August 2014
AEIS Newsletter

Leadership Updates


Ingrid Greenberg

Ethan Lynn

We are pleased to welcome you to the TESOL AEIS August newsletter! As the two new co-chairs, we are happy to report that old and new friends and colleagues gathered at the TESOL 2014 Interest Section meetings in Portland, Oregon. During the general meeting, several resolutions were discussed and forwarded to the TESOL board. At the AEIS meeting, elections took place, participants volunteered to be submission reviewers, and we identified panel topics for TESOL 2015.


Renewal was a common theme for adult educators at the TESOL 2014 convention. As the U.S. economy climbs out of the deep recession, we are hearing stories of renewed commitment to adult ESL education. In the United States, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) passed through the Senate (95-3) on 25 June 2014. Please see this sheet (PDF) for a summary of the legislation that could come up for a vote when the House reconvenes after the 4 July recess.

Within the United States, at the state level, legislators and governors are tinkering with adult education on small and big scales. In California, the legislation AB 86 has set a new course for planning and funding for adult education regional consortia with the hopes of increased collaboration between K–12, colleges, community organizations, and industry. For more information, see this website.

And if you live and work in a community where adult education programs still haven’t fully recovered, remember these words: Courage is defined as taking action and serving, even while facing loss.


Another common theme at the TESOL 2014 convention was transitions. David Graddol reported in his 26 March keynote, “Five megatrends shaping the future of TESOL,” that a common worldwide challenge is the educational gap between high school and college. Whether local or international, during the week, many adult educators shared best practices for helping ESL learners transition to academic, workplace, and civic activities.

Next Steps

When designing a new program or curriculum, it is common practice to draft, revise, and sequence learning objectives. In this spirit, we offer the top 10 objectives of the TESOL AEIS this year. TESOL AEIS members will be able to:

  1. Identify by name and affiliation one or more TESOL AEIS member locally, nationally, and globally.
  2. Send an e-mail on the AEIS e-list to ask a question or reply to a posting.
  3. Name one piece of U.S. national legislation that is pending or recently passed by Congress.
  4. Name their state’s or country’s guiding adult education legislation.
  5. Nominate or serve as a candidate for the AEIS Steering Committee September 2015.
  6. Vote in the election for AEIS Steering Committee October 2015.
  7. Identify AEIS members’ top two preferences for receiving news. (Stay tuned for the e-mail summary.)
  8. Volunteer to serve as a social media moderator for one of the AEIS communications.
  9. Participate in TESOL 2015 in Toronto in person or via a virtual session.
  10. Name one or more of the AEIS panels that are being planned at TESOL 2015.

Ways Members Can Get Involved

  1. Attend our InterSection meetings at TESOL 2015 in Toronto.
  2. Nominate yourself for a leadership position.
  3. Contribute and/or subscribe to our social media links.
  4. Subscribe to our newsletter and share it with colleagues.
  5. Provide feedback to the co-chairs.
  6. Stay current with the latest publications and news in adult education.
  7. Volunteer to review submissions for the next TESOL conference.

Ingrid Greenberg, ESL associate professor at Continuing Education, San Diego Community College District, currently teaches advanced ESL transition-to-college. She has a passion for developing programs and curricula to help students reach their academic, workplace, and civic goals. She developed an adult education writing curriculum that incorporated the process approach and genre analysis for her master’s in linguistics from San Diego State University (SDSU). She is currently pursuing a second MA in learning design & technology at SDSU, where her team recently surveyed college students’ online and print reading preferences and habits. Some of Ingrid’s favorite hashtags: #TESOL, #CATESOL, #ESL, #English, #Writing, #leadership, #edtech, #seriousgames, #FIFAcom.

She is a big soccer fan and hopes to attend games at FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 tournament.

Ethan Lynn is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and currently resides in Provo, Utah. He will complete his BA from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Latin American studies in August 2014, and in September will start the MA program at BYU in TESOL. His thesis will be on motivation in the language classroom. He presented, with a team from BYU, at a Preconvention Institute session on motivation at the TESOL 2014 convention in Portland. He loves his job teaching beginning-level ESOL classes through Centro Hispano, a community program that is part of the Provo School District. He is a huge Cincinnati Reds fan. You can find him at



In this presentation at the TESOL 2014 convention in Portland, I explained how I designed a semester-long advanced listening and speaking course for undergraduate ESL students based on selected playlists from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) website. The objectives for the course included developing overall proficiency, improving pronunciation, practicing listening and note-taking skills, increasing vocabulary, learning to participate in and lead class discussions, and developing presentation skills. This article provides an overview of my planning process and descriptions of several sample units and activities.

