English Forward Institute

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Last month, 18 people from 8 different states/agencies came to Austin, Texas to participate in the English Forward Institute! The Institute allows these organizations to take the 11-hour English Forward Instructor Training back to their communities so that they can train their own volunteers and instructors.

We’re very excited to be working with the staff at these agencies and helping them to make English Forward flourish in their communities!

Daylight Saving Time Timely Lesson

DST Page OneA new Timely Lesson on Daylight Saving Time has been posted to the portal! In this lesson, your students will learn to talk about Daylight Saving Time and their preferences around the daytime.

To take a look at the lesson, click on Timely Lessons and then click the Daylight Saving Time title under Current Events!

Ask a Question!

This week we want to remind you to ask us questions! To the right of this blogpost is the  Ask A Question form. We want to hear from you! Ask us a question and we’ll answer it in a future blog post! 

Student Stories - Using English Outside the Classroom

Woman.on.phone.workingHow do you encourage your student to use English outside the classroom? We know that it is very important for learners to practice using English of the classroom to improve their proficiency. A couple examples of what you can do are listed below.

One simple way to encourage English use outside the classroom is to “assign” it as homework. Often, when teaching about a topic in class, I would finish class by challenging the students ask a neighbor, coworker, or friend for their perspective or experience on a topic, or to try something out on their own. For example, if we are learning about job interviews in class, I finish class by challenging my students to ask their neighbor about how they got their job. I would also challenge students to try doing simple tasks, like ordering food at a drive thru or having a phone conversation in English. I then ask students to report back on what they did and how it went for them. It’s always exciting for the class to see a student succeed at doing a difficult task in English.

A more complex, project-based way to get students to use English outside the classroom is to have them create Digital Stories. Digital stories are stories narrated by the students themselves about an important event in their life. For a good example of a Digital Story created by an ESL student, click here. Many other great examples can be found online.  Digital storytelling requires access to a recording device and a computer, but if you have access you should definitely try it out. The response from students is amazing when they finish creating their story and are able to show it to friends and family.  

To learn more about Digital Storytelling, visit the Center for Digital Storytelling by clicking here.  

Integrating Reading & Writing into English Forward Lessons

book pages turning

The English Forward curriculum in its current form is focused on giving students the opportunity to practice listening and speaking. We know, though, that listening and speaking are only half the battle—reading and writing are just as important for our students. So how can we integrate reading and writing into how we use English Forward?

You might remember that the Lesson Flow can be used twice to cover the same topic—once for speaking & listening and again for reading & writing. Depending on the role that you want reading & writing to play in your lesson, you have two good options.

  1. You can create a separate lesson that follows the Lesson Flow, contains the same topics and vocabulary as an English Forward lesson, but focuses on reading and writing. For example, Lesson 7.1 Healthy Eating focuses on being able to talk about healthy/unhealthy foods and becoming familiar with www.MyPlate.gov. The lesson introduces students to vocabulary surrounding healthy/unhealthy foods, and uses a Healthy Mean Plan worksheet to get students to talk about their diets and meal plans. If we wanted to take this same topic and create a reading and writing lesson we would need an activity that emphasizes reading and writing more than what’s there currently. These activities could include: writing or following a recipe for a healthy meal, or creating and writing down a plan for eating healthy food. Depending on how much reading & writing is required, this might be more appropriate for higher level students.
  2. You can integrate reading and writing into a current English Forward lesson as an extension, or where appropriate in the lesson. For example, in Lesson 7.1 Healthy Eating, Step 2 asks you to conduct a presentation about healthy and unhealthy foods and how they relate to your own habits and goals. A written version of the presentation could be provided to students so that they can read along with you as you go through the presentation. This written version could also be used as a tool when they go to create their own Healthy Mean Plan later in the lesson.

How do you integrate reading and writing into English Forward lessons for your students? Let us know in the comments below! 

Using the Lesson Flow to Create New Lessons

The Lesson Flow

The English Forward Curriculum covers many of the most important topics and situations for our learners. However, situations can arise in which the curriculum in its current form does not apply. For example, if a student or class is at a higher or lower level than the curriculum, the curriculum may be too easy or difficult for them. In this case, we can take the content of a lesson and adapt it to their level.

The eight step Lesson Flow described in the English Forward training and used in the curriculum can be used to either adapt lessons or create brand new ones. You can determine the focus of the lesson and use different strategies in each step of the Lesson Flow to create your own English Forward lesson!

