Teaching Tips: 6 Sharp Strategies That Help EAL Students Bloom into Fluent Speakers

Want to see your EAL students bloom into bright, bilingual beings? 

Planting the seed of one language and watching it sprout into two is what EAL is all about.

With the right teaching methods, your lessons can rain down and nourish those seedlings in a fun and effective downpour.

Through contextual, practical and L1/L2-ability-focused learning, your students will absolutely blossom.

So how can you provide this supportive environment of growth?

Here are six powerful tips specifically for teaching EAL learners—which you can keep in your teaching toolkit for the rest of your career.

6 Trendsetting EAL Teaching Tips

1. Become More Visually Minded

Putting your visual foot forward as an EAL teacher plays a vital role in your lesson plan development, as well as student engagement and attentiveness. Your students most likely work in a visual fashion, which is why a visually-minded EAL teacher is more successful, and generally more fun to have English class with.

Using visuals can assist in cognitive learning, memory recall, summarizing and presenting vocabulary at any language level. Another neat way to become more visual with your students is to take photographs during class.

Here’s how you can incorporate this tip into an activity.

Visual activity

This can take one or two days, depending on your class schedule. Two hours would be the sweet spot, and don’t forget to bring your camera to class.

  • First, you will need an activity for the students to do while you take pictures. Pick an activity that will allow students to engage with one another, such as a picture card verb match exercise in partners. For that exercise, you would need to prepare sets of verb cards with three cards per verb: a cartoon picture of the verb in action, the verb written in English and the verb in the student’s mother tongue.
  • For the picture card verb match exercise in partners, you will need to develop a few decks of at least 15 verbs per deck. At three cards per verb, your deck will amass to 45 cards. Have a few familiar verbs mixed in with a few new and challenging ones, keeping your class on their EAL toes.
  • Each student pair will spread the cards around face up and begin matching the cartoon verb with its corresponding English word, as well as the native language version.
  • As your student pairs begin the activity, walk around the classroom and take photos of your students. Take as many photos as possible, some of them in action, some of the cards and some of classroom objects or spaces.
  • Before the next class, upload the photos so you can show them via projector or computer. You could also print them out depending on your budget and schedule. Pick the photos you think will bring out the most from your students, some portraying an easy-to-describe event, and some more challenging.
  • As you reveal each photo to your students, ask them key questions, allowing them to summarize the events, people, places and objects involved. Your students will enjoy seeing themselves in the photographs, and they may make for some wonderful classroom memories for you and your students down the road.

2. Open a Collaborative Classroom

Collaboration is the cornerstone to any EAL teacher’s tool kit. It provides students with the opportunity to communicate in English, express their native language, build confidence and also gears them up for English use in real-life situations.

When you open a collaborative classroom, you are allowing your students to develop key English skills that are not only useful, but essential for higher language levels to come.

The barrier game is a collaborative activity that places an emphasis on teamwork, listening and following instructions. Here’s how to play:

Collaborative activity

  • First, decide what type of curriculum-based learning you want to employ. This will be dictated by your students’ ages and/or English levels. For the purpose of this activity example, we will use beginner level material like colors and shapes.
  • Next, you will pair up your students and place them sitting back to back. You will give each student a set of four different shapes and four different colored pieces of paper.
  • Student A will place his or her shapes on the colored paper of his or her choosing. Then, Student A will tell Student B the pattern.
  • Student B will try to place his or her shapes in the same locations as Student A, solely by listening to Student A’s verbal description. Once the pair thinks that they have the correct order, they will raise their hands and you can watch them check their work.
  • If the student pair accomplished “breaking the barrier,” you can move them on to five, six or even seven shapes.

The barrier activity can be put into action using numbers, graphs, words, phrases or other various objects. You will want to ensure that the activity is challenging based on student level and English comprehension.

3. Use Graphic Organizers

Using graphic organizers in your EAL classroom gives your students the opportunity to organize their thoughts and specific details prior to expressing them verbally. Activities surrounding graphic organizers will also involve new vocabulary contextually.

For example, graphic organizers for your English learners can assist them in developing language relating to cause and effect, explaining a period of events, and/or building a foundation for critical thinking through classification.

You can also use such organizers to further learning objectives and reinforce comprehension of previously presented material. There are so many possibilities here, but below is an activity involving just one type of graphic organizer.

Graphic organizer activity

  • In this activity, you will give your students a primary question, which they will answer throughout the week. Students will record daily answers in their graphic organizers. For example, “What time did you eat dinner today, and what did you have?” is a question that would work well for this activity.
  • You will need to craft your graphic organizer worksheet with the primary question at the core. Think of your graphic organizer as a simple flow chart. You can have your students write in the primary question, or have it printed in the worksheet prior to the activity.
  • Once your graphic organizer worksheet is student-ready, print it out and present it to your class. Although this is a week-long activity, you can check in with your students daily and keep a close eye on progress.
  • Using our example question, your students would record the day, time and what they had for dinner in the graphic organizer.
  • At the end of the week, you can open the classroom for discussion regarding each student’s organized log. Ask specific students questions like “What did you eat Thursday?” or “What time did you eat dinner on Monday?” to engage them further, allowing a continual skill-based learning process.

