Friday, December 7, 2012

How Well Do You Know English?

Do you know why we read, spell, and pronounce English the way we do? 

I thought it would be fun to have a little contest for visitors to this blog. Here's a little quiz. Post a comment with your best guesses:

1. What two consonants almost never end an English word? 

2. What consonants at the end of a one-syllable, short vowel sound will usually double? 

3. What are the sounds y can make within a word? 

4. Can you explain why cat begins with c and kitten begins with k?.

Post your answers in the comments section below. The first person to answer at least three of these questions correctly will win a prize!

Teaching English to Emergent Adult Readers

Teaching emergent adult readers presents unique challenges, including knowing which fundamental skills to teach and how to appropriately deliver these skills in ways that are accessible, practical, and motivating. Adults who lack print literacy also lack essential pre-literacy skills, including phonemic awareness and phonics skills (Gombert, 1994; Kurvers & van de Craats, 2007; Vinogradov, 2010; Young-Scholten & Strom, 2006). These adults may be able to name the letters in a word, but they are often unable to assign correct sounds to the letters, combine them to decode the word, or attach meaning to the word (Vinogradov, 2012). This research suggests the critical need for teachers to provide explicit phonemic awareness and decoding instruction in their classrooms (Evans, 2008; Trupke-Bastidas & Poulos, 2007).

However, since reading is more than simply knowing the alphabet, how do teachers know which fundamental phonemic awareness and decoding skills should be taught and how to implement these fundamental skills with limited instructional time? Teachers need to be equipped with a toolbox of teaching strategies that can be employed to effectively address the varying needs of their students, as well as be provided with a framework to know how much instructional time should be spent to develop these skills.

Visit my teaching tips page for specific strategies that can be taught to students in adult education contexts (or students learning to read for the first time). Visit also for free access to an online teacher training workshop.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Success Despite Dyslexia

Dyslexia has traditionally been defined as a difficulty learning to read despite intelligence, education, and motivation. Last month I had the opportunity to attend the International Dyslexia Association Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. I had the privilege of sitting next to Sally and Bennett Shaywitz in a session on Neuroscience and having a pleasant conversation with them. I also had the privilege of speaking with them again after the showing of a new documentary in which they are featured about dyslexia: “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia.” This film features several individuals who have been able to overcome dyslexia and find success in life despite their challenges with learning how to read. The film is quite inspiring.

As I watched this film, I was reminded of why I do what I do--that the work in which I am engaged is quite significant...teaching individuals how to read, helping them to discover new hope and increased confidence. I was reminded that there are many of us in the world engaged in the same significant effort--to help people learn to read. It's very rewarding work. (Read a great article about dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz here.)

With this lead in, I thought it was time to provide an update on my student in his sixties who I am teaching to read. We've been working together for about a year now. Since he and I first started working together, he has begun reading simple texts. Yesterday when I was working with him, he asked out of the blue, "You're not going to give up on me, are you?" Everyone else who has attempted to teach him to read before has given up, quite possibly because they did not see success in their efforts working with him. He has some pretty intense learning disabilities that have prevented him from learning to read and spell. I assured him that I won't give up on him. He also told me that I have taken him 100% further than anyone else has ever been able to before. Of course, I attribute his success to the method employed...Reading Horizons. When he is reading and he gets stuck on a word, he knows that he needs to decode the word using the strategies he's been taught. I told him that it's time to start writing his story. "What? How a mixed up kid learned how to read?" he questioned with a smile. I am proud of him for his efforts. He is hungry to learn. He finds great joy in small successes...being able to spell and read words independently, which is a skill most of us who have never struggled with reading have taken for granted. Explicit, systematic, sequential word analysis skills are helping individuals with dyslexia around the globe learn to read, as suggested by current research. I'm witnessing that right now with my friend.

(See previous blog posts about my tutoring experiences here, herehere, and here.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Need to Promote Literacy: The Cold, Hard Facts

Here is an infographic designed by the Marketing Department at my employer, Reading Horizons. The information was derived from a blog post I wrote a while back regarding what the research says about the need for literacy instruction among adolescents and adults. (See the blog post here. See also an adapted post on the Reading Horizons company blog here.) This graphic provides a chilling visual of the great need to promote and provide literacy instruction. These statistics stimulate in me a desire to do more. I have some plans. Stay tuned...

