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How do I effectively use additional adults to support EAL students?

Author: Gemma Fanning, EAL Co-ordinator

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

There are a few key things you can do to maximise the effectiveness of additional adults within the classroom:

  1. Firstly, ensure that your additional adult is fully prepared for your lesson. Although it’s often very difficult to find time for this, they should, if possible, be an integral part of your planning meetings.
  2. In an ideal world, the additional adult will be able to follow an evidence-based support process – a way of tracking each learner’s progress and teaching to their needs. The attached resource can be used to see which language structures the students are encountering, how they are progressing and where they are struggling.
    Scott (2012) explains that if teachers adapt their planning to include language and content objectives, this will support differentiation. Make sure that 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 the 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 in 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 learners and you can utilise them in this way in your lesson.
  5. You may wish 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 that they are clear on when to be involved and when to step back. This requires a clear statement in a lesson plan that indicates where all the adults need to be throughout the lesson, which students they need to be targeting and which activities will require their support.

Below, we discuss 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 resilience and independence. This can be achieved by asking the additional adult to let students think about the answers to questions and by offering ‘reflection time’ for learners, rather than requiring them to answer straight away. As Williams and Burden (1997) explain, the teacher is a mediator: both the mediator and the learner are active participants, allowing the learner to acquire knowledge, skills and strategies they’ll need in order to progress. 

It is also important that the additional adult complements what the learners are being taught in the classroom. Both the teacher and the additional adult should make an effort to consider how they frame their questions. They should try to avoid using closed questions, but instead ask 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 simply repeating your instructions and to listen carefully to you. 

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

In the lesson:

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

You may need to support any additional adults in responding to student requirements. This can happen during shared planning, or by providing notes or a plan with a list of important and less important things they can do within that lesson. If there is no time to meet, you can make sure that 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 the teacher and assisting adults can make notes, can be a very handy communication tool.

The resource accompanying this article demonstrates how both the teacher and an additional adult can support one another when planning for support in a lesson. 



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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