronouncing things wrong in front of peers.  

It is completely natural for EAL learners, both new and developing competence, to feel this way and should respect the ‘silent phase’. However, we should still offer gentle encouragement for learners to talk in a supportive environment as this may help to better engage with the lesson alongside their peers.  

Any pupil will benefit from having more thinking time when asked an open-ended question; English language learners need this even more so. A culture where all students are encouraged to give an answer, right or wrong, and to take time with their answer should therefore be established. If your EAL pupil can listen to answers from their peers who have had thinking time, they may feel more comfortable to speak up knowing this rule applies to everyone, and in turn, may avoid them feeling too conspicuous. 

Here are just some of the ways you can create a fun and inclusive classroom and remote environment to help boost your EAL pupils’ confidence with spoken English. 

Collaborative activities

Having a collaborative classroom not only aids the learning of a curriculum-based language but also prepares EAL pupils for real-life interactions. Effective collaboration doesn’t just mean getting students to work together in pairs or groups, albeit EAL learners will gain a lot from listening to others! By establishing group roles and assigning your EAL student a small but key role, they can begin to join in without the pressure to contribute and gradually build their confidence so that next time, they can be assigned a role with a bit more responsibility. 

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Barrier games

Communicative games are indispensable for eliminating stress and creating a fun, exciting atmosphere that promotes learning and confidence. Information gap activities support the development of realistic speaking and listening skills as they’re an opportunity for purposeful communication. In such games, EALs should be paired with someone who can provide good models of English. Both students have information that the other one needs, and so they must communicate this information to each other whilst combatting the barrier between them e.g. a large book on its side between the two partners or being sat back to back. You can see more game ideas here.

Drama/Role Play

Drama offers a range of support for making meaning clear in addition to the benefits of working collaboratively. It will be much more comfortable for less confident EAL students not to perform first, as they can learn from listening and watching others, which also reinforces turn-taking! The use of drama also supports interactions that happen outside of the classroom, making learning more memorable and encouraging empathy. 

silent phase

Remote Learning Activities 

Should your pupils have to learn remotely, under the new Coronavirus Act 2020 guidelines for remote education, it might be useful to try our free EAL Pupil Podcast resource. This project offers the chance for them to continue practising speaking skills at their own pace. With over 30 topics to choose from, learners are encouraged to reflect on the script they have written, such as checking spelling and grammar and listen back to the audio they’ve recorded to check their voice is loud and clear. For more remote learning resources, download our free Project Packs here. For more information on remote learning provision for EAL, read our blog post here

EAL learners have diverse experiences, stories, and opinions to share, so ensuring their voice is heard and nurtured is important – but timing is paramount. The silent phase will eventually come to an end (every pupil is unique, so the length of silence will vary), but we mustn’t pressurise learners to produce language beyond what is comfortable for them.

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