Following up on this particular activity is best practice, having your students write out a brief description that organizes their weekly dinners in a sequence that they will present in front of the class. You could even employ a graphic organizer each week to further student growth.

4. Develop a Dramatic Setting

Role play promotes a wealth of English language skills that not only allow for practical language use, but also fun. Drama role play activities are beneficial for EAL students in a variety of ways. They allow your students to build as much confidence in English as they have in their native tongues.

Drama and role play activities also reinforce language concepts presented in previous lessons, giving you the opportunity to check comprehension and proper usage. It may also be beneficial to have your students perform their role play in their native language, as well as in English.

Here is a role play activity you can use to get started.

Dramatic activity

  • For this particular activity, split students into groups of four.
  • Each group will be acting out a news broadcast consisting of two news anchors, one sports broadcaster and a weatherperson.
  • Give each group some basic elements to include, but let them develop the actual script as a group. It’s fun when your topics involve the town where your school is located. For example, the sports broadcaster could discuss the local soccer team, the weatherperson would explain the current weather, etc.
  • If you decide to let students develop the skit in both their native language and English, it is best practice to let them first start in their mother tongue. Then they can easily transform it into English.
  • Once scripts have been developed by your students, it’s showtime. Let each group perform and allow a question and answer session from their classmates afterward.

5. Employ Scaffolding

Scaffolding is a foundational component for EAL teaching, using the L1 abilities of your students in order to present new challenging material in the second language. This can be implemented in a variety of ways, especially regarding vocabulary.

However, scaffolding can be a tricky teaching method, since you will need to remove the scaffolding quickly to ensure the L1 crutch will not cause any learning issues. When scaffolding is successful, your students will blossom into independent language learners and be more confident practitioners.

The following is a vocabulary-minded scaffolding activity you can use to challenge your higher-level adult students. You will be utilizing your students’ L1 abilities as scaffolding by appealing to their interests, careers and job aspirations.

Scaffolding activity

  • First, you will need to do your homework. Find out what your students are interested in, what job aspirations they may have, and the careers they may currently be pursuing. This will give you the essential tools to develop the new vocabulary you wish to present.
  • Choose vocabulary in your students’ native language that you have drawn from their interests and present it to them. This not only promotes enthusiasm for the material, but also adds a practical usage. Have a few easy ones to keep confidence boosted, but also challenge your students with words whose English translations they probably do not know.
  • Once an L1 vocabulary word is presented, let your students explain the meaning in English, if possible, before presenting the mirrored L2 English translation. Cover the English versions in a bit of detail, combining them with their corresponding English definitions, as well as addressing student questions.
  • Once all L1 and L2 vocabulary is understood, have your students craft a paragraph using each new English word. This will further reinforce their L2 ability and allow you to remove the scaffolding L1 version in short order.

Since you also employed vocabulary that resonates with your students’ interests, they will likely be eager to develop paragraphs that relate to their personal or professional lives.

6. Model Target Language

Modeling is a simple method with a big impact. When you use modeling, you are engaging your students with an effective method that not only presents new English material, but dives deeper into it. You will be able to put contextual emphasis on the English material while giving your students an oral or written mode of understanding.

Modeling can be used to develop grammar, organize a sentence, paragraph or full length email for all levels of learners. For example, you can explain proper sentence structure by examining a written sentence together in class, explaining if a word is a verb, noun, adjective, etc., as well as noting formal and informal words used in the sentence. This can also be great for paragraphs as well.

It is also be beneficial in reading activities. You can orally model how to pause at commas and periods, as well as modeling proper pronunciation and tone fluctuation. Your students can see or hear how it’s done in presentation, before giving the material a go in the practice and production stages.

Here is an example email activity that has a modeling focus for your students.

Modeling activity

  • In this example we will present a business email outlining a specific matter. But when applying it to your own class, consider what type of emails your students may be sending and approach the lesson with a perspective leaning toward usefulness. Craft a model email and present it to your students in worksheet form, on the board, orally or via projector.
  • Here is an example business email we will use.

Dear Mr. Hart,

I trust you are doing well. Thank you for sending the reports so quickly. I am able to gather most of the information needed to move forward, however, page 6 of the document is missing from the file. Could you kindly send page 6 at your convenience?

Thank you for your ongoing assistance on this project.

Yours Sincerely,
Daniele McGrath

  • Once the email model is in front of your students, begin breaking it down. Explain why you used certain vocabulary (formal vs. informal), why each sentence is structured in a certain way, and have them note the overall structure of the email.
  • After you have covered all the essential material, cut your students loose to craft their own email. Pair them up and let Student A be the sender with Student B receiving and responding.


The pedagogy of teaching EAL learners is unique, with a myriad of possible activities at your fingertips. Coupling the L1 and L2 language abilities in your curriculum is an essential aspect that will ensure student success.

Whether you use scaffolding, modeling, visuals or graphic organizers, you will see their confidence grow as they blossom into independent learners with a contextual grasp of two languages.

Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With nearly a decade of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

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