EAL TeachMeet report

On the 14th of July, 2014, I attended an EAL TeachMeet event at the Harris Academy Morden in south London. EAL TeachMeets are very few and very difficult to get to – last one was in Glasgow – not exactly close to London! – so when this opportunity came up, I eagerly took the chance! This was the first time that I was also presenting at a TeachMeet, which I thought went quite well! I was not disappointed – the event was friendly, well-set-up, with insights from a number of EAL professional and a fantastic opportunity to network within my field.

The format of TeachMeets in general is that, rather than spending an hour learning about one topic only, you are exposed to several ideas in one hour: presenters have only a few minutes to talk. At this TeachMeet, the presenters had either 3 and 6 minutes.

I was the last presenter at the event, but I am describing my presentation here as well. I spoke for 3 minutes about Partnership Teaching, which I have recently introduced at my school. I spoke of what it actually is first:

  • two teachers (EAL and mainstream) team-teach a mainstream class following planning the lesson together
  • both of them manage the behaviour and assessment for learning
  • both of them follow the partnership cycle routine: Set Goals – Experiment – Evaluate – Disseminate – Review

Further, I talked the audience through some of the examples of the materials that got created as a result of my being partnered with an English teacher at the school (please see the PowerPoint presentation I used – pasted in below), which include strategies such as specific attention to word building (suffixes), colour coding, highlighting, teaching to recognize specific parts of speech and using drawing for the development of descriptive writing.

Partnership Teaching has been around for a long time and it is woefully under-utilized in mainstream schools as far as I am concerned. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done and I will aim at establishing it at any school I happen to work at in my future. Closer to the end of my presentation, I shared with the audience the feedback on the collaboration I got from the English teacher I’ve been working with: it’s easier to plan fun and interactive lessons, good to have someone who specializes in the language in the classroom as it furthers students’ comprehension. My own feedback says that elevates the status of EAL practitioners in schools, it uses the expertise of EAL teachers to the maximum and it supports all students in the classroom without singling out individual EAL students. There are more benefits, based on our reflections, listed in the actual presentation – see below.

Please also read one of my previous posts – specifically on the Partnership Teaching and its power. I truly do believe it’s a powerful tool. It was lovely, straight after the presentation, to receive instant lovely feedback on how people appreciated my choice of topic for the presentation. You know who you are – thank you!


The first presenter to talk was Diane Leedham, who is a Literacy, English and EAL consultant. She spoke about Inclusive Planning for New to English EAL Learners in Mainstream Classes. It targeted new to English / English beginners in the 1st or 2nd year of English language acquisition. She began by refreshing our memories of what key principles for supporting English language development are: visuals, language focus, interaction, repetition – and, of course, fun. She then suggested a way of planning EAL support for mainstream teachers by focusing on the following areas:

  • Pre-Teach Key Words and Concepts
    • Diane provide a brilliant word map here for the pre-teaching part of the lesson; simple and effective: a spidergram template with the word to be learned in the centre of the screen and questions to be asked / areas to be focused on: what are similar words? (collocations/idioms), where do you hear it? (real-world context for the word), what type of a word is it? (noun, adjective, adverb), what does the word mean? (provide a definition). On her template, there is also the space for breaking the word down into syllables (brilliant way of teaching phoneme to grapheme association to all students!) and adding an image to represent the word visually. This easy Word Map concept looks very enticing and super-easy to use.
    • She made a quick reference here to Cummins’s well-known quadrant (I am sure you know this if you are an EAL teacher, but if you haven’t, click here to read more about this: it’s all about making the content of a lesson more concrete, contextualized and cognitively demanding to EAL students and one of the widely-accepted principles of EAL teaching)
  • Use key visuals and graphic organizers
    • Key visuals and graphic organizers are to be used to convey information and ideas and support pupils to demonstrate thinking, their processes and ideas
  • Encourage collaboration and interaction
    • Here, Diane made a reference to the fabulous Collaborative Learning Project‘s website, which provides a huge number of ideas for collaborative activities. The resources available are for pretty much every subject across the curriculum: whilst it can certainly be used for small group EAL work, the website was originally designed for mainstream classroom teachers who have EAL learners in their classrooms.
  • Provide structured support for writing
    • Here, Diane suggests that guided copying comes before independent writing and adds that the use of first language is very useful. Structured support for writing could involve vocabulary builder activities such as wordsearches and word crosses, sentence builders activities such as gap filling and jigsaw sequences and text builder activities such as writing frames and sentence starters. I would add here that one should remember that these are useful for new to English learners; care needs to be taken when doing this for higher EAL stage learners: with advanced EAL learners writing frames / sentence starters could actually constrain them rather than help.
  • Support dialogue for learning with key visuals
    • Here, Diane states that consistent language should be developed, but we should be careful around cultural linguistic differences. She suggests the use of traffic lights, that is the use of three different colours: red: I don’t get it / I need help, orange/yellow: I think I understand / I need some help, green: I understand / can try it on my own.

