When you have EAL learners in your class it is important to stop and consider how complex something is, whether that be the wording of the LO or a set of questions, the text you are studying which is difficult and descriptive or the way you speak that has lots of colloquialisms. EAL learners do not generally have special educational needs and so as teachers we need to find ways to help them get from point A to point B as easily as possible. This would usually involve scaffolding the lesson to remove some of the barriers to learning or the amount of writing required. One way that we can assist EAL learners is by simplifying the text that we are using.

In English we favour complex sentences, and whilst these can be descriptive and detailed, they can also lead to confusion for students learning English. Take a look at this question which is fairly typical of how we write assessment questions:

Explain clearly, giving at least three different reasons or by drawing three illustrations, why McClelland lost the battle.

The question is not simple because the wording makes it difficult to interpret. For an EAL learner the complex nature of the sentence jumps around in a way that is hard to follow and they may spend time trying to work out exactly what it wants. Similarly to when I watch things like University Challenge, where I am often impressed if I understood what the question was even asking, never mind what the answer was! This is because of complex syntax. We can take this added pressure away for EAL learners by using two simple sentences instead:

Explain why McClelland lost the battle.
Give three reasons or draw three illustrations.

If we wanted to go one step further with the scaffolding we could even present the question like this:

Why did McClelland lose the battle?



Draw a picture to help you answer the question:

The outcome would still be the same if the student knew the answer but by removing some of the complexity, we free up some of the student’s cognitive load and this would enable them to attempt the question.

Similarly we need to look at the text we are using, whether it be comprehension, parts of a chapter book or a text book that students are working from. Much of what we use in schools is created with English speaking children in mind. But as research shows that we need to understand 95-98% (Hu & Nation, 2000) of what we read to comprehend it, this would put EAL learners at a distinct disadvantage to their peers who would likely have enough of an understanding to be able to “skim” over words that are unfamiliar. For a child within the first few years of learning English, we need to be aware that much of what they see in school looks like this:

When there are so many unknown words you can see that comprehension and understanding is not possible so as teachers we need to find ways to remove as many of those boxes above as we can to make text accessible. This can be done using a wide range of strategies such as visual supports, assessing prior knowledge, talk and of course by making the text a little more simple. An example of this can be see below:

In meteorology, a cloud is an aerosol consisting of a visible mass of miniature liquid droplets, frozen crystals, or other particles suspended in the atmosphere of a planetary body or similar space. Water or various other chemicals may compose the droplets and crystals. On Earth, clouds are formed as a result of saturation of the air when it is cooled to its dew point, or when it gains sufficient moisture (usually in the form of water vapor) from an adjacent source to raise the dew point to the ambient temperature.

This is a fairly standard example of text in a secondary school but one that contains lots of Tier 2 and Tier 3 language – the most difficult for EAL learners. Rather than find something else for them to do, the better option would be to find ways to simplify this text. Ideas for simplifying include:

  • Keep it short
  • Use simple sentences
  • Use tier 1 language
  • Remove culturally obscure language
  • Extract key sentences and turn them into digestible bullet points
  • Repetition

Making something more simple and adding images where appropriate really help to make text accessible for EAL learners:

Clouds are made up of tiny droplets, frozen crystals, or particles floating in the air of a planet or space. These droplets and crystals can be made of water or different chemicals. On Earth, clouds form when the air becomes saturated with moisture, either by cooling to its dew point or by receiving water vapor from another source.








Thankfully there is so much out there to support making things simplified and one website I particularly like is called Text Simplifier AI Tool (dumbitdown.ai) – I am not a fan of the name as I am keen to promote scaffolding rather than “dumbing down” anything for EAL learners but the site itself it really useful. There re free options on there but if you subscribe it is less than £2 a month and it can be a really great time saving option for your arsenal of scaffolding options!

The website has so many options for simplifying text, explaining idiomatic language or even explaining concepts in more easy to understand language. Sometimes as teachers we don’t realise how complex something is until we see a simplified version!


Simplifying text really does give students a great opportunity to access what their peers are doing and with tools that utilise AI so readily available there has never been an easier way to do this. To give you an example of how well the platform performs I have simplified part of chapter 1 of Catherine Rundell’s The Explorer. This text has very descriptive language which makes it hard to imagine or comprehend as an EAL learner. The Dumb It Down platform does a brilliant job of explaining the text in a more simple way. Have a try at making the language in your classroom more simple and see how it helps your EAL learners access the lessons. With a paid for Dumb it Down account you can simplify 2000 words at a time, they also offer school subscriptions.