I chose to use TED talks for several reasons. First, authentic materials are valuable, motivating, and increasingly available online. In particular, the TED website has several advantages. It exposes students to a variety of speakers from different backgrounds and provides the opportunity to analyze presentation skills such as body language and use of visual aids. In addition, transcripts and subtitles are provided for each talk, and the talks are free and available for classroom use through TED’s Creative Commons licensing. Finally, the playlists feature helped me to narrow down the vast and ever-increasing number of talks on the site and provided structure in terms of preselected talks on specific themes.

To plan the course, the first step was exploring and watching numerous playlists, then choosing several to use as the basis for thematic units during the semester. For each list, I selected three to four talks as required listening for the unit. After choosing the playlists and talks, I designed each unit, starting with an end-of-unit assignment (often a presentation) and other elements. To illustrate how these units came together, the following section describes three sample units from the course. A summary of these units can also be viewed in the attached handout, along with the assignment sheets for each unit assignment.

Sample Unit: “Personal Tales from the Edge of Life
From this playlist, students were required to watch four talks:

  • Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight”
  • Tan Le’s “My Immigration Story”
  • Roger Ebert’s “Remaking My Voice”
  • Ed Gavagan’s “A Story About Knots and Surgeons”

Each of these speakers tells a dramatic story about a personal struggle. At the end of this unit, students used these TED talks as models to create their own narrative presentations on topics such as life-changing events, overcoming challenges, or handling miscommunication. Throughout this unit, we also studied word stress and focused on the presentation skill of maintaining audience interest.

Sample Unit: “What Makes Us Happy?”
In this unit, students explored the theme of happiness as presented by these four talks:

  • Michael Norton’s “How to Buy Happiness”
  • Barry Schwartz’ “The Paradox of Choice”
  • Graham Hill’s “Less Stuff, More Happiness”
  • Daniel Kahneman’s “The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory”

Here, rather than emulate the presentation type, the unit assignment provided the opportunity to explore the topic of happiness through surveys designed and conducted by the students, who then presented their findings to the class. To help students prepare for the surveys, we studied the grammar of question formation as well as intonation patterns. We also discussed how to create effective visual aids, using the TED talks as models and applying the lessons in students’ own presentations.

Sample Unit: “Words, Words, Words
Here, the playlist focuses on various aspects of language in our daily lives. The required talks included:

  • Jean-Baptiste Michel’s and Erez Lieberman Aiden’s “What We Learned From 5 Million Books”
  • Luis von Ahn’s “Massive-Scale Online Collaboration”
  • Erin McKean’s “The Joy of Lexicography”

For the unit assignment, students were asked to listen to the Americans they interact with on a daily basis and take note of several idioms they heard. Then, students did some research on these idioms to discover the meaning and possibly the history of the expressions. In their presentations, they shared the idioms, explained the contexts in which the idioms were heard, taught the class about the meaning and history, and gave additional examples. Meanwhile, the class was required to take notes about these expressions, which later appeared on the unit quiz.

Given this overview of how the major components of the units were designed, it is important to explain three other elements that were woven throughout each unit: in-class discussions, pronunciation work, and vocabulary.

In-Class Discussions
Typically, students watched the TED talks as homework. They were required to take notes and be prepared to discuss the talks in class. Often, I used a mixture of comprehension and discussion questions which students discussed with a partner, small group, and/or the whole class. In the last unit of the semester, I asked students to take more ownership of the in-class discussions by bringing one or two questions of their own to class. This approach ensured that students were able to explore the aspects of the talks that confused or interested them most.

Discussion Activity: Sources Report
In addition to these loosely-structured discussions, I incorporated various activities. For example, in an activity called “Sources Report” (see the handout), each student is given a unique opinion question based on the video. The students then ask their classmates to answer the question and take notes on the responses. After asking a certain number of people or after the designated amount of time has passed, students return to their desks to review their notes and summarize the responses. Then each student gives a brief report on the findings to the class (or to a small group). This activity integrates many of the skills students are developing in the class, and it also serves as an effective way to practice for a unit assignment like the survey on happiness.

Discussion Activity: Carousel
Another discussion activity is called “Carousel.” Here, I write several questions on the white boards around the room. Students then number off, go to the question matching their number, discuss it with the other students there, and write a brief answer on the board. After each group has answered, the groups rotate to the next question, read the previous answer(s), write check marks next to any ideas they agree with, and add their own ideas. Students continue rotating, reading, discussing, and writing until they return to their original question. At this point, they review all of the answers on the board and prepare a brief summary to report back to the class.

Overall, the in-class discussions and activities gave students the opportunity to process the information from the talks and practice a wide variety of speaking and listening skills.

Pronunciation Work
As noted above, each unit had a pronunciation focus, such as word stress or intonation. To complement in-class activities, we used “The Corpus-Based American English Pronunciation Card,” by Michael Berman (2008). This inexpensive, corpus-based resource provides a comprehensive overview of various aspects of pronunciation and gives students a simple way to review these features at home with the included audio CD.