Friday, October 12, 2012

You Have an Education in TESOL. Now What?

Now that you have graduated (or are nearing graduation) in TESOL, now what?

TESOL professionals come from a variety of backgrounds and interests, ranging from desires to serve in the community, to desires to advance through academia at the post-graduate level. This blog post shares ways that seasoned TESOL professionals have used their TESOL education to contribute to their institutions and communities. These ideas can help generate ideas for novice TESOL professionals to assist them in channeling their interests as they embark on their careers. 

The following suggestions are ways for TESOL professionals (from the novice to the seasoned) to use their education and experience inside the classroom, outside the classroom, in the community, and on the Web. (You may notice that some of these ideas are specific to the Utah geographical area as the information has been adapted from a presentation delivered at the Intermountain-TESOL affiliate fall conference; however, the information can be generalized to other geographic locations.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Nation's 2011 Writing Assessment Results

The results are in...The Nation's Report Card for 8th grade and 12th grade writing assessments reveal some interesting data, including gender differences.

The following is an excerpt of the results (the full article can be accessed here):

Nation's Report Card Reveals Writing Gender Gap

Female 8th and 12th grade students significantly outperformed their male counterparts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2011 writing assessment, which tested students’ ability to write for specific purposes and audiences. The average score for female 8th graders was 19 points higher than the average score of their male peers. At grade 12, the gender performance gap was 14 points. And those gender differences persisted across every racial and ethnic subgroup. Although the test doesn’t determine the cause of the gap, survey data about the students who took the exam show that female students in both grades were much more likely to agree that writing is a favorite activity.

For the first time in its history, the NAEP writing assessment used computers to evaluate students' writing. The new, interactive test—designed to measure student ability to communicate clearly and accurately in real-world, on-demand situations—shows that the nation’s students as a whole must improve their writing skills; only about a quarter of students at both grades scored at or above the proficient level.

In addition to assessing the quality of students' writing, the computer-based exam shed light on how students write. For example, almost 30 percent of 8th graders used the thesaurus, and 80 percent of 12th graders did not use the cut, copy, and paste features. At both grade levels, students who frequently used the backspace key and the thesaurus tool scored higher than those who engaged in these actions less often.

Other findings include the following:
  • In addition to gender gaps, significant gaps occurred across racial and ethnic groups. At both grades, black and Hispanic students posted lower average scores than white students and Asian students.
  • Eighth grade students whose teachers frequently ask them to use computers to draft and revise their writing scored higher than their peers.
  • Twelfth grade students who report writing at least four pages a week for their English language arts homework scored higher than their peers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering 9/11...Eleven Years Later

I wanted to acknowledge this day in history as today marks the national (and international) tragedy of 9/11. It is one of those events that conjures up memories of where we were and what we were doing eleven years ago today when we heard the news. Last year commemorated the ten-year anniversary of this tragedy, which provided opportunities to reflect on 9/11 through a multitude of online resources. I posted several of these resources last year on my blog post Remembering 9/11 with Online Resources. I've also listed them again below. A new resource includes the memorial's website, which includes lesson plans for students of all grade levels. 

Although the ceremonies associated with the tragedy of 9/11 are on a much smaller scale today, the memory of this event is still present. Consider resources that can be used to generate teaching moments within your classrooms, or use these resources as a personal reminder of a day in history that you will never forget.

The United Federation of Teachers produced a documentary interviewing dozens of educators in New York City who managed the crisis from inside the schools and guided over one million students to safety.

Thinkfinity provides online conference and community connections, as well as several classroom resources to teach about 9/11.

The National Geographic website provides a video segment of President George W. Bush recounting his experience surrounding the events of 9/11 (to be aired on Sunday).

The Guardian has collected memories of 9/11 from individuals around the world over the last ten years. Individuals recount their memories of what they were doing when they heard about the attack.