Diane has a brilliant lesson plan template, which incorporates all of the above – making it impossible to forget those in your planning. Rather useful!

Diane has provided a link to her Dropbox folder now with EAL resources for sharing, including her PowerPoint presentation – check it out!

Also, she has provided the EAL Nexus leaflet! See below:

I do not remember which order the presenters came in, so the order below is not necessarily the same as it happened on the day. I also do apologise if I’ve missed someone out! Please remind me if I have, and I’ll add you to the report!

Graham Smith, with the EAL Academy (http://www.theealacademy.co.uk/), delivered a presentation on Adding a grade at GCSE and A Level. He drew our attention to the following three:

  • Mode continuum
    • this refers to the notion that language is sequenced from words/phrases language related to action (informal, face-to-face, chat situations) through the type where you talk about such situations (meaning you might use the language of chat/talk, but you’re not in the chat/talk actual situation – in his presentation, Graham lists “reporting back on a task” and “news” as an example of this) to formal academic language. As Graham reminds us, essentially, there is language that is “most spoken-like” moving gradually towards “most written-like” (academic).
    • If you want to read in more detail about mode continuum, this document from the Warwick University is rather useful (the explanation of mode continuum starts on page 2)
  • Level 3 to Grade A
    • Graham provided us with some very powerful and useful examples of sentences about the same idea – examples of a learner on/around NC Level 3 up to Grade A. I am pasting them in here, but it should be understood these are specifically Graham’s examples:
      • It rained heavily so the river flooded. (Level 3)
      • The rivers flooded because of heavy rainfall. (Level 4)
      • Heavy rainfall caused widespread flooding. (Level 5)
      • Intense precipitation in surrounding hills caused widespread flooding over low-lying ground. (Grade A)
  • Nominalization
    • This bit got me particularly excited! This is because I often insist with other teachers – and certainly in my own teaching – on using this idea. First of all, what is nominalisation? It’s creating nouns, often abstract, from verbs or adjectives. Graham’s example of this was turning the sentence “The EAL teacher’s role” is very complex” to “The complexity of teacher’s role is considerable.” It is the “complexity” type of language that is required for proper academic writing – I cannot imagine being able to write a BA or MA-level of dissertation without being aware of how work with words myself in that way. And yet, in my experience (including in-class support in English lessons), this is not a skill that is actually taught to students at schools. Word-building, such as changing words from adjectives to nouns or vice versa, makes students aware of suffixes typical for nouns for instance and in turn, makes them into more proficient users of language. My EAL students on my iGCSE ESL course this year have already benefited from this approach.
    • It is useful to consider reading Secret agents: Teaching complex noun phrases & nominalization to developing academic writers by S.Bolton available at BALEAP (British Association of Lecturers of English for Academic Purposes) website, which reminds the reader that nominalisation is omnipresent in academic writing. It also argues that it’s not highlighted by teachers in most cases and sometimes students are even advised against using it. Yet, come English GCSEs, A-Levels and certainly university-level assignments, this is a skill to be had!

Graham suggests that teachers should be trained in these approaches and they should be used in both whole-class teaching and 1-to-1 teaching (particularly at A levels). He concluded by saying that there has been a considerable impact of these approaches in Islington where this was introduced under his guidance. The result: considerably higher A*-C results in English and Maths when compared to the rest of England!