Another key element of the course was vocabulary. Knowing that each talk would provide a rich resource for new vocabulary, including both academic and topic-specific words, I needed a system to help me make intentional choices about which vocabulary words to highlight for each talk. Cobb’s Vocabulary Profiler (Cobb, 2014; Heatley, Nation, & Coxhead 2002), along with the transcripts of the TED talks allowed me to analyze the vocabulary for each talk and make informed choices. 

To use the Vocabulary Profiler site, simply copy and paste text into the main box on the screen and click “submit.” The website analyzes the text and provides a color-coded and categorized list that also shows the repetition of words in the sample. For my purposes, I focused on the words from the Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000) and the “off-list” words (often specialized vocabulary). For each talk, I selected 10 words to study. (See the attached handout below for vocabulary lists for each unit). By the end of the semester, we had covered nearly 200 vocabulary words!

In order to help students learn and remember the words, I incorporated various vocabulary activities, often using sample sentences from the transcripts. To work with definitions, we used many matching games. We also completed crossword puzzles and word searches, labeled word stress patterns, and used words in sentences, among other activities. For review, one of my favorite activities is to have pairs or small groups of students at the white boards, set a 1-minute timer, and ask students to write everything they know about the word on the board. For example, students can spell the word, write the stress pattern, add other related words, label the part of speech, give a definition, provide synonyms/antonyms, and write example sentences. We then review this information as a class.

Overall, using the TED talks as the foundation for this course was a success, allowing me to meet the course objectives in a new way. Although selecting talks and developing materials was time consuming, both the students and I were engaged and motivated throughout the semester, making the process extremely rewarding. I hope the sample units, activities, and resources described here inspire you to incorporate more authentic materials in your own teaching.


Berman, M. (2008) The American English pronunciation card (with audio CD). Rockville, MD: Language Arts Press.

Cobb, T. (n.d.) Web vocabprofile. Retrieved from

Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34, 213–238.

Heatley, A., Nation, I. S. P., & Coxhead, A. (2002). RANGE and FREQUENCY programs. Retrieved from .

Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Amy Cook has been teaching at Bowling Green State University in Ohio since 2010. She holds an MA in teaching ESL from the University of Arizona and a BA in languages and Latin American studies from the University of New Mexico. Amy has presented at the TESOL International Convention in 2014, 2012, and 2010.


Wendy Wampler

Dawn Allen

Introduction and Background

The community-based literacy sector is known to be a resource-strapped learning environment, a fact no less true in Central Texas, which includes the fast-growing Austin metropolis. As a coalition, the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas supports a large network of 70, largely volunteer-run, literacy programs by providing new teacher trainings, professional development, and classroom resources. In 2013, volunteer ESL instructors in Central Texas served more than 1,800 adults. Our students are typical of the adult education field, coming to us from diverse backgrounds and cultures, with varying levels of education in their home countries, and with any number of life challenges that keep them out of class on any given day.

From research, we know the importance of contextual relevancy to student learning. According to Wrigley (2003), “Students learned more, as measured in movement on standardized tests, in classes where the teacher made the connection between life outside the classroom and what was learned in the classroom than in classes that did not” (p. 15). For years in our new teacher trainings, we’ve emphasized the importance of bringing the outside world into the classroom through the use of authentic materials, or realia. “Adult learners in classes using real-life (authentic) literacy activities and texts read and write more often, and use a greater variety of texts, in their lives outside class” (Purcell-Gates, Degener, Jaconson, & Soler, 2000, p.1). We know that if we can hook them and engage them with something that is tangible and that is tied to their interests and goals, our students will be more likely to succeed both inside and outside the classroom.

New teachers just starting out look first to textbooks for lesson content and likely overlook the things in their everyday environment—authentic materials at their fingertips—which they could use instead. Even veteran teachers get stuck in a rut, or are strapped for time and energy, and could benefit from using more authentic materials in the classroom. In response to these challenges, we developed the Teacher Toolkit Creator, giving our volunteers a tool that would decrease their lesson planning time while increasing student engagement through the use of free authentic materials readily available in their local communities.

The Teacher Toolkit Creator

Just as the literacy programs we work with are strapped for funds, we also did not have an unlimited budget to develop the tool. We chose to design the Toolkit Creator using simple Excel and Word documents to keep costs low and ensure it would be readily available to teachers.

Because the goal of the Toolkit Creator is to make instruction more engaging and relevant to students, it is important to start by eliciting students’ feedback rather than making assumptions about their needs and interests. This is where student assessments come into play. The Toolkit Creator includes two assessments—one text based and one image based—for both lower-level and more advanced students. The assessments ask students six key questions:

  • What are your hobbies?
  • What kinds of classroom activities do you prefer?
  • Why are you learning English?
  • Where do you speak English outside of class?
  • Where do you work?
  • What community services are in your neighborhood?

