It’s the beginning of a new academic year – you come in for your inset day, and find out that you have two new starters in your class. One is an English as an Additional Language (EAL) new arrival. What does this mean – for them and for you?
“New arrivals can be described as:
(New Arrivals Excellence Programme, 2007)
Often, we use the term ‘new arrival’ to describe international migrants. Such new arrivals are the focus of this article.
Learners classed as ‘new arrivals’ arrive at schools from incredibly diverse backgrounds and with highly varied educational experiences. They will not necessarily be new-to-English: learners’ proficiency levels could range from absolute beginner to fluent. Some may have experienced a high level of education and full schooling; others may have had interrupted or no previous schooling at all – and may not even be literate in their home language.
Depending on their background, they may have moved schools within the same city or country, arrived from a very stable and secure country, or been forced to flee events in their home regions. It is important that all these factors are taken into account, to ensure that all learners are provided with the safety, security, opportunities and education that are their right. It is vital to remember that not only are some new arrivals starting a new school, but a new school in a new country, where the language, cultures and customs may be very different.
To ensure a successful experience for new arrivals in a school, it is helpful if the process of induction starts before their first day. So that teachers can respond properly to learners’ individual needs, it is wise to be aware of the key points of their educational background. Collection of data on this should begin at enrolment/admissions.
Below are some essential steps you can take to ensure that new arrivals are properly welcomed and that their transitions and learning are successful.
Where possible, the admissions procedure should include interviews and meetings with parents/carers to ask about and obtain an understanding of the learner’s past education and experiences, as indicated below. If needed, a translator should be present. Try to find out as much as you can about the learner’s:
Consider questions such as:
At these meetings:
After these meetings:
It is important to remember that it is not just the learners who are new arrivals – their parents may also be experiencing a similar transition, but unlike the children, with little or no support.
“The learner’s family may be the only group of people who truly understand their transition. The parents may have very little understanding of what happens in an English-speaking school or the approach you have to education. Parental involvement will help you to understand more about the child’s life as well as build a valuable rapport and level of trust between all parties.”
Read our article Ideas to engage newly arrived parents for ideas on how to engage the parents of new arrivals and help them to become part of the school and local community.
As much as possible, try to ease new arrivals into life at school gently. New arrivals come to our schools for a range of reasons and from a variety of educational backgrounds – but in most cases, it’s not necessary to immediately conduct an assessment of their abilities. In fact, this can be counterproductive. Assessment will be far more successful if it is done once a learner is more settled in the school and ready to learn. Once you have succeeded with this transition, you – and they – will be ready for the next steps.
Make your classroom a welcoming place for your learners. Consider the following to help your learners feel welcome:
You should also let your class know that there will be a new person starting in the class. Talk to the class about the learner’s home country and language. With sensitivity, discuss how they would feel if they were in the shoes of the new arrival, and how they can help the newcomer feel settled.
Arrange for one, two or even three members of the class to take on a buddy role. This is an important job and it is essential that students know what it entails. Discuss with the students how to support them in their role. Think about activities and places they can go to with the new arrival at lunch and break times if the playground is too overwhelming. If possible, choose one buddy who speaks the same language.
Finally, aim to create an environment where multilingualism is celebrated – starting by recognising and celebrating the languages spoken in your classroom.
You will, of course, need to provide your new arrivals with ongoing support. Encourage your EAL learners to use their home languages to support their learning. Thinking about concepts in their home language ahead of time can support their understanding before they access these concepts in English.
If your new arrival comes to school with little or no English, it is useful to provide a scheme of work that supports them with functional English language learning alongside the curriculum lessons that you teach.
Once settled at the school, an initial EAL Assessment can be completed and plans for next steps made.
In order to successfully access the curriculum and feel motivated and engaged, learners will require curriculum support. This can be delivered outside the classroom by pre-teaching key vocabulary and language structures, or provided inside the classroom through differentiated, scaffolded support.
Think about opportunities and strategies to pre-teach key vocabulary and give opportunities for learners to access and rehearse texts prior to meeting them in class.
- “Introduce key language and content that students need to read and understand before they read the text
- model reading strategies, and scaffolds using vocabulary organizers, questions or text manipulation activities to decode texts and develop comprehension
- support learners to review key learning after reading and viewing. Reviewing or after-reading activities can include recasting elements of the text into new genres, contexts, or with new content.”
Finally, spread the word! A whole-school approach to teaching EAL will ensure the effective EAL strategies noted here are used across the school, in every lesson.
We have prepared a useful toolkit with resources providing classroom instructions, lists of useful vocabulary and translations, a note of basic verbs, a diary template, and more.
Survival language helpers (primary)
Survival language helpers (secondary)
Cummins, J. (2001). Bilingual Children’s Mother Tongue: Why Is It Important for Education? Sprogforum, 7(19), 15-20.
Department for Education (2007). New Arrivals Excellence Programme Guidance Primary and Secondary National Strategies. Available at naep.pdf (naldic.org.uk)
García, O. (2009). Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. Malden, MA and Oxford: Basil/Blackwell.
Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Scott, C. (2012). Teaching English as an Additional Language, 5-11: A Whole School Resource File. London: Routledge.