Read Write Inc. Phonics for EAL learners

Do you have students with varying levels of English in your classes? Wondering how you can ensure all your students achieve reading fluency with Read Write Inc. Phonics?

Experienced Reading Leader, Jane Spicer, talks to us about her continued success implementing Read Write Inc. Phonics in a school where there is a wide range of English language levels. Maryland Primary School in East London has been a Read Write Inc. Model School for 14 years and has a student population with over 53 mother languages.


Current research shows that in order to become fully conversant in English, a child needs to spend at least 6 years learning the language. This is an obvious barrier to those arriving at Primary School with little or no English.

In 2018, we had a high number of EAL children enter the school in Year 3 to 6 from various countries including Portugal, Romania and Ethiopia. Upon initial assessment, it was decided to place the children in a small group of 6. The tutor with this group focussed on set 1 sounds initially to see if the children had learnt letter names or sounds in their own country.

This was mixed in with the children learning their emergency vocabulary (for example asking to go to the toilet or answering their name from a register) using lots of actual objects, labelled with the name in English and their own language. The children had these lessons daily and gradually built up their confidence to say simple sentences to their partner.

The other challenge that we had to overcome and assess was whether they were strong in their own language. The children were taken out every afternoon by a teaching assistant who tried to build up their conversational skills.

Two of the group had no schooling at all in their own country so the understanding for these children was slower to develop. These two children are now able to converse with their peers and teachers (currently in Year 6).

The other four have made excellent progress. One child left the school last year and hit the expected level in both the reading and spelling, grammar and punctuation papers in Year 6 SATs examinations. Two of the children are now in the top set for English.

What are the biggest challenges when teaching Read Write Inc. Phonics to EAL students?

EAL children have to be assessed very carefully to ensure that they are placed in the correct group, thinking particularly about:

  • their home language – does it use the Latin alphabet? For example, Arabic and Chinese do not.
  • their understanding of what is being said (pictures are vital)
  • ensuring the children still remain positive when grouped with children who are a lot younger than they are.
  • identifying when they are ready to move groups so that they can see the progression that they have made.

What would your advice be to Reading Leaders who are unable to group EAL students separately?

If this is not possible then my advice would be:

  • Partner the EAL child with one who knows their phonics. Partner practice is a large part of the Read Write Inc. Phonics programme.
  • If possible, schedule an intervention session in the afternoon for the child to learn basic emergency vocabulary so that they are able to answer their name on the register, ask to go to the toilet etc.

What area do you find that EAL students struggle with the most and how do you help combat this?

Their reading skills progress far quicker than their writing and understanding so it is important that they still continue to receive support regularly otherwise they end up with large gaps in their learning.

Transferring the skills learnt in their phonics lessons to other subjects is difficult. We therefore try to ensure that the speed sound charts are in all classrooms so that the children are able to refer to them.

Visual prompts are also vital especially in science lessons where the vocabulary can be tricky for their comprehension.


If you would like more information on available resources, visit our website.

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