Once a teacher has collected feedback from students through the assessments, it is entered into the Realia Generator (.xlsx). The Realia Generator is a program configured to take in information about your students and generate a list of corresponding realia. (For more details, watch our demonstration video outlining how to use the Generator). Depending on your students’ feedback, you will receive a list of 50–100 authentic materials from the Generator. From this list, you can then assemble your own classroom toolkit.

When completing the student assessments, students are a given a choice of up to 10 items to select from. We understand the limitations this puts on student responses. The Creator does not reflect all needs and interests, and the goal of the Toolkit Creator is not to fully represent all students. Rather, the Toolkit Creator is meant to help teachers move toward more relevant and engaging classrooms. To address the limitations of the Creator, we also designed the Supplemental Teacher Worksheet. This worksheet encourages teachers to reflect on the results of the Generator and any student interests not addressed, and to think of ways to incorporate these interests into the classroom.

As the world is becoming more and more dependent on technology, it is important to integrate technology into our classrooms. Nonetheless, we kept in mind the limitations of many adult education classrooms. While we included a number of digital options such as websites and phone apps in the Toolkit Creator, we also designed filters to screen out any equipment unavailable to specific classrooms such as computers, Internet access, projectors, and so on.

Other adult ESL classrooms are limited not by access to technology but by the literacy level of students. For these classrooms we created a filter to screen out realia containing large amounts of text inappropriate for the low-literacy level classroom.

Classroom Implications

As we developed the Toolkit Creator, we asked our local instructors to complete the Realia Generator based on their current students. We wanted to get a feel for the interests of the local community. Among the results, common themes and their corresponding realia included:

  • Work (work schedules, pay stubs, cleaning supplies, photos of food and drink)
  • Local entertainment and activities (live music schedule, local map, community newspaper)
  • Civics (citizenship application form, images of U.S. historical figures)
  • Children and children’s school (report card, behavior notes, school calendar, school supply list, children’s books)
  • Health (health history form, intake form, empty medicine bottles)

The next step is to turn the realia into relevant and engaging lessons for students. Here in Central Texas, with Austin known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” a schedule of live music is a great representation of something that is both engaging and representative of our local community (see Figure 1).

Wampler Figure 1. (click to enlarge)

Working from the schedule in Figure 1, teachers could focus on the Wh- question words (specifically, “who” and “when”) and either do an information gap activity with students working in pairs or a line dialogue activity in which students form two lines facing each other. Line A asks Line B a question, and then Line B rotates by one person so that each person has a new partner after every question. Another option is to focus on practicing days of the week and prepositions of time (specifically, “at” and “on”) and do a whole class True/False activity to test students’ comprehension. To practice numbers, the teacher could cut up the schedule by date, give each student one square, and do a “line up” activity by having them form a single line in order by date. The culminating activity would be a class field trip to see a free live music performance.

Other general ways to include realia in the classroom, regardless of the lesson topic, include:

  • Activating Background Knowledge – Realia related to the lesson for the day can be the basis of a warm-up discussion as a way to help students connect their background knowledge to the lesson topic.
  • Role Plays – Role plays that are situational and use realia integral to the conversation are especially effective (e.g., ordering from a menu or a discussing a health history form with a nurse).
  • Predicting – Students guess what a lesson will be about based on the realia you bring in for class.
  • Sorting Realia Into Groups – This works well with smaller realia and images. Students can sort realia into groups set by you (e.g., Sorting different over-the-counter medications into groups by the symptoms they treat), or they can select their own groups for sorting based on the realia you give them.
  • Think-Pair-Share – In this case, the realia serves as the basis for individual, group, and then full-class discussions on a topic.
  • Matching – Students match up realia with vocabulary words. For more advanced students, realia can be matched with related sentences, paragraphs, or definitions.

Check out a video of one our local teachers using a number of these strategies to make a health lesson on symptoms and medication come alive.

How would you use these ideas in your own classroom? What is unique about your city, town, or state that you use as the basis for a lesson? Download the Toolkit Creator and try it out. We’d love to hear your feedback.


Purcell-Gates, V., Degener, S., Jaconson, E., & Soler, M. (2000). Affecting change in literacy practices of adult learners: A NCSALL Research Brief (Research brief #17). Retrieved from

Wrigley, H. (2003). A conversation with FOB: What works for adult ESL students. Focus on Basics: Connecting Research and Practice, 6(C), 14–17. Retrieved from

Wendy Taylor Wampler has been working in adult education for 10 years. Her experience includes ESL instruction and assessment, program development and management, curriculum development, and training design and facilitation. She enjoys spending as much time outdoors as possible—hiking, swimming, paddleboarding, or just lounging with a good book.

Dawn Allen started teaching in 1995 and has taught Pre-K through university level students. Her research has focused on ESL instructor professional development and advocacy. When she’s not teaching, you’ll find her traveling, doing yoga, or shopping for shoes.