The Washington Post has a series of stories covering the ten-year commemoration of 9/11. A few of the stories include the following: A pilot who was ordered to take down United 93Nine lives that were directly affected by 9/11 and where they are now; and the age of 9/11, which recounts how old certain individuals were when the planes struck the World Trade Center, where they were, and where they are now, "10 years older, 10 years after the attacks." 

StoryCorps has documented some touching stories of individuals recounting the loss of loved ones who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks. Here are three: John and JoeShe Was the One; and Always a Family. StoryCorps has a goal of recording at least one interview for each life lost in the terrorist attacks.

NPR highlights an artist, Marc Farre, who lived in New York City and witnessed the events of that day. He attempted to capture 9/11 in a song. Listen to the song here. This is what NPR had to say about it: "We received a lot of songs from amateur musicians back then, and Farre's was the most powerful one we heard — it seemed to capture the loss and fears of that day."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thoughts on Purpose

I was recently asked to share my thoughts on purpose with my company--why I do what I do. Purpose is one of the tenets of our company creed. I have blogged about purpose before. A few blog posts that illustrate my purpose for doing what I do include the following: 
Lessons Learned from Life
The "Homeless Wanderer"
The Value of Literacy
Post-India: Thoughts on Service
Teaching the Homeless to Read
Curriculum Vision -- Helping Struggling Readers
Success Stories in Learning to Read
Why Do We Do What We Do?

A few highlights of my job include (but, of course, are not limited to):

Part of the purpose for this post was to respond to the request to share my thoughts on purpose with my company. But another impetus for this post was to provide a more personal side to my blog. I understand that most people find this blog organically when searching on the Internet for specific ESOL- and literacy-related topics; however, I also occasionally have friends and associates who are genuinely interested in what I do. Whether you are a "stranger" or a friend, thank you for visiting this blog!

What Does It Mean to Be Literate?

I have posted before about the value of literacy. As I contemplate the value of literacy, I consider what literacy really means. When I think of literacy, I naturally think of reading and writing and the benefits of being able to learn from print and communicate in written form. But with the rise of technology comes a need to consider literacy in technology contexts. Computer literacy, for example, demands the development of crucial skills--computer literacy skills--to enable them to be functional, contributing members of society.

I came across an article this morning that discusses this very topic: What Does It Mean to Be Literate? The author of the article asserts that there are three key skills individuals should learn in order to be considered "literate" (in addition to the ability to read and write, of course):

1) E-mail
Knowing how to email, including attaching documents and pictures, is a skill that not only enables individuals to remain in touch with the world around them, but to communicate quickly.

2) Word Processing
Students need to be taught formatting skills and applications to enable them to share their thoughts and ideas. It is interesting to recall those semesters past when I taught advanced writing to ESL students. We focused quite a bit of time on conventions and less time on computer literacy skills. With these students being advanced, they had experience with word processing prior to attending my class, but perhaps explicit instruction on word processing skills to fill in gaps would have been helpful...something to keep in mind for my future teaching.

3) Research
I remember when I wanted to learn something growing up, I would go into my dad's den and pull an encyclopedia from the bookshelf. I loved looking up new things, and I especially enjoyed accompanying illustrations and pictures. Now we use the Internet as our main resource to look things up. But without basic research skills in sorting through information, individuals may not be able to find the information they need, or they may stumble upon false information altogether.

In order to help students be competitive, functioning members of society, we need to consciously give attention to computer literacy skills in our curriculum. The skills taught should include the three skills mentioned above at a bare minimum. One-time exposure to these skills in our classrooms is not enough. Explicit instruction in these skills, combined with multiple opportunities to consistently apply these skills, are crucial components of our literacy instruction.

How computer literate are you?

Friday, September 7, 2012

International Literacy Day 2012

Tomorrow, September 8, 2012, marks International Literacy Day. With Literacy being a passion of mine, and having taken the opportunity to post in years past on family literacy, I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge this day of literacy as it has become customary for me to do so. Last year, I posted about my recent experience of working with a gentleman in his sixties embarking on his "journey to read."