Do you create your own lessons already? Tell us about it and share your lessons in the comments below!

Using Technology to Create Community

capturing manhattanHow do you communicate with your learners outside of the classroom? How do they communicate with each other? Have you ever needed to quickly send a message to all of your students?

Some smartphone apps may be able to improve your ability to communicate with your students outside of the classroom and give them a semi-public forum to interact with each other. One that I have used in the past with great success is WeChat. WeChat is an app that allows you to send videos and images, hold groupchats, or even send voice messages all for free.

On the first or second day of class, I walk students through how to download the app and I create a groupchat that I add each of the students to. As new students join class I make sure to add them to the groupchat. We then all have the ability to communicate with the entire class at a moment’s notice. If class is canceled due to weather or illness, I can contact all of my students at one time. If I know of a good education opportunity or job opportunity for my students, or if my students have something they’d like to share with each other, WeChat can facilitate that discussion. Students also have the ability to send messages individually to each other or to me if they need to. While teaching at the Ohio State University, I even had one student use it to see who might be interested in a Spring Break road trip.

Of course, all of this requires both you and your students to have smartphones, and for your students to be willing to participate. If you decide to use WeChat or a similar app (I’ve heard that WhatsApp works in a comparable manner) let us know how it goes in the comments below!

ESL Blogs

new tesol logoBlogs are a great way to keep up with the latest news, practices, and events in ESL, both locally and globally. While this blog on the Literacy Forward Web Portal is only accessible to people who have completed a Literacy Forward training, there are several high quality ESL blogs open to the public. A couple great blogs are listed below.


 https://davidjrosen.wordpress.com/ -this is a blog from David Rosen, an expert with over 30 years in Adult Education

www.tesol.blog.org – The blog run by TESOL.

While David Rosen’s blog is only updated periodically, TESOL’s blog is updated with new posts a few times a week. Definitely take a look at both of them!

What other ESL related blogs do you follow? Let us know in the comments below.

Extending Lessons

handyman 2Many of the English Forward lessons include extension activities that allow you to either take the lesson into the real world or take time to take a closer look at a piece of the lesson. These are often great opportunities for students to take what they have learned and practiced in class and apply it to an authentic context. Most frequently these extension activities are field trips designed to reinforce something covered in class, a guest speaker who can offer more information on a topic, or some sort of in class activity, such as a potluck.

What can you do if you want to extend a lesson but no extension activity is listed? Or if you want to continue working with a topic even longer than the extension activity provides for? This is a great opportunity to provide your students with important information or experiences that will help them to navigate their community and improve their ability to use English. Think about what information would be most useful to them related to the topic of the lesson. For example, Lesson 3.3, Calling for Repairs, provides language and practice around calling for repairs, but provides no extension activity. A few potential extension activities for this lesson could be inviting a landlord or property manager to come in and speak about the process of finding someone to make repairs, giving students the opportunity to work with resources on finding someone to make repairs in their community, or even asking a plumber, an electrician, or a repairman to come to your class and talk about their job.

How do you extend activities and help your students to apply what they learn in class to the real world? Let us know in the comments below!

Justin DeBrosse receives Community Sabbatical Grant

LCCT JustinJustin DeBrosse, Literacy Forward Program Manager, is the recipient of a 2015 Community Sabbatical Grant through the Humanities Institute at UT-Austin. Justin will receive a $5,000 grant meant to fund 160 hours of leave in order to answer a pressing question for Literacy Forward. Justin will be investigating the efficacy of the English Forward curriculum.

Congratulations to Justin! He will carry out this project through 2015 and anticipates being able to share his findings towards the end of the year.

To read the press release and learn more about the Community Sabbatical Program, click here

New Timely Lesson - Tax Day!

Pages from Timely Lessons Tax DayA new Timely Lesson on Tax Day has been posted to the portal. Click here to check it out! If you use it in class, let us know how it went in the comments!

Teaching English and Skills for the Workplace

pay-day1Many ESL students are unemployed or underemployed, and often the students who do have jobs cannot receive promotions or better employment because they lack the English language abilities to perform the job. Finding a job in a new country that requires a new language can be very intimidating. We as instructors, then, are tasked with helping the students to learn the language they need to find employment or a better position if they’re already employed.

