Flexible Use of Research-Based Teaching Techniques in the Classroom


This week we have a guest post from Jen Freeman, one of our Master Trainers! Read Jen's post below.


For a long time, I have touted the Total Physical Response (TPR) strategy for instruction. TPR is fun to use for learning new vocabulary, and as soon as I learned the TPR strategy it became a part of my teacher toolkit.

All teachers have two toolkits. One is physical, full of workbooks, worksheets, authentic materials, pictures, construction paper, chalk, and everything else that helps a lesson run. The other toolkit is full of strategies and ideas: the creative force that brings a lesson to life.

What I’m going to do (and what I challenge you to do, dear reader) is pick a teaching strategy that's fun and adapt it to fit a lesson that's coming up soon. Try to use the EFC Lesson Flow as a guide.

When you use Total Physical Response (TPR) in language instruction, you connect oral language to physical movement. I have often used TPR to connect vocabulary to a physical behavior. In an ESL classroom, TPR is important for getting students to act out "concrete" verbs (e.g. "I'm standing, "I'm walking, "I'm running").

Steps to do TPR:

1. Let the participants watch while you speak the command (ex: "Walk forward") and do the corresponding action.

2. Repeat, with participants mimicking your actions.

3. You speak and let the participants to the corresponding action.

Although I’m fluent in use of TPR as a strategy, I don’t feel like my strategy use has been flexible. I can really only use it for teaching "concrete" verbs, one command at a time. As a result, I committed to use TPR for a totally new situation in teaching: use TPR to teach the undergraduates (in a college-level Educational Psychology class) abstract terms in the topic of Information Processing. When I planned my next lesson, I tried to come up with a way the abstract terms elaboration, organization, and rehearsalcould become a physical action. You can find my lesson plan in a googledoc here.

Will my current students respond as well as my previous classes did? I don’t know but I’m eager to find out. After the lesson I'll post again to tell you how it goes. I hope the TPR strategy is flexible enough to work in an undergrad classroom at UT, but I've only ever used it as a strategy to teach new language. Now I'm starting to think that learning any subject involves learning new language. I trust that TPR will work, but if nothing else at least I took a risk as a teacher!

While I’m nervous about using an old ESL teaching strategy to students in a different content, I know that English Forward strategies are research-based and geared towards meaningful communication. I believe that you can engage any class (and teach any topic) if you prepare, consider students' backgrounds, and choose strategies to promote active learning. It seems like no matter what content/level you're teaching, it's important to get students engaged and make learning fun.

New Timely Lesson on Fall Vegetables!

Check out our newest Timely Lesson on Fall Vegetables! Just in time for the start of fall, this lesson discusses Fall vegetables and how they can be prepared.


 Click here to access the Lesson!

Free Professional Development for Adult ESL Instructors

woman with computer

As adult ESL volunteers, instructors, and staff members, keeping up with trends and discoveries through professional development is imperative to serving our students as best we can.

One incredible resource that offers free, online professional development is ELL-U, which is part of LINCS (Literacy Information and Communication System). There are several online professional development courses that could prove beneficial to you.

The courses that are currently available are:
• Second Language Acquisition: Myths, Beliefs, and What the Research Shows
• Teaching Adult ELLs Who Are Emergent Readers
• Formative Assessment to Inform Quality Adult ESL Instruction
• The Role of Culture in the Education of Adult English Language Learners
• Principles of Second Language Teaching: Planning, Implementing, and Managing Instruction

While you have all received the English Forward training, and likely other training and professional development opportunities, these workshops could reinforce what you already know and believe or teach you something new!

If you want to learn more about the courses, click here. You’ll need to create an account for LINCS, but it’s totally free to do so. And LINCS is incredibly helpful beyond the online courses.


Adult Learner Persistence

Man Answering Question

Adult Learner Persistence           

One challenging issue that we as ESL professionals face frequently is keeping students committed to learning. We all want to create a welcoming environment for our students, but what keeps them coming back?  World Education has come up with six factors that affect adult learner persistence.

