End-of-year reflection activities for EAL students

Most international schools have finished or are about to finish their school years. These last weeks of school are usually busy with assessments, report writing, and admin work, but there is also time and space for fun such as school trips and non-academic activities. These last few lessons also provide great opportunities to reflect on the year’s work both for students and teachers.

Image by Mathilda Khoo

EAL students often find it hard to do reflection activities. There are several reasons for this:

  • the task itself might be too complex and too cognitively challenging for them,
  • they lack the necessary language structures or lexis to be able to reflect in English, or
  • they might be feeling like they haven’t learned enough.

Here are my top tips for engaging EAL students more in reflection activities:

  • ensure they understand what they have to do. Break down the task into smaller, manageable tasks. For instance, instead of giving them a complex question such as “Think about what you’ve learned this year and reflect on how successful you have been“, you could provide them with a list of shorter, simpler questions like these: “Can you name three topics we have covered this year? Which topics did you like the most/least? Why? Which topics did you find the most challenging? Why? Which topics do you think you need to revise over the summer? Why?” You can read more about giving EAL-friendly instructions here.
  • make sure they have a written record. Verbal instructions are fleeting and can be intimidating for students with low levels of English. Whether it’s on a piece of paper, on the whiteboard, or on a slide, written questions and instructions allow EAL students to re-read them as many times as they need to.
  • make the reflection ‘language light’. Instead of open-ended questions, consider giving EAL students the option to indicate their reflection with smiley faces, colours, ticks or crosses, etc. This way they won’t have to worry about finding the right words but can still be involved in the valuable activity.
  • give them sentence starters or speaking/writing frames. Depending on whether you want them to reflect in writing or orally, you could help them along by giving them frames or sentence starters so they only have to fill in gaps or finish sentences. For instance, I really enjoyed … I have found ____________ challenging because … I need to revise ___________ in particular because …
  • allow them to reflect in their L1s. They will probably have more ideas if they are allowed to use all of their languages. Consider allowing them to use their L1s and then translate (with the help of other students, a dictionary, or Google Translate) their ideas into the target language.

If you try any of these ideas, I’d love to hear whether they work for you. What other tips would you add to the list?