Alice Savage

Colin Ward

Words are powerful things. When we look at research-based word lists, such as the General Service List or the Oxford 3000, we come across many useful words that can inform our teaching of vocabulary in the classroom. We know these words are the most important for our students to learn. Yet, from the perspective of the student, the task of acquiring these lists of words can be daunting.

One challenge is length. How can students learn hundreds, or even thousands, of words when learning only a select few at a time? And once new words are introduced, how can they be internalized without a sufficient amount of recycling and repurposing?

Another and more interesting challenge is meaning. Meaning turns out to be a complicated notion when dealing with high-frequency words. For example, the Oxford 3000 includes three main categories. The first includes content words such as red, car, and fast, which are obvious and easy to teach. The meanings are sharp and clear, so they can easily be demonstrated with a white board, a photo, or pantomime.

The second category includes grammar words. The words so, is, the, and of, and their high frequency siblings, hold a prominent position on the list and yet resist attempts to be neatly defined as solitary words. These worker bee words have become so directly associated with specific functions that they have become grammar (Larsen-Freeman, 2013). Their place on a word list is obvious, and they get much treatment in grammar syllabi.

Then there is a third, more elusive, category, which we call “shadow words.” Words such as join, thing, important, and place are extremely useful but difficult to teach because they hide in the shadows of other words. Rather than being specific in meaning like the content words, shadow words tend to be abstract, vague, and flexible. They may not call attention to themselves, but they are important because a great number of other words like to partner with them in collocations (Schmitt, 2000).

As a result of their accommodating nature, shadow words can be very useful when taught in phrases. For example, become is quietly helpful. Phrases such as become an engineer, become friends, or become rich illustrate the supportive nature of become. When become is taught with other words, learners can better pick up the meaning of both. Become does not like being alone. It needs friends.

Shadow words can also have multiple personalities: They take on different meanings depending on their context. Have appears on high-frequency word lists because it collocates with so many other words—have fun, have a sister, have to leave, have an idea, have enough money—yet each pairing has its own personality.

So, in looking at all these different types of words that populate high frequency word lists, it becomes clear that vocabulary is not just one thing. While some words can meaningfully stand alone, many of the most common words prefer to be in groups. These words unleash their full power when paired with other words in collocations (word partners), lexical chunks (groups of commonly occurring words that include grammar), and prefabs (fixed expressions that allow students to frame ideas by slotting in different vocabulary; Hinkel, 2004).

Perhaps it is possible to conceive of teaching language a third way—not to present vocabulary lists, word form charts, and grammar items separately but together on the same continuum.

There are many benefits to this approach. If students are exposed to words in these groupings, they have more opportunities to gather and use words in their natural environments. Furthermore, these distinct environments can help classroom participants make decisions about which meaning or meanings to focus on (Hyland, 2004). For example,play means one thing when talking about children and toys, and another when used in an academic setting as in, “Teachers play a role in helping students choose vocabulary.

Teaching words in phrases also mitigates the difficulty of learning parts of speech because students see adjectives being used before nouns, and nouns as objects of verbs or the subjects of sentences. They can establish cognitive hooks for storing the words in the same manner in which they will be used (Schmitt, 2000).

Finally, words in phrases maximize vocabulary learning by providing whole unit chunks of meaning that clarify individual words at the same time. A list of 12 phrases includes more language than a list of 12 individual words. For example, the lexical chunk blew snow in our faces can be visually depicted in one go while teaching five different words, including content words, shadow words, and grammar words.

The following example activities demonstrate how vocabulary and grammar can support each other in providing useful language for specific writing tasks. While each activity has a specific aim, the basic structure can be adapted for different topics and purposes.

Activity Type: Categorizing

Aim: To prepare students to write a paragraph about a friend

Stage: Practice of new vocabulary for a writing task


1. Put students in pairs. Check that they understand the meaning of the phrases in the box below.

2. Have pairs discuss which chunks they might put in each column/category. There can be more than one possible answer.

3. Walk around the classroom and provide help as needed.

4. Elicit the students’ answers to put on the board and facilitate a class discussion. Invite students to add other words and phrases, or provide possibilities that might suit their needs.

5. Have students write a description of a person they know who fits one of the categories using the new language.

Directions: Write the correct phrases in the boxes.

asks polite questions

eats in restaurants

has many friends


likes sports

reads books

rides a bicycle

shares ideas





asks polite questions

Activity Type: Manipulating Chunks

Aim: To practice using gerunds with prepositional phrases in order to write about professional interests

Stage: Revising for sentence variety


1. Have students write a paragraph about their likes and dislikes in school and/or work.

2. Explain that gerunds are nouns that often represent activities, so they are useful after prepositional phrases such as interested in, look forward to, excited about, and good at.

