First lessons with EAL learners

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So you have new EAL learners in your class – what can you do to help them settle in? How can you get to know them a little better? Here are a few quick first lesson ideas that have worked for me:

First lesson idea 1 – Tour the school

EAL learners are not only new to the language, they are new to the school and possibly to the country too. They might not have any experience reading signs in the local language or in English so getting lost in school is a real worry. So, get your class to plan a tour of the school and potentially the surrounding areas (if they are safe and accessible!) to show the new arrivals around.

  • I usually show/draw a map of the school – or get the not-so-new learners to do so – and allocate the stops to individuals or groups.
  • If you are teaching a mixed ability class, make sure that your learners are working in groups and that each group has a more able English speaker.
  • Giving the class some questions to answer can help them plan what they want to say about each stop. E.g. What’s this stop called? When do you come here? What do you usually do here?
  • If you have very young EAL learners, it might even be enough for them to just name the stops.
  • Alternatively, when I had new students with no English, I went round the school and stuck the names of stops to the walls. Then I gave the students a map and they had to collect the English name cards during our tour. During the tour and upon returning to the classroom we drilled the names of the places we visited.

First lesson idea 2 – What’s your name?

  • Ask the students to form a circle and have a ball to toss around.
  • Stand in the middle and demo the activity. Toss the ball to a learner and ask ‘What’s your name?’ before asking the learner to pass the ball to someone else repeating the question.
  • This activity is useful even if most of your students aren’t new arrivals. You’d be surprised how comfortably children can be playing together without knowing each other’s names! It also helps everyone pronouncing names correctly.
  • Follow up: ask students to try and write an acrostic poem with their names. E.g. A – apple is my favourite fruit / D – do likes pear too / R – ripe ones are the best / I – isn’t that right, my friend?

First lesson idea 3 – Coat of arms

I have used this activity as an ice breaker for over a decade and it always goes down a treat regardless of the age of the learners (yes, even with adults!). Thanks IH Budapest!

  • Give each student a blank coat of arms template (or ask them to draw one) and ask them to divide it into 4 parts.
  • Show them an example of yours and explain what you have in each of the 4 sections. I usually go with simple things such as name/age/family members/home country/home language/flag/favourites (like colour, food, subjects, etc.) or hobbies.
  • This activity is great because it’s easy to adapt on the go and to grade it to the level of your learners. If you are working with very young ones, pictures or drawings are enough. Even if the children don’t say much, if they produce any drawings, you’ll likely learn something about them. It’s also a great way of asking them what each of the things is in their home language, which might help them get talking.

For more ideas on how to start the school year, click here and here.

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