cropped for blogs

Founder of ESL Reads
EAL Teacher and Curriculum Writer (Secondary)   

Unlocking the Potential of EAL/D Students: 2 Tips to Boost Participation in Mainstream Classes

May 31, 2023 by Lauren Piovesan and Lynette Lingard

When you have EAL/D students enter your classroom, it can be challenging to know how to teach them in a way that they can understand. Sometimes, you think you are being very clear, but then you are met with blank stares, daydreams out of the window, silence or a “Yes Miss / Sir” to your questions when you know that they really have no clue what you are on about! What’s more is that you know the student is capable of understanding, perhaps just not yet in the English language. When you’re faced with this situation, it can be very difficult not to feel overwhelmed. Right away, your mind might switch into damage control; visualising the mountain of professional development you might need, or all of the time you will need to modify this student’s work for each lesson. “You can’t do separate lessons for EAL students; it is unfair and untenable,” explains Lynette Lingard. In an interview with Lynette, an EAL/D specialist and consultant with 26 years of experience in the field, I ask her for her top tips for teachers who are new to having EAL students in their classes. Here is what she said:

  1. “Provide many and varied opportunities for purposeful talk.”
  2. “Explicitly teach grammar.”

“Provide many and varied opportunities for purposeful talk.”

Providing EAL students with many different types of opportunities to gain speaking confidence and “talk their way into understanding” is crucial for both the development of their English skills, and for them to be able to participate in and contribute to the class. Our English genres are also moving towards incorporating a greater number of spoken text types such as vlogs and videos, so this practise is preparing students for those kinds of academic tasks. However, Lynette warns against open-ended discussions and group activities where the outcome is not as structured. The activity needs to be very clear, well planned and logical, and the outcome of the activity should be reportable either in written or spoken form to others. Here are two ideas for how to do this:

1. Pair work

·        Put students in pairs and give them a clear task to do. One pair might share their findings with another pair to provide the students with a safe space to practise how to speak about the topic, before possibly also sharing back to the whole classJigsaw activities can work quite well for this and “give our students agency in a multi-lingual class.”

·        Activities such as think-pair-share on a specific question can provide students with more time, an opportunity to practise speaking and the chance to listen to the way other students express themselves. These kinds of activities are especially helpful before writing tasks because, “If students can’t say it, they can’t write it.”

2. Group work 

  •   Structured and well planned groupwork is great for EAL students. Be strategic about their assigned role in a group and make this role clear to students. Initially, you might appoint an EAL student as a timekeeper so that they have a clear job, and can focus on listening to others. Then, you might make them the reporter where they can focus on reading and speaking, rather than providing the ideas. Later, they might be appointed as the recorder – providing them the chance to listen and write. Scaffold their roles over time so that they slowly increase their confidence and participation in groups.

“Explicitly teach grammar”

Image courtesy of:

“It’s not enough to just expect students to pick up and understand English grammar.” We need to explicitly teach the grammar and the language features of the texts we’re asking them to produce. “EAL students also need to have the terminology (the metalanguage) to talk about their reading and writing.” They need to know the metalanguage and be able to use it so that they can discuss their work with you and with their peers.

As you are reading this, you might be thinking, “I don’t have time to teach language. Where am I going to fit that in?” Without a doubt, the Australian Curriculum is so demanding and jam packed that it can be challenging to see where the explicit teaching of grammar and language features can be squeezed in. Research has shown that teaching language explicitly makes a marked difference in improving outcomes for all students, not just EAL students. So it is well worth planning for!

“But how on Earth will I find time to learn all of the grammar and language features in the texts that I am teaching?” you might be thinking. Well, we have a solution for that too! It is not practical to expect you to teach yourself about grammar, all while teaching a full load of classes and dealing with the general craziness of the school weeks. You can try:

  • Asking your school for professional development around this as it is absolutely worthwhile. There are courses you can do such as the Lexis Education “Teaching in English in Multicultural Contexts (TEMC) course which covers many aspects of teaching EAL students, including oral language, scaffolding, the teaching and learning cycle and grammar; and “Teaching young children in English in multilingual contexts (TYCEMC)” which covers similar topics and is aimed at teachers of 5 – 8 year old EAL learners.
  • There is a nifty and condensed grammar book called, “A New Grammar Companion for Teachers,” by Beverly Derewianka. It’s worth a purchase as you can use it as a quick reference book around all things grammar.
  • The “Teaching Language in Context,” book, also by Beverly Derewianka, also runs you through the specific grammar structures found in school genres and text types. I recommend having a bit of an understanding about grammar before you dive into that one as it can be a dense read!

pet130cover (1)

By focussing on these two areas of your teaching, and weaving in multiple opportunities to trial them in your lesson plans, you will see all students in your class have an increased chance of participation. You, too, will become more confident to teach language in whichever subject you are in, and this will benefit every student in your class across the subject-areas and curriculum. While we all know that a teacher’s workload is already overflowing, have confidence that in adopting this approach, you will be supporting every student in your classroom. 

Lynette Lingard is an EAL/D and literacy specialist who has 26 years of experience working in the field of EAL/D in Queensland. She is incredibly passionate about supporting schools and teachers to understand and cater to the needs of their EAL/D students, while also implementing strategies which help all students. Throughout her career, Lynette has worked as a classroom teacher, EAL/D specialist, EAL/D Principal Advisor, and consultant. She is currently a consultant for her own business called Focus Literacy and for Lexis Education

Headshot 2023

Lynette will be presenting two courses this month. She’s running TYCEMC (Teaching Young Children in English in Multilingual Contexts) Tutor Training remotely over Zoom in June, and face-to-face TEMC (Teaching in English in Multilingual Classrooms) Tutor Training in Brisbane! The TEMC training will be held in the Brisbane CBD in June 2023. There is also an upcoming TEMC training session in Singapore on the 30th October-3rd November. For more information, see

Please note: The reference book recommendations made in this blog are based on Lynette’s and Lauren’s own research, recommendations or classroom experience, and is not endorsed by the authors, illustrators or companies that feature here. 

2 thoughts on “Unlocking the Potential of EAL/D Students: 2 Tips to Boost Participation in Mainstream Classes”

  1. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Extremely helpful info particularly the last part. I searched for such info for ages. Thank you and best of luck.

    1. Lauren Piovesan

      Thank you very much. I am very glad you are finding the blogs useful. Thank you for reading them and for your support.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *