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Developing the Writing Skills of EAL Students

Strategies for Developing an Achievement Culture in Your Year Group

Pupils with EAL face two main challenges:  they need to learn English and they need to learn the content of the curriculum.

Teachers have to accept that pupils with EAL may not always access every aspect of the lesson but we should plan teaching approaches to match needs and accelerate learning.

In our planning we should recognise that learning a language is more than just learning vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation; it involves using all these elements appropriately for a variety of real purposes or functions.

Scaffolding as the Basis of Support

The principle of scaffolding should form the basis of support for all EAL learners, whether it is in the areas of speaking, listening, reading, writing or accessing the curriculum.

It may take the form of providing a graphic organiser for reading, a writing frame for writing or prompts for speaking.  It may be through pointing at an object as it is named, or the adult ensuring that the language they are using to describe how to carry out a science investigation is connected to the actions of a demonstration.

Developing the writing skills to cope with the demands of the curriculum is crucial for EAL learners.  Some pupils will arrive with well-developed literacy skills in their first language.  As the child acquires English language, many of these skills can be transferred to writing in English.

The transferral of these skills, however, will depend on factors such as the similarities and differences of the first language to English.  The acquisition of literacy skills in English is often directly related to the structure of the EAL learner’s first language and how it relates to English.

Developing the Skills to Master Writing

The skills involved in writing for any pupil are complex, but this is especially true for pupils learning English as an additional language.  Not only do they have to grapple with elements such as grammatical forms, sentence word order, vocabulary, punctuation and spelling, but they also need to think about features such as cohesion, genre and overall organisation.

Reading and writing are inextricably linked and eliciting writing from EAL pupils should integrate these two skills.  Pupils should also always be provided with focused speaking and listening activities in the lessons leading up to the writing tasks.

Placing listening and speaking at the heart of the writing sequence will enable EAL learners to rehearse the language they will use in their writing and to explore and experiment with how they will use it.

A third essential aspect of developing the writing of pupils learning English as an additional language is the modelling / demonstration of both the processes and the product.

Scaffolding in the Classroom

Scaffolding can take place through various means:

  • Scaffolding by adults
  • Scaffolding through visual support
  • Scaffolding through collaborative work
  • Scaffolding through practical experiences

Scaffolding by adults can include:

  • Modelling and demonstration
  • Recasting and remodelling pupils’ language
  • Guided talk, guided reading and guided writing
  • Ensuring EAL learners understand what is expected of them
  • Focused feedback and explicit praise

Teachers can also adopt additional approaches to develop writing skills for pupils new to English including:

  • Labelling a picture
  • Matching simple sentences to pictures
  • Reconstructing a cut up sentence
  • Simple cloze activities with each sentence illustrated by a picture
  • Matching the beginnings and endings of sentences
  • Simple handwriting practice tasks

Three scaffolds frequently used by teachers include:


All pupils with EAL will benefit from the use of visuals.  Visuals can reduce the amount of language content whilst retaining cognitive demand. They can also support pupils in constructing text through providing prompts and scaffolds.

Graphic organisers

These can be used in a number of ways and can be used to support pupils with text comprehension, text construction or to support speaking and listening.  They can be used before, during or after reading.  They can also be used as a framework for note taking.

Activating prior knowledge

Most new learning is based on connecting new ideas and concepts onto knowledge already obtained.  Activating prior knowledge creates a stepping stone to the next level of learning.  Activating prior knowledge also offers the opportunity for pupils to draw on and bring their experiences, cultures and backgrounds into the classroom.


This blog post was adapted from our course Developing the Writing Skills of EAL Learners. Follow the link to find out more information, including when the course is running in your area.

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Tom Hesmondhalgh

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