This page provides a brief introductory comment on the language learning process and several documents (below) that answer your questions with suggested strategies for you to use in your classrooms.

The goal for beginning language learners is just that: Language Learning. The language that they need to learn comes from the grade appropriate academic content: learning language and content together.

Teachers need to differentiate instruction so that beginning language learners focus on:
  • essential, cross-curricular, useful language/vocabulary in content subject areas
  • core, cross-curricular, enduring understandings. For example: 'heat' and 'pressure' are more important than 'igneous' and 'metamorphic'. Vocabulary and concepts that are only useful for a written test are not essential/enduring understandings.

Most FAQ + Most essential understanding for teachers....

Q: Why can students sound very proficient in English when you talk to them but have difficulty in academic studies?

A: Students need to progress from BICS to CALP.

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) usually takes 2 - 3 years to acquire.
Social language; the skills involved in everyday face-to-face communication.

Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) can take up to 7 - 9 years to acquire.
Academic language; the skills that are needed to succeed in the academic classroom, which include problem solving, inferring, analyzing, synthesizing, predicting, etc. They go beyond the BICS, demanding much greater competence in the language.

(Law & Eckes, p. 205, 1990)

Over time and with a lot of interaction with native English speakers (peers and teachers), along with grade-appropriate curriculum, the learning focus will shift towards using language to acquire content knowledge.
'Going to school to learn English'...shifts to...'Learning English to go to school'.

Our job as teachers is to accelerate language acquisition by:
- getting to know our students in order to scaffold their learning according to their needs = student centred learning.
- differentiating instruction, assignments, ("Success for all Learners", 1996), assessment (Anne Davis)
- creating lots of talking opportunities with native English speakers - especially classmates! (addresses BICS needs)
- providing materials for extended reading that is at, or just slightly beyond, individual student's reading comprehension level. (addresses CALP needs)

Fundamental Understandings

Guidelines for EAL; MB Education

MB EAL Framework, 2011

MB EAL Stages: continuums to guide instruction and expectations

What's a classroom / subject area teacher to do?

What's a non-English speaking student to do in content subjects?

What's an E.A. to do to support language learners in my classroom?

Information and advice for classroom teachers

FAQ: Answers to many questions with additional helpful links.

FAQ: Information for parents of language learners.

How can I make my classroom welcoming to newcomers?

What basics of language learning do I need to know?

How do I get language, literacy, and vocabulary development going?

This guide can be printed as a hand-out for E.A.s and volunteers to follow.

What is the foundation for my approach to working with language learners?

What are the 3 most important things that classroom teachers can do to assist language learners on their very first day of school?

1. Project a visibly warm, accepting, welcoming teacher persona.
2. Assign several students to be peer helpers during classtime, breaks, lunch, etc.
3. Provide a personal space (desk) with easy access to the teacher, a language peer (if possible), picture dictionary, bi-lingual dictionary, age-appropriate reading materials and magazines.

Should the classroom teacher insist on 'English only'?

No. Use the student's first language whenever possible to make instructions, lessons and discussions more comprehensible.

Is it OK for EAL students to use bi-lingual dictionaries?

Yes. Dictionaries are no substitute for knowledge. They are essential tools of literacy and scholarship.

What principle can I follow to help make my lessons more comprehensible?

Strive to make lessons context rich (or context-embedded). Language learners need more than words!
Language that is most easily understood is embedded in a context that is rich in cues such as concrete objects, gestures, facial expressions, art, music, phys. ed., face-to-face conversations, games, hands-on activities, math computation problems, etc.
Language that has few visual or aural cues (context-reduced) is demanding language because the learner's ability to understand the spoken or written message depends solely on his proficiency in the language. Examples of context-reduced language situations are: lectures without demonstrations or visual aids; math word problems without illustrations; textbooks without charts, diagrams, or photos.
(Law & Eckes, 1990)

How can I modify text?

1. Use graphic depiction.
2. Outline the text.
3. Rewrite the text, using small, sequential and short, simple sentences. Each paragraph should include a clear topic sentence and several supporting details. Omit anything irrelevant to the topic.
4.Highlight key ideas.
5. Use audiotapes.
6. Provide live demonstrations.
7. Use alternate books.

How can I simplify written instructions?

Use short, simple sentences with simplified terms.
Example: Before: 'Once you have read the passage below, determine what the author is trying to express. Mark the key words and the most important points.'
After: 'Read this paragraph. Underline one main idea. Circle three key words.'
(Echevarria, 1998)

How can I possibly teach EAL students all they need to know?

You can't. Determine what is reasonable and offer it in small chunks. Developing your own perspective on what you can reasonably expect to accomplish will give EAL learners the time they need without neglecting the needs of the rest of the class.
(Helmer & Eddy, p. 92, 2003)

How can I promote participation in extra-curricular activities?

Allow students time to adjust to the idea of extra-curricular involvement.
Find out about their interests and abilities and encourage them in these directions.
Pairing EAL students with another classmate can help them overcome their anxiety about taking this risk.
Help parents understand the value of extra-curricular activities.

Differentiated / Layered Lesson Plans; K - 12. How to provide content lessons and tasks for ALL your students.