Founder of ESL Reads   EAL Teacher (Secondary)

Empower your EAL/D Students with a Wellbeing Curriculum

October 24, 2022 by Lauren Piovesan

One of my most favourite things to teach EAL/D students is about the brain and the body! I’m by no means a health teacher, but I have been fortunate to have flexibility over unit themes. I have found teaching these topics empowering and insightful for students, as they have brought out some of the best questions for inquiry (as well as the most hilarious facial expressions!). Honestly, get ready to bite your tongue and hold back the laughter!

Over my time in the classroom, I have taught:

  • Growth Mindset & Neuroplasticity
  • The Menstrual Cycle
  • The Stress Response
  • The 3 Dimensions of Health (Physical, Mental and Social)

In this blog, I will briefly outline what I think was helpful for students and activities that really worked for my cohorts.

Growth Mindset & Neuroplasticity

I could talk for hours about this one! I don’t know about you, but many of my students developed such low self-esteem, anxiety around progress and an, “I’m not smart!” attitude. Teaching my students about how learning actually works was a game changer and met them at their level of intelligence.

Tips & Tricks:

  • Get hands on – I used wool to demonstrate how connections in the brain get stronger.
  • Visuals, visuals, visuals! It’s a tricky concept and students won’t understand it unless it’s well supported.
  • Use books (or parts of books) such as, My Fantastic Elastic Brain. There is lots on this topic now!
  • Use this an opportunity for goal setting.
  • Pair this topic with the biographical type stories that I spoke about in my previous blog. Athletes are particularly good!
  • Mindset is good for teaching negatives and contractions (I can, I can’t, I will, I won’t).

The Menstrual Cycle

I don’t think I’ve had quite as much fun teaching any other topic! While this is a difficult one to get students to attend due to religious and cultural reasons, it is so important for EAL/D students. I had an all-female cohort, but if you have males too, perhaps puberty in general is a more appropriate focus. 

1. menstrual-cycle-changes

Tips & Tricks:

  • Have question boxes that can be anonymous – great for focusing in on question forms!
  • Use props (sanitary products and any other tangible items you can get your hands on).
  • Use visuals, diagrams, colouring and videos. This is so good for sequencing and listening & viewing skills!
  • was my go to for this unit and it also provided some accessible texts for my students (high post beginner-intermediate).
  • There are some great menstrual cycle apps that you can use to improve students’ digital and organisational skills. I introduced them to Flo.
  • Use small group facilitated rotations so students feel more comfortable to share and ask.
  • L1 groups could be helpful. I could see my students wanting to talk but not having the English words.  
  • Get experts in to support (school nurses, refugee health nurses and sexual education experts). Again, excellent for listening and note-taking skills!

The Stress Response

I felt that this was such an important unit as the trauma our students carried often left them in an anxious state. Explaining the signs and symptoms of the stress response, what is actually happening in the body, and ways to calm it down was interesting to students. I won’t lie; this is a tricky concept for beginners to grasp, but visuals really helped them piece it together. 

Tips & Tricks:

  • Relaxation workshops can be fun. We trialled yoga, colouring, dot painting, meditation and more.
  • Label the body parts and symptoms e.g. sweaty palms, heart beating, legs shaking. Get students to trace their bodies (on butchers paper) and draw on them.
  • Teach the language for emotions alongside it.
  • Decide for your cohort how in depth you want to go here – the language can get pretty technical!

The 3 Dimensions of Health (Physical, Mental & Social)

Trust me when I say, it is eye-opening for students to know there is such a thing as mental and social health, and to know that they are inter-connected. 

Tips & Tricks:

  • Great information texts come out of this unit. We read them and created them.
  • Get ready to use graphic organisers – venn diagrams were fantastic!
  • Short, sharp rotations on sub-topics (e.g. sleep, nutrition, anxiety) in small groups worked incredibly well. Lots of great questions and comments came out around mental health attitudes and cultural beliefs.
  • My EAL/D team got advice from the school nurse, the year 11 Victorian Health Curriculum, and the Foundation House resource, HealthWize.
  • Run tasters for wellbeing strategies – try foods, go outside, flavoured water etc.
  • Build awareness for students around local services and do excursions there.

I am passionate about students having a greater understanding of the way their brain and body operates and how this affects their learning and their lives. Looking back on this unit, I wish I had done more to spark conversations about cultural health practices; this could be interesting for students to share!

I wonder if other EAL/D teachers have had similar levels of success teaching health topics, and if you have your own tips and tricks you can share, please leave a comment below!

*Please note: I am a teacher and am not in a health profession. What I write about in this post comes only from my observations and my students’ experiences across the 5 years that I have worked with them, which I communicate broadly here. 

2 thoughts on “Empower your EAL/D Students with Health and Wellbeing Topics”

  1. Thanks again Lauren for an interesting post 🙂 You have included some interesting topics here that I haven’t really considered including before. I am going to investigate further!

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