3. Teach a set of chunks that include prepositional phrases with gerunds that are relevant to the task. (See more examples in the activity below.)

4. Have students do the first part of the task to focus on meaning.

5. Next, have students rewrite the sentences that are not true by replacing the gerund phrase with something that is true.


  • Elicit examples to write on the board.
  • Provide feedback on student understanding and additional possibilities as needed.

Put a check next to the sentences that are true about you. Rewrite the sentences that are not true for you. Change the words and phrases to make them true.

☐ 1. I like opportunities for practicing math skills.

Example rewrite: I like opportunities for learning about customer service.

☐ 2. I am interested in developing my math skills.

☐ 3. I look forward to working with customers.

☐ 4. I am excited about using technology in my future job.

☐ 5. I am not good at working with other people.

☐ 6. I like to talk about using math to solve engineering problems.

Activity Type: Flow Charts

Aim: To facilitate practice of grammatical sentences using new vocabulary

Stage: Practice after grammar/vocabulary lesson


1. Introduce the theme of careers. Facilitate a discussion with students about their future jobs.

2. Generate a list of chunks related to the theme.

3. Have students use the chart below to generate their own chunks.

4. As they work, monitor their progress providing feedback and additional language help as needed.

5. Have students prepare a short presentation, explain their career plan to a partner, or write a paragraph about their future jobs.


will (not)

explore career opportunities

study languages.

learn about business.

be patient.

be hardworking.

be good at solving problems.

My job

My life

My work

will (not) be






Hinkel, E. (2004). Innovative and efficient construction grammar. Innovative and efficient construction grammar. Selected papers from the 21st International Symposium on English Teaching, Republic of China (ETA-ROC), Taipei, 51–59.

Hyland, K. (2004). Genre and second language writing. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2013). Transfer of learning transformed. Language Learning
(Suppl. 1), 107–129.

Schmitt, N. (2000). Lexical chunks. ELT Journal, 54(4), 400-401.

Savage, A., & Ward, C. (in press). Trio writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Alice Savage and Colin Ward are professors of ESOL at Lone Star College—North Harris in Houston, Texas, USA. They are currently working on a low-level writing series for English learners for Oxford University Press. This article is adapted from their presentation “Beginning Writing Students and the Vocabulary-Grammar Continuum” at the 2014 TESOL International Convention in Portland, Oregon, USA.


Using technology with beginning level adult learners can be a daunting challenge for many teachers— especially those in low-resource contexts. While there are great challenges to incorporating more technology in our classrooms, technology also offers rich language resources for our adult students. In today’s modern world, technological skills rival literacy and numeracy skills for adults. As a result, incorporating technology in our English language classroom also helps students develop invaluable life skills.

Many teachers assume that the only way to integrate technology in the adult English language (EL) classroom is through access to a state-of-the-art computer lab. However, there are many ways to incorporate technology without such resources.

If a classroom has access to only a few computers or tablets, students can do group or pairworkon these devices. This is a particularly beneficial approach when students have varying levels of technological proficiency. Alternatively, students can use their personal devices (phones or tablets) to access helpful resources in class, like, where they’re able to get a broader understanding of both vocabulary and semantics. Personal devices can also be used to search for pictures and cultural references to supplement class activities.

Another way teachers should consider using technology is as a professional learning network. Developing a personal learning network helps teachers stay current in the field by allowing them to follow conversations, trends, and resources available online. Interacting with other TESOL professionals on sites like Twitter, Learnist, Pinterest, or ScoopIt also gives EL teachers opportunities to connect with others working in similar contexts. On Twitter, many teachers participate in group discussions (e.g., #ELLCHAT and #ELTCHAT) that strategize and dialogue about issues in the field.

Many teachers may erroneously assume their students don’t have access to technology. The best way to address this assumption is to directly ask the students which resources they have access to. One way to accurately assess technology access is through giving a formal technology survey in class that asks students about their access to technological resources, such as cell phones, smartphones, laptops, tablets, and home Internet connections (Gaer, 2014). This information will aid the teacher greatly in determining the actual reality of his or her students’ access to technology. Here are two examples of such surveys, one that would be used as a paper document, and another that is online.

If students have access tocell phones, there are many sites available for classroom use. Remind101, a free online texting service, allows teachers to text groups of students reminders, documents, and messages. PollEverywhere, a free online polling service, is an excellent way to poll student opinion or knowledge via smartphones in class and project instant results for discussion starters.

Students can also use their camera phones to complete writing activities and e-mail them to the teacher. Teacher Susan Gaer suggests having students photograph items for writing prompts such as “My favorite piece of clothing,” “My Family,” or “My Pets” (2014). For more advanced users, a wide variety of video making apps gives students ample opportunity for storytelling and audio slideshows.

