10 strategies to support EAL learners in IB DP TOK

After the holidays my TOK class will have come to and end, and the time it was devoted to it will be used as study hall for students to received support in areas they want to improve as they prepare for their May exams. They have come up with a series of requests such as: (long) exam-taking strategies; building stamina during exam periods, etc. I, along with other DP teachers, will be happy to support them in a personalized manner, however we can.

As the end approaches, I cannot help but look back at how different and transformational teaching TOK to EAL learners has been. I am an obsessive planner and note keeper. I have a respectable array of resources from past experiences, and a growing digital resource repository that I constantly enrich thanks to the TOK educators group on Facebook. Yet, none of the resources I had collected were specifically designed or targeted EAL learners.

Moreover, while I could always find ideas to enrich the course, on very few occasions did I come across teachers asking about how differentiation and language accommodation was done in TOK classes. At some point I even thought this was never addressed.

Thus, as I reflect on what worked and what did not work these last two years, I thought it’d be a good idea to share a few strategies that have worked for my EAL learners.

 10 strategies to support EAL learners in IB DP TOK

 1. Shelter learning in your classes. If you teach EAL students who join your DP program from traditional local schools, be aware that they may have the knowledge to discuss resources, but they may not know terminology in English. So why not helping them to enrich their jargon by encouraging to keep a practical dictionary.


Screenshot from a student’s digital notes.

2. Devise systems to support students to take notes or analyze resources. This normally works best when one really knows how students learn. A brief discussion with students about the way they learn can give us hints on the tools we can design or help them generate to support their learning.


A tool students called “the TOK mat”

3. Make your walls teach. If you are a lucky teacher who teaches TOK in his/her own classroom, make sure you use your walls to capture ideas for everyone to see how meaning is being co-constructed.

Students making their thinking visible.

 4. Curate your resources. Choose resources that encourage students to access what they have learned in IB DP and in their life as students in and outside the classroom. Many resources can certainly be provocative and insightful, but they may also represent an added challenge to EAL learners.

5. Design resources that teach learners about language. Signal constructions whose word order students need to pay attention to; highlight ideas that include tense or sentence structure that has a special sense and may be challenging to understand. Draw students’ attention to words worth incorporating into their active language.

How to read and interact resources- task sheet.

6. Be aware of your approaches to teaching. Train learners to work with the resources you use in class. Never assume that all learners can access them because you can. Predict language aspects in your tasks and support students with information about the language of instruction. Here is an example about stating facts in past, in English.


7. Use the language you want EAL to master. Use all relevant vocabulary items in relevant exchanges in order for EAL students to be able to see how they are effectively and accurately used. Present them with patterns (sentence stems) they can use to construct their ideas.

img_5385 img_5384
Examples from a history class.

8. Train learners to answer questions depending on the questions’ intention and goal. Look at the following example with ‘inference and prediction’ as a goal.
Here is an example with ‘inference and prediction’ as a goal.

screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-12-44-51-pmTaken from Linguistic Processing Skills ELPS Instructional Tools (2012)

9. Gamify your lessons. Use games that allow them to manipulate vocabulary and structures while still carrying out relevant TOK tasks.

TOK Race download.                                       TOK Questions Snakes & Ladders..

10. Provide them with patterns and guided help. Engaging students in understanding text structures, cohesion, how ideas connect and support one another is best done with a text that is not intimidating and allows them to focus on learning and understanding the how (how ideas are written and linked) rather than on the what (comprehending difficult language.)

Writers Workshop Intermedia Level Learners.

Many teachers may claim that this work is part of the EAL / language support teachers; but I (a language teacher) would claim that by including this learning layers in TOK classes, teachers would really be using language a way of knowing and doing. Moreover, what a best way to demonstrate the attributes of the IB LP by being caring and acknowledge and support EAL efforts to access a subject as complex and abstract as TOK. Besides, and to conclude, this is how we demonstrate with action that we are all language teachers.


About Rafael Angel

Concept-Based Curriculum and Instructor Independent Trainer. Concept-Based Foreign Language Curriculum and Instruction specialist. Teaching and Learning Director; lives for traveling, reading, learning and tasting new flavours; culture and art lover; passionate about cinema and music. IB MYP, DP Workshop Leader. Mexican YouTuber and Soundclouder.
This entry was posted in ATL, Differentiation, IB DP, Language Support, TOK and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 10 strategies to support EAL learners in IB DP TOK

  1. ritudu21 says:

    Beautiful and such an enriching resource! Thanks Rafael for the great work you are doing! Very inspiring!

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