EAL Classroom Basics – Word Building

Our last post covered the EAL basics to have at your fingertips for letters and sounds to best support English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners. This post focuses on word building as the next step.


While the EAL learner may know many words in their own language, they have the added step of learning English for these words also. Focusing on building vocabulary is important and there are many resources to help with this including:

The Big Box Of Easy-To-Read Words is a game students can work on independently. They match the 125-word puzzle pieces and 125 photo puzzle pieces to build vocabulary.

Basic Skills Charts are a great way to learn the basics necessary for the classroom and are usually found in most classrooms. Singing the days of the week and the months of the year helps students retain information.

Photographic Learning Cards can be used in many different ways, simply to learn vocabulary, then to develop sentence structure and storytelling. Resources that grow with students and can be used in multiple ways are always a good choice.

Pre-teaching vocabulary for a new math or science concept can give EAL learners an advantage. Understanding the keys words to be introduced gives them a safe starting point and builds confidence. They are then better able to contribute to discussions and maintain the teaching and learning pace in the lesson.

CVC Words

Learning consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words is the next step after learning letter and letter sounds. Many of the resources mentioned in our last post can be used for CVC words. Here are a few more:

The Big Box of Little Word Puzzles has 60 CVC words to build. This activity allows students to practice their letter sounds as they decipher the words using picture cues to support learning.

These phonics pebbles are great for developing letter recognition, word building and blending skills. The tactile pebbles can be combined to create more complex words and the colour coding for vowels always helps for CVC activities.

Playing with word families

Word Family Tiles have 42 onset tiles and 35 rime tiles allowing students to make their own words and explore the families in a fun way.

Pop For Word Families allows students to play a fun game once they understand how words are made using a family ending.

Sight words

Sight words are a challenge to teach because they often do not follow rules and need to be memorized. Luckily there are many fun ways to learn sight words.

Sight Word String-Ups are a fun interactive way to introduce and practice learning sight words.

Sight Word Bingo is always a hit and students enjoy the game without realizing they are learning challenging words.

Sight Word Readers are a natural way to teach sight words in context and the more students are exposed to words the better.


Having students begin with readers at this point is a great way to help them understand why they are working so hard and also to celebrate the success they are having. Levelled readers gradually increase the difficulty of the text and help students to gain skills and confidence.

What are you doing to help your EAL students build word power?

EAL Classroom Basics – Letters and Sounds

I often get asked for a list of basics, teachers can have in their classrooms for newcomer students with limited language skills. Teachers want to help their students achieve but can be limited in time and sometimes knowledge on how to best support English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners. The term ESL is often redundant for these students as English is not merely a second language, it is a third, fourth or even fifth language! EAL support teachers are often stretched in terms of time and can only offer limited time in each classroom therefore a “go-to” box of activities is essential.

Beginning with letter formation and sounds helps students understand the more complex reading and writing they will be seeing in class. New students don’t have the luxury of time and want to learn English as soon as possible so combining reading, writing, speaking and listening in each lesson is more beneficial.

Learning to form our letters is a skill, especially if the alphabet is new. Arabic speakers may be familiar with their letter formation from the bottom right and teaching to start a letter from the top left can be a struggle, initially. Learning the correct letter formation is important as self-teaching may result in kinaesthetic memory of alternative letter formation and slower writing as a result. Learning the letters in a larger format can be easier.

The Letter Formation Sand Tray allows students to practice their letters in a forgiving way and on a larger scale. Thinking about where the letter starts and finishes as well as direction helps.

It can be combined with Letters Touch and Trace Cards so students can clearly see the start (green dot), direction, (arrows) and finish (red) on each letter.

While I am an advocate for learning lower case letters first in kindergarten, new EAL students are often in older grades and learning both at the same time to better access word learning is more useful. Matching lower and upper case letters is a necessary step.

The Hands-On Alphabet is a wonderful investment for learning letter sounds as well as matching lower and upper case letters. It includes 78 objects (3 for each letter), 36 sorting containers, alphabet stickers, and a plastic organizing basket. Hands-On Alphabet teaching manual shows you how to get the most out of your alphabet materials. Initially, it needs teacher support but as students become more familiar with the letter sounds they can work independently to sort the objects into the correct containers and name objects thus identifying initial letter sounds. Additional objects could be added later.

To give more help with the ‘sticks and circles’ we call writing, explaining how letters are mainly in the grass but some reach up to the sky and others reach down into the dirt can help.

This post discusses how colour coding paper with sky blue, grass green and brown dirt can help identify tall letters and those with tails.

Sentence strips can be bought in many forms, even reusable wipe off versions are available now.

To boost confidence Alphabet Stamps are a great way to give new English learners letters writing practice. Students can do their own stamping to practice letter recognition and then follow with the writing. The act of choosing the correct letter and when ready choosing either lower or upper case letters and punctuation is great practice.

These are some of the resources I have used and recommend teachers have in their classrooms for new EAL students learning letters and sounds. While nothing replaces a good teacher, there are times when we need students to be able to work independently and having the resources to help, allows this to happen. Do you have a great idea for teaching new EAL students letter formation and letter sounds?