The English Forward curriculum offers at least one unit that may be helpful to your students in finding employment. In the curriculum, Unit 5 English For Work offers six lessons that teach students about important topics such as talking about their job, common careers, their job goals and requirements, among others. This unit gives students basic knowledge and information that will help them to look for a job and communicate effectively in the workplace. There are several other lessons throughout the curriculum, such as 2.1 Personal Information, that can help students either on the job or in job interviews.  Once you understand your students’ employment needs you can create a custom English Forward unit that meets their needs.

Of course, there are other activities that you can bring into your classroom to show your students what skills and abilities are needed to hold a job. One great example can be found on pg. 14 of “Integrating Workplace Skills in ESL Classes” by Ronna Magy and Donna Price (2011)() They have created a checklist of “Skills to Help you Succeed at Work” that allows students to evaluate their current skills and determine what they need to improve to gain employment and what they already do well.

How do you help your students to gain the skills and abilities to gain employment?  What do you use to teach or bring into the classroom? Let us know in the comments below!

Low Literate Learners

LibraryOne challenge that we all face in ESL classrooms is the fact that our students cover a wide range of literacy. It’s inevitable that we will have students in our classrooms who have had very little formal schooling and are not able to read and write in their own language. How can we determine who these students are? And what can we do to help them?

So how can we identify low literate learners? If your program uses a written assessment for your students it’s likely that low literate students will be placed in your beginning level courses. However, teaching students with low literacy is not the same as teaching students with little-to-no knowledge of English. Grace Massey Holt (1995) gives several different tasks you can ask your students to do if you suspect them of having low literacy. They are listed below:

  • Complete an alphabet cloze (for example, A B ___ D ___ F G H ___ J), supplying the missing letters. (familiarity with Roman alphabet)
  • Copy a sentence. (speed and ease in forming words) 
  • Read two simple sentences. (basic sight vocabulary in context) 
  • Point to letters corresponding to the sounds made by the teacher. (simple consonant sounds not easily confused)
  • Read several unfamiliar or nonsense words. (blending sounds)

If your students are unable to complete the tasks above, they may be low literate.

Once you’ve identified your low-literate students, how can you work to meet their needs? The English Forward Curriculum provides a few good examples of how a lesson can be adapted for low-literate students. Pages 37-54 of the curriculum provide the first three English Forward lessons from Unit 1 adapted to literacy level. You can see that the activities in the literacy level lessons are similar to those in the original lessons but that the instructions on the part of the instructor are geared towards working with students with low literacy.

How do you meet the needs of your low literate students? Let us know in the comments below!

Adult ESL Standards and Benchmarks

First page lesson 8.3As many of you are already aware, each state has their own standards and benchmarks for Adult ESL. Here’s a link to the page that lists the Texas Adult Education Standards and Benchmarks for ESL Learners. These standards and benchmarks guide decisions on the what and the how when it comes to teaching adult ESL for us here in Texas, and there is likely a significant overlap between the standards here in Texas and the rest of the United States.

These standards and benchmarks were kept in mind throughout the process of designing and creating the English Forward curriculum. For example, in the English Forward Instructor Training you spend some time working with lesson 8.3 “A Traffic Stop”. The objective of the lesson is “Students will be able to talk to a police officer if they get a traffic violation” and the Language/Culture Point is “Tone of voice: formal vs. informal”. If we go back to the Texas Adult Education Standards and Benchmarks for ESL Learners, we can see that both are related to Listening Benchmark 5.3, which is “Use knowledge of various basic cultural conventions to understand oral communication”. The lesson teaches students about acceptable behavior during a traffic stop, how to speak with a police officer, and the difference between formal/informal tone based on the scenario presented in the lesson. You can see that cultural conventions are the main focus of this lesson, along with content knowledge and vocabulary associated with a traffic stop.

This is just one example of a benchmark being met by the English Forward curriculum. Do you know your state’s standards and benchmarks for adult ESL? How do they align with the English Forward lessons that you’ve used?

If you have any questions or comments, leave them below!

Health Literacy and Healthcare

Prescription MedicineDid you know that most medical information is written at a 10th grade level or higher? And that most medical information communicated verbally is at the 8th grade level or higher?

You can imagine what this means for your students and others with low literacy in English.

A common issue that immigrants and low literate populations often face is navigating the health care system and taking care of themselves. These people frequently lack the knowledge and English language ability necessary to understand instructions and advice from medical professionals. This can result in unnecessarily prolonged illnesses or readmission to hospitals due to inadequate self-care.

