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Behaviour assessment using smiley flashcards
Author: Isabelle Bridger-Eames, EAL specialist

Getting behaviour 'right' is crucially important for all schools. Ensuring that we have a 'fit for purpose' behaviour policy that caters for all pupils throughout their schooling - including EAL pupils - is vital for the feel and culture of our schools, as well as for allowing pupils to feel safe and be in the right environment to learn to their full potential.

As we all know - and as a quick Google search will tell us - different countries have different expectations for their pupils. Expectations that may differ from country to country (to name just a few) include elements such as:

  • How do we show the teacher we are listening?
  • When we answer a question in class, how long is it acceptable to talk for?
  • How do we respond when a teacher talks to us directly?

For example, when showing that they are listening to a teacher in a class conversation, some pupils may have been taught to cross their arms, while other pupils may look down as a sign of respect, and others may have been trained to track the teacher to demonstrate active listening.

Behaviour policies and EAL

When we are designing and realising our behaviour policies, it is important to be mindful of our EAL pupils. With pupils joining us from an array of different backgrounds and cultures, with different expectations and experiences of norms of acceptable behaviour in schools and towards teachers, how do we create a fair and enforceable behaviour policy? And how do we unpack this policy for our pupils, so that they can be fully functioning and happy participants in class and in the school community as a whole?

With all the minutiae and variants of responses and behaviours that pupils can show and experience, it is not surprising that arriving at a school can be overwhelming and confusing for new pupils. That is why it is vitally important that we spend time unpacking behaviour policies, empathising with pupils and pre-empting things that may go wrong, as well as modelling and emphasising those behaviours that we do want to see.

Practical actions to implement behaviour policies

Here are a few ideas of some practical actions that we can take to support our EAL pupils when thinking about acceptable behaviour:

  1. Scaffold for them with visuals so they understand what to do and what not to do. Perhaps you could take pictures of your pupils demonstrating positive, accepted behaviours.
  2. A traffic-light visual can also come in handy to give Primary pupils immediate feedback on behaviours that they are demonstrating that are or are not acceptable.
  3. As we know, many types of behaviour that pupils display are about them communicating feelings and emotions to us. Thus, it is important to equip pupils with the language of emotions. We need to ensure that they can express how they are feeling. For less proficient pupils, this could be done through images. For more proficient pupils, we can teach pupils to express their feelings using substitution tables. You may also like to add images to your substitution tables to support less proficient pupils. We can extend the sentences to include actions for the pupil to take (e.g. 'I feel worried so I need to breathe slowly').
  4. You may also wish to create contracts for behaviours for learning with your pupils, which they can sign to demonstrate that they are 100% clear on the expectations. Again, you can include translations here too.
  5. A behaviour chart with images and translation can also be a useful scaffold for pupils. This could serve as a good record of whether acceptable behaviours are being displayed in lots of different arenas. It goes without saying that in order to implement this, pupils will need to be secure in their understanding of what is considered acceptable and not, through methods such as those described above. Comparing a chart filled in by the pupil and a separate one filled in by the teacher/s could also be interesting. If there are differences in perception, where have those differences come from? This idea can be adapted for younger pupils, using visuals of the expected behaviour with different faces underneath.

You can download a template for a behaviour chart with space for translation by clicking on the buttons at the top or bottom of this article.

These are just some of the many ways that we can unpack our behaviour policies for our EAL pupils, and scaffold positive behaviour in school. Using images and translation, we can make our expectations clear, and help new arrivals navigate the often confusing school environment, to reach their full learning potential.


Cowley, S. (2001). Getting the buggers to behave. London, Continuum

Scott, C. (2020). An English as an Additional Language Programme: Learning through images for 7-14-year-olds. Abingdon: Routledge

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

Worth, D. (2021). ‘Creating behaviour policies in multicultural settings’, TES, Viewed 20th November, 2021, access here

Further learning - Blog

Created: Wed 6th May 2015

This morning my 4-year-old said, "Mummy, there are two languages, child's language and adult language". I asked her what she meant and she explained that when her friend was crying the teacher told her to read her the "owl" book. She then said, "The teacher reads the words but the child changes it." A young child may not be able to read, or retell the story using the actual words but often can retell it in their own words. A bit like a translation, as my daughter illustrated. The key factor is not the actual words, but the story behind the words.

Created: Fri 11th Mar 2016

Often, for busy EAL teachers, the focus is on the child, however it is important to remember that for some parents, the transition period can be just as difficult. Some parents worry about bringing up their child with two languages and question whether it would be more beneficial for the child if they speak the language of the new country to help them become more competent in the new language and learn it faster. We need to discourage this approach, supporting parents in understanding the value of using their mother tongue.

group of students clustered round a teacher
Created: Wed 6th Dec 2023

Moving to and joining a new school is daunting for any child. It is essential that schools have procedures in place to support new arrivals with this transition (discussed in detail in our article here). However, it is important to consider that their parents may also be experiencing a similar transition, without necessarily having a network of support. If support is not provided, there is the potential for parents to struggle to access education, find employment and be part of the school or wider community.