EAL: Easy as ABC

by Helen Bowen

Are We Truly Catering to Our EAL Students?


When I first ventured into International Education in 2003 through Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in Eritrea, my primary concern was being asked to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL); despite my role as a Methodology Trainer, I was indeed tasked with teaching EFL to school leaders upon arrival. The challenge was daunting given the limited resources available, but the enthusiasm and dedication of my students were truly inspiring. Their willingness to engage with every task I proposed, from writing fables to participating in English-speaking parties, left a lasting impression on me.

Fast forward twenty-something years, and as a member of the School Leadership Team, I recognise one of our greatest needs is ensuring a robust EAL program. Establishing such a program is no easy feat.

School leaders often face several barriers in setting up effective EAL provisions, including a lack of expertise, insufficient student progress, and unfamiliarity with students’ native languages. Comments like “They need full immersion; it’s the only way they learn” or “Parents want them to speak only English” reflect common misconceptions and add complexity to meeting parental expectations for rapid language acquisition.

Professional Development

With my background in theatre alongside my international experience, I developed various strategies for my English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners. In 2021, I had the fortunate opportunity to attend a course titled “Bilingual and Multilingual Learners from the Inside-Out,” led by Alison Schofield and Francesca McGeary. (The course was fantastic and comes highly recommended!) Some of the key concepts I took away from the course were essential for shaping our EAL approach. For instance, students need around 6,000 to 8,000 keywords to move towards proficiency. It is important to allow thinking time in the student’s own language before they convert their thoughts to English. When creating a student profile, interviewing the parents (in their language if possible) as part of the process can provide valuable insights. Additionally, cultural differences must be taken into account.

Another crucial message from the course was the significance of ensuring that EAL learners do not feel incompetent. This understanding has guided my efforts to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment.

Action Plan

The initial step is to ensure the school has clarity regarding its systems, provisions, and expectations. This can begin by addressing some fundamental questions:

  • What is the current percentage of EAL learners in the school?
  • What is the school’s policy regarding EAL?
  • Where does the school envision itself in 5 or 10 years concerning EAL learners?
  • Is the school able to offer an intensive EAL program for new admissions?
  • Are the staff adequately equipped with the necessary tools and strategies to use in the classroom?

It is essential to ensure that this vision is shared with all stakeholders. Additionally, during the recruitment process, it is crucial to ensure that new staff understand their role as EAL teachers, in addition to the subject they may be employed to teach. Comprehensive training and refresher courses will aid in maintaining consistency across the school. Using the same icons consistently, such as on PowerPoint presentations for thinking, main tasks, new vocabulary, assessment, and feedback, helps students understand what is expected of them. Translating key vocabulary, providing EAL learners with topics in advance, using worksheets with frameworks or sentence guidance, and allowing students to use translated versions when introducing new topics are all effective strategies. 

Differentiation and Assessment

Differentiation is something we often do for our students who cannot grasp concepts or need challenges beyond the expected level. However, careful consideration must also be given to how we differentiate for our EAL learners. Examples of differentiated instruction include using visual aids to support comprehension, incorporating multilingual resources, adjusting the complexity of texts, providing additional time for tasks, and offering personalised feedback to address individual language development needs.

Digital provisions, such as language learning apps, online translation tools, and interactive educational platforms, can significantly aid EAL learners by offering accessible and flexible resources tailored to their individual needs. These tools provide interactive lessons, immediate feedback, and a variety of multimedia resources that can make learning more engaging and effective. Additionally, digital platforms can facilitate communication and collaboration with peers and teachers, helping EAL students to practise language skills in real time and receive instant support. This technological support can enhance their overall language acquisition and comprehension, making the learning process more efficient and enjoyable.

Thought must also be given to our EAL students when carrying out assessments. It is key to know if you are looking for English proficiency or subject knowledge. Differentiating assessment for EAL learners can be provided by using a variety of evaluation methods that cater to their language proficiency levels. This can include offering oral assessments instead of written ones, using visual prompts, allowing the use of bilingual dictionaries, and providing extra time for test completion. Additionally, assessments can be designed with simplified language, alternative question formats such as multiple-choice or matching, and opportunities for students to demonstrate understanding through projects, presentations, or portfolios. By using these strategies, teachers can more accurately gauge EAL students’ content knowledge and language development.


Addressing the needs of EAL students requires a multifaceted approach involving clear policies, effective professional development, and thoughtful differentiation and assessment strategies. By fostering an inclusive and supportive learning environment, we can ensure that EAL learners receive the quality education they deserve and truly thrive in an international school setting. Additionally, integrating digital provisions into our educational framework can further enhance the learning experience for EAL students. Language learning apps, online translation tools, and interactive educational platforms offer accessible and flexible resources tailored to individual needs, making the language acquisition process more engaging and effective. Through a combination of innovative digital resources and dedicated support from educators, we can empower EAL learners to reach their full potential and become successful global citizens.

Helen Bowen is the High School and Middle School Principal of Tarabya British Schools, Istanbul

To connect with Helen on LinkedIn, click here

LYIS is proud to partner with WildChina Education

The waiting is now over for those of you who want to pre-order. 

Available for delivery on Amazon and all good bookstores. You can order today and ensure that when the book is released on the 1st of July you don’t have to wait long to enjoy its informed guidance. 

As part of the publication, we are also giving the chance for 10 lucky readers to Meet the authors! More to follow soon…

Available at: 

Amazon: https://shorturl.at/MhoP9

Angus and Robertson: https://lnkd.in/ekqDwuag 

Barnes and Noble: https://shorturl.at/f1ruW

Shelf Life Books: https://lnkd.in/e9WANTjm 

Thrift Books: https://lnkd.in/e75raTUy 

Waterstones: https://shorturl.at/dPCq4

Leave a Reply

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