Poll Everywhere and Plickers

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We wanted to use this teaching tip as an opportunity to let you know about a couple of great, free electronic assessment tools that you can use in your classroom.

Poll Everywhere is a tool that allows you to create electronic surveys that can be answered (and the results can be displayed) in real time using laptops, tablets, smartphones, and even phones without smartphone capabilities.

Essentially, you create a survey online in advance of class. During class, you can have your students participate in the survey by either going to a specific URL and choosing their answers, or by texting their answer to a phone number. It’s an incredible tool to use in the classroom, although it does require the capability of displaying the results to the class in some way.

Click here to learn more about Poll Everywhere!

Another great tool is Plickers. With Plickers, you give your students cards with QR codes that represent multiple choice answers that you provide to your students. What’s so great about this is that you can use your smartphone to take a picture of the entire class, and the Plickers app will automatically recognize the codes and aggregate your students’ answers.

Click here to learn more about Plickers!

Special thanks to Marilyn Lydic from the Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon for telling us about Plickers!

Do you use similar technology in the classroom? Let us know in the comments below!

Make your Supplemental Materials Local

local signWhenever it makes sense to do so, we at English Forward create the necessary supplemental materials for a lesson and make them available to you, such as conversation cards and surveys. Sometimes, though, the supplemental materials can be tweaked or added to (supplementing the supplement, haha!) in order to make them local to your community and your students. For example, Lesson 7.6, Problem Solving at Restaurants, uses Scenario Cards provided to you on the portal. This would be the perfect opportunity to add a specific local restaurant, or multiple restaurants, into the activities. You could create new scenario cards that would be specific to the business, or add on to the scenario cards that are provided by printing off copies of the restaurants’ menus or giving the students additional information another way. 


review signYou know by using the English Forward curriculum that reviewing is not built into the Lesson Flow or the English Forward lessons. This is to ensure that the curriculum is flexible—any lesson can be taught before or after any other. We wanted to take a moment, though, to stress the importance of reviewing and suggest a couple activities that can be done to review in the beginning of class.

A great, student-centered method of reviewing is to have students prepare mini-presentations for the beginning of class to review the lesson taught in the previous class. For example, a small group of students could be tasked with creating and presenting a Chalk Talk that represents the content taught in the previous class. You could even have students or groups sign up to review for each class so that they know when they’ll need to present.

How do you build review into your lessons, already? Let us know in the comments below!

Student Generated Supplemental Materials

fruit at marketA great way to get your students thinking (Step 1: Activate Background Knowledge!) and set yourself up for a lesson is to use step 1 of the lesson flow to have your students create the supplemental materials that you’ll be using later in the lesson. If, for example, you’re teaching a lesson on food, and you’ll be using cards later in the lesson to have students practice vocabulary, asking and answering questions, or conversations, have the students generate the language they know in step 1, fill in the gaps as necessary, and make each student responsible for creating one card, or more if necessary. This way the students start to think about the topic and learning objective of the lesson, and you can be sure that the supplemental materials are relevant to your students. 

Student Resources

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While you are a great resource to your students inside the classroom, students often need help navigating the outside world as well. One way to do this is to create a collection of resources that may be useful to your students and make it available to them. This could include information on using public transportation, such as maps of bus or train routes. It could be information about other agencies that provide a service your students need, such as a local food bank or job placement services. Or it could be something as simple as books at various reading levels that students can read when they want more practice.

Do you or your agency already provide these resources to your students? How do you do it? Let us know in the comments below!

Reviewing Previous Lessons in Class

Time for Review

Reviewing is not a part of the eight step Lesson Flow used in the English Forward training and the curriculum. However, that does not mean that reviewing does not have a place in English Forward.

