Peasants Revolt: Differentiating for EAL in History

This short blog post is an example of my collaboration with a history teacher at my school. Unlike the other recent posts, this is not an example of a lesson I myself delivered. Rather, I suggested certain activities be used during the lesson, but I was not able to present in the lesson and did not deliver it myself. First, we’re going to look at what the core lesson content was, and then what I proposed for the EAL learners in terms of differentiation.

The resources I suggested took less than 20 minutes to prepare. The core History slides are the ownership of the History teacher.

The lesson’s topic was the Peasants’ Revolt following the Black Death period. The objectives were for the learners to understand the reasons behind this revolt and be able to explain the causes and consequences of the revolt.

First, the teacher planned to introduce the learners to the idea of protesting and included this slide, asking the students to consider whether or not they had ever protested themselves – and for what reason.

Next, the PowerPoint presentation to be used in the lesson contained several slides, with images attached (see below) that introduced the learners to both the causes and the consequences of the revolting, using a fairly simple language and narrative. Simple, but not simple enough for the two Stage B learners we were differentiating for. Upon reading the slides, it was apparent to me very quickly that the past simple tense was used throughout the text – unsurprisingly, of course, as the tense is routinely used in historical texts to talk about past events! Instantly, I knew we needed to focus on the past simple tense in order to make the text more accessible to the learners.

The students were provided with a graphic organiser where they were to record both 5 causes and 3 consequences of the revolt. At the end of the lesson, the learners had 2 options to choose from: either design a poster that the peasants might have carried in the 14th century or answer questions about short-term and long-term consequences of the revolt in writing.

Ok, so what differentiation was I able to provide?

The initial part of the lesson had the children consider why they might’ve protested in their own pasts. In order to enable the EAL children to participate, I felt we needed a substitution table for speaking. When you protest, you tend to be rather angry about things, so I coupled the substitution table with a cline (triangle). The learners were to put the words such as “mad”, “angry” and “fuming” from the weakest (the least angry) to the strongest (the angriest). When they did this, they should be able to make a judicious choice from the words provided in the substitution table to be used for speaking.

Now we are thinking about the historical account of the events and how to make the input (reading) comprehensible. I knew that some words would’ve been difficult for the EAL learners to understand, so I created a short glossary of terms for them – you see these in the image below. Words such as “peasants”, “identify” and “consequence” are rather challenging, so I simply translated these using Google Translate.

The learners needed to be able to focus on the tense itself as without understanding it, it would’ve been almost impossible to decipher the meaning of the text. What I provided was a list of irregular verbs, translated into their language (Polish). Luckily for me, this resource was already available to me!

Then, I took out most of the verbs from the History narrative of the events. I say “most” because I actually left those verbs that consist of an auxiliary verb and a main verb. One such example from this text is the passive voice past simple “was killed”. I was only after the individual one-word verbs here. As you can a list of the verbs necessary to complete the gaps is provided below the sentences – the students had to choose from them complete the gaps. They would need to be reminded, of course, that any “ed” word (such as “tried” is a regular verb and would not be able to be found on their list). Focusing the learners’ attention on the verbs and the tenses whilst providing them with the glossary of translated keywords should’ve enabled them to consider the meaning of each of the sentences and isolate the causes.

Had I had more time than I did on my hands, I would’ve also thought of how to differentiate the graphic organiser for these learners. Graphic organisers are, of course, a great way of lowering the verbal demands on learners at lower stages of English language acquisition; the one in the presentation did not allow them to create sentences for either speaking or writing. In other words, whilst the gap fill/cloze activity + the glossary would’ve allowed them to understand the text better and fill in the “causes” and “consequences” boxes, how would they actually make sentences out of these boxes?

If I were an EAL learner, I would find the arrows linking the causes to the events section actually quite confusing, and that’s because it looks like some causes are linked to “when” only, and some to “where” only and so on. This makes it difficult to complete this task.

Let’s think for a moment how, in speech or writing, we would answer the question, “Why did the peasants revolt?” Most natural would be, “The peasants revolted because…”, followed by a cause, for instance, “The peasants revolted because they hated being Villeins.” as opposed to a cause provided first and then “the peasants revolted” as in “Because they hated being Villeins, the peasants revolted.” If so, the graphic organiser needs to be altered so that the main clause The peasants revolted is positioned on the left with the cause in the middle, which will make it natural, by the way, to connect the cause directly to the consequence on the right-hand side of the piece of the graphic organiser. Therefore, see the altered graphic organiser for the EAL learners. This would also ensure that the EAL learners would need to repeat the structure The peasants revolted because… Repetition of structures is particularly important learning any new language. Chances are, this would be more accessible to many other learners in the classroom anyhow.

You might have noticed that I changed the question asked of students from “Why were the peasants revolting?” to “Why did the peasants revolt?” – this is simply because the original question is asked in the present continuous (-ing) tense. Dealing with this new tense would be too much of an ask of our EAL learners within this one lesson when we’re directing their focus on the past simple tense. We need to focus on one structure alone. If you are an EAL learner, you can’t deal with more than one grammatical structure per lesson.

If we want to continue our focus on the past simple when working with the graphic organiser – since we had our past simple tense gap fill prior – how would we incorporate it into the graphic organiser? There is an easy way of orchestrating this. In each of the “cause” boxes write a verb in its bare infinitive form. For instance, “say”, “hate” or “try”. Then, at the bottom of the screen, write the actual cause sentences but with the past simple verb removed. The learners’ task is thus matching the sentence to the verb that will complete it (without looking at the original text!) and, thinking back to what these verbs’ past simple form is.

For the consequences section of the graphic organiser, you could do the opposite: provide the sentences in the boxes, but remove the verb, and provide a list of verbs in their bare infinitive form at the bottom, e.g. “set” or “put”.

These procedures should result in:

  1. your EAL learners being able to access such texts – and yourself making the input (reading in this case) comprehensible to them,
  2. your EAL learners being able to speak or write sentences about the subject of the lesson with understanding,
  3. your EAL learners practising and improving the very tense that pervades the entire subject of History – the past simple tense.

You’ve just delivered content-based language teaching. This is what the distinct EAL pedagogy is all about.

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One Reply to “Peasants Revolt: Differentiating for EAL in History”

  1. Really inciteful and potentially useful. I do think this needs to be backed up with the methodology to support the student as an individual rather than a pupil with the label of EAL.

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