Should EAL learners be withdrawn from the mainstream classroom?

How can you possibly feel included if you don’t understand the language at all?
How can you possibly feel included if you don’t understand the language at all?
7th September 2017
2nd November 2017
How can you possibly feel included if you don’t understand the language at all?
How can you possibly feel included if you don’t understand the language at all?
7th September 2017
2nd November 2017

Should EAL learners be withdrawn from the mainstream classroom?

Author: Gemma Fanning, EAL Specialist

While it can be argued that EAL learners have an entitlement to experience a full and varied curriculum through complete class immersion and no withdrawal, some would argue that learners benefit from being withdrawn for time limited support to help them develop their English language in order to assist them in accessing the curriculum (NALDIC, FAQ Podcast, 2017).

If learners are unable to access the lesson content, they can feel frustrated and a sense of failure. Learners need to feel confident and successful.

Trzebiatowski (2017) explains that withdrawing students in a small group can allow the students to feel safe and provide them with a step-by-step, well-structured learning environment which will give them the building blocks they need to access the mainstream classroom.

A study by Thomas and Collier (1997) found that EAL learners do not benefit entirely from mainstream instruction as much as they do when they receive academic content taught by an EAL teacher during withdrawal group sessions. In Thomas and Collier’s (1997) research they found that learners who had received a withdrawal group programme, were later able to access the mainstream classroom and finish school with similar average scores to that of their native speaking peers. This shows that offering suitable withdrawal can be very effective. Of course, appropriate differentiation within the class is also imperative.

So what are the benefits of withdrawing learners from the mainstream classroom? According to the British Council EAL Nexus website, a withdrawal programme claims to fall into three broad categories; social, linguistic and logistical advantages (Small Group Intervention outside Mainstream, EAL Nexus. British Council, n.d. Web. 2017). Here are the details:

Social Advantages

  • Learners meet other learners from diverse backgrounds, each presenting their own knowledge.
  • Learners are able to make friends with others in a similar position and are able to have empathy with one another.
  • Learners will have time to listen, think and reflect in the new language and offer them a safe space to make mistakes and speak more freely.

Linguistic Advantages

  • Learners are able to learn the language of the curriculum prior to the lesson.
  • Language development involves constructing meaning in a social context.
  • The more language they are exposed to, the quicker they will pick the language up.
  • Intervention sessions will help new arrivals to hear good models of the language and be offered opportunities to practice the structures repeatedly.

Logistical Advantages

  • Often the EAL specialist is able to work with the learners in both the mainstream and during the intervention sessions, gaining an overall understanding of the language development needs.
  • Learners may not always join the school at the start of the year and therefore a need for intervention is needed to help them ‘catch-up’
  • An intervention programme can be tailored to the needs of the learner, as not all learners start at the same point and each learner is unique.

If your school has decided to withdraw students then planning is a crucial element. Here are some considerations for planning an EAL small group support class (adapted from Pim, 2011):

  • Ensure the content you teach is linked to the curriculum.
  • Have clear language targets.
  • Create opportunities to use oracy as a springboard to developing literacy.
  • Use materials that will cognitively challenge the learners and that are age appropriate.
  • Provide learners with a reflection tool to take ownership of their learning and know their own personal targets and goals for the withdrawal sessions.

Four Stage Accelerated Learning Cycle (Smith, Lovatt and Wise cited Scott, 2012 p 56) is a useful model that can be used for teaching EAL learners. These four stages include; connect phase, activate phase, demonstrate phase and consolidate phase. Here’s a breakdown of each phase:

Connect phase

This phase connects with what has been learnt already. It fits with activating prior knowledge and Ogle’s questions; What do I know? What do I want to find out? It’s also about sharing new learning objectives.

Activate phase

The activate phase includes obtaining the information needed to solve the problems (using the language). This is the chance to inspire, to use varied activities and “immerse activities in structured language… and allow students to construct their own meanings in a variety of group situations” (Smith, Lovatt and Wise 2003:20).

Demonstrate phase

The demonstrate phase includes providing the learners the chance to show they know what has been taught.

Consolidate phase

The consolidate phase includes a chance for reflection on their learning that should be linked back to the connection phase by reflecting on what the learners now know. It’s important to ensure this section is related to the learners’ own lives by applying their new learning to real life experiences.

An example of a 5 minute planning template using these phases is attached and will help support you with the planning of your small group support sessions.

Within this plan, you can focus on areas such as:

  • Learning survival language for new-to English and/or those who have gaps missing
  • Learning academic language e.g. pre-teaching vocabulary or language structures before or in parallel to the main academic content
  • Revision of previous topics covered

View a five minute lesson planner: here


British Council, ” Small Group Intervention (outside Mainstream) EAL Nexus. British Council, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2017.

Wayne P. Thomas & Virginia P. Collier (1997) School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students, NCBE Resource Collection, George Washington University, Washington

NALDIC. “FAQ Podcasts.” NALDIC | EAL Questions | FAQ Podcasts. NALDIC, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2017.

Pim, C (2011). How to Support Children Learning English as an Additional Language. Cambridge: LDA

Scott, C (2012) . Teaching English as an Additional Language, 5-11: A Whole School Resource File. London: Routledge.

Smith, A. Lovatt, M. Wise, D.(2003) Accelerated Learning: A User’s Guide Paperback

Trzebiatowski, K. (2017) EAL: Excluded by Inclusion, //

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