Get into The Zone!

This passing week, on Tuesday, I hosted a PGCE EAL Day at my secondary school. Following my hour-long lecture on the context of EAL in England and acquainting them with some differentiation strategies, the nine pre-service Geography teachers came over, accompanied by their tutor, for one day (a very rare opportunity in England!) to observe an EAL lesson, speak to my two EAL TAs, speak to the pupils, and, by the end of it, adapt a Geography lesson to the needs of EAL learners.

They produced wonderful differentiated resources. Indeed, they had images of volcanoes with opportunities to label, some tried graphic organisers and other key visuals, in line with what I told them. They had gap fills (reflecting my insistence on using DARTs – Directed Activities Related to Text), some had had sequencing activities.

But they were all missing one crucial thing. That one thing that EAL learners actually need to be taught. Language. It was gone. It was non-existent. All of the gap fills, labelling exercises, those beautiful wonderful image-rich activities were missing the language. Not for a single moment did these activities check the prior knowledge of and/or taught the language – precisely the thing that is a barrier for EAL learners from accessing the curriculum.

These teachers might have been pre-service, but it’s something that I’ve seen before amongst both NQTs and other more experienced teachers. Content takes so much precedence that language is actually forgotten. So here is my (strong) suggestion: in order to truly and successfully differentiate for EAL learners, in your planning process you simply need to get yourself into “THE ZONE”. 

For me, an EAL teacher, the zone is the curriculum content. My remit is mainly to teach language, but I need to do so through the curriculum – thus, whilst my main objectives are language, I take a percentage of my planning time (10-20%) to think how I am going toincorporate other subjects into my language lesson. I want to teach Present Simple? Fine, how can I do this through Maths, or through Science?

For mainstream teachers, your zone is language. For those 5-10 minutes whilst you are planning, forget the content. Forget Geography, History, D&T content – just focus on the language. Is the text you’re working on written in Present Simple? Or in Past Simple? Whichlanguage aspect of what you’re doing might be challenging? Pick one and focus on the language. Consider the gap fill below:

What do acids react ____________? Acids react __________ metals, metal oxides, metal hydroxides and metal carbonates.

You just taught a preposition “with”. Language. You took 5 minutes – and focused not on the content, but language. Perhaps next time Aisha writes, you will finally get “react with”, not “react from”.

My suggestion: enter the language zone in your planning. Make that 5 minutes about language. If your mindset, for those 5 minutes, is about language, not content, you’re differentiating for language. And then sit back and watch those kids excel.

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2 Replies to “Get into The Zone!

  1. Hi Kamil,

    Another great blog post, thanks. How do you feel about the slightly disembodied language in those exercises though? They seem to focus on single items (like ‘with’, or tense morphemes) and less on the patterns of language and ways of using language appropriately for the context that are so important for multilingual learners.



    1. Thank you.
      Oh, I agree. They can be decontextualised. I wouldn’t use it all the time – I think it would be quite easy to use them for the sort of exercises that Gibbons suggests – differences between formal and informal use of them, for instance.

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