Louise Kleinbergs Subject: EAL

'Do they really know? '

AIM: An investigation into student understanding of key words and subject vocabulary, and also the meaning of command words encountered in examinations and assessment tasks.

OUTCOME: cross curricular language support and development strategies especially for Advanced Learners of English (ALE) and bilingual learners.

Rationale – What pupil needs were you addressing with the project

As an EAL teacher I am quite concerned about students understanding and accurate use of key terms/words and vocabulary, in conjunction with the meaning of command words in examination and assessment tasks. I felt that there was a gap between what teachers think students know, and what students actually know. Some EAL research also shows a big gap in EAL students understanding and knowledge of basic vocabulary – even for those students performing at grades A-C.

This project was designed to:

* develop academic language by raising awareness of EAL needs
* develop reflective practice and reflective learning
* support teachers in the development of new resources and strategies
* measure the effectiveness of strategies implemented


Teaching Plan –

My initial plan was to work with both DLY and CCO as I felt their subject material enabled me to follow through with this investigation more thoroughly. Due to unforeseen circumstances the plan was narrowed to working only with DLY. The class chosen was his Year 10 (top set) and Apartheid the top covered.

The sessions delivered by LKL were to focus on how well boys understood the concepts, key words, and command words within the topic of Apartheid, and what strategies would improve their language skills further.

Lesson 1

LKL withdrew a target group of 8 students and worked with them to establish a baseline of students knowledge and understanding of key words.


Students were given a worksheet in Question and Answer format and asked to write down the definitions of key words prominent in the Apartheid unit of work (Worksheet 1).

A second activity involved them matching the key words and definitions on laminated cards (Worksheet 2).

An extension activity was then provided and involved the students noting and explaining the importance and implications of the key words in Apartheid. This was done as a means of assessing their ability to expand upon their knowledge.

Lesson 2

Students were provided with sample answers from past examinations and required to identify the command word from the question.

A discussion and feedback session was held after this to ask students why they selected the command words and what the command words really meant.

Lesson 3

As a result of the baseline activity an “Odd One Out” activity (Worksheet 3) was designed to challenge students thinking skills and employ justification skills.

A simple questionnaire was also completed in conjunction with oral feedback from the students discussing their learning. Questions included:
* How do I learn keywords?
* What helps me?
* What can teachers do?

Evidence -

The expectation was that the gap between what students know and teachers perception of what students know would be narrowed. I was hoping that students would have a better understanding of the words and be able to explain their reasons in a more in-depth and accurate manner.

The first activity (Worksheet 1) highlighted the gap of student understanding quite quickly. Despite work covered quite extensively in the history lessons student responses were incomplete and many were limited and lacked substance. The extension task also proved challenging for some and student responses were often repetitive and lacked the in-depth response as was needed, which suggested they had not understood and/or did not have the language to develop their points effectively.

However, when presented with the matching activity all students were able to complete this quickly and accurately and with much more confidence.

The second lesson focussed on command words. Students had a better understanding of these and were able to match more accurately the questions and sample answers.

The third lesson and the implementation of the “Odd One Out” activity showed an increase in understanding. Whilst the word choice for the activity may have been simplistic the discussion afterwards involved students justifying their choices. This demonstrated a more in depth knowledge than evident in previous sessions.

Student responses to the questionnaire and feedback discussion were also interesting.

* How do I learn keywords?
Look the word up in the dictionary
Use the word in a sentence
Just remember them
Find another word that sounds like the meaning
Go over and over the words
Look, cover, write, check

* What helps me?
Repeating the words
Mental activities
Role plays
Gap fills
Physical activities (kinaesthetic learning)

* What can teachers do?
Be more interactive with pupils and do physical activities
Make it interesting and enjoyable
Take more time on the key words and explain them more
Incorporate them into tests
Explain key words better

Outcomes -

What Went Well


Even Better If

Some of the difficulties I encountered with the project:

Outcomes - Pupil Learning

Outcomes - Adult Learning

Next Steps:

To incorporate more students at a higher level of EAL into future EAL support timetables. This will enable me to develop my expertise in working with these students. It will also provide teachers with a wider range of activities and strategies they can use within their own teaching.

To work more closely with one or two departments (staff depending) over a period of time to develop resources for higher level EAL students

Highlight to teachers the importance and need of spending time ensuring students have a secure understanding of key words and vocabulary needed within each topic being covered.

The nature of this project has meant that colleagues in other subjects can take something from it. Key words and vocabulary are crucial in all curriculum areas and hence the need to highlight them is crucial.

In Conclusion – a personal response to the whole project -

Overall this project has been a real eye opener. My work previously has been centred around lower level EAL students and so the opportunity and reason to work with higher level EAL students has been interesting, encouraging and challenging. It has highlighted certain areas of my own personal expertise that need developing but more importantly the need to develop strategies for teachers across all curriculum areas to incorporate key words and vocabulary more intensely into their teaching.

I have also enjoyed the opportunity of being part of a “working group” of teachers across the school who are also pushing the boundaries.

This project has however, taken more time than was suggested and I have found it difficult to ensure deadlines have been met and my own teaching commitments have not been affected.

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