I met with him just yesterday, and he is decoding and spelling words like he has never been able to before. I do not attribute his success to my teaching, but rather the explicit, systematic, sequential strategies he is being taught. He said yesterday that "no one has ever been able to get [him] this far"...and he has had several attempt to teach him over the years.

To commemorate this day of literacy, there are several ways to get involved and assist in literacy efforts. I've posted a few ideas in the following two posts:

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week 2010
Adult Education and Family Literacy Week 2011: Teaching Struggling Readers

Here are a few other blog posts that share my thoughts about and experience with literacy. I invite you to consider the needs of those in your own communities and ponder how you may be able to assist.

On the Journey to Read
On the Journey to Read: Part 2 (Adult Literacy and Teaching Struggling Readers)
Teaching the Homeless to Read
How Do I Teach Literacy?
How Do I Teach Literacy? (Part 2)
The Value of Literacy
Lessons Learned from Life
ESL Literacy - A Tibetan Student's Autobiographical Poem
Thankful for Literacy
Success Stories in Learning to Read

I will also mention here that I will be starting a series of literacy training videos on a YouTube channel in the next week or two. (See my posts on Using Video to Provide Free Education and  Free Online Videos for the ESL and ELL Classroom.) Stay tuned to future posts!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

ESL Teaching Tips

In an effort to make my blog more user-friendly and accessible, I've decided to dedicate a post to a "Table of Contents" of sorts displaying some of my most popular posts, specifically my ESL Teaching Tips posts. Subsequent posts sharing ESL Teaching Tips will be added to this post, so come back and visit often!

ESL Pronunciation Tips

ESL Spelling Tips

ESL Grammar Tips

ESL Reading and Decoding Tips

ESL Listening Tips

ESL Teaching Strategies

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Video on New Reading Software

This blog post is on a semi-personal note as I have decided to post a new video that was recently launched which showcases the new Reading Horizons Discovery software that encapsulates my work life over the last two years. My colleague Stacy Hurst and myself discuss some of the components of the software that help beginning readers learn effective reading strategies and assist teachers with tracking student progress. Although it is not evident in this video, suffice it to say that many hours of mental energy has gone into creating this product that now lives up to the quality of the curriculum that it teaches. But the effort has been worth it. Helping individuals learn to read is rewarding work.

Watch the video here.

ESL Teaching Tip: Nouns

I have been busy working on developing new manual lessons for the new Reading Horizons Discovery software that is going to be released this fall. The following is an overview of one of the lessons I recently worked on outlining the different types of nouns. Consider the levels and needs of your students to determine which noun types to teach your students.
  • A noun is a person, place, or thing.
  • A singular noun is one person, place, or thing. A plural noun is more than one person, place, or thing.

o   To form a plural, an -s is added to words ending in a consonant (e.g., one hat, two hats). If the ending consonant is voiceless, the sound of the plural -s is /s/ (e.g., hats). If the ending consonant is voiced, the sound of the plural -s is /z/ (e.g., pens).
o   If a word ends in ch, sh, ss, zz, or x, an -es must be added. The sound of -es is /iz/ (e.g., benches, wishes, dresses, buzzes, boxes).
  • A common noun is a noun that refers to a general person, place, or thing (e.g., a state). A proper noun is a noun that refers to a specific person, place, or thing (e.g., Texas). Proper nouns are capitalized.
  • Possessive nouns show ownership.

Friday, July 6, 2012

ESL Teaching Tip: Proper Use of Commas

Using commas properly is a difficult task for even native English speakers. Following are some tips on when and how to use commas appropriately.
  • A comma is used before a sentence ends. It tells the reader to take a small pause within the sentence.
  • Use a comma with dates.
    • Use a comma between the day and the year when writing a date. (Example: May 31, 2004)
    • When the date is not at the end of a sentence, use a comma after the year. (Example: May 31, 2004, is the day Maya was born.)
    • Use a comma after the day of a week and the month. (Example: Monday, May 31, 2004, was Memorial Day.)
  • Use a comma to separate items in a series. (Example: I like apples, bananas, and grapes.)
  • Use a comma after the greeting and the closing of a letter. (Examples: "Dear Abby,” or “Sincerely, Jessica”)
  • Use a comma in addresses.
    • Use a comma between the name of a city and a state. (Example: Toledo, Ohio)
    • Use a comma to separate each item in the address when written in a sentence (Example: Abby’s new address is 244 Hanover Lane, Toledo, OH 43615, and she would love to hear from you.)
  • Use a comma with quotation marks.
    • Use a comma before quotation marks. (Example: Tyler yelled, “Look out!”)
    • You don’t need to use a comma in indirect quotations where quotation marks are not used. (Example: You said you were coming.)

