Aberdeenshire EAL Service

The following strategies are helpful for primary EAL students, all compiled by Shona Webster.

For further information please contact the EAL Service.



Speaking and listening

  • Involve in mainstream activities from the start.

To encourage language acquisition, in-class support which allows bilingual pupils to work alongside their peers, is preferable to being withdrawn to work one on one with an adult.

  • Make the pupil feel welcome by learning how to pronounce their name properly and a few words in their first language (eg. hello, goodbye).
  • Match up with supportive class buddies.
  • Teach survival language – toilet, food/lunch words, clothes (PE, Art)
  • Gesture
  • Be visual – use pictorial support as much as possible
  • Use a visual timetable (www.earlylearninghq.org.uk)
  • Encourage collaborative play and opportunities for meaningful talk such as problem solving activities, with peers who demonstrate good English.
  • Slow down your rate of speech and keep instructions simple.
  • Respond to the pupil in a sentence using the grammatically correct form – eg. Reply to ‘Me football win.’ with ‘Good! You won the football match.’
  • Be visual – use pictorial support as much as possible.
  • Do not worry if the pupil does not speak at first. The ‘silent period’ is very common and may last up to 6 months. The pupil is listening, absorbing and processing language until confident enough to speak. Encourage them to respond in other ways such as gesturing, a show of hands, thumbs up, traffic lights or following oral instructions.
  • Give pupils plenty of time to respond to questions – they need time to process language and/or translate what has been said.              Avoid asking ‘Do you understand?’ because the bilingual pupil will always say ‘Yes’. They do not have enough language to understand a further explanation and will find it easier to observe and copy what their peers are doing.
  • Use strategies like ‘think – pair – share’ to help form answers and fill vocabulary gaps or Barrier Games to describe objects/pictures, match words and pictures, reinforce map skills/directions and have telephone conversations.
  • Relate learning to previous knowledge.


 Use pictorial flashcards to play pre-reading games eg Snap, The Memory Game, Odd One Out.

  • Pre-teach key vocabulary using visuals. EAL pupils need additional exposure to words and opportunities to practise the production of new words and sounds in a small group setting.
  • Create a language rich environment where displays are enhanced with key words.
  • To build reading vocabulary, teach words in context and support with visuals as opposed to using only phonics. Be aware that many children have difficulty hearing, recognising and pronouncing many English sounds (eg ‘th’ causes difficulty for many Central/Eastern European speakers).
  • Support individual reading but also place pupils in a challenging reading group (not a group with reading difficulties) Here, new vocabulary will be learnt and the pupil will benefit from listening to the language used in discussions.
  • To help learners understand the purpose for reading, set questions before reading the text to prevent decoding skills being solely used. Introduce question words gradually – Who? What? Where? When? Why?
  • Recognise how important it is to choose suitable reading books – look at content to check if texts are culturally insensitive or contain themes out with the child’s experiences.
  • Make use of audio books and dual–language books.


  • Create pupil’s own glossary with sets of associated words eg food, transport. Cut up old catalogues/magazines to illustrate words.
  • Use realia, modelling, scaffolding, concept cartoons, brainstorming sessions
  • Model tasks
  • Scaffold sentences
  • Have visual dictionaries and word banks readily accessible during writing activities.
  • Group/paired work initially helps EAL pupil make connections and copy expected conventions.


Reading comprehension tasks – Adapt Book Detectives –

  1. Summariser – What is the story about?
  • Give a title for selected pages or paragraphs a title
  1. Illustrator
  2. Question Master – start with one word answers or cloze activities.
  • Sequencing tasks.
  • Text marking – circle or highlight key words in topic texts or character descriptions.
  • Pre-prepared ‘Sentence makers’.
  • Match halves of cut sentences (topic based)
  • Cloze passages
  • Writing frames – sentence starters, structure for writing (eg. letter)

 A good sequence for developing writing – Talk with peers, practise words and sentences, write together, write independently and review.

* Remember * Be wary of standardised tests – they test language not ability!


  • Support the language of maths in a group
  • Do not hold the pupil back in maths or put in a low set group just because of unfamiliar language – many pupils are operating at an advanced level.
  • Be aware of the many different mathematical symbols and methods of computation used in other languages.


It is hard work thinking/translating/speaking in a new language all day, every day.

  • Do not worry about homework initially – pupils need rest time.
  • Parents may not be literate in English and therefore not able to help
  • Parents may be at work and not available to help
  • Gradually introduce simple tasks – pupils may have to complete in school until language has developed sufficiently and a routine has been established.

Strategies for Expressive Arts (Art, Drama, Music) and Health and Wellbeing (PE)

Literacy and language learning is used across all curricular areas so strategies for bilingual learners are similar to those used for speaking and listening in the classroom.

  • Use visuals to support new vocabulary needed for clothing
  1. PE kit, gym shoes, art apron
  • Model skills and games (teacher and peer)
  • Use visuals and gestures during lessons
  • Make use of paired/group activities
  • Name equipment used (vocabulary may be new)
  • Keep instructions short and concise
  • Find out from SMT/ EAL teacher any talents the pupil may have. Information is gathered at enrolment or EAL Initial Assessment. Many learners are gifted in specialised subjects.
  • Encourage further development and supply details about joining clubs, groups or training sessions. 
  • Be considerate to the needs of pupils from different cultures, races and religions.
  • Dress code requirements. Female pupils especially may face cultural barriers in PE as a result of actual or perceived restrictions placed on them. Muslim girls may ask to wear long trousers and change in the toilet. The Islamic requirements for modesty and privacy may not be in keeping with wearing shorts and t-shirts and changing in public.
  • Many pupils accustomed to a more formal education have never participated in drama and may feel uncomfortable at first.