Founder of ESL Reads
EAL Teacher and Curriculum Writer (Secondary)
4 Tips for Teaching Pre-Beginner EAL Students
March 5, 2023 by Lauren Piovesan and Assunta Crupi-Pogliano
No English? No schooling? Where do I start?
This week, I had the privilege of sitting down with Assunta Crupi-Pogliano to answer this question. Assunta is a teacher, and more recently, an author, who has 25 years experience working with EAL and LOTE
students in both the secondary and adult education systems.
In this blog post, I will walk you through 4 tips for working with pre-beginner EAL adults, as recommended by Assunta. They include:
- Tip 1: Repetition
- Tip 2: Sequencing
- Tip 3: Resourcing
- Tip 4: Total Physical response
TIP 1: Repetition
Assunta’s motto that she shares with her students is, “We learn English slowly, slowly,” and this is reflected in the way that she delivers her curriculum (AMEP/SEE/ Skills First). In speaking about repetition, she emphasised the importance of presenting the same vocabulary in a variety of different ways to allow students the time to learn a concept, build on it, retrieve it and consolidate it. “Start by introducing the vocabulary slowly and clearly, then do a variety of activities such as matching, a word find, a cloze, a multiple-choice, a cut and paste. Do it all with the same vocabulary and over a few lessons!” she explained.
By giving students time, multi-sensory activities and many opportunities to grasp new topics, it moves the information from students’ short term to long term memory. Remember, “Just because you taught it today, doesn’t mean they are going to remember it when they leave the classroom or even tomorrow. Give them plenty of opportunities to allow them to remember it,” Assunta advised. I think this is such an important sentiment as I used to become disheartened when students would forget the week’s learning or vocabulary. However, Assunta’s framework provides us with another way of looking at this situation. It is not that I wasn’t a good at my job, or that the activities weren’t helpful, but perhaps that I hadn’t given students quite enough time or opportunities to learn it.
TIP 2: Sequencing
Assunta then spoke about the importance of sequencing your tasks so that you move from the familiar, and extend students by just a little. By not jumping from concept to concept, word to word or worksheet to worksheet, your lessons should run seamlessly allowing students to consolidate their knowledge before being stretched. We have all brought in a last-minute worksheet that we know deep down is NQR for our class. Do you remember how it felt running around the classroom like a headless chicken, trying to help students on every single part of it? By carefully selecting your resources and scaffolding tasks, this will be a thing of the past; students will be able to complete tasks independently, and will gain confidence as a result.
TIP 3: Resourcing
With an oversaturation of teaching resources so readily available on the net, it can be difficult to stop yourself from becoming a “Magpie” as Assunta calls it! A “Magpie” takes worksheets and activities from a range of places and makes them fit into your lesson. Assunta cautions against this for pre-beginner adults as this method could mean detracting from the flow of your scaffolded tasks. It can also be overwhelming for students to see multiple different layouts and try to follow them.
On this, Assunta acknowledged that the lower the level, the greater the challenge of finding appropriate material. This year, Assunta is teaching a Course in EAL. She loves using Bernard Miles’ English Express Beginner Workbook. This is an example of a carefully scaffolded resource which allows for repetition and consolidation, not to mention the amazing animations which bring the dialogues to life. As part of the learning strategies unit, Assunta has also introduced her class to the level 1 reader, Taw Meh Can Speak by ESL Reads. According to Assunta tying in short, relatable and accessible stories to the curriculum allows for contextualisation of the performance criteria and required knowledge and skills of units.
When it comes to teaching pre-beginners, however, that’s when finding quality resources is a struggle which leaves many teachers, like Assunta, with no choice but to create their own worksheets. Not only did Assunta create her own worksheets, but she designed an entire workbook! This workbook, The Initial EAL Workbook embodies the tips laid out in this blog to a tee, and is formatted in such a clear, user-friendly way. Trust me, anyone teaching this cohort will look at it and sigh with relief!
TIP 4: Total Physical Response
When it came to tip number 4, Assunta got very animated. She even sang for me! Total Physical Response in Assunta’s classroom includes the following:
- Using “show me” as another way for checking understanding e.g., “Show me your pencil,” (student holds up pencil). “Show me your leg,” (student points to leg).
- Morning routines using song and body actions. The class goes through the alphabet and does actions for whether the letters are short, tall or falling on the line (think handwriting) and use the chant, “Some letters are small, some letters are tall and some letters fall.” They also sing vowel songs and use their hands and legs to make the vowel shapes. Think YMCA but instead an AEIOU version.
- Whole class reading where students standing up when they hear a word that is part of the sound of the week, or a key vocabulary word.
When doing these activities with adults, Assunta explains that you need to tell students the benefits of “Total Physical Response” on their memories and learning. As a rule, when deciding if the activity is appropriate for adults, use this: “If you think it is quite funny or fun, do it!”
In my conversation with Assunta, it was incredible to see how she uses common EAL pedagogy in a very thoughtful, considered and planned way to deliver a curriculum where students can be successful and confident. Thank you Assunta for sharing your wisdom and advice, and best of luck with your workbook!
The Initial EAL Workbook available for purchase through the EAL Resources 4 Adults website.
If you enjoyed this blog, look out for part 2 (in a fortnight) where Assunta takes us through how to create a safe and respectful classroom environment for this very cohort!
Assunta Crupi-Pogliano has spent the last 25 years teaching EAL and LOTE (Italian and French), firstly in the secondary school setting and later in the adult education sector. She loved the adult sector so much that she juggled secondary teaching by day, and adult teaching by night early in her career. She has now found her place teaching in the adult community sector and her passion for this space is evident!
*Please note: Assunta and I are teachers, and what we write about in this post comes from our observations and experiences working with EAL migrant and refugee students. The resources mentioned are based on Assunta’s own research and experiments in the classroom, and is not endorsed by the authors, illustrators or companies that feature here.