For other ESL Teaching Tips, visit the following blog posts:

Click here to read about the pronunciation of -ed.
Click here to read about pronouncing plurals.
Click here to read about voiced and voiceless sounds.
Click here to read about rising and falling intonation in questions.
Click here to read about syllable stress and the schwa.
Click here to read about adding the suffixes -ing, -ed, -er, and -est.
Click here to read about teaching common suffixes. 
Click here to read about teaching common prefixes. 
Click here to read about spelling words that end in S, F, and Z.
Click here to read about syllable division in multi-syllabic words.
Click here to read about soft sounds of c and g.

Friday, June 29, 2012

ESL Teaching Tip: Soft Sounds of C and G

My ESL teaching tips have proven to be popular posts, so I thought I would provide some additional teaching tips to add to those that have already been published. I am currently working on revising a manual lesson for other sounds for c and g. (I blogged about an experience I had teaching this skill at a community college in Southern California here.) A synopsis of this skill is as follows:

• When c is followed by the vowels e (ce) or i (ci), the sound of c changes from /k/ to /s/ (e.g., cent; cite). C will have the /s/ sound nearly 100 percent of the time in this construction. (Exception: soccer)

• When g is followed by the vowels e (ge) or i (gi), the sound of g changes from /g/ to /j/ (e.g., gem; gin). This new sound occurs about 85 percent of the time in this construction. (Exceptions: girl, get, gift, etc.)

• When a consonant plus c or g comes between the first vowel and the silent e, the two consonants will cause the first vowel to be short (e.g., dance, prince, plunge).

• English words never end in the letter j. When the sound /j/ is heard at the end of a word, it will always be spelled ge. Words with a long vowel sound will end with just the ge spelling (e.g., cage). Words with a short vowel sound will end with a dge spelling (e.g., judge; bridge).

Teaching tip adapted from the Reading Horizons method found in the Decoding Strategies for Literacy Development manual published by Reading Horizons. Used with permission.

For other ESL Teaching Tips, visit the following blog posts:

Click here to read about the pronunciation of -ed.
Click here to read about pronouncing plurals.
Click here to read about voiced and voiceless sounds.
Click here to read about rising and falling intonation in questions.
Click here to read about syllable stress and the schwa.
Click here to read about adding the suffixes -ing, -ed, -er, and -est.
Click here to read about teaching common suffixes. 
Click here to read about teaching common prefixes. 
Click here to read about spelling words that end in S, F, and Z.
Click here to read about syllable division in multi-syllabic words.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Success Stories in Adult Literacy

I have blogged before about my experience tutoring a gentleman in his 60's who is learning to read for the first time. (See my blog posts here, here, and here.) As many of my colleagues and associates are aware, I have developed a passion for literacy--especially adult literacy. I love hearing success stories of individuals who have overcome the monumental obstacles of illiteracy and who are now confident and productive members of society. I recently heard a Canadian radio interview with such an individual who is a recipient of a literacy award. He is a father and a cancer survivor. He mentioned using the Reading Horizons program to help him learn how to read, which is the software program I helped to author. It is stories like these that remind me of why I do what I do

Listen to the interview here

See videos of other inspiring success stories here.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Motivating Readers: Introducing Evertaster, a Novel by Adam Glendon Sidwell -- Part 2

