Supporting pupils with EAL to access the curriculum

Understand the needs of children with EAL and find a range of tools to help teachers guide them through the challenges of the curriculum, from a strategic seating plan to differentiated activities. See how one school embedded support for EAL pupils into its inclusion policy.

Last reviewed on 22 June 2021
School types: All · School phases: All
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  1. Get to know pupils’ needs
  2. How to organise the classroom
  3. Adapt whole-class activities
  4. Targeted interventions
  5. Use our CPD toolkit to develop staff knowledge 
  6. Resources to share with your teachers
  7. How one school includes EAL pupils in its strategy

We’d like to thank 2 of our associate education experts, Diane Leedham and Charlotte Raby, for their help with this article. 

Get to know pupils’ needs

Pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) will have a wide variety of needs, and will have strengths and weaknesses in different skills.

Have an initial meeting with the parents 

Use an interpreter if necessary. This is important to understand the pupil’s starting point and context, and to get to know them as an individual.

Try to find out about the pupil’s:

  • Personality, for example, whether they are normally shy or outspoken
  • Proficiency in their native language, and whether they have any issues with articulation or fluency
  • Educational background, including whether they have attended school before and whether they may have an existing special educational need or disability (SEND)
  • Experience of language at home, including how proficient the pupil's parents are in English

This will help you identify the skills the pupil needs to develop in order to effectively access the curriculum. These pupils' needs will also be informed by the demands of the curriculum.

How to organise the classroom

Seat new learners who have EAL with the most fluent English speakers in the class.

Don’t seat all EAL pupils together

This won’t help develop their English language skills. Support from another EAL learner with the same first language can be useful to a new pupil with little to no English, particularly where the other pupil has a much higher fluency in English.

Use TAs and support staff to work with pupils who have very low levels of English. However, these TAs should have the appropriate training to help them effectively support pupils with EAL.

Adapt whole-class activities

Class teachers must ensure that they’re maintaining a high level of cognitive challenge while also allowing pupils to access the same content as the rest of the class.

They could allow pupils to express their learning in a different way, for example by using:

  • Visual cues
  • Gap-fill exercises
  • Sentence frames
  • Word cards

Many of the techniques aimed at teaching EAL learners can also be beneficial to pupils who don’t have EAL, particularly in a primary school setting where all children are learning literacy and language.

Allowing pupils to express some ideas in their first language can help motivate pupils and move learning forwards.

Targeted interventions

When to use them 

Integrate learners with EAL into whole-class teaching sessions as much as possible.

However, there’ll be times when pupils will benefit from a more focused language intervention away from the rest of the class. For example, a small group session might prepare vocabulary and context that is needed for the main lesson.

Plan interventions carefully so pupils aren’t missing out on other learning experiences.

Music, art and PE, for example, are good social and language-learning opportunities and shouldn’t be missed.

Periods for extended silent reading or writing activities, however, may be a good chance to work on EAL pupils’ language targets away from the rest of the class.

Phonics and reading lessons

Put pupils who can’t read or speak English on a ‘learn to read’ scheme to teach them core reading skills. Don’t teach them literacy until they can read.

Instead, while other pupils have literacy lessons, place the pupils with EAL in phonics/reading lessons to teach them how to decode words and understand books suitable for their reading level. These lessons should instruct pupils about:

  • Word comprehension
  • Basic sentence construction
  • Inferential comprehension

Pupils could then access the literacy curriculum once they are able to read using a simple phonic code. 

Use our CPD toolkit to develop staff knowledge 

If your school has had a sudden increase in the number of pupils with EAL, consider offering CPD for staff.

If you’re a member of our CPD Toolkit, use our training module on supporting, engaging and empowering pupils with EAL

It’s made up of 3 sessions: 

  • Understanding the complexity of identifying and providing for pupils with EAL
  • Supporting new arrivals
  • Maximising progress 

Each module includes presentation slides, video and handouts, and detailed facilitator briefing notes that provide guidance on how to deliver each session.

Resources to share with your teachers

Please note, the inclusion of these resources is for reference only, and doesn’t constitute an endorsement from The Key.

20 great ideas and more for teachers of pupils with EAL 

Read guidance from the Bell Foundation, a charity which aims to promote intercultural understanding through language education, on how to effectively teach pupils with EAL.

It suggests some key features of EAL pedagogy, and sets out:

  • Context and rationale behind it
  • Underlying teaching principles 
  • 20 ‘Great idea’ strategies for teachers to try 
  • Guidance on using additional teachers in the classroom 
  • Tips for using homework effectively 

The Foundation also offers some subject-specific guidance for teaching EAL learners in maths and science.

Both pages include sections on:

  • Subject-specific challenges for EAL learners 
  • Supporting EAL learners to tackle unfamiliar language in those subjects 
  • Assessing EAL learners' progress and attainment 

Belgrave St Bartholomew’s Academy in Stoke-on-Trent has used the Foundation’s Language for Results programme to keep up to date with important research on EAL, which has since informed the school’s practice.  

Evidence-based guide for teachers and senior leaders 

The Mapping Educational Specialist knowHow (MESH) Guide to EAL has guidance on aspects of EAL including:

  • Grouping learners
  • Using first language to support pupils’ learning
  • Personalising provision and increasing independence

There are also sections on speaking, reading and writing English at new, beginner and advanced levels.

How one school includes EAL pupils in its strategy

Robert Fitzroy Academy in Croydon includes information about EAL learners in its inclusion policy. On page 5 it sets out the school’s commitment to celebrating cultural diversity and promoting equality of opportunity for all EAL pupils. 

On page 6 it details some of the strategies used to help pupils with EAL access the curriculum. For example, it says teaching staff provide:

  • Additional visual support (for example, posters, demonstration, use of gesture)
  • Additional verbal support (for example, repetition, modelling, peer support)
  • Collaborative activities that encourage active participation
  • Scaffolding for language and learning
  • A variety of ways for pupils to record their work, including recording in their first/home language

See more examples of EAL policies from schools.


Diane Leedham is an education consultant. She has been a local authority lead for English as an additional language and the head of department at a secondary school.

Charlotte Raby is an education consultant, teacher and writer. Her extensive experience includes teaching literacy, training teachers on Assessment for Learning, and working with pupils with special educational needs.

John Collier is the former deputy headteacher at Belgrave St Bartholomew’s Academy, Staffordshire 


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