English as an Additional Language (EAL)

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Teaching and Learning for pupils with English as an additional language
Identifying the teaching context for EAL learners
Developing language and literacy for EAL learners
Resourcing the teaching of EAL learners

Writing for advanced EAL learners

In conjunction with this section, you will find it helpful to read the sections on both Spoken English development and Reading because the development of each of these areas is crucial to successful writing in English for EAL learners. Also see the section on Integrated Literacy Activities which highlights tasks for developing writing through speaking and reading related activities. The tables presented in the Writing for New to English Learners section are a useful reference for learners at all stages in their acquisition of English. 

Teachers should refer to EAL-specific assessment tools when identifying those learners who might be classified as ‘more advanced’.  Using the Bell Framework, for example, this would be learners in Bands C and above. 


Cameron and Besser (2004) carried out research into the writing of more advanced learners of English as an additional language i.e. pupils who had been in UK schools for at least five years. They identified key features that pupils learning English as an additional language appeared to handle less confidently than their monolingual, English-only peers. These included the use of formulaic phrases, prepositions, modal verbs, use of genres, under-development of narrative components, particularly endings and the use of tense. 

In order to ensure more advanced learners of EAL achieve higher quality in their writing, teachers need to identify the specific features of the target genre they are wanting their learners to develop so that they can take account of these in their lesson planning and delivery. 

Pupils need: 

  • Access to good models of writing across a range of genres 

  • A reason to write (motivation, purpose) and something to say (ideas, viewpoint) 

  • An understanding of the audience for whom they are writing 

  • Exposure to a range of ideas 

  • Plenty of opportunities to rehearse the target language orally prior to writing 

  • An explicit focus on the particular features of language that are problematic. For lower achieving EAL writers, modal verbs, adverbials and prepositional phrases seem especially significant (Cameron and Besser, 2004). 

  • Activities which extend pupils’ working vocabularies, giving them a rich choice of words to draw on in their own writing. When teaching formulaic phrases, it is helpful to focus on the phrase as a unit rather than on the individual words 

  • Explicit modelling of the writing process 

  • Opportunities to engage in collaborative writing activities 

  • Scaffolding activities such as Dictogloss (See Integrated Literacy Activities) 

  • Clarity about the success criteria for each target genre 

  • Opportunities for peer-review 

  • Meaningful feedback 


As pupils develop stamina as writers, graphic organisers and more sophisticated writing frames, substitution tables and sentence starters can be helpful additions to the strategies outlined for new-to-English learners, gradually extending the amount of writing a pupil produces and building confidence. For pupils with greater fluency in their first languages, discussing, planning and drafting in first language – or in a mix of first language and English - remain supportive activities, enabling pupils to organise their thoughts and express their ideas more freely and fluently prior to writing in English. This can help with engagement and motivation and it can be a productive way of engaging parents in their child’s learning if set as an alternative homework task. 

As a group, the oral fluency demonstrated by more advanced learners of EAL can mislead teachers into underestimating their need for specific targeted teaching in order to develop their writing. It is also important to understand that writing cannot be considered in isolation, because it is inextricably linked with reading and thinking skills (OfSTED, 2003). 

Building on OfSTED research into the writing of more advanced learners of English as an Additional Language at Key Stage 4 (2003), the National Strategies resource “Ensuring the attainment of more advanced bilingual learners” (2009) included guidance on a range of teaching and learning strategies to support accelerated progress in writing across the curriculum. Key messages included the importance of oracy as a precursor to writing, giving pupils opportunities to hear and rehearse some of the language they will later need when they start writing. Purposeful talk enables pupils to: 

  • develop, exchange and revise ideas 

  • communicate face-to-face with an audience 

  • rehearse ideas before writing 

  • rehearse language structures before writing. 

The use of talk prompts, or think-talk phrases, can support pupils to develop a more formal register through their talk prior to writing. 

Also needed are: 

  • explicit teaching of the conventions of the target genres 

  • activities to develop pupils’ working vocabularies 

  • engagement with a range of reading material 

  • questioning techniques which promote the development of higher order thinking skills (Bloom’s revised taxonomy) 

  • modelling 

  • scaffolding pupils’ writing e.g. through collaborative and guided activities. 

Careful planning with a clear focus on the target language (the features of the target genre, not just the vocabulary) can develop pupils’ experience and knowledge of a range of genres, build confidence and skills and enable progression towards independence in writing. 

Having produced a piece of writing, clear feedback is also beneficial.  Where a pupil may make specific errors in their use of English, it is helpful to identify and discuss these and have them annotate their work with the revised word/phrase/grammatical structure.  It can also help to make direct comparisons between how they express that same idea in first language as this can highlight to them the possible source of the error, thus enabling them to address it more confidently next time. 

With all learners of EAL, whether they are new to English or developing their confidence, establishing a baseline and tracking progress using an EAL-specific tool or framework are important activities.  There are various options including NASSEA’s EAL Assessment Framework EAL Assessment Framework | Nassea and The Bell Foundation EAL Assessment Framework EAL Assessment Framework - The Bell Foundation (bell-foundation.org.uk)., the latter being free to download.  Bell traces the journey from new-to-English (Band A) to full proficiency (Band E) for the 4 skills of listening, speaking reading & viewing and writing with use of the online tracker giving immediate access to further generic support strategies that may be helpful for the focus pupil.   

For a range of ideas to help class and subject teachers bring EAL-friendly strategies into the mainstream curriculum diet, see Course: More advanced learners of EAL (hants.gov.uk).  This collection includes an aide memoire that focuses on more advanced learners of EAL: PowerPoint Presentation (hants.gov.uk).

Original guide sponsored by the University of Winchester, this revision sponsored by The University of Reading and Hampshire EMTAS.