My last blog post discussed motivating readers through engaging text, and I introduced a new novel called Evertaster written by my friend Adam Glendon Sidwell. (A colleague of mine also blogged about the book here.) I wanted to announce that today, June 14th, is the book's official release date! You can buy the book online on Amazon here for a discounted price today only. I plan to visit Amazon today between 12:00 and 2:00 PST for Amazon's four-for-three promotion (buy four for the price of three). Happy reading!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Motivating Readers: Introducing Evertaster, a Novel by Adam Glendon Sidwell

Working for a reading company over the past six years has provided me with an elevated perspective on "the value of literacy". (I've blogged about it before here.) In addition, working for a reading company that possesses a vision to teach new and struggling readers how to read, I have gained increased appreciation for literacy -- appreciation not only for the need to teach reading using effective strategies and guided practice, but for providing text that is engaging to ensure students' motivation to read is not only maintained, but also constantly escalating...escalating so that reading skills can improve and "reading to learn" can take place. As a curriculum writer, I am also mindful of what it takes to produce text that is motivating, engaging, and level-appropriate. 

I have a friend, Adam Glendon Sidwell, who is getting ready to release his first book, Evertastera novel written for youth ages eight to 12, which will be released June 14, 2012. Adam is a good friend of mine from a few years back. I recall days when Adam would quarantine himself in his unfinished basement, disciplining himself to write for hours at a time. At the end of a successful day, he would enthusiastically report the number of pages he was able to crank out that day. I read a draft of a book he was working on during that time. Suffice it to say that Adam was born to be a writer. 

Evertaster is one of those books that stimulates students with the motivation to read...and to keep reading. That's "the value of literacy". 

Here is a synopsis of Evertaster:

When eleven year-old Guster Johnsonville rejects his mother's casserole for the umpteenth time, she takes him to the city of New Orleans to find him something to eat. There, in a dark, abandoned corner of the city, they meet a dying pastry maker who tells them of a legendary recipe called the Gastronomy of Peace -- a recipe created hundreds of years ago, shrouded in secrecy, and sought after by connoisseurs everywhere.

So begins a perilous adventure that will take Guster, his clever sister Mariah, and the rest of the Johnsonvilles on an adventure to ancient ruins, faraway jungles and forgotten caves, where they discover that their search is more than just a quest to satisfy Guster's cravings -- it is a quest that could change humanity forever.

You can read more about Evertaster at I've included a snippet from the website here:

"Evertaster is the first novel in a children’s adventure series by author Adam Glendon Sidwell. When a couple of kids start a worldwide search for a legendary taste, they find out they’ve bitten off more danger than they can chew."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Opening Doors to Literacy in New York City Public Libraries

Last fall I conducted a literacy training for literacy and English as a Second Language teachers and tutors in the Bronx. (See my post about it here.) I recently returned to New York City where I helped conduct a follow-up literacy training, this time for five of the previous attendees who supervise the literacy teachers and tutors throughout the city at New York City Public Libraries. The purpose of this training was to train the supervisors on how to become certified Reading Horizons trainers. The training was held at the Bronx Library Center (down the street from one of Edgar Allen Poe's homes). This three-day training consisted of method review, explicit strategy instruction in decoding and spelling skills, as well as instruction on conducting consistent, teacher-directed practice. The attendees also had an opportunity to participate in peer coaching as they each took a turn teaching a skill and receiving feedback from the group. I am impressed with these individuals' competence, as well as their passion and drive to help teach literacy and English to speakers of other languages.

Aside from the training itself, I witnessed something magical going on within the walls of this library. Each day as I walked out of the training, I saw kids from the Bronx gathered around computers after school. I saw parents and children checking out books together. I saw middle school and high school kids meeting at the library to collaborate. I saw adults standing next to book shelves, books open and eyes scanning the pages, taking in the words like they were a refreshing drink of water. Libraries are magical places. I am grateful to be able to participate (in a very small way) in the amazing literacy programs offered throughout New York City. I am aware that there are several other libraries throughout the country doing similar things, whose efforts I applaud, as well. Libraries are magical places. They open the doors to education like no other.

