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Author: Gemma Fanning, EAL specialist

An additional adult can be very effective in supporting teachers with EAL learners in the classroom. An additional adult may be a teaching assistant, learning support assistant or just a regular volunteer. They can significantly enhance support for learner motivation, confidence and self-esteem (Wilson et al, 2003). If you are a classroom teacher, you may be observed on how best to deploy your additional adults against your school standards. UK teacher standards state that ‘Teachers must deploy staff effectively’ (DfE Teachers’ Standards) but how do you ensure that they are not only deployed effectively, but are maximised to their full potential within your own context.

To support your additional adult there are a few key things you can do to maximise their effectiveness within the classroom:

1) Firstly, you should always ensure that your additional adult is fully prepared for your lesson. Although it’s often very difficult to find time, they should be an integral part of your planning meetings.

2) In an ideal world the additional adult can adopt evidence-based support, a process of tracking each learner’s progress and teaching to their needs. The attached can be used to see what language structures the students are encountering and how they are progressing, or perhaps where they are also struggling.

Scott (2012) explains that if teachers adapts their planning to include language and content objectives it will support differentiation. Make sure you provide learners with copies of resources that can be taken away for their own preparation, particularly when supporting students with language structures, or if they are going to work with a small group away from the rest of the class.

3) Share the context of the lesson in advance of the lesson. Many learners will use that time wisely to support themselves with pre learning of vocabulary or even with studying the topic in their home language prior to the lesson.

4) Find out if your additional adult can speak the student’s mother tongue, Cummins (cited Scott, 2012) explains that bilingualism has positive effects on children’s linguistic development. If an additional adult also has a qualification that links to your subject area, this can support the learner and you can utilise the additional adult in your lesson.

5)You may want to ask your additional adult to teach part of the lesson in a small group, for example the language structures and key vocabulary.

6) When providing planning for your additional adult, you can highlight room zoning within the classroom so they are clear on when to be involved and when to step back. This involves a clear statement in a lesson plan which states where all the adults need to be throughout the lesson, which students they need to be targeting and which activities will require their support.

Here’s some supporting goals for additional adults working in the classroom:

McGill (2012) suggests that an additional adult may need to be encouraged to take a step back to allow students to develop a resilience and independence. This can be done by asking the additional adult to let students think about the answers to questions and offering a ‘reflection time’ for learners, rather than asking them to answer straight away. As Williams and Burden (1997) explain, the teacher is a mediator, therefore both the mediator and the learner are both active participants that allow the learner to acquire knowledge, skills and strategies they’ll need in order to progress.

It is also important that the additional adult compliments what the learners are being taught in the classroom. Both teacher and additional adult should make an effort in considering how they frame their questions. Try to avoid using just closed questions, and use some open-ended questions, that lead to a cognitive challenge as well as embedding the context (Scott, 2012). In addition, ask the additional adult to avoid repeating what you have instructed, and listen carefully to the teacher.

Questionnaire for supporting adults:

Prior to the lesson:

  • Do you know the content of the lesson?
  • Do you know exactly which learners to support and what activities to support them with?
  • Do you have access to resources you will use?
  • Do you know which language structures and vocabulary to teach/support and track?
  • Can you use any additional language skills to assist learners?

When in the lesson:

  • Are you allowing students to think about the answers to questions and offering a ‘reflection time’?
  • Are you considering how to frame your questions carefully to ensure they lead to cognitive challenge and embedding the context?

You may need to support any additional adults in how to deliver student requirements. This can happen during shared planning, or by providing notes/a plan with a list of important and less important things they can do within that lesson. Remember, if there is no time to meet, you can make sure the planning and documents are ready prior to the lesson, and give them a copy or send it via email. The use of a teacher link book where both teacher and assisting adults can make notes can be a very handy communication tool.

The attached infographic demonstrates how both teacher and additional adult can support one another when planning for support in a lesson.

To download our instructional 'Effective EAL Support' poster, please click on the green download button.


McGill, Ross Morrison. Teacher Toolkit: Helping You Survive Your First Five Years. London: Bloomsbury, 2015. Print.

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

Williams, M. and Burden, R. (1997) Psychology for Language Teachers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Print.

Wilson, V., Schlapp, U. and Davidson, J. (2003) ‘An “extra pair of hands”? Managing classroom assistants in Scottish primary schools’, Educational Management and Administration, 31(2): 189-205 Print.

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