Category: strategies

Finding an Audience

A really important aspect to developing good writing habits in our students is to give them authentic or authentic-like activities through which to use their language.  A key ingredient to the authenticity of a writing task is to find an audience for the output.











This blog post describes a number of ways that teachers can provide authentic audiences for the students’ work.  Some super ideas for ELLs and L1Es alike.

image by Alan Cleaver 

Writing Like a Historian – EAL strategies make it into the mainstream

The guardian has published a short piece about the frustration felt by a Year 9 history teacher when confronted with otherwise academically proficient students’ lack of finesse in their written work:

My year 9 class are typical of many classes I’ve taught over the nine years of my teaching career; enthusiastic, bright, of limitless academic potential. But when it came to marking their written work I would be left tearing my hair out at their inability to express their understanding clearly.

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with the principles of teaching of ELLs (especially colleagues who have done the TESMC or ESLEL courses) that students must be given opportunities to bridge the gap between talk-like language and written-like language on the register continuum.  It is great to see the value of these learning principles being acknowledged for E1L learners too, and reflects the field’s long held and demonstrable* assertion that good EAL teaching raises attainment for all learners.

The author describes the seeming dissonance in teaching English in a History lesson, and counters well:

“Why are we doing English in history, sir?” came the question as I asked my year 9 history class what kind of word disarmament was. Having anticipated this kind of reaction I had an answer prepared: “Do we only use language in English lessons?”

He also remarks on the oft voiced concern that teaching language comes at the cost of curriculum content.  One might argue that without the  language skills to effectively communicate content knowledge, then the possession of that knowledge is of questionable value.  But the author goes further and demonstrates that in fact the language is used in the service of learning the curriculum content, and as such each is strengthened by the other.

Read the full article on the Guardian website here.

* see for example Eschevaria, J 2012

Why we need to teach academic vocab

The two videos below make an excellent case for why we need to teach academic vocabulary explicitly.

Firstly, John Cleese gives us a tour of the inner workings of the human brain…

… then we are treated to a game of cricket through the eyes and ears of our American cousins.

While these two clips do a great job of satirising two situations where the language can sound utterly incomprehensible to even the most proficient user of English, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that many ELLs risk finding ‘normal’ mainstream lessons just as baffling as what you have just watched.

There is a good summary of why and how we should teach academic vocabulary here.

An invaluable resource for delving deeper is Pauline Gibbons’ book ‘English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking‘. We have a copy in the EAL office, which colleagues are welcome to consult.

Google Docs for Joint Construction

This week we have been experimenting with joint construction of texts using Google Drive.

photo 2

The idea here is to allow students to share their ideas on-line then each take a specific role in using those ideas to create a text after a particular genre.

In the Year 7 class pictured, students were first asked to brainstorm ideas using a virtual bulletin board at for a balanced argument for eat or banning shark fin soup.  They then deconstructed a model discursive text that had been shared with them on Google Drive.  The students were then given specific roles to use the brain-stormed ideas to write either the introductory paragraph, the ‘arguments for’ paragraph, the ‘arguments against’ paragraph, or the conclusion.  Each student could see the work of their peers being created as they worked on their own.  They were able to mold their contribution to the evolving document and could share ideas using the chat feature of the software.

Once they had finished their first draft they shared the document with other groups in the class for proofing and editing.

It’s fairly early days for us with this approach, but we are finding it a very interesting way to get all students working together and sharing ideas and expertise in the pursuit of a common goal.

We’ll post some of the resulting work in due course.

Use of Technology for Promoting Speaking and Listening

We have been experimenting with using technology to enhance learning with our students.

Funny Movie Maker is a free app for iOS devices where you can cut out the mouth of a picture and children can record themselves speaking in its place.

This Year 3 group were learning about the features and characteristics of Roman Gods and Goddesses.  They prepared a speech, then used Funny Movie Maker to take on the persona of the God or Goddess who they had researched.

These are the results.