They are as follows:

  1.      Sense of belonging and community—Adult learners who feel connected to their class are more likely to keep attending class.
  2.       Clarity of purpose—Adult learners are goal-oriented, and if they understand how the material in class helps them to reach their goals, they’ll keep coming back!
  3.       Agency—Adult learners like to see that their actions are making them more independent. In this case, the more they learn of the English language, the more they are able to move independently around their community.
  4.      Competence—Adult learners have a desire to build their competence, and are more likely to continue in a class if they understand how the class is helping them to do so.
  5.       Stability—Teachers and organizations should strive to create a consistent, stable pace of learning in their classroom. This means that open entry/open exit policies should be avoided.
  6.       Relevance—Related to the second point, relevance refers to students’ understanding of how the class material is relevant to their life and goals.

This is just a VERY brief overview of what World Education has to say about Adult Learner Persistence. If you’d like to visit their site and learn more, click here. There’s a lot of very helpful information!

Speaking and Listening Practice Outside the Classroom

woman on couch 


One of the big challenges that we face as ESL educators is that often students’ engagement with English is limited to our classrooms, especially when it comes to listening and speaking. Once they leave the class, they often use their native language to communicate with family, friends, and coworkers.

In “Beyond the Classroom: The Role of Self-Guided Learning in Second Language Listening and Speaking Practice,” Marion Davis attempts to analyze this issue and determine how guided learning can improve the opportunities for students to learn outside of the classroom.
Through reviewing several articles on the topic, Davis comes to the conclusion that if we give students specific instructions and tasks with clear goals that need to be completed outside the classroom, they will spend more time practicing listening and speaking. Davis suggests that class time is used to direct the students on what they need to do to complete the task and allow the students to prepare for the tasks and ask any questions that they might have. Their time outside of class can then be used to complete the tasks and reach their goals.

This is very similar in practice to the activity posted in the last blog post! 

If you'd like to read the entire article, click here!

Cultural Education and English



We all know that language and culture are intermingled in such a way that you can’t be successful in one without the other.

In a recent blog post on tesol.org, Elena Shvidko describes an activity that allows students to learn about important cultural items, like people, places, events, and things, while practicing English. 

Here’s a summary of how Shvidko organizes the activity:

  1.        Prepare small pieces of paper with one cultural item written on each piece.
  2.        Allow students to pick one item.
  3.        As homework, ask students to talk to at least two people from the local culture (Americans, in this case) to collect 
               information on their cultural item
  4.        Have students write a definition paragraph describing the item.

Some of the examples that she provides as cultural items are: Taco Bell, Robin Williams, American football, tailgating, NASA, and so on. You can use cultural items from the local or national community.

While Shvidko puts emphasis on using this information as a writing activity, it could very easily turn into Listening and Speaking practice. It can also easily be adapted for students at different proficiency levels.

Click here to read the entire blog post on tesol.org.

Learning about American culture is imperative for our students to succeed in this country, and this seems like a great opportunity!

Try it out! If you use this in your classroom, please leave a comment or email us to tell us how it worked for you!

Online Reading Texts

You may have already heard about me through the newsletter, but I wanted to briefly introduce myself. My name is Justin DeBrosse, and I’ll be taking over the website. Dawn Allen did a lot of great work, and I’m excited to pick up where she left off!

I wanted to let you all know about a potentially very useful resource I’ve come across. The Center for the Study of Adult Literacy (CSAL) has developed a pretty nifty tool that allows them to determine the grade level of different websites. Clicking here will take you to their learner page.

You can see that they’ve broken the websites down into difficulty level and topic. What I like about this website is that you can choose a topic (and maybe you’re already covering one of these topics in your class!) and then choose a reading level that’s appropriate for your students.  The readings are also likely to be pretty relevant to your learners. If you have the resources, this may also be a way to introduce digital/computer literacy to your students.