So exciting that what I was essentially taught in my mainstream English Language classes back in Poland – a huge reason why I have no problem with automatically using nominalisation – is so useful in the UK! This is yet another source of evidence that one can use to convince more language teaching at schools / departments which might need to be convinced of the validity and importance of teaching English language specifically (to all students)! Thanks, Graham!

Lubjana Matin delivered a particularly interesting presentation on How to enable to EAL students to demonstrate understanding without writing. I have to admit that the concept is a great one and actually not something I have explored in such detail before – but it’s certainly something we EAL teachers could learn from and find super-useful in our lessons, particularly with brand new arrivals. One strategy that she shared with us was Let them draw. Using a French lesson as an example, she suggests that when dealing with a reading (text reading) task, rather than simply asking a question “What’s text about?”, we can ask students to read the text for 90 seconds and ask several, more personalized questions. In the question of Lubjana’s example text, the questions were:

  1. Would you like Bernard to sit next to you in a class? Why/why not?
  2. Draw Bernard
  3. (after 5 minutes longer of reading the text) Draw the entire family like a family photo.

Esther Marshall, with the HAMD (Harris Academy Morden), delivered a short presentation on Enhancing English Language Skills through Rosetta Stone. Rosetta Stone is a computer programme I am familiar with as it has been introduced to me a good while ago by an MFL colleague of mine and we used it a few years back with one of my EAL new arrival students. It is one of the computer programmes designed to improve students’ literacy attainment, full of all types of language exercises. It is designed to immerse students in language exercises and activities, allowing them to not only read, but also write, record and listen to the language. In HAMD, Esther’s presentation said, it is used 1×50 minutes a week (1 lesson) in both EAL and Spanish lessons. It is also used to support students preparing to take their Heritage Language GCSEs such as Arabic, Turkish or Polish. Having entered and worked with home languages GCSE students before, I have to say that this is a a great idea, but of course, I would need to look closer at the programme to see if it works. It definitely sounds like it’s worth looking at. Interested? Check it at http://www.rosettastone.co.uk/learn-english  . Esther says that the programme has increased HAMD’s students’ engagement, motivation, language skills and grammar and made them want to develop their English skills and knowledge of other languages. Sounds good!

Another presenter was Jolyon Gardner, also representing HAMD. He presented on the topic of Making EAL Learners Feel Welcome. The Academy’s ways of providing their EAL learners with welcoming environment are simple but clearly effective:

  • The International Corridor (TLC) is a display in a designated area in the school with flags, pictures, phrases and descriptions representing bilingual / international students at the school, which has been known to have made the students feel proud and wanting to contribute to it.
  • The Language Centre (TLC) was actually formally opened by an MP, and representatives of local families and diverse community representatives – very impressive ways of working with the local community! Students come here happily to do their homework or work on Rosetta Stone – it provides a quieter, more comfortable environment than other areas in the school.
  • The HAMD also uses Language Cards; as I understand, they’re given to students across the school. This sounds like a very simple and powerful way of including new (international) students at the school: they are asked to learn one or two phrases in a different language from the cards (translations of phrases + some facts about the other country) and greet them using those cards or write a message in their books. I love this idea – in fact, it is in my bank of ideas for my new school now. Thank you, HAMD!
  • The Academy keeps considering the ideas that EAL students have: such as holding an international evening, EAL students teaching others their languages and an event with tasting traditional dishes from other countries.

Bethany Finch, who is the EAL Nexus Project Administrator at the British Council, spoke about the Council’s EAL Nexus Project. As I had already attended and reported on the Council’s seminar into the same earlier this year, please read my blog post about this: EAL Nexus Seminar – as it contains similar information. However, for the purposes of this post, it will suffice to say that the British Council are developing a website with resources for EAL learners, wish to build capacity in the sector, focus on parental and community support and wish to support and strengthen EAL professional networks in the UK. Whilst their work is ongoing at the moment and their website is not live yet, do please sign up for their newsletter by following this link here. Their mailing address is ealnexus@britishcouncil.org.

Another presenter from HAMD, Agnes Wolanin, the Academy’s EAL Manager, delivered a useful presentation on Strategies to support EAL students. Having refreshed our memories with a short overview of strategies helpful for EAL learners, she focused on a few specific examples.

