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The National Learning and Work Institute (2018) completed a randomised controlled trial of a Community-Based English Language intervention aimed at people with very low levels of functional English proficiency. Findings showed “a strong and clear positive impact that attendance on an intensive 11-week Community-Based English Language course has on both English proficiency and social integration for those with relatively low levels of English proficiency.” (Integrated Communities English Language Programme, 2018). Although this study was on adults, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of building a community at any age.

Here's a scenario:

Your new EAL learner arrives, they come to class, they don’t know anyone, they can’t speak the language. There do not seem to be any other learners in the school that speak their language. The other learners say hello and some try to connect.

Before long, the novelty of trying to communicate with the new arrival wears off. The new arrival is assigned a buddy who works very hard to help them, but that buddy finds it quite time-consuming and hard. They also aren’t sure of the best way to help. You choose a few buddies and attempt to give them some training in how to support the learner. This is fairly successful, but you are struggling to find time to ensure the buddies are monitored and that the new arrival’s social needs are met.

You see the new arrival alone in the playground and you know they are feeling isolated. You go to see them and ask if they’d like to do something inside. You have a mountain of resources on your desk to prepare and so you ask a few pupils on the playground to come and play some games with the new arrival. They happily take on the role and you get on with your work.

Over the coming days, you see your new arrival on their own again. You worry that they aren’t happy or settling in well and you know that they need some further support.

So, what can you do?

Creating friendships is the very start of the learner’s transition to their new environment. All learners need to feel happy and safe and develop a sense of belonging. It’s hard to learn without those fundamental elements in place. The importance of those friendships should never be underestimated and there is a lot we can do to foster them in the early days, regardless of the language a learner speaks.

Providing opportunities to play games can have a significant impact on the learner’s transition. Here are some games that don’t require a good grasp of English for learners to enjoy and to promote friendships:

Scramble: Be the first to put the shapes in the correct holes. This is great fun!

Kerplunk: Carefully remove sticks from a tower without dislodging the marbles. The person with the fewest marbles at the end is the winner.

Snakes and ladders: Roll the dice. If you land on a ladder you climb up, if you land on a snake you slide down. The first to the top wins! Any variety of this will work... you can download this variation to let your learners have some fun!

References:

National Learning and Work Institute (2018) Measuring the impact of Community-Based English Language Provision: Findings from a Randomised Controlled Trial, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

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