If you want to take it even further, you can transition from easier texts to more difficult texts on the same or similar topics. For example, here are an EASIER and a MEDIUM text, both on smoking. You could use scaffolding or a similar strategy to transition your students from one to another!

Of course, use your discretion and your expertise when determining when and how to introduce texts.

I found this website by looking through LINCS at lincs.ed.gov, which has been mentioned here on the blog before.

How do you see this website being useful for you? Your students? Others? Do you know of any other websites that might be useful for us? Please comment below! 

Encouraging Student Learning Over the Summer

Summer’s almost here! Yeah!!

Flip_FlopsAs many of us are wrapping up classes, one thing to think about is how to encourage students to continue learning over the break. One timely idea is a lesson from the ProLiteracy Notebook that focuses on ways to motivate students to practice English outside of class. The lesson on p.6 of the Fall 2013 issue uses a grid that allows students to keep track of the many places they use English each day. I’d suggest trying the activity before the end of class and ask students to share results. Talk with them about their difficulties and successes, and then challenge them to continue the activity over the summer.

How about you? How do you plan to continue growing as a teacher over the summer? We'll be continuing to post on the blog, create new timely lessons, and send out newsletters, so between getting a tan and traveling to exotic locales, check back again soon to see what's new. 

Memorial Day Lesson Plan

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is coming up soon. Don't forget to download our Memorial Day Timely lesson plan and get your students ready for the holiday. 

May Day Lesson Plan Released!

Check out our newly released May Day Timely Lesson Plan

Have other topics you'd like to see as Timely Lessons? Submit your suggestions using the Ask A Question function in the right hand column of the page to let us know what you'd like to see.

Earth Day Lesson Plan

Earth Day TLP Blog Post Recycling

Do your students know about recycling and being green? With Earth Day coming up on April 23, now is the perfect time for a lesson on the environment. You can download our English Forward Earth Day lesson on the Timely Lessons page.

And come back in a few days to download our soon-to-be-released lesson for May 1st/International Workers' Day.

Spring Break Lesson Plan Released!



It’s March. That means spring break. In honor of vacation and the coming of warmer months, we’re releasing a spring break Timely Lesson Plan.

While students may be working through spring break, many of them have children who will be on vacation. In this lesson students will learn about spring break and talk about their own ideal vacation. While the lesson is designed to be used prior to spring break, it could easily be adapted to be used during or after the break. You can download it under our Timely Lesson Plans.

Keeping Up With ESL: Teacher Feedback

Keeping Up With ESL

I recently came across some interesting info about a study on teacher feedback by Wong and Waring (2009). A big thanks goes out to Susan Finn-Miller and the LINCS assessment discussion group for sharing this resource!

The study suggests that when a student answers a question correctly and the teacher then quickly moves on, other students who may still have questions are reluctant to speak up thinking they’re the only ones who don’t understand.  The researchers recommend teachers hesitate even when a student gives a correct response, and then ask the student who gave the correct answer to explain their thinking. This pushes the person who answered correctly to verbalize their thinking, and at the same time gives the students who still have questions more time and information. 

I also wonder if hesitating also opens up the class to extended verbal interactions and sets a classroom atmosphere that encourages discussion even more. What do you think?

If you want to get a hold of the study, here’s the reference:  Wong, J. & Waring, H. Z. (2009). ‘Very good’ as a teacher response. ELT Journal 63(3).

I found out about this study on LINCS. Do any of you follow the discussions on LINCS? LINCS is an initiative of the Dept. of Ed. to support adult literacy teachers. They have active online discussions on 16 topics covering everything from Adult Language Learners to Technology and Career Pathways. They also have a resource collection, online courses and training, and regional PD centers that off in-person trainings. Check them out at http://lincs.ed.gov/.