Infusing health literacy into the ESL classroom is an important and controversial topic. It is important because a significant overlap exists between the ESL/immigrant population and those who lack the knowledge to understand health care and the health care system. It is controversial because teaching health literacy, if not contextualized properly, blurs the line between teaching the language necessary to understand healthcare and offering medical advice.

A great example is the video that we show during the English Forward training to demonstrate the Lesson Flow. The video is a demonstration of English Forward lesson 4.3 Symptoms and Medications. In the video, Karen Green, one of our Master Trainers, comes up with several symptoms or medical issues and possible suggestions for people with those symptoms. We provide a verbal disclaimer every time we show the video because we have had participants in the past take issue with the idea of an instructor offering medical advice.

Recently, the Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) held an online discussion to discuss the article “ESL as Mechanism for Advancing Health Literacy”. This recently published article describes a study in which ESL classrooms infused health literacy information related to diabetes prevention into the existing curricula the ESL classes were already using. They looked, specifically, at health outcomes related to diabetes and the influence that the health literacy content had on these outcomes.

Click here to read the discussion on LINCS

I would also like to suggest that you learn more about health literacy and its importance. This is just a very basic introduction to a very large topic. Here’s a link to the Health Literacy Group on LINCS.

Beyond using Unit 4 of English Forward, how do you infuse Health Literacy into your classroom? Let us know in the comments below!

Student Retention and Persistence

julia-maffei-imgThis month we have a guest post from one of our Master Trainers, Julia Maffei. Read Julia's post on student retention and persistence below!

How many times have you or a colleague started a semester with a full classroom and then watch the numbers dwindle to half? Dropouts are disheartening, and programs with low attendance can face negative consequences from funders, making student retention forefront in educators’ minds. Several factors can increase retention, such as engagement and motivation. If the class is not relevant and interesting, bored and frustrated students often quit coming without verbalizing why. Furthermore, many programs ask teachers to talk to their students about educational goals at the beginning of the term and to check up on those goals periodically to keep motivation high. Students face many barriers to attending class such as transportation, child-care, and time off from work. It’s clear that keeping students in class is a complex puzzle, but some educators wonder if student retention is less critical to student success than student persistence.

Some suggest that persistence as a more reliable measure of student success than retention. Researchers are examining the idea of students “stopping out” rather than “dropping out.” Stopping Out, Not Dropping Out (Alisa Belzer) Their findings show that many students often face factors beyond their control that cause them to stop attending classes, but they have not given up on their educational goals. Rather, they re-enroll when their life circumstances allow them.

What can we do to increase persistence? Researchers at NCSALL have found four “supports” that bolster persistence. These include support from teachers, students, friends and family; self-efficacy; the establishment of personal goals; and visible progress toward these goals. Helping Adults Persist: Four Supports (John Comings, Andrea Parrella, & Lisa Soricone) 

Even though it is discouraging to lose students during the semester, educators should keep in mind that a student’s road to reaching their goals is a long one. Thoughtful actions can help students attain their educational goals as they increase persistence. First, if you can, provide childcare and flexible class schedules. Some students may be able to attend in the morning, others in the evening. In addition, define learning goals and objectives early on. In my class, we discuss and write these down at the beginning of the semester and each month reconfirm objectives to reaching the goals. Make the classroom a community where students feel comfortable and enjoy learning. I always memorize students’ names and call them by name regularly. Using name tents makes this easier and helps students remember each other’s names as well. The class becomes a special club where students make new friends who encourage them to learn. I give students my number, as well, and tell them to text me if they need help with English or if they are going to be absent. It is a good idea to text or call them to check up on them, too. Furthermore, have fun in the class, and do a variety of activities that are interesting. Also, make the curriculum flexible, and find out what students want to learn and work that into your plans. Allow time to allow students to ask you questions. Relax and don’t worry about going on tangents sometimes. As you go along students that they are learning with quizzes and “can-do” check lists. Finally, encourage learner persistence by teaching self-efficacy by learning outside of the classroom. 

