As a language teacher, you know that if your pupils are trying to use their English in a productive and independent way, they are likely to make mistakes. That’s fine, it shows they are giving it a go! The problem lies in them repeating the same mistakes because they either don’t know it’s wrong or they don’t know how to put it right.
We find that this happens often in our EAL context. Our learners are often immersed in the language both in and outside of school. As they are surrounded by it, they acquire vocabulary and new structures at a very fast pace, perhaps not in a specific order. Sometimes these structures are ‘half-learnt’.
Since their social English is usually good, they sound fluent and they are able to convey meaning successfully, they are rarely corrected on their mistakes until… a piece of academic writing is required!
That is where our work as EAL/ELL/EFL teachers comes in. After having done some research and having taught EAL in England for over ten years, we have understood how important scaffolding is during the learning process.
In her book entitled Scaffolding Language Scaffolding Learning, Pauline Gibbons (2015) brings scaffolding to the EAL context and explains that when new to English pupils first start school, they tend to have extra specialist support. As their English skills improve and they become better able to communicate, they will lose that support and will just have regular lessons in a mainstream class. It will then be down to the class teacher to perform two roles. They will be responsible for teaching the expected curriculum subjects, but also to make sure their EAL pupils’ language keeps developing.
Thinking of our teaching context, primary EAL learners in the UK, we have translated scaffolding into well-structured activities with less room for mistakes (but still enough space for pupils to make the language their own) for beginners to pre-intermediate pupils, A1 to A2+, CEFR. These activities are in a sentence maker and jumbled sentence format, amongst others. We have also found that visual support plays an important role when using scaffolding as a teaching technique. Therefore, our activities are highly visually supported. This approach not only avoids repetition (perhaps fossilisation) of errors, but also provides pupils with a great sense of achievement and independence with the right amount of repetition for them to retain new language and structure successfully.
Moreover, using sentence makers and jumbled sentences activities in mainstream class is a great way to meet EAL learners needs in a non-threatening manner by making curriculum content accessible alongside their developing language.
If you would like to see a bit more of our work, please go to https://www.cgpbooks.co.uk/primary-books/ks2/english/eal or get in touch with us: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Gibbons, P. (2015). Scaffolding Language Scaffolding Learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Roberts, S. and Queiroz Taylor, G.C. (2021). Primary EAL Workbook 2. Newcastle Upon Tyne: CGP.
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