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building blocks

“Scaffolding is the process a teacher uses to model or demonstrate how to solve a problem (in the case of language learning, to support learners with using the language needed to articulate themselves). After modelling, they step back, offering support as needed.”
Scott, 2019

A useful EAL resource can provide significant, supportive scaffolding. “For English language learners, this high challenge classroom must be one where they are given the kinds of scaffolding and linguistic support that will enable them to engage in learning and be successful learners, in terms of both their English language development and the development of subject knowledge.” (Gibbons, 2009)

The Teaching and Learning Cycle

The quality of the scaffolding provided can be significantly enhanced by the use of appropriate resources. At the Learning Village we were faced with this challenge when creating one of our newest features: the EAL Scaffolding Resources designed to support the scaffolding of text. Supportive resources can provide an element of scaffolding anywhere along their learning cycle. We use Pauline Gibbons’ ‘Teaching and Learning Cycle’:

  • Building the field
  • Modelling the genre
  • Joint construction
  • Independent writing

Carefully scaffolded resources

Throughout this focused cycle, the phases can be broken down into easy-to-use resources. We aim to create ‘scaffolding resources’ that assist in developing the language needed to create a variety of texts, from reports to narratives. We use the following steps:

1. Setting the scene - associated flashcards for speaking and listening
2. Setting the scene - sentence building
3. Modelling the text
4. Text deconstruction
5. Text reconstruction

These kinds of scaffolding resources, whether they are sourced from the Learning Village or created yourself, can provide teachers and learners with the tools to assist in the tough task of building up to writing in a particular genre. These resources include academic words and language focuses and note the specific technical vocabulary covered in each resource.

Disciplinary literacy

In creating the resources, we’ve been inspired not only by our own experience of teaching EAL learners, but by work such as that of Gibbons (2009), English Learners, Academic Literacy and Thinking, and reports like this one from the Education Endowment Foundation. This EFF report notes the problems that learners with low literacy levels encounter in secondary school, as they struggle to access the curriculum. It argues that literacy must be grounded in the specifics of each subject (so-called ‘disciplinary literacy’), covering the vocabulary and grammatical structures needed for each individual discipline. It’s a supportive document for any mainstream teacher. It notes that ‘reading, writing, speaking and listening are at the heart of knowing and doing Science, Art, History, and every other subject…’.

The guidance talks about the importance of developing Tier 2 and 3 language:

Tier 1: words of everyday speech
Tier 2: high-frequency words found in many different subject disciplines
Tier 3: subject-specific vocabulary

In the EAL scaffolding resources we have created, we aim to provide the subject-specific vocabulary and the high-frequency ‘academic’ words and structures that will allow EAL learners to build the language they need, from initial speaking and listening to vocabulary and language structures, all the way through to writing text.


Scott, C. (2019), An English as an Additional Language (EAL) Programme: Learning through Images for 7-14 year olds, Taylor and Francis, Abingdon.

Education Endowment Foundation: Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools - Guidance Report. Available here.

Gibbons, P. (2009) English Learners, Academic Literacy and Thinking, Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH.

Further learning - Blog

Created: Fri 8th Jul 2016

Most schools with early stage learners of English will have some form of guided reading record. This record supports the learner, parents and the teacher in acknowledging, monitoring progress and rewarding good reading habits. We do this because we know the profound influence reading has on progress in literacy (not just reading alone. Try reading Krashen, the Power of Reading, 2004).

However, have you considered the impact of a similar record for learning EAL through the use of flashcard activities?

Created: Tue 23rd May 2017

Brewster, Ellis and Girard (2012) discuss the idea of playing Bingo or Dominoes as games for connecting various curriculum areas. Brewster (2012) explains that playing games like these can be a support for learning target vocabulary, for example, playing a Dominoes game before or after reading where learners can either match the words or the pictures together as they listen is an excellent way to learn the target language. You may be studying the human skeleton vocabulary in the game and making connections to the class book e.g.

Created: Mon 21st Apr 2014

In schools where English is the language of instruction we welcome new arrivals with limited English and, step by step, they become skilled in speaking English. These young learners have a gift, the gift of bilingualism. A skill that has a profound effect on their lives. This skills may affect their identity, the way they are educated, their employment, the friends they keep, marriage, where they choose to live, travel and how they think. The consequences are significant.