Oracy development with Primary EAL students

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My group of KS2 EAL students are a mix of Year 4, 5 and 6 Korean and Malaysian Chinese children who all have their own personal needs when it comes to learning English. But one thing they share is that they need loads of oracy practice to be able to contribute to their lessons and keep up with their classmates. Here is an example of what I do to help them get better at speaking.


This term we are focusing on Science, specifically on living things. We have done a lot of vocabulary work to learn the names of animals, plants and natural habitats. They need to be able to talk about what lives in certain places in complete sentences, which is often problematic because

  1. they struggle with forming grammatically correct sentences,
  2. their affective filter prevents them from speaking up, or
  3. they find pronunciation of certain terms intimidating.

The lesson

Lead-in: I showed my learners a picture of a pond and asked them to draw it into their notebooks. Next, they had to listen to me describe the picture and draw any missing elements. They showed each other their drawings before they compared them to the description. This activity helped revise some key vocabulary from the previous lessons as well as reinfored the key grammar of subject-verb agreement and the there is/there are structures.

Orientation task: Next, I asked them to work in pairs and brainstorm as many things that can be found in and around a pond as they could. They had to list them in their notebooks and then we added them one by one to the Jamboard to check the spelling. They had to circle things typically found in the pond in green and things around the pond in red. (As you can see in the snapshot below, a student of mine noticed that rocks can be found both in and around the pond. This made me extra happy as it showed real understanding.)

Categorisation: I like using categorisation tasks and Venn Diagrams in my EAL lessons because they help me see if students can make sense of the material. Here, I asked them to look at a list of animals and decide if they live in the pond or in trees. To save time, we did this on the Jamboard by moving the words into the right categories, but it could easily be extended to more handwriting and spelling practice.

Oracy support: Once the categories were clear it was time to help them tell me about them in complete sentences. I displayed two gapped sentences and asked them to fill them in with the keywords. As a bit of extra revision, I also asked them to mark the missing commas in the lists, which was a recent learning objective for a writing class.

Speaking task: The students were now ready to tackle their speaking task … or so I hoped! They had to draw a picture of their own backyards or the nearest park and tell their partners about it in full sentences. The drawings took forever (!) because I forgot that young people don’t like to rush this kind of thing… and once they were ready, they only said a few words about them at best, while the listening partner stared silently.

So I realised I missed an important point and that I had a great opportunity to teach them something they desperately need and will find immediately useful: active listening gambits (e.g. I see! / That’s cool!, etc.). I gave them a stack of pictures with animals and the places where they live (because I had it on hand from one of the previous lessons) to play a pelmanism game with. Every time they picked up a card, they had to state what they saw in a complete sentence, while the listeners had to respond with an active listening gambit. This worked wonders! Not only did it allow ample repetition of the target language, but because of the choral nature of the activity, even the shier students were participating.


I started the following lesson with another round of the pelmanism game before we attempted to describe more drawings and pictures of living things to each other. By the end of this second lesson, the majority of the students could say a few full (!) sentences about them and the listeners were verbally showing their interest.

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