Literacy and numeracy in practice for EAL/D students

Literacy and numeracy are important because they form the basis of our learning. They are required to learn other skills, as well as for participation in everyday life. For EAL/D students, extra support is usually needed to develop literacy and numeracy skills in English as this is not their first language. Cultural differences, disruption to schooling and other factors can also influence the development of students' English language literacy and numeracy.

On this page you will find resources and information to support EAL/D students and students from refugee backgrounds with the development of their literacy and numeracy skills.

EAL/D learners and vocabulary

EAL/D learners will require significant support in vocabulary. Each student will have individual vocabulary learning needs according to prior education, home language literacy and EAL/D Learning Progression phase. This short video explores EAL/D learners and vocabulary.

EALD learners and vocabulary

English-speaking students commence school with a receptive vocabulary of between 5 000 and 7 000 words. 

This oral repertoire is the basis for participation in learning, including numeracy learning. 
Many EAL/D learners commence school with little or no English language. EAL/D learners require explicit teaching in the English language, both subject-specific language and social language. For many EAL/D learners, school is the only place in which they engage with English.

Remember that EAL/D learners commence schooling in Australia at any stage, and can be on any phase of the EAL/D Learning Progression.

This means that not only do EAL/D learners need to learn the appropriate English for their age group, but also the stage-specific language of all the subjects they are studying.

While teaching NSW syllabuses, we need to plan the vocabulary learning needs of our EAL/D learners, and explicitly teach this language. 

Supporting EAL/D learners to develop their vocabularies is crucial to developing their English language proficiency and achieving syllabus outcomes.

Co-teaching and collaboration

EAL/D support is most effective when EAL/D and classroom teachers are able to work together. This short video explores how the EAL/D and classroom teacher collaborate and co-teach to support EAL/D learners to achieve the same syllabus outcomes as their peers.

Co-teaching and collaboration

I have a Stage 3 class in which about a quarter of the students are EAL/D learners.

I collaborate with the EAL/D specialist teacher to support the diverse learning needs of our students.

When planning, we consider both what the students bring to learning, and what they need to learn, so that we plan for explicit teaching of English language, numeracy and geography content and skills.

This class has a significant portion of EAL/D learners on the Emerging phase of the EAL/D Learning Progression. We plan the extensive English language support in this high support/high challenge class.  We also consider individuals’ numeracy needs, as established through observations and data using the National Numeracy Learning Progression. 

The class will be studying ‘The world’s cultural diversity’ in Geography. We will explore the cultural diversity in the class, in Australia, and in the Asian region. The students will investigate whether the cultural diversity of the class reflects the suburb’s and Australia’s diversity. We will use geographical tools, which are also numeracy skills, of reading and interpreting tables, graphs and charts. 

As many of my Emerging EAL/D learners are new arrivals, I know that many will require significant support in reading and interpreting graphs. I discuss with the EAL/D specialist teacher how best to support these students who may be unfamiliar with data being presented this way. 

I use a range of co-teaching models with my EAL/D specialist teacher, according to learning intention and content. We used the first lesson in this Geography unit to build the field around cultural diversity. Today we continue team teaching with the learning intention: ‘we will compare data about the diversity of our class’. The EAL/D specialist teacher leads a discussion about the word compare. 

The EAL/D specialist teacher points to and says the word compare – What might compare mean? Talk to your partner about what this word might mean. You can talk in your home language. 


After responses from students, the EAL/D specialist teacher ensures that all students understand the content by showing a Venn diagram, which compares two people wearing traditional dress. The similarities and difference in dress are illustrated in the Venn diagram.

Before implementing a Notice and Wonder routine, I unpack a picture graph on the class’s cultural diversity, we move into an alternative teaching model with the EAL/D specialist teacher scaffolding picture graph features for the EAL/D students.

The EAL/D specialist teacher has an image of different types of keys, and points to these, while saying that the word key has more than one meaning in English.

The remaining students label the features of a picture graph, then create their own picture graph from data on Australia’s cultural diversity. 

Bringing the class together again, I show them a picture graph of the class’s cultural diversity and ask what do you notice and wonder? 

The EAL/D specialist teacher supports individual EAL/D students during the discussion.

After completing the Notice and Wonder activity, we compare the class’s picture graph with a picture graph of our suburb’s cultural diversity.

The EAL/D specialist teacher leads a discussion of what is the same and different between the two picture graphs, while I scribe of the board onto a large Venn diagram. The EAL/D teacher elicits contributions from the EAL/D students, allowing for wait time. Students can answer in home language, while a more proficient student translates into English. 

I have shown how collaborating with the EAL/D specialist teacher can support EAL/D learners with numeracy in a high support/high challenge classroom. Co-teaching supports my EAL/D learners to achieve the same syllabus outcomes as their English-speaking peers.

Introduction to the use of visuals

A key precept of EAL/D pedagogy is the use of visuals to support both the English language and KLA learning of EAL/D students. This short video explores the use of visuals in the context of numeracy.

Introduction to the use of visuals

The use of visuals in the classroom improves EAL/D students’ understanding of curriculum content and aids English language learning. 

The research of Pauline Gibbons and Jenny Hammond emphasises the strategic use of visuals as part of a high challenge/high support learning program for EAL/D students.

Visual support can frontload students with background knowledge and assist EAL/D learners in understanding key ideas, unfamiliar vocabulary and curriculum concepts. 

So how can we best use visuals to support EAL/D learners in a high challenge/high support learning environment?

There is an enormous range of visuals that can be used to support EAL/D learners. Key examples include:

  • images and whiteboard use

  • concrete materials 

  • annotations and text layout 

  • videos

Images are a quick way to support EAL/D learners’ understanding of vocabulary and concepts. Vocabulary can be developed through scribing key words and concepts onto the board during a discussion, and reinforcing these with simple drawings or images where appropriate. This links the oral and written forms of targeted terms, and EAL/D students can use it as a reference point, decreasing their cognitive load.

Concrete materials build experiential knowledge of the topic. Students could be given physical cubes, cylinders and other prisms, for example. They could then identify examples of these in the room, or in a picture before constructing their own 3D shapes.

Colour coding and annotations help EAL/D learners understand the key vocabulary and ideas in texts, as well as how text structure contributes to meaning. Spacing and chunking text where possible likewise draws focus to targeted ideas, visually supporting EAL/D learners and decreasing cognitive load. 

Annotating and enhancing text layout facilitates understanding by connecting visual and written information.

The use of video can also assist EAL/D learners to understand curriculum concepts. Building the field with key vocabulary, giving the students a summary prior to viewing, stopping to discuss ideas and language during the viewing, and an after-viewing cloze are some strategies to support the use of video as an effective teaching strategy.

Teachers can also easily create short videos for their classes using their phones. These can be very beneficial for EAL/D students to consolidate understanding and refer back to as needed.

Targeted and frequent use of visuals provides significant support for EAL/D learners, building background and vocabulary knowledge while providing message abundancy.

The significant use of visuals forms part of a high support model that enables high-challenge teaching and learning for EAL/D learners across the curriculum.


  • Literacy
  • Teaching and learning


  • Diversity and inclusion

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