Understanding Culture


Understanding cultural differences can be one of the biggest challenges in the ESL classroom. Critical incidents are one tool to help better prepare teachers. Critical incidents are short descriptions of situations where some kind of cultural misunderstanding or conflict has arisen. They are a great way to increase awareness of our own attitudes and expectations. Check out the resources below that include a number of scenarios and activities. Do them on your own or with a group of other teachers.

**Critical Incidents for Intercultural Communication from Norquest College. This resource is an entire booklet of scenarios and activities.

**Cross-Cultural Incidents and Cultural T/F quiz from the Macomb Intermediate School District

Interested in reading more on the topic? Check out our October 2013 Teaching Tip on Cultural Understanding in the Classroom.

Keeping Up With ESL: Technology and Smartphones

Keeping Up With ESL

As a follow-up to last week’s post on using phone apps, I wanted to share some recent research from the Pew’s Hispanic Trends Project on the use of the internet and mobile devices. The study found increases in recent years in the use of technology among different ethnic and minority groups.  “Among the biggest drivers of these increases are spikes in technology adoption among foreign-born Latinos and Spanish-dominant Latinos.” For many of us, these are the students who make up our classes. Having students already familiar with using the internet and who own smartphones opens up a whole new world of possibilities for classroom lessons, as well as at-home practice activities. How might you take advantage of smartphones to help your students learn?

Vocabulary Videos


A few months back I wrote a blurb for the English Forward newsletter about Goodwill’s GCF LearnFree site and their new video dictionary. The dictionary is a series of short, engaging videos to illustrate a 1,000 of English's most common words. To make the dictionary even more usable for students, they recently released an app for iPhones, and they’re planning to come out with an app for iPads and Andriods soon.

Check back next week for a related Keeping Up With ESL post on the closing of the digital divide in the US.  

You Ask, We Answer - November 2013

ask a question

The impact of using color has been a hot topic at English Forward lately. Ann Ritter of Crawford Country Volunteers for Literacy asks about ways to use color more effectively in the classroom. Great question, Ann! Many of us use color to organize information on the board, for example to distinguish different lines of a dialog. There’s a whole science around the impact the color of walls has on students, but since I know most of you have no control over the color of your classroom, I’m going to keep this post focused on simple things teachers can do.

I went to a workshop a while back and the facilitator told us that we’re most likely to recall color information on a page, followed by shape, placement, words, and then numbers. Color can enhance learning by increasing retention, comprehension, and participation. And because different colors cause different reactions, hot colors like red and orange are great for motivating, while cool colors like blue are best for factual info.

Here are a few different ways to take advantage of the power of color:

**Use different colors on the board to accentuate the point you are trying to call attention to. For example, when teaching simple past-tense, write the –ed ending on verbs in another color. The Highlight How English Works step of the lesson flow is a great place to use color in this way.

**For beginning learners, ask them to look for and underline or highlight certain words in a story. This is a great way to ease them into working with text.

**When writing sentences on the board or having students put word cards together to form sentences, highlight different parts of speech in different colors. Unless you have advanced learners, I wouldn’t get into discussing grammar and parts of speech, but you can talk about the fact that all the people words are green and all their actions are written in blue. 

**Color can also be used to help with organization. If you give out vocabulary lists, try putting them all on the same colored paper. Same thing if you give students worksheets to do at home.

I do have a few words of caution. Some research suggests the use of too many colors can be a strain. Also, I got an email from Jan Edelstein of the Winnebago County Literacy Council mentioning she had a teacher in one of her English Forward Instructor Trainings who was color blind. This became an issue when participants were working with the red, yellow and green signal cards. The challenge of using colored signal cards hadn’t even occurred to me – so thanks Jan for the heads up. Jan had the great suggestions of adding shapes as well as color to the signal cards. So, for example, the green card could be a circle, the yellow a triangle, and the red the shape of a stop sign.

Have a question to ask? Submit it using the ‘Ask A Question’ box on the right of the pages. We’ll select a few questions and answer them each month.