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Much of the learning that we all do throughout our lives is language-based. We read books and articles, we discuss ideas, we listen to explanations, we talk about problems that we are trying to solve, we look for information on the internet, we scan newspapers and journals and in many other ways use language to develop our knowledge and understanding. Bilingual learners have used their first languages to do this all their lives but, depending on their fluency and confidence in English, might struggle to do the same in an English-speaking environment. So in school many of them are learning a new language and new knowledge and concepts simultaneously.

Teachers have the responsibility for both the learning and the language development that takes place in the classroom. When pupils begin to understand a new concept, perhaps through doing an experiment or solving a problem, they are also being introduced to the language that expresses that understanding. For EAL learners much of that understanding will depend on non-linguistic strategies such as pictures and diagrams, practical activities, gesture and facial expression. But as confidence increases more use will be made of spoken and written language to express and explore the ideas.

Talk is central to learning. It allows pupils to explore ideas in a tentative, flexible and perhaps temporary way which permits rethinking and restructuring. For many children listening and speaking will come more readily than reading and writing. Pupils learning EAL will listen to English being used for learning and will be encouraged to use firstly social and later more academic language to express their understanding.

To make this possible teachers need to be aware of the likely language that the learning will entail and to plan for this to be used in a supportive and systematic fashion. Gibbons (2002) suggests that teachers need to be alert to a number of aspects of language in the curriculum. They need to ask themselves;

  • What spoken language demands there will be
  • What pupils will need to listen to
  • What texts pupils will be reading
  • What genres will be introduced
  • What aspect of grammar the tasks will entail
  • What specific vocabulary will be required

Effective planning is a vital component of teaching and learning. Teachers planning lessons to take account of the language needs of pupils learning EAL will need to consider how they can support understanding of teacher input in whole class teaching situations, the make-up of groups and peer support, opportunities for teacher-pupil interaction which model and extend language, and how learners can engage in appropriate activities. Drawing on pupil experience, adapting materials and using additional resources will also need consideration. Planning will need to be informed by: an assessment of each pupil’s stage of English language development, as well as their knowledge within the relevant content area; and attention to the relationship between curriculum content and English language requirements to enable pupils learning EAL to understand and respond appropriately.

Planning Frameworks which take account of pupils learning EAL

The diagram below outlines the stages of planning and delivery which take place over a lesson or series of lessons. The left side shows the core teaching and learning decisions; on the right is the added dimension of expanded planning for the EAL learners. The distinctiveness comes not only from the type of learning strategies, but also from the breadth of strategies that the teacher needs to draw on.




  • previous curriculum or skills knowledge
  • level of literacy, numeracy etc.
  • optimum teaching style and organisation for class and age group


Variables such as:

  • level of spoken and written English and language development aims;
  • previous educational experience;
  • other languages used.

Curriculum content and teaching/learning objectives for lesson/ week/ unit/ term.


Learning needs related to EAL proficiency. Language required for content understanding: concepts, vocabulary, language structures, functions.

Teaching strategy e.g. talk and whiteboard work, textbook, worksheet, video, demonstration, practical, explanation of activity etc.


Modifications to make teaching accessible to EAL learners, e.g. brainstorming previous knowledge, use of visuals to present content, teacher modelling, interactive talk, the use of L1 to assist comprehension.

Learning activities/ reinforcement – writing tasks, practical activities, collaborative activities, DARTS, worksheets, etc.


Modifications to activities to support language development such as working in pairs or groups using content language, completing diagrams or tables, or engaging in practical activites.

Outcome - written, spoken, diagram, model, drawing, game played, etc.


Outcome: pupil has used content language, has been supported in reporting to class, etc.

Planning: reinforce and extend newly learned language to enable it to be internalised, building on existing knowledge to identify development through new content, preparing to scaffold new material etc.

South, H. (ed) (1999) The Distinctiveness of English as an Additional Language: a cross-curricular discipline. p17 Watford: NALDIC

Some teachers have found that the planning framework suggested by Pauline Gibbons in her book, Learning to learn in a Second Language, helps to ensure the integration of curriculum content with the language learning needs of pupils with EAL. The planning framework has five columns. The first two (topic and activities) relate to the content to be taught. The next three (language functions, language structures and vocabulary) focus on the language which is relevant to the levels of the children, and which relates to the particular topic.

planning grid

In this example the class teacher and language support teacher worked together on a science topic with a Year 1/2 vertically grouped class. Planning paid attention to:

  • identifying the key concept to be taught;
  • identifying the groupings (ability, gender, first languages etc.);
  • the demands of the task for each group;
  • differentiated materials/appropriate resources;
  • specific language demands and language opportunities of the task using the planning framework.Maggie

Gravelle (2000) has devised this simple but very powerful matrix to help teachers plan to meet the needs of bilingual learners which many teachers have found useful:

Gravelle planning.jpg

The left hand column reflects the fact that children’s language development does not take place in a vacuum and is affected by both social factors (which includes everything from how the child behaves in a group to their experience of prejudice and racism) and the match between the child’s cognitive abilities and the demands of the curriculum. The top row reflects the need to consider and activate the child’s prior experiences, abilities and skills, to place these in the context of what the task demands and to devise appropriate ways of bridging any gap.

Gibbons, P. (2002) Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning, Portsmouth NH: Heinneman. Available from NALDIC publications
Gravelle, M. (ed.) (2000) Planning for Bilingual Learners: an inclusive curriculum, Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books
South, H. (ed) (1999) The Distinctiveness of English as an Additional Language: a cross-curricular discipline. Watford: NALDIC Available from NALDIC publications