For newly arrived EAL pupils, the mainstream classroom can be an overwhelming place where they are bombarded with unfamiliar language. However, there are ways that you can adjust your teacher talk to help support EAL pupils’ understanding, whichever subject you teach.
Don’t be so polite
In the UK, we tend to use a lot of polite phrases like, ‘Would you mind doing me a favour?’ These usually consist of a lot of words which don’t mean a lot and take up unnecessary time in certain situations. Many languages are more direct and don’t use these ‘hedging’ phrases.
Talking about what you’re doing while you’re doing it can overwhelm EAL pupils with a huge quantity of language. This can make it more difficult for pupils to identify which language they should be paying attention to, and what they are actually supposed to do.
EAL pupils have more of a chance of understanding what you are explaining or asking if you support your language use with gesture. Pointing to objects, physically indicating directions and miming activities are all beneficial ways to support understanding. If you can incorporate drama into your subject, this is an excellent way to engage and include EAL pupils.
Follow your own instructions
Think about how many instructions you are giving at once. Can your pupils hold this many instructions in their memory and carry them out simultaneously? Make sure you give pupils enough time to follow instructions before you ask them to focus on another topic or ask a question.
Model correct grammar in your teacher talk
We are all guilty of saying ‘gonna’ instead of ‘going to’ from time to time. Be aware that there is a strong link between oracy and literacy, and if you are modelling incorrect grammar in your speaking (or using it incorrectly on the board), you risk your pupils imitating this in their academic work. If you don’t know the difference between your and you’re, how will your pupils?
Repeat and reformulate
The classic response when someone doesn’t understand is to say it again, then say it louder. This approach is ineffective! Instead, try repeating and reformulating the question or statement to say it in a different way to make your teacher talk clearer. If you use an idiomatic phrase like ‘Do you want to have a go?’, pupils may not understand it until you reformulate it to ‘Do you want to play now?’
‘Do you understand?’
There are only two ways to answer this question – yes, or no. Neither answer is particularly helpful! If a pupil doesn’t understand, it’s difficult for them to explain what they don’t understand. Saying ‘no’ will draw attention to them and lead to extra questioning that they don’t want – and no one likes to admit not understanding something. Use concept-checking questions instead.
‘What does x mean?’
Without the ability to translate or advanced language skills, it’s very difficult to explain what words ‘mean’. We rarely have to give formal definitions of words in real life. Again, try using questioning to ascertain pupils’ understanding. If your target word is ‘chronological’, you could get pupils moving by giving each one a different date and asking them to organise themselves into chronological order.
This is only a taster of how you can support EAL pupils by becoming aware of your own language use and adapting it accordingly. For more information and ideas on ways to increase your language awareness, check out this webinar recording.