Consolidating mainstream teaching and learning in EAL lessons

Our EAL provision last year was a mix of in-class support along with some ‘additional English’ classes. When learners came to me for additional English, which in total was about two hours a week, I’d have already supported them over four lessons that week in mainstream science classes.

Rather than focusing on more general language development in the additional English classes, I thought it better to meet the immediate needs of learners head on. I’d gathered plenty of data on the learners from their mainstream classes (across other subjects too), so I planned lessons to either:

  • address gaps in their prior knowledge which were preventing them from accessing the learning
  • check understanding of key concepts
  • provide opportunities to produce the language they were encountering – the learners often showed comprehension, but the language wasn’t necessarily ‘in play’ for them
  • give space and time for learners to verbalise their thinking – those moments drift by quickly in mainstream lessons!
  • Give them a future direction – concepts they need to research, clarification they need from the teacher, etc.

Example (from one EAL lesson)

Here’s a basic follow up to a mainstream lesson on the digestive system. The mainstream lesson itself was really useful, with tons of new content for the learners, but not much opportunity for production.

The only resource was this:

A list of words cut up. I’d scribbled down the word list during mainstream classes based on the teacher’s input. Low-prep I guess.

Stage 1

Before giving the words, a few warm up challenges:

  • Grab a pen, board race, how many words to do with the digestive system can you remember? (2 mins)
  • Look at the list you’ve written. How would you group the words? (e.g. Are they organs? Substances? Actions?) (1 min)
  • Talk your partner through the journey of food through the alimentary tract. It starts in the mouth, where food is… and forms a…  (3 mins)

That last bit, monitor and give them some process language or words to plug a few gaps:

The bolus moves down  ________ and into ___________

… is broken down… etc

No pressure, it’s a first try.

Stage 2

Pairs or groups. Give them the list of words. Organise them into two lists: ‘I remember it / I’m not sure’.

Send people around from other groups to look at the ‘I’m not sure’ words. See if they can help explain them. Or they can ask about words the other group remember and they don’t know! Whatever…

(optional pronunciation task)

Reorganise the words by word stress pattern. Learners will say the words as they do it. Teacher subtle walks around, provide feedback and drill. Depends on your style. And the difficulty of the words!


Order the words based on the movement of food in the alimentary tract. Model the first bit as something like this (here comes a bitmap):

Don’t obsess over it, a general ‘rightish order’ – it’s not an exact science given the words (excuse the pun). The important thing is what’s going on during the discussion. Learners will be communicating about it, getting those words into play, verbalizing their thinking, all that.

  • Allow L1 if you want – it’s usually fine by me (but don’t tell my old boss). You might even choose to ask the learners to talk it through in their (shared?) L1, as they might have to learn some of the words in their first language too.
  • If they are using English, give them functional language as needed. Microteaching, perhaps sequencing language (First, then) depending on the level. Or more upgraded language, like once they get to things like ‘bile’ it might be ‘is released from’ rather than ‘comes from’

Check as a class, or just monitor carefully (depends on class number, I did this with a group of… 15?)

Stage 3 – Production! Disappearing prompts

  • Two-minute run through. Use the completed order of words. Learners take turns explaining each stage, with the support of the completed list in front of them.
  • Tell learners to remove (number, say, 5?) words from the list. The gaps where these words were should be clear. They repeat the challenge of describing the movement of food through the alimentary canal, and must remember and include the missing words.
  • Repeat, removing 5 more words.
  • Etc
  • Then, get them to complete the list again quickly. One student in each pair / group has their back to the list. They describe the process. Each time they say a target word, their partner turns it over. At the end, the speaker can see the list of words (mostly turned over) with a few that they forgot to mention! Give the other learners a turn. Note: good for listening, pronunciation, fluency, etc.

Stage 4 – Delve deeper

So, hopefully the words are more in-play now, and some key concepts consolidated. You might have cleared up a few points too for the learners, and you can feed back to the subject teacher about this (‘when you review the digestive system, ask so and so about bile – they have a good explanation for this’ / ‘Most of the class don’t really get the function of the pancreas – maybe we need to review?’, etc)

Learners can review the vocabulary in front of them and note down any questions they have for the subject teacher. If they have their science books to hand, they can also check back at some of the other language they may have encountered around the topic (protease, maltase, etc) and reflect on their understanding of these. So, hopefully they leave with a kind of ‘next step’ – something they need to review, ask the teacher, etc.

Follow up tasks if you want, if you feel a need. Making infographics, making a quiz, etc. I didn’t do that this time.

Stage 5 – Speak to the subject teacher

Give the subject teacher the word sets to use as a starter for the next lesson. Have them do a task like ‘how many words can you describe in a minute’ or something. Or just keep them in your vocab pot for a later review. Make sure you tell the subject teacher that the learners might have questions for them about the topic so they open the floor for that during the mainstream lesson somehow.


There’s lots of different skills practice here. It’s not teaching the learners anything new as such – perhaps plugging some gaps, but the aim is consolidation. AND… (semi-controlled) production. Mainstream teachers are sometimes (just sometimes) a bit content-content-content, and those opportunities for learners to use new language often get squeezed out. So, using additional English input to meet that need was useful. That said, it was a luxury to have that time available. If you could convince the subject teacher to give you 30 minutes with the whole class for a task like this, much better!

Categories: Lesson Ideas, vocabulary

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