Reviewing the previous lesson is not part of the Lesson Flow because the lessons aren’t necessarily meant to be delivered in the order they appear in the curriculum. For example, Lesson 5.1 My First Job is not reviewed at the beginning of Lesson 5.2 Common Careers because it is not assumed that 5.2 follows 5.1 in your class. This allows flexibility for you to meet your students’ needs and/or to allow you to choose lessons on topics that are important to your students. This can be especially helpful if you use another set of curriculum alongside English Forward, like Ventures.

Spend time reviewing the previous English Forward lesson at the beginning of each class to remind your students of what they’ve learned and ensure that they’ve learned it!

What role does reviewing play in your classes? Share tips or strategies in the comments below!

Multi-level students

students at computer

What do you do when you have strong and weak students in the same class? How do you ensure that they are each challenged and engaged, and that they can be successful?

One successful technique that can be used is pairing them up with each other! The weak student will get the opportunity to learn and improve based on both their own practice and their exposure. The strong student will get to practice and use their knowledge to support the weaker student.

This tip is especially helpful for English Forward lessons during Step 6: Pair or Small Group Work. Strong and weak students working together can accomplish more than either can working alone.

Do you already pair up strong and weak students? What other techniques or strategies do you use to ensure student success? Let us know in the comments below!

Lesson Self-Reflection

Lesson Self Reflection

As we teach, we often make notes, either during class or after, on how a particular class went. What worked well? What didn’t? What would you do differently if you were to teach the same lesson again?

The English Forward Curriculum has a Lesson Self-Reflection meant to guide you in answering questions like the ones above in a meaningful way. We all know that an important part of teaching is working to improve your ability to teach, and this Lesson Self-Reflection is a great opportunity to take 5-10 minutes after class to think about how your lesson went. 


Click here to access the Lesson Self-Reflection. It can also be found in the English Forward Curriculum on page 35. 

The Versatility of How English Works

Step 7How many times have you been in the middle of an activity or a lesson in class only to be stopped by a student asking a grammar question? While research shows that language learning occurs when emphasis is placed on practicing the language, students often get caught up in the grammar and other technical aspects of language. We don’t want to take up too much class time discussing grammar but we do need to show students that their questions on grammar or similar topics have a place in the classroom.

English Forward responds to situations like this with step seven of the lesson flow, which we call How English Works. This step is designed to give the instructor an opportunity to discuss a specific grammar point or cultural topic that comes up earlier in the English Forward lesson. The main rule the curriculum follows is that whatever topic is discussed in this step should be something that students have already come across in the lesson; we don’t want the students to have to work with new language patterns so late in the lesson.

While each English Forward lesson has step seven outlined in the curriculum, this can also be an opportunity to meet the needs or questions of your specific class. If you notice that your students are having trouble with a specific piece of grammar, or if there’s another grammatical or cultural topic you think would be of interest to your students, discuss it in this step. Step seven in the English Forward lessons isn’t meant to be prescriptive. Consider it a suggestion of one possible topic based on the lesson, but feel free to cover whatever topic your students need.

Of course, once you get into teaching higher levels of English, the thoughts around teaching grammar shift. For English Forward’s audience, though, How English Works well!

How do you integrate discussing English grammar or other technical aspects of language into your classroom? Let us know in the comments below!  

Teaching Culture

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We all know that language isn’t learned or used in a vacuum. Every interaction is situated within a specific context. For example, think about how you would ask your boss about their weekend. How is that different than how you would ask your neighbor? How do you interact with others at a work event vs. an evening out with friends? Using language properly in various contexts is vital to successful communication for native speakers and ESL students alike.

We need to take some time and think about how we already teach culture in our classrooms and how we might be able to improve the way we teach culture. Each lesson in the English Forward curriculum starts out by working to set up the specific cultural context in which the language from the lesson could be used. This is often done by sharing a story in Step 2 of the lesson. The rest of the lesson is then focused on giving the students the skills, knowledge, and vocabulary to communicate and perform successfully in that context. Step 7 also often addresses a Culture Point related to the lesson. For example, you may remember Lesson 8.3 A Traffic Stop from the English Forward Instructor Training. Step 7 of this lesson covers tone of voice, specifically formal vs. informal tone. The context of this lesson is talking with a police officer during a traffic stop. You can see that culture plays a very important role in this lesson.

