Bringing English to Life in the EFL Classroom

Slobodana Zivkovic is an EAL teacher in an International Baccalaureate school in Mongolia. Here she describes a lesson in which she created an exciting context for language practice and language learning. Through the use of a ‘surprising’ turn of events, she encouraged her EAL learners to make use of their prior language and content knowledge to solve a rather grisly mystery.

Slobodana Zivkovic

How can teaching EAL change the world? That is a question I ask myself every day as an educator. 

We all know that learning a new language and improving it makes a difference not only in the lives of one person but also in the lives of others. Being able to communicate in a global language touches the lives of many people. It helps us step outside our own language, culture, identity. Improving on all 4 skills of a language opens doors to new friendships, opportunities and wonders that this world has to offer. My goal as an international EAL educator is to help students open those doors and step into a new experience. 

The lessons I design are there to inspire them, make them want to inquire and find answers through language. EAL lessons can be uninspiring, if you decide to teach in the traditional way. I teach in an IB school, which gives me freedom to create inspiring lessons.

One of my students’ favorite lessons is ‘the Mystery Class’. 

Prior to the lesson, students had created a Word Wall with all the words related to mystery elements we would be using. They had compiled mystery vocabulary by reading mystery texts in previous classes. So, I decided to reward them with a surprise lesson, where I asked another teacher for assistance.

Before entering the classroom, the other teacher took students’ finger-prints. As they entered they saw their teacher lying motionless, something terrible had happened (don’t worry she was just pretending!). They started to look at each other, they were in disbelief. They were giggling, asking each other what had happened. They were engaged and started to use mystery vocabulary already. This kicked off the lesson on using what they had learned about the language of mysteries in a ‘real life’ context.

Students were given an evidence sheet where they would be using the vocabulary we have previously learned in order to collect evidence that was scattered around the classroom to find out what had happened to the teacher. They were also given Language Frames to support them when discussing the crime. Language frames help EAL students use language of inquiry when working in groups, as well as assist the less confident students with limited vocabulary to speak up. This is great practice for real-life situations that makes language learning more significant. It helps build functional language that enables students to internalize patterns needed to express concepts, ideas and thinking. It helps increase language competence so that the students can increasingly start to use complex sentence structures. It is also when the teacher starts hearing useful academic language that begins to emerge.

Afterwards, in the classroom the students found a text about Mongolian mysteries that we have read in one of the previous classes, along with some notes, photos from a museum visit in Mongolia as well as mystery words. They found a bag of markers, make up and poison. There was also a pool of ‘blood’ next to their teacher. It truly was a mystery!

In the meantime, I pretended to be a ghost as I was going around and taking notes of good language they were using. Students were quite engaged, as they worked in their Circle groups. In circle groups, each student is assigned a task (vocabulary expert, recorder, illustrator, evidence searcher, summarizer, categorized, synthesizer, persuader). While observing the groups, I noticed that some amazing language structures started to emerge. As and EAL teacher you also note down any misunderstandings around language use so that these can inform your next phase of teaching. After they were done collecting evidence and discussing with their peers, I drew a Mind map on the white board where the students started to put their ideas together. Finally, they gathered all the evidence in the Information grid provided and solved the mystery.

Knowledge Organiser

All of these EAL strategies can also be adapted to be used in the mainstream classroom. These activities help with scaffolding one of the areas of language where EAL learners tend to struggle the most: vocabulary and academic language. It is also a great opportunity for the quieter students to share their opinions. The goal of the lesson was accomplished. The mystery was solved; new content-related language was used and the students had a chance to practice language of inquiry when speaking.

The mystery lesson in action is a publication of NALDIC, the subject association for EAL. Visit to become a member.