English as an Additional Language (EAL)

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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’ writing activities at all stages of fluency.


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 a number of key features of language that pupils learning English as an additional language appear 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 EAL learners achieve the quality they are capable of in their writing, teachers need to identify the specific features of the target genre  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 lowerachieving EAL writers, modal verbs, adverbials and prepositional phrases seem especially important (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


When pupils are in the early stages of acquiring writing skills in English, it helps if tasks are rooted in concrete experience, are prefaced by plenty of opportunities to orally rehearse the target language and are supported by visuals. This makes writing tasks more meaningful and facilitates pupil participation and success. Tasks should link with whatever the rest of the class is doing. In this way, peers will be able to support and to see that the pupil is participating in the same curriculum as them. Drafting and note-taking can be usefully carried out in first language. This helps pupils maintain their focus for longer as well as giving them something they can independently refer to later. Where available, bilingual support from a Teaching Assistant who shares the same language as the pupil can be invaluable as a means of giving the pupil greater access to the lesson through the use of first language as well as the freedom and confidence to express themselves more fully in first language.

As pupils develop stamina as writers, writing frames and sentence starters can be helpful additions to the strategies outlined above, 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 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, teachers may be misled by the oral fluency demonstrated by more advanced learners of EAL 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) includes guidance on a range of teaching and learning strategies to support accelerated progress in writing across the curriculum. Key messages include 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 (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.

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