Providing a context for language use in the target society or culture is the best way to ensure that students are both learning the language and how/when to use it.

How do you teach about culture in your classroom? Do you have specific strategies or activities that you use? Let us know in the comments below.

How to Set Goals with your Learners

Pages from Student Needs Assessment Beginning

Research in Adult Education shows that adult learners are very goal-driven. If they don’t understand how what they are learning helps them to achieve their goals, they will likely lack the motivation to attend class. A common issue that comes up, then, is how to make sure that students’ goals are taken into account when planning for class.

Fortunately, English Forward has a couple of helpful tools that can be used to determine your students’ goals.

The first tool is the Goal Setting Cards that you can find under the tab “For the Classroom” when you click “Other Supplemental Materials”.  You may remember them from the English Forward Instructor Training. You can give the cards to your students, either in small groups or individually, and ask them to choose which cards represent topics they consider important (i.e. they want to learn about them) and which cards represent topics they consider less important. In the training we ask participants to choose three cards that they think are important and one that is less important. Each group then puts the cards up on the board, grouping like cards together to see which topics are more interesting to the students and should be taught in class.

You could use the Goal Setting Cards in the same way or you may find that some variation of this activity is best for your learners.

Another good tool is the Needs Assessment. If you go to Other Supplemental Materials you’ll see two documents called “Needs Assessment-Advanced” and “Needs Assessment-Beginning”. If you open them you can see that they work to get the same kind of information from your learners, but in two different ways. The advanced needs assessment is for learners who are comfortable with text. It asks several questions about their hobbies, where they are from, why they are learning English, etc. The beginning needs assessment does the same thing, but uses pictures in addition to text.  If this information is collected by the instructor and analyzed by the instructor they should get a good sense of what their students want to learn.

Do you have other strategies for determining your students’ goals? How do you do it? Have you had successes or challenges? Let us know in the comments below!

Integrating Job Skills into the Classroom

toni picThis week our teaching tip is from Toni Aguirre, another Master Trainer based out of Austin, Texas! Read her teaching tips on integrating job skills into the classroom below!


At the beginning of the program year, the students are excited about picking their topics for the year using the Interest Inventory cards.  It isn’t a surprise that Job Occupations are always right on top of that list.

I want to share with you two activities that I’ve done in the classroom in regards to learning job skills.  The first activity was done in my Advance ESL night class and it floored me that most of the occupations were almost all the same- housekeeping, construction, restaurant, and taking care of children.  I knew I had to make the students aware of skills they already possessed from their everyday activities that could potentially lead them to better opportunities.


After learning and talking about job occupation vocabulary, the skills and tools required in those occupations, and where those occupations could be found, I decided to create a hands-on learning environment for some of the occupations.  I picked the occupations of florist, assembler, carpenter, cook, doctor and cashier.  I set up stations where each occupation had a table with the materials of that occupation.  I picked 3 students for each occupation and told them to keep these questions in mind as they worked on the tasks required for their occupation assigned:

  1.     What skills do I need and use to complete the task.
  2.     Are there any tools or materials that I need to use to help complete the tasks?
  3.     What language am I using in this particular work environment?
  4.    What kind of conversations did I have with the potential buyer?
  5.      Do I already possess skills that could help me in this particular occupation?

  They were given 45 minutes to work. (Our class time is only 2 hours).  After time was up, students could purchase tickets from the cashier to buy the wares of certain work stations like the florist, assembler, carpenter and cook stations.

The end of class discussion was very energetic as each team reported their observations.

ACTIVITY 2:  Job Skill of the Month

This idea came out as an extension of what I had done with the night class.  With Beginners, you have to do more foundation.   You have to challenge them to step out of their comfort zone by giving them opportunities to practice job skills in the safety of their classroom.

