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This morning my 4 year old woke up and 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. The comprehension and listening skills in a younger child are therefore of paramount importance and will constantly be developed through story telling.

The use of literature should never be underestimated. A young child is exposed to new vocabulary and syntax that they may not come across in every day life. Furthermore, a life long love of books and reading is fostered. Computers, televisions and films cannot replace the imagination, creativity and incidental learning it sparks. Vocabulary, grammatical structures, tenses and connectives can all be found in the written texts. Comprehension skills are also developed. I aways remember reading my first difficult Spanish book when doing my A level. For the first two pages I looked up all the new words, it took too long. By the time I reached the third page I was interested in the book and suddenly it all made sense.The key factor was interest, even though a book may be challenging for an EAL learner if they really interested they can work out the key elements  of a book without understanding every word. 

I was fortunate enough to attend a conference on language in the Primary Years Program where  the dominant theme was the use of literature for language learning. Literature is like the vehicle that enables language learners to develop and enable them to arrive at their destination. In literature, children are exposed to language and vocabulary that they may never encounter otherwise and familiar language and structures are reinforced. For example, narratives like all text types have a purpose and structure. The learning can be done in a less formal way, noting new vocabulary, finding equivalents in their home language, finding synonyms for words, highlighting particular tenses, grammar or sentence structures.

An EAL book club is a great way of students sharing their learning. Students can write a synopsis of a book they have read and give a recommendation out of 10 as well as saying whether it was easy, average or difficult. The reviews could then be displayed in the library for readers. 

For upper primary books, reading can be a way of a child understanding a particular point in history. The "Horrible History" books are a fun way for children in primary schools to learn about about ancient civilisations and their idiosyncrasies. The illustrations are useful for the more visual EAL learner as they depict aspects of history in a vivid way.  "Adrian Mole's Diary" is a good one for students on their transition to secondary school as it portrays aspects of teenage life in an entertaining and amusing way. The Twilight series and Harry Potter are all good reads for the older children. However, it  is important that students choose books that are interesting to them. Something they are passionate about.

The list of good books is endless, I have chosen some that I have found to work well with students and that can be used as a spring board for further activities. The key to a good book, according to the Oscar First Book Prize judges, is illustrations, whether it is imaginative, original, has drive or a message.  

Further learning - Blog

Girl online learning
Created: Mon 8th Mar 2021

In January 2021, we commenced another lockdown in the UK and put our recovery curriculum on hold. The question on most of our minds was immediately: "How will our EAL learners progress without the English academic and social interaction school provides, and which they need in order to flourish in their language learning journeys?"

Girl with rulers
Created: Mon 14th Dec 2020

For those of us who are EAL teachers in school, selecting our language learning outcomes is only one consideration in our planning. Our students attend our lessons primarily to be able to access the language they are facing in their mainstream classes. This means that we need to be very clear about our context, and about what vocabulary and language structures are relevant to that context.

Created: Wed 7th Feb 2024

Learning Village is an invaluable tool for deaf learners with or without EAL. The use of image as the main language of instruction provides visual cues to support your learners.

Tip or Idea: Deaf learners may need to lip read or see speech physically modelled to support their understanding. Using our resources in an adult-led small group session and/or using the demo learner as a teaching tool can be very powerful for deaf learners.