In the computer lab, Edmodo is an excellent platform to manage student learning. Its Facebook-like design makes it easy for students to navigate. Using Edmodo, teachers can set up quizzes, surveys, and discussions for their students. It also offers a gradebook feature and unlimited document storage. Using Edmodo is best for classrooms with access to a computer lab so that students with low technological literacy have the opportunity for guided and consistent practice. Edmodo also allows users to post useful website links for student use outside of the classroom.

Sites that provide more developed ESL curricula are also quite useful for student use in computer labs or at home. USALearns, LiveMocha, and Memrise are all free websites that offer learning units to students. Mango Languages is also excellent and often available through public libraries.

For classrooms that only have access to a teacher computer/projector, there are a variety of websites that feature videos specifically for English language learners. EnglishCentral hosts thousands of videos searchable by level, and provides mini learning units to accompany each one. It can be modeled to and used with the entire class and then recommended for student use at home. ESLVideo and We are New York also offer great videos for beginning learners. GCF LearnFree is a site that offers a vast array of interactive tutorials on life skills, covering topics like finances, technology, and career. TV411 also offers videos with similar purposes. YouTube is also packed full of English teachers providing their own explanations. Some great YouTube series include Jennifer ESL, Fluency MC, Speak English with MisterDuncan, and EnglishAnyone.

For teachers who have no computer access in the classroom, technology can still be a fabulous tool. Sites like Kizclub, BusyTeacher, EnglishforEveryone,iSLCollective, and Teachers Pay Teachers offer endless numbers of both free and paid activities and lesson plans for beginning level students. While the students may not directly interact with technology itself, they are still benefitting from the teacher’s access to it.


Gaer, S. (2014). Using mobile devices. Technology and Distance Learning Symposium. Lecture conducted from Baldwin Park, CA.

Jody Fernando is a teacher educator, curriculum writer, and adult ESL teacher in California. She also blogs occasionally at Adventures in TESOL and maintains TESOLTech, a website for EL teachers to share lesson plans for teaching technology to adult learners. Follow her on Twitter or check out her extensive ESL and EdTech boards on Pinterest.


Heather Tatton-Harris

Neela Jayaraman

Computer Literacy and the Adult ELL Student

As modes of communication with schools, local governments, retail, and local services become more and more electronic, those who are not technology-literate fall more and more behind. Problem solving in technology-rich environments is a primary focus of the PIAAC report (OECD, 2013), and the adult immigrant population performed remarkably low in this domain. The PIAAC, which stands for Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies, is an international survey of adult skills that directly measures proficiency in three key information-processing areas: literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments (p. 23). According to the 2013 PIAAC data, 37% of the adult immigrants surveyed did not have rudimentary computer literacy skills, and 39% had rudimentary skills but not enough to navigate among web pages or follow more than a few steps in a computer environment (Goodman, Finnegan, Mohadjer, Krenzke, & Hogan, 2013, p.15). That’s 76% of the adult immigrants surveyed who were not yet capable of actively participating in the use of technology for day-to-day purposes, such as e-mailing their child’s teacher with a question, paying a bill online, researching local healthcare services, and searching for job openings. As such, computer literacy instruction that moves beyond basic functions and into problem solving is critical. Yet, few computer “how-to” books address the language needs of adult ELLs, and emerging knowledge of English makes learning new content and skills a challenge (García & Godina, 2004).

To address these challenges, we have created a framework for computer literacy materials using guiding principles to inform the topics and best practices in instructional strategies for adult ELLs. We are grateful to be able to share our approach to computer literacy and hope that many of you will contact us with collaboration in mind. Between the two of us, we have two decades of experience in the computer literacy classroom and in creating computer literacy curricula. In this article, we will share our guiding principles, our instructional strategies, and our approach to developing classroom materials. 

Know Where You Are Going: Our Guiding Principles

As Lewis Carroll once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” (Carroll 1865).   When designing our computer literacy curriculum, we began with the end in mind: What do the students need to be able to do in today’s technological environment? With that question in mind, we created five guiding principles. We want our students to be able to:

1) Navigate the Internet for communication and finding information. Examples:
a) Internet basics
b) Searching strategies
c) Social media

2) Understand how to be safe and smart in a digital environment. Examples:
a) Privacy
b) Safety
c) Digital footprint

3) Use software that is meaningful to their lives and helpful for their future. Examples:
a) Microsoft Office tools
b) Google tools

4) Be informed technology consumers. Examples:
a) Computer hardware
b) Capacity and factors to consider in buying technology
c) Internet service providers (ISPs)

5) Gain efficiency and confidence. Examples:
a) Typing speed
b) Ability and confidence to “figure it out”

Having these five principles allows us to make intentional decisions about the types of units and materials we create. On our website, we include computer literacy topics that fall under each of the guiding principles, and suggested sequencing of those topics.