The first step was to get the students involved in the job skills, so I surveyed the students to see what occupations they would be most interested in and their response was something they could do at home.  There suggestions were nails, gift wrapping, floral arrangements, computer, cake decorating and hair/makeup.

Students learned the vocabulary through flash cards and practiced dialogues based on their experiences with these businesses.  Community leaders were also invited to come into the classroom and give demonstrations of their professions.  One woman come in and explained all the tools for a manicure and their usage, and then students practiced on each other.  Two former students assisted with the hair styling.  One student already did actual hair styling while the other was enrolled in a beauty college for hair styling so there were two different perspectives. 

The students really appreciated the close up exploration and the opportunity to get right into the occupations without any reservations. 

The best part of this activity is that the review for the students is constant because when they use the businesses, their learning is renewed, thus helping to cement the information for the student.

Class Teams and Student Retention

alexia-estes-img-largeThis week we have a guest Teaching Tip from Alexia Estes, one of the English Forward Master Trainers! Read her post below.

Student retention has always been a point of discussion in adult ESL. How do we keep our students coming when they have so much going on in their lives? I believe that creating a classroom community helps to keep students accountable, and also gives them motivation to continue coming. When they know they will have an opportunity to see friends and socialize, or that they will be missed if they are absent, they are more likely to feel as if there is something at stake, and more likely to continue attending class - even if absences do happen now and again.

One way I create community in my classroom is to create class teams. Each student is a part of a team and has a responsibility during each class session. The teams I create are: 1) attendance, 2) Snack, 3) Clean up. While all students will participate in all activities, the students on each team are the leaders who make sure it happens every day!

The attendance team is in charge of marking off each student as present or absent, as well as calling the students who are absent to check on them. This can happen during break time or immediately after class. These phone calls also let the absent students know that they are missed!

The snack team is in charge of making sure there is someone (or 2 or 3, depending on the size of the class) signed up to bring a snack to share during break time. The break and snack time gives students a chance to socialize and build more community.

The clean up team is in charge of making sure that all trash is off of the floor and that the tables and chairs are back in place before everyone leaves at the end of class.

Students sign up to be on a team during the first week of class. Depending on the duration of the class session, students may want to change teams halfway through to have an opportunity to try something different. During each class, each team is given an opportunity to take care of their responsibility and make sure that the rest of the class is participating, as well. This helps to create community and accountability among the students. It also helps them all to feel as if they have a responsibility to be in class so that they can participate in their team responsibilities.

There are many other teams you can create for your classroom. Decide what is important to you and your students, and get buy in from the students. They begin to take ownership of their class, they build relationships and community, and are more likely to persist until the end of the term!


Finding Authentic Materials


We all know the importance of providing our students with authentic materials. We want their experiences inside the classroom to be as close to real life as possible so that when they encounter a situation they know how to deal with it. Often, one big challenge with providing authentic materials is that the process of finding them can be very time-consuming, especially if you have to drive around your community to collect various forms and other printed materials to bring to your classroom. Fortunately, many businesses and organizations have made much of their printed materials available online. For example, if you go to Google and search for “Medical Intake Form” (which is used in English Forward Unit 4, Lesson 5) you are shown links to many different websites where such a form is available, and images of intake forms that you may be able to use in class. (Click here to see the results). If you need a map of your local public transportation system (Unit 6, Lesson 1) you can likely find maps of all the bus routes online. For example, the Austin CapMetro system has PDFs available online of every single bus route that they provide (Click here to see a bus route). Many restaurants also have their menus available online, which would be helpful for Unit 7, Lesson 5.
Be sure to use the internet to your advantage when it comes to preparing for class! If there are other ways that you use the internet to access valuable printed material for your lessons, let us know in the comments.