Free Webinar on Transfer for Improved Reading

An essential part of the process of teaching one to read is not only teaching effective reading strategies to help students decode automatically and effortlessly (to achieve fluency and comprehension), but also to provide opportunities for students to transfer these learned reading strategies to connected text. A free webinar hosted by Reading Horizons was recently delivered by Shantell Barrett and Jay Kelly on transfer. The title of their webinar is "Getting From Point A to Point Z." Shantell and Jay discuss ways to provide opportunities to transfer decoding strategies to help the students become autonomous readers. The webinar can be viewed here. (The power point slides can also be downloaded on the link.)

View other free webinars on the Reading Horizons website here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Using Needs Assessments in the ESL classroom

Here is another guest blog post from the English Skills Learning Center (ESLC) about using needs assessments in the ESL classroom. (Read another guest blog post from the ESLC about using repetition in the classroom here, or interactive activities here.)

When was the last time that you asked your students what they want to learn? Conducting a needs assessment, or asking students what they want to learn, is essential because adult students who feel they are not learning what they need to know in English class are more likely to stop attending class than to express their discontent. On the other hand, students who feel that they have a say in what they are learning are more likely to attend class regularly and to participate in class.
                There are a few ways you can effectively use a needs assessment::
  • Students point to or circle the picture of the subject about which they most want to learn.
  • Students circle more than one picture and then rank their preferences. If you are teaching a class, you could then share the results with the entire the class so that they understand that decisions about the curriculum are based on their feedback. 
  •  Do a “vote with your feet” activity in which you post pictures of ESL topics or the four language skills on the walls of your classroom and then invite the students to stand by the topic or language skill that they most want to work on.
The ESL Center recommends that you conduct needs assessments on a regular basis. This could be when a new student joins the class, when you finish a unit or chapter in your lesson material, or when you receive new testing results. You will find that as you begin to make needs assessments a part of your classes that students will share their personal English-language goals with you. As you teach students the English they need to accomplish those goals, you will share in the students’ excitement as they succeed in accomplishing their goals!

For more information about Needs Assessments, please visit:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Interactive Activities in the ESL Classroom

Here is another guest blog post from the English Skills Learning Center (ESLC) about using interactive activities in the ESL classroom. (Read another guest blog post from the ESLC about using repetition in the classroom here.)

Interactive Activities in the ESL Classroom

Interactive activities should be a part of every class that you teach. They are an opportunity for students to practice what they just learned. Interactive activities are more effective practice than worksheets.   Follow these steps when conducting interactive activities in class:

Explain – Show students the materials that they will be using for the activity and explain the activity. Example: “Now we will practice introductions with other students in the class.”

Demonstrate – Show students how the activity is done. Do the first question on the page together, or call a student up to the front of the classroom and model the activity with them.

Do – Distribute any materials or handouts at this point. This ensures that the students are paying attention to you when you explain and demonstrate the activity. Have students try doing the activity on their own.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Free Online Professional Development for Adult ESOL Educators

I was just introduced to a fantastic free online resource for ESOL professionals. ELL-U is a National Adult English Language Learning Professional Development Network that serves as a free professional development portal for Adult ESOL Educators. Below is an announcement that was distributed through a Listserv that I thought I would include since it provides a clear introduction to current courses, as well as instructions for joining. I just signed up for two study circles myself.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Repetition in the ESL Classroom

I was pleased to have received a series of guest blog posts authored by the English Skills Learning Center (ESLC) in Salt Lake City, Utah. (I've mentioned them in a blog post before here.) I have conducted literacy training for some of their volunteers and staff, and I have been consistently impressed with their efforts to make a difference in the lives of those they serve. To provide a little more background on the ESLC, I've included an introduction from their website:

The English Skills Learning Center provides individualized English instruction to adult refugees and immigrants. Our students speak little or no English, and often are not literate in any language. We train and supervise volunteer tutors who then teach our students twice a week. Instruction is provided at times and locations that are convenient for both the tutor and the student.

We currently tutor students from 34 different countries. We are currently working with over 175 volunteers to serve close to 400 students in the Salt Lake City area.  Our approach focuses on helping our students become better integrated members of American society.

We have operated continuously since 1988, and provide the only free and individualized ESL tutoring program in Salt Lake County, Utah.

The first blog post of this series is about using repetition in the ESL classroom.