Teaching English as an Additional Language – EAL – Ukrainian Learners

I have the pleasure of teaching a small group of Ukrainian refugee children in our community. Families come along to learn English and I get to work with all the children while the parents are learning English. I am a qualified early years and primary school teacher but am currently out of the classroom.

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This blog post is designed to give you some tips and ideas for helping all children learning English as an additional language. The post is suitable for teachers but equally helpful to families, carers, host families and communities.

Firstly, gaining information about the child is so important. I’ve found some parents/ carers fluent in English while others have limited or no English.

I use Google translate to help me get an idea of what the child likes/ dislikes, how they get on at school in home language etc., it’s also good to know things like the temperament of the child eg. are they usually confident, shy etc. when using home language.

Getting a little context of the child’s situation can be so helpful, if that feels appropriate to do. It helps you to know if some topics you cover may need to be done sensitively.

If you’re a regular or stumbled across our website before you’ll know we’re a family heavily inspired by books. When I was teaching I also relied on stories and non-fiction text to explore a range of curriculum topics.

Using picture books with children who are learning another language is a perfect way to introduce new vocabulary, encourage talk in home language and support comprehension through the illustrations.

I’m a firm believer that picture books should have no end age date. As an adult I’m a huge fan of picture books and I’ve not met many children who don’t continue to enjoy picture books right through the primary years and into secondary. There is a reason graphic novels have become so popular – children and adults love illustrated texts!

Shark in the Park Book

The group of children I’ve been teaching English to are between 8 and 10 years old. Most recently we explored the book the Shark in the Park together.

It’s a fabulously, fun book that children adore with lots of opportunities to spot nouns and look at new language.

What to Look for in a Book for Early English as an Additional Language (EAL) Learners

  • Highly illustrated books where the images match very closely the words of the story. This helps with comprehension of unfamiliar language.
  • Books with some fun or easy to grasp humour.
  • Clear font. Especially for learners who are learning new alphabets this is very important to have clear lettering.
  • A book that you can interact with. One that encourages discussion whether in home language or new language. For example, in Shark in the Park, children can interact by guessing what they may see when they turn the page.
  • Simple sentences.
  • High frequency words to practise including those that are tricky words (more about tricky words here).
  • Repeated refrains to build confidence in spoken language.
  • Familiar objects in the pictures to start discussions.

Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt

Shark in the Park worked perfectly as a text to explore with my group of EAL learners. It’s bright and inviting with plenty of drawings that the children could spot and have a go at naming. Initially we spent time looking at the front cover, naming the colours and the bee and the butterfly.

Certain words such as ‘Timothy Pope’ and ‘telescope’ I just shared with the children. Then when the word appeared again we said it together. Then they took turns saying the word as we went through the book.

Shark in the Park has lots of wonderful repeated refrains. Repeated refrains are where a part of the writing repeats. These help to build up the confidence as they are familiar words and the refrains often have a patter to how they have been said that helps recall.

Below you can watch author and illustrator Nick Sharratt read Shark in the Park and then there is a wonderful draw along for Timothy’s Dad after. Activities such as drawing give many opportunities to develop new language and also the time and space for children to talk in home language or ask questions.

There’s also a brilliant shark draw along below too.

Group Activities

As a group we do short spells of different activities. I try to balance out one’s that are new language heavy with less intense activities. Learning new languages is exciting but tiring. This is especially true for my group who come to me after a full day at school. Activities might include:

  • Sharing a book – sometimes just for the pure pleasure of it, other times with a teaching purpose in mind
  • Phonics session – for more information about phonics head to my phonics page here.
  • Colouring, drawing, wordsearches etc. It gives the opportunity for chat and consolidation of previous learning. Eg. If a child is colouring you may talk with them about the colours they are using, what else is that colour, what is their favourite colour etc.
  • Games – playing games is a great way to develop rapport and practise language in a fun context. Games my group have loved so far have been Uno Extreme and Dobble. I encourage the children to use either Ukrainian or English. If you have enough learners it helps for you to be the facilitator but if not you can just join in! I narrate the play to develop language and this often encourages the children to use more new language. Eg. X put down a red 5. Y needs a red card or the number 5.

Encouraging All Language

Encouraging all language whether home language or new language is key to building confidence in talking and book talk. I use Google translate to translate home language vocabulary.

Within our group there is often a child who knows the English for a Ukrainian word said and therefore they become the ‘teacher’ helping me to learn new vocabulary.

Be a Learner

Using apps such as Duolingo are so helpful to help you learn some of the child’s home language. It also gives you an appreciation of how tricky it can be to learn a new language but also the rewards it offers too.

Some languages require a new alphabet to be learnt. I’ve been learning some Ukrainian using Duolingo and getting to grips with the Cyrillic alphabet!

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