Adapting Lessons that Require Technology

Old Computer

Technology, when used properly, can be a great addition to any lesson. However, in the field of adult ESL, technology is not always available to us. What can we do with English Forward lessons that require use of technology? For example, In Unit 8, Lesson 5 of English Forward, we are tasked with using a PowerPoint (click here to access the Powerpoint) that can be found on the Literacy Forward Web Portal and using a picture of a voting booth or ballot box, which we may need to find online. We have a few options here for taking this into a classroom without a computer or projector. One option is to use a smaller device, such as a tablet or smartphone, to share with the students. Just this week I had to give my class a short presentation on common jobs in our community (Unit 5, Lesson 1) and found that my class was moved to another room without a projector upon arriving at the building. Fortunately, I had my tablet with me, so I was able to pull up the presentation on my device. Of course, this did require me to be more mobile in order for all of the students to see what I was talking about, but it worked.

Another option would be to simply print out whatever materials you need or bring in realia that represents the topics you are discussing. This may take a little more advance planning, but should be just as effective as the electronic presentation if executed well.

This is all good for presentations and pictures of course, but what about videos? A tablet could also be used to show a video. If you don’t have a tablet available to you, you could use pictures and retell the story or material covered in the video yourself. In some cases this may be more beneficial to your students. You would be able to make sure that the information is relevant to your students and your community!
If you have other advice or information regarding how to adapt lessons that require technology, tell us in the comments below!

Tips for ESL Literacy Teachers

Hello everyone,

Today’s teaching tips come from “Bringing Literacy to Life”, a book written by Heide Spruck Wrigley, whose work made Literacy Forward possible, and Gloria Guth. In chapter 2 they give several tips for ESL literacy teachers. A few key tips are:

  •          Strive for genuine communication between yourself and your students
  •          Make your classroom into a community of learners where everyone feels welcome and all views are respected
  •          Link literacy with visual information
  •          Focus on meaning while helping learners see how language works
  •          Connect literacy to life

All of these tips are evident in the English Forward training and curriculum, but Bringing Literacy Life provides succinct explanations of these tips and how you can ensure that they happen in your classroom.

The entire book is available to download and read for free from www.cal.org. To access the entire document, click here.

Using Humor in the Classroom

Groucho Marx Man

The British Council recommends using humor in the classroom to reduce student anxiety and get them to relax so that they feel more comfortable participating in class and taking risks with the language. In a video posted by the British Council, Dale Whitlock discusses several methods of integrating humor into classroom instruction.

A few things that Dale does to inject humor into his classroom:
-discusses his "good looks" with the class
-frequently uses monkeys as the subject of discussion
-makes the correct answer obvious by offering the same (correct) answer multiple times or offer a couple ridiculous choices and one that is clearly the correct choice

Injecting humor into your class can also give your students insight into American culture. What people find funny is often very closely tied to their native culture. As students learn more English, more American humor is accessible to them. While in the video Dale instructs adolescents, humor can prove to be valuable in the adult ESL classroom, as well.

If you’d like to watch the video, click here.

Be warned: Since this is a British video, the humor is dry!

Do you use humor in the classroom? If you do, tell us how it works for you in the comments below.

Using Computers and Virtual Field Trips

women on computer

We all know that, when they’re available, computers are an invaluable tool for the classroom. The English Forward training and curriculum covers several ways that computers can be used to improve instruction in the classroom. Another great tip discussed in the TESOL blog is using the computer to take a virtual field trip. 

Tara Arntsen, in the post “Take a Virtual Field Trip”, suggests using Google Maps to go on virtual field trips as another way of integrating computers into classroom instruction. While teaching abroad, she used Google Earth to show her students her neighborhood, her street, and even her home. She suggests using virtual tours to generate discussion by visiting famous places or museums. You could also use this to discuss and view other locations, like the cities, towns, and countries that your students are from. It could be a great opportunity for your students to share something about themselves, and could supplement or start up another activity that you have planned.

If you’d like to read the entire blog post, click here

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