  • Envelope Race involves preparing a set of envelopes with tasks inside them for a few groups of learners who need to carry out the tasks. Once they complete the first envelope tasks, they need to move on to the next and race the other group(s).
  • Thesaurus Race is about students racing each other to find 3 synonyms for selected word or words.
  • Market Squares is about work in groups and students becoming experts in a field of knowledge and then sharing this knowledge with members of other groups.
  • Colour Domination is about tasks written on separate pieces of paper and placed around the room. Each student is given a different coloured pen and needs to write down their answers. The person whose colour dominates the page wins.
  • Graphic organizers provide opportunities for explaining concepts, structuring thinking and, Agnes says, can be reinforced with games.
  • Glogster: this one I haven’t heard of before! This is a great-looking resource that is used to create virtual posters, where you can combine the visual, audio, text, videos and hyperlinks and share them digitally with others.

A host of ideas to take home!

Aurelie Debruyne, also with HAMD, delivered a presentation on Useful online EAL resources – always good to hear from practitioners about their online finds! – there are so many, but it’s good to hear what works in other teachers’ classrooms!

  • www.worldstories.co.uk – a collection of stories from all over the world in English and other languages
  • www.eslflashcards.com – free downloadable flashcards
  • www.starfall.com – activities to learn phonics and learning to read
  • www.eslgamesplus.com – online games and printouts
  • islcollective.com – worksheets (vocabulary, grammar, reading, speaking)
  • www.englishbanana.com – worksheets
  • www.oxfam.org.uk – has a lot of activities on various types of cultural events (e.g. Refugee Week)
  • www.oxforddictionaries.com – has a lot of activities for students to practice dictionary skills

Finally, I am reporting on Listening for Literacy for EAL students , a presentation given to us by Peter Burns. In a very lively, engaging and entertaining talk, Peter spoke of the literacy needs implications for EAL students who have much smaller listening / speaking store than native speakers (of English) children and of the importance of repeated listening both at school and at home.

So what kind of listening are we talking about here? Well, for instance, Peter says, we could use Role Plays – conversations can be acted out and students can speak and listen for various tones of voice and expressions (as opposed to just reading). Songs (need to be chosen carefully, of course) have links with poetry, can be enhanced by grammar exercises and, again, can be turned into role playing activities. Here, Peter used an example of the song Cherish by Terry Kirkman, where the phrase “I’ve wished that I had/could…” is repeated a few times in the lyrics. He points out that lyrics/poems can be used for the teaching of grammar, e.g. “I’ve wished” is an example of the present perfect tense. Further, he provided us with an example table showing how songs can be used to teach grammar (like above), but also literary/poetic techniques, of course, thus neatly linking the learning of the language itself with English curriculum (poetry).

I think the most fabulous part of Peter’s presentation, to me, came when his slide on teaching onomatopoeia came. Here, he reminded us that different things have different sounds in different languages. In his example, the name for the sound that a cock makes will be different in Urdu, English, Bengali, Italian, etc. As a Polish person, I know for a fact, for instance, that the Polish “hau” (a dog’s barking) is “woof” in English. Onomatopoeia can be then made into an exercise for EAL students where they have make a name for a sound (e.g. sound of a motorbike).

There were two other presenters, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make proper notes on these speedily enough! One was from Asylum Welcome, which supports refugees and refugee seekers in Oxford and Oxfordshire, providing them with information and advice, services for detainees and young people and education advice. They do have speakers, a host of resources for schools and organize awareness-raising events, so do bear them in mind! Have a look at their website at: http://www.asylum-welcome.org/

We also had a presentation from Pearson on MyEnglishLab (http://www.myenglishlab.com/), an online website for students of language, full of activities for English language learning. Whilst predominantly aimed at the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) audiences, there are (and I can vouch for that as I do have background in EFL to begin with) strong links between EAL and EFL. E.g. ever heard of EAL’s DARTs (Directed Activities Related to Texts)? Do pick up one or two EFL coursebooks from 5 (or more) years ago and you will see similar ideas simply there for years in EFL coursebooks (they would not be named DARTs, but the idea is very close or actually the same).

This was a very invigorating event – full of ideas and different perspectives from different practitioners in EAL

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