EAL, Literacy

Develop thinking. Develop writing. Develop both through reading.

Robina Begum-EAL coordinator

What enters your mind when planning for EAL learners? For me as an EAL teacher and a mainstream subject teacher, whole-class teaching is at the forefront of my mind where all learners can benefit from EAL teaching strategies. I see all students as being in the process of language development but the needs they have are distinguished by each student’s stage of development.

Thinking in such a way, negates many of the concerns we may have about meeting the needs of EAL learners when teaching whole-class; the underlying premise being that we are thinking about language anyway and ensuring it is an integral part of our teaching. Supporting EAL learners involves doing what we do already, with some adaptations to recognise where they are on the continuum. It should also help to stress the equality of all learners regardless of how advanced their English skills are.

‘Although EAL teaching has its own distinctive pedagogy, it aims to teach English using the mainstream curriculum as the context. This involves developing specific resources which make the language of the curriculum accessible through, for example: increased use of visuals, scaffolding and modelling, while keeping the cognitive challenge and interest level high.’ (www.eal.britishcouncil.org)

EAL strategies can benefit learners of all abilities and I consider them as excellent literacy strategies which we can all use in our classrooms.

Active Reading

Simply reading and re-reading texts isn’t an effective way to understand and learn. Actively and critically engaging with the content can save students time.

Active reading means reading something with a determination to understand and evaluate it for its relevance to your needs. They allow readers of all abilities to benefit from lessons that practise the use of comprehension strategies proven to be habits of good readers.

A teacher making these strategies visible, strengthens the students’ independent reading habits and enables them to check the mastery of usage.

Using a newspaper

My favourite active reading strategy involves using a newspaper which is an excellent vehicle to teach literacy in subject areas. It is the perfect textbook because it is written at a level that many adolescents can read, some with ease, and successfully learn about content while practicing the chosen literacy skill.

The newspaper teaches students about themselves and their community, state, country and world. It teaches them to navigate text to find information and helps them learn about current events or their favourite sports. The newspaper is an authentic text because it directly affects students and the way they view themselves and the world around them. What better way to teach content?

Steps for using a newspaper as an active reading strategy

Active reading tasks may include the following:

  • PMI grid (Plus, Minus, Interesting)
  • Concept map
  • Diamond ranking
  • Fortune line
  • Mapping
  • Mysteries
  • Graphic organiser
  • Sorting and classifying
  • Opinion lines/corner
  • Inference grid
  • Text marking
  • Venn diagram
  1. Choose a newspaper article related to your lesson.
  2. Identify several major concepts related to the article that students are expected to learn.
  3. Develop four to six clearly written statements relating to the article.
  4. Statements should challenge students’ preconceptions and include some true/false assertions. (Note: Avoid generalisations and abstract statements.)
  5. Develop statements so that information can be identified in the text to support and/or oppose each one.
  6. Write statements on a support guide/template.
  7. Distribute the support guide/template. Students respond to each statement before reading and defend their answers in small-group or whole class discussions. They should be writing in the “pre-reading” column on the support guide/template.
  8. Discuss their responses.
  9. Remind students that the support guide/template helps them set a purpose.
  10. Read the selected article. Ask students to show you “evidence” in the text (i.e.where they found the answers). Students should highlight the information.
  11. Revisit the support guide/template and answer questions in the “post-reading” column.
  12. Engage students in summarising, discussing and expressing how the reading selection reinforced or challenged prior knowledge.

How will it help EAL learners?

This activity will enable them to:

• Distinguish between fact and opinion

• Predict what will occur in the selected reading.

• Complete the support guide before and after reading.

• Discuss misconceptions or answers on the support guide/template

• Articulate reasons why questions were answered the way they were.

Such activities help increase content knowledge and reading comprehension. The task aims to prepare readers for the text and things to look out for while reading. Some of the tasks will provoke deep discussion, opening lines of communication and inviting EAL students and those with special educational needs, into the conversation by helping them to participate successfully in conversations directly connected to their prior knowledge.

I hope you try out this strategy and that it stimulates your students’ engagement using texts!

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