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English Language Learner in the Classroom

 Learning a language is to understand others, to form connections.”                         - Anonymous


Many classroom teachers have little or no experience in teaching English as an Additional Language (EAL). At first, the task these EAL learners face in learning English may be  overwhelming to the students and their teachers. However there are some guides for helping newly arrived EAL students to settle in. There are also many practical strategies and ideas for use during their first few weeks in mainstream classroom settings.

For this post, our target group is EY/ES EAL students. But there are some strategies that would be appropriate for secondary students, too.


Welcoming the new student

Try to put your students at ease by providing a warm welcome.



It is really important that classroom teachers know about the language and learning background of new students. They should find out how much schooling a new student has had in the country of origin and the literacy level in their first language and in any other language in which the student may have been taught. Competency in English is not the same as cognitive ability or development.

Placing Students

New students are eligible to attend an English language program if they speak a home language that is not English and require intensive instruction in EAL. For this reason, they require additional services in order to develop their individual potential to be successful with the school curriculum.

Settling in

New students may not immediately start to use the English language. There is likely to be a period in which new students prefer to watch and listen. This is a natural and understandable response to a new situation and new language. Never force oral communication.

It is important, however, to get some form of communication going. Don’t be concerned if it’s non-verbal. The important thing is that both the teacher and the student are communicating. To get the message across, you can use:

  • gestures
  • miming
  • sketches
  • pictures
  • illustrations



  •  Value and accept all attempts by your student to communicate. Respond to the content of the communication, not the form.
  • By responding in this way, you will provide positive and encouraging feedback and correction, and value your student’s attempts to communicate.
  • In any communicative interaction, your student will need thinking time to comprehend and then formulate a response.
  • Remember, your student will understand more English than can be produced.

understand but can produced english

  • Part of the process in both first and second language leaning involves hypothesizing the rules and structures of a language. Second language learners formulate rules for themselves in a way that makes sense to them. Any errors should be supported and not labelled as incorrect. They indicate that learning is taking place. Provide positive and encouraging feedback and modelling. For example:

language errors

  •  Learning a new language is a long-term developmental process, and it is likely to take from five to seven years for a student to become fully proficient in English. The rate of learning will vary depending on student’s age, educational background, self-confidence, and previous teaching and learning styles.
  • Try to avoid cultural misunderstandings by familiarizing yourself with possible areas of misinterpretation. For example, in some cultures it is disrespectful to make eye contact with teachers, or speak unless spoken to.

cultural difference

  • Don’t assume a student is at the same stage of conceptual development as the other students in the class. Variations may occur due to different school starting age and differences in the curriculum at their former school.
  • Some parents/guardians may also be learning English, so may be able to assist their child as they learn English together. Encourage them to continue language development at home and assist their child with English when they are able to do so.

Teacher Talk

You can help your new EAL student by observing the following points when speaking to them and the class as a whole:

  • Speak at a normal pace. Don’t speak too quickly or loudly.
  • Use clear, common, consistent instructions and repeat if necessary.
  • Don’t use jargon and colloquialisms.

use of jargon

  • Use verbal cues and gestures to support talk.
  • Don’t overwhelm student with too much talk. Speeches and long-winded explanations with no non-verbal clues can confuse and discourage students who are struggling to understand, causing them to ‘tune out.’
  • Reinforce your oral instructions in writing where appropriate. This helps your student to see as well as hear the new language.
  • Ask real questions and expect real answers.

Involve Other Students

Most of the activities that your EAL student is involved in should be shared with other students. This will promote English language learning and help friendships to develop. By doing some of the following activities, you will acknowledge your new student’s language and culture while helping the rest of the class react positively to the new student’s situation and culture:

  • Teach some simple greetings in your new student’s first language to the other students.
  • Establish a buddy system within the class to help settle in the new student.
  • Encourage all students to share the responsibility of helping the new student settle in.

activities promote cultural acceptance

A new student will be desperate to communicate. If language learners can’t express themselves as well as they would in their native language, teachers should not mistake a lack of language for a lack of intelligence or maturity. Instead, they should make a conscious effort to see past the accent and mispronunciations and treat every interaction – every student – with the respect they deserve. English language learners are brilliant kids; they just can’t tell us in English yet.



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