Want to Become a Great EAL Teacher? Here Are 5 Valuable Tips to Keep You on the Right Path

You have a passion for language, don’t you?

A desire to share the intricacies of your mother tongue with others who are hungry to learn?

Or perhaps, after several years overseas on the ESL trail, you’ve decided the lure of home is calling you back. You could be in your less carefree mid-thirties now, and wanting to gain professional status in the public school system of your native country.

Whatever your situation, becoming an EAL teacher might be the right next step for you.

So to give you a leg-up, we’ve put together five important tips that’ll help you become an effective EAL teacher.

What Is an EAL Teacher?

EAL, TESL, TEFL, ELL, TEFL and TESOL to name but a few—there are more acronyms in English language teaching than at a conference for non-governmental organizations. Of course, EAL stands for teaching English as an Additional Language.

But how does is it differ from teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), or teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL), for that matter?

While an EAL teacher may use similar strategies, techniques and pedagogy as other types of English teachers, in recent years EAL has become a distinct niche in the world of English language education. In its simplest form, EAL refers to the teaching of English to school children (whose first language is not English) attending schools in countries where English is the native language.

The “A” in EAL refers to “additional,” rather than secondary. This is because often the EAL student may already speak two languages. For example, a student who speaks Spanish and Catalan moving from Spain to the UK would be an EAL student.

EAL is also sometimes also used as the acronym of choice in international schools where English is the medium of instruction, where some students may require additional support in English.

How Do I Become an EAL Teacher?

The world is a small place, and—thanks to technology—getting smaller. For decades, many native English speakers have gone overseas to teach English. For some it was a rite of passage during their “gap” year, between finishing high school and starting their degree. Some saw it as a way to travel the world. While still others see it as a solid career.

The traffic isn’t all one way, however. There is a constant stream of migration across the world. This has seen a growth in demand for teachers of EAL in native English-speaking countries around the world. Many English language teachers around the world have seen their skills grow in demand in their home country. So, is this growing demand enough to tempt you back from Thailand’s paradise beaches, or those ancient archeological sites of Rome?

If, so how does someone become an EAL teacher? Well, for the most part, the routes are similar for all teachers in the public schooling system. EAL teachers must be fully qualified to work in their country’s public school system.

The two most common routes to gaining full certification are by studying a bachelor’s degree in education, or completing a post-graduate qualification in education after an initial non-education related bachelor’s degree.

This post-graduate qualification may take the form of a master’s degree in education, or a more vocational qualification, such as the Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in the UK.

While each country has general similarities, they will differ in the specifics. This is particularly true in the United States, as each state varies slightly in its requirements for state certification.

It’s worth noting too, that while some teachers specialize in EAL during their training, many more gain general teaching qualifications and specialize when they begin their post-qualifying career.

Spend some time considering the best path for your needs. Why close doors now which you may wish to go through later?

Aside from the teaching certifications required to teach EAL in certain countries, here are some valuable tips that will make you an impressive EAL teacher anywhere.

5 Proven Tips for Becoming an Incredibly Effective EAL Teacher

1. Communicate clearly and consistently

EAL students are of a wide variety of linguistic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They do, however, have one thing in common: on first arrival in an English language classroom, they will be a bit lost.

If you’ve taught overseas, you may well be familiar with this phenomenon. Sometimes you can’t express the simplest need. All those repetitive (and sometimes crucial) phrases may be beyond your linguistic abilities. Phrases and sentences such as “Thank you,” “Where is the restroom?” and “How much is that?” may not yet available to you.

Your ability to empathize with your students’ situation will go a long way to helping you understand what “emergency English” you’ll need to focus on at the start. To the phrases in the paragraph above, you might want to add vocabulary and sentence structures expressing hunger, sickness, whether or not something is understood or needs repeating, and asking for directions.

After this, the next focus may be classroom language: nouns related to classrooms, verbs built around school activity, simple teacher instructions.

A great way to get your classroom ready for your new students is to make use of visual displays. These may take the form of word banks posted on walls displaying helpful sentence starters. Displaying photos that reinforce regular teacher instructions can be useful too.

For example, you may display a photo of a class lined up to visually reinforce the verbal instruction, “Line up!” Photographs can be used to communicate a wide range of instructions. Having your first lessons built around getting your students to pose for these photographs can be a fun and memorable way to introduce them!

Use the same sentence structures for instructions you employ regularly. Beginning students may find it difficult to recognize the similarity between, “Now, I would like you to get together in your groups” and “Now, it’s time to join your work teams.” Pick a structure and stick with it in the beginning. You can differentiate the language as your students grow in confidence and ability.

You greatest resource here is empathy—especially if you can draw on your own experiences of being a stranger in a strange land.