Educators can do a lot to encourage persistence, which in turn can increase retention. But, remember that the road to mastery is a long one that will take several years. For more ideas check out the New England Learners Persistence Findings at http://www.nelrc.org/persist/counseling_evid_c.html


Literacy Mid-South

LMS LogoThis week we’d like to share with you all a great resource from Literacy Mid-South, an organization based out of Memphis, Tennessee. They’ll be training instructors in Memphis to use English Forward and we’re happy to be working with them.

As with many volunteer-based organizations, they often have a difficult time coordinating and scheduling Professional Development sessions since they work with a large number of volunteers with a variety of schedules. However, they also understand the value of supporting their volunteers and providing professional development. They’ve come up with a unique, 21st century solution to this problem!

Literacy Mid-South has created their own YouTube channel (click here) and they use it to provide tips and tricks for their volunteers! Here’s a great video on Vocabulary Tours, and here’s another on how to associate Words to Pictures. They’ve got a lot of great information on this channel!

Take a look around their channel, you may find something useful! You may notice that they have tips guided towards  ABE and ESL instructors, they teach both!

How does your organization support their instructors? What other professional development opportunities, videos, etc. have you found online? Let us know in the comments below!

Guiding Language Learning with Student Generated Solutions


 This week we have another guest blog post. Karen Green is an English Forward Master Trainer and Education Coordinator for Manos de Cristo, a local nonprofit organization. Read her post below!

Not many teachers in the United States are introduced to the philosophy and teaching approach of Paolo Freire, a Brazilian-born educator who worked with illiterate populations in rural areas mainly in the 1940s – mid-1960s. Most of his students were farmers or fishermen, and left out of the traditional formal education system. His unorthodox approach to education was that teachers and students all have something to learn and something to teach. He also worked to eradicate the stigma that being unable to read as an adult equals a low level of intelligence.  His belief was that teachers are not the only ones who have knowledge to impart. Adults in general have a wealth of life experience and know how to not only survive, but to thrive, how to take care of their families, how to work and learn. Freire’s approach can be summed up in the phrase, “read the word, read the world.”

Freire worked with a population that didn’t know how to read in a language they could speak. Our students are wanting to gain literacy in their second language, and will have different levels of native language literacy.

In Freire’s book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he refers to illiteracy as a form of oppression. Despite literacy level, Freire’s “problem-posing” approach serves to have the teacher guiding students through student-generated solutions, based on the students’ own knowledge of their community.

These kinds of problem-solving discussions are difficult to have with lower-level ESL classes due to the level of expression students need to have. What can be done in any class is community building. Even if the level of literacy and country of origin of our students may differ, they come to class wanting to gain knowledge to better their life situations.

I don’t want to leave out two levels of awareness that are important for instructors to have. Even though instructors are sympathetic, patient, caring, and motivational, they must be aware that they represent the same culture that leaves ESL students out of conversations in other parts of their lives outside the classroom. We also have to be aware of the part we play in the creation or maintenance of systems that leave out the immigrant community.

We can help students learn what they need to know to express themselves and stand up for their rights. We can also move students to come up with creative solutions to their own problems. We can give them the tools to experiment with language, use their creativity and intelligence, build confidence, and overall be seen as having something positive to share in our society.

One innovative, new adult education program in Austin, TX is using Freire’s philosophy


Another program in Austin, TX, Workers Defense Project, strives to train immigrants to be leaders in their community and in their workplaces, and includes the important component of English language instruction. http://www.workersdefense.org/

A way to use Scenarios or Problem situations in the ESL classroom http://www.literacywork.com/Literacywork.com/Resources.html

One of the leading Freire scholars in the U.S. is Elsa Auerbach. Her revised edition of Problem-posing at Work: English for Action includes activities and stories for intermediate to advanced-level ESL students


Here’s what we can reflect on:

Teachers are not the only keepers of information. We can certainly learn from our students’ lives, their talents and creativity.

Most textbooks have situational dialogues. Try incorporating some problem scenarios in class to see what kind of solutions the class can develop. You can guide any level through solutions, and students can practice saying, “I agree. I disagree.”

Some questions to consider:

How can we see our students as empowered and resourceful despite their struggles?

We may encounter problems in our students’ lives that we have no way of fixing. How can we differentiate problem solving and problem-posing?

Do you feel comfortable allowing students to voice concerns about societal or political problems, and turning them back to the class to help negotiate a solution?

Do you think you would and your students would see you more as a social worker if they begin to talk about problems? Would this or has this overwhelmed you?

Do you feel that you are invading students’ privacy by asking about problems?