2. Assess regularly to inform student learning

Assessment—the bane of the teacher’s life. Endless hours and seemingly endless reams of paper. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Assessment is an essential tool for reflective teachers. It allows us to take a student’s particular needs into account at the planning stage, ensuring for an effective delivery of the lesson objective. And, best of all, it doesn’t have to be a black-hole consuming all of your precious leisure time.

Here are some simple assessment tools to assess for understanding on the hop:

  • Thumbs up. At the end of a particular teaching point, ask your students to give a thumbs up if they understood fully, thumbs horizontal if partially understood, and thumbs down if they are still lost. This will give you clear visual feedback whether the class is ready to move on, needs reinforcement or would benefit from a complete re-teaching of the point.
  • Illustrate it. After having learned new vocabulary, can the students illustrate the word? This is possible for all parts of speech and will not only employ their creative abilities, but give you an opportunity to assess their conceptual understanding.
  • Explain it. Whether or not your students have been working on vocabulary, grammar, punctuation or pronunciation, have your students reteach it to the class. The process of trying to express their understanding of the material reinforces their understanding of it. It also affords you a valuable opportunity to assess the success or otherwise of your lesson.

3. Differentiate for your individual students’ abilities

We know everyone is a distinct individual; it’s a founding principle of western thought. But, do we reflect on that in how we plan to best meet the needs of our students?

Differentiation is a core principle of the skilled educator. It’s an important part of the teaching cycle of planning, delivery and assessment. Here are some fundamentals to consider when differentiating for your students.

Differentiation by outcome

Differentiation by outcome refers to setting different tasks for different ability levels in your class. This can be done more effectively as you get to know your students and their individual abilities better.

An example of this would be worksheets pitched at three different levels for the higher, middle and lower ability groups within your class, but all with a common learning objective.

Differentiation by support

Differentiation by support is particularly relevant where you have a support teacher. Often this will be a local teacher, in the case of teaching abroad. This requires liaison with your support prior to the delivery of the lesson.

Even without the benefit of a support teacher or teaching assistant, you can still differentiate by support in who you assign yourself to focus on in a particular lesson. Remember to cycle through all students in a given timeframe. Also keep in mind that differentiation is not only differentiating downwards to cater to your weaker students, but also upwards to keep your stronger students challenged. Have extension work prepared!

Differentiation by questioning

Differentiation by questioning is particularly useful in listening- and speaking-based lessons. Consciously differentiate the difficulty level of your oral questioning according to the needs of each student.

For example, after listening to an excerpt you may orally question weaker students with “what,” “when” and “who” questions which require them to extract straightforward pieces of information. Stronger students can be asked “why” and “how” questions which require higher level analysis skills, such as inference.

Again, this enables you to maintain focus on a common learning objective while still meeting the personal needs of your students.

4. Use visual realia as a teaching tool

Using realia is a very effective way to teach new vocabulary. It’s a great way to connect learning to the outside world, which ultimately is the aim of all language learning.

An EAL teacher, as defined at the beginning of this article, presupposes a certain level of professionalism and long-term commitment to that profession. It’s thus well worthwhile for EAL teachers to invest time garnering realia for a wide variety of purposes.

Over the first few years of teaching, build collections of realia around a variety of topics such as interests, eating out, holidays, celebrations, etc. Time well spent early on will reap rich rewards later in your career.

Some topics and themes arise more frequently than others. For example, food is an extremely important area. Why not rinse out and keep a used-up ketchup bottle and an empty cola can to begin your collection? You can easily add in that empty cereal box and packet of pasta a few weeks later. Now you’re well on your way to developing your food collection.

Use of realia not only connects learning to the wide world outside the classroom, but also brings variety, engages the students, appeals to kinesthetic learners and can be a ton of fun!

5. Model language patterns

It may have lost a certain amount of cachet in recent years, due to the dominance of the Direct Method of language teaching, but there is still an important role for old-school drills in any EAL classroom.

Good modeling helps students attain accuracy in pronunciation, develop correct sentence structure and improves listening and comprehension skills. In the context of the traditional rote learning that many students in developing countries have experienced, it also has the benefit of being a familiar methodology.

Practicing drills also acknowledges some of the fundamental differences between first and second language learning processes. They help students recognize language patterns and develop automatic, fluent responses to common exchanges.

A useful drill to practice with your students is the substitution drill. In this drill you focus on a typical structure, for example: Suzy learns English. Have the students make suggestion for replacing the verb with another suitable one, for example: Suzy studies English. You can perform these drills focusing on the verb, subject or object according to the needs of your group.

Drills have been around in language learning for ages for some very good reasons!


Just as language learning is on a continuum, so too is becoming the most effective EAL teacher you can be.

Use the planning, delivery, assessment feedback loop to help ensure you’re a reflective practitioner who is constantly acquiring improved teaching skills as the students develop their language skills.

Learning and improving together on that long road of language learning is the aim of the game. Enjoy the journey!

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