Key Instructional Strategies

The following strategies are foundations of effective instruction in a computer literacy class.

Make Connections to Prior Learning and Background Knowledge

Along with what they’ve already learned in class, students bring a wealth of life experience to the classroom. Activating background knowledge is the cornerstone to introducing a new topic (Christen & Murphy, 1991). Before diving into PowerPoint, for example, have students identify the identical formatting features they already learned in MS Word. When starting a lesson on how to buy a computer, give students advertisements containing computers and tablets, and have them talk about the words they’ve seen before; they might not know what an “MB” is, but they’ve probably seen that acronym. In pairs, students can discuss what computer they would choose and why, and talk about any experience they’ve had with buying technology (good and not so good experiences alike). These discussions activate background knowledge that allows students to make stronger connections with the subsequent instruction.

Follow the “You Do, I Do, We Do, You Do” Sequence

This is an alteration to the typical “I do, we do, you do” system (Fisher & Frey, 2008). One of our guiding principles is to help students gain confidence in their ability to explore technology and self-learn. We’ve found guided exploration lays great groundwork in building confidence to use new technologies. For example, in Google, students are asked to click on the Apps grid and work in pairs to identify familiar elements in Google Apps (i.e., they will have probably seen YouTube and Maps before). After they click on the Google Drive App, we ask them to click “Create” and talk about what they think they will be able to do if they click on “Document” or “Presentation.” This is prediction work, much like we would do with ESL students and a reading text.

Interestingly, many of the cognitive and metacognitive strategies we use in teaching reading and listening transfer in the use of technology. For example, just like with a text, as we introduce and move through a new technology, we make predictions, monitor understanding and comprehension, ask questions, make inferences, and so on. In Google Drive, student pairs talk about their predictions, then click on the new features to discover new technology territory; all along, they are talking about what they see, thinking about what they might be able to do with the tools, and trying it out. Key during the guided exploration is ensuring that students understand that no correct answer is expected. The content and steps in these phases (“you do” and “I do”) are then further reinforced during “we do” when all students together assist in repeating the demonstration before they start to reproduce the steps themselves. Additionally, our units use step-by-step screenshots that encourage students to re-create in the “you do” section at their own pace.

Situate Lessons Within Students’ Experience (Personalization)

It is essential to learning that tasks are personalized and have meaning to students (Cordova & Lepper, 1996). This is true in any type of instruction, but especially true in teaching computer skills where the goal is to ensure that a series of unfamiliar steps becomes useful and is repeated with ease. In e-mailing, for example, it’s quite effective to take photos of the students in class and have them e-mail the teacher asking for his or her photo. We usually do this task after introducing “reply” and “forward.” The students receive photos of their classmates “by mistake.” Students help to correct the teacher’s mistake by forwarding the photo they received to the correct classmate. This task has meaning. The students want their own photo, and the task helps them to learn to communicate with each other using technology; they aren’t only e-mailing the teacher for the sake of practice. Often, quite naturally, students will then send thank-you e-mails to each other for sending the photos. E-mailing becomes a way to communicate with classroom peers and the teacher alike. Building on students’ existing communication practices and creating a classroom community makes it easier for students to gain awareness for the scope of e-mail. Other examples of personalizing tasks include: an “All about Me” presentation in PowerPoint, a document about “My Goals,” and a spreadsheet containing expenses planned for holiday gifts. Concepts stick when students have a real purpose to use them.

Utilize Cooperative, Project-Based Activities

As we see it, teamwork during computer literacy instruction is essential. Having students participate in pair work, especially as they explore a new topic or technology, is valuable in helping students break through the fear and insecurities associated with handling new technologies. In our materials, every new skill learned leads to a project with an authentic outcome; some examples include:

  • Conducting online research on a topic like local summer camps or other local resources, and e-mailing the information (links and attachments) to a friend who needs it.
  • Starting a fictitious business and creating a menu, a flyer, a business card, and other relevant artifacts for that business.
  • Creating a budget for a fictitious friend (we don't advise having students use personal financial data in the classroom) who is trying to save money for a large purchase.

The project-based orientation, in particular, puts learning in the hands of students, inspiring them to problem solve through authentic challenges (Cordova & Lepper, 1996; Markham, 2011), which simultaneously addresses issues reported in the PIAAC.

Elaborate and Scaffold Language

It is important that students learn terminology to be able to describe what they’re doing (“I pasted the picture in the document”) as well as real life language that they will encounter (e.g., username). How many times have we seen e-mails from students with greetings and language in the subject line or message box that are not conveyed well? From our experience, countless times! We are aiming to create materials that go beyond the technical functions to provide opportunities for practicing relevant and useful language. As such, our materials contain elaborated text (as opposed to simplified words) and visuals to aid comprehensibility (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2008), as well as activities to build and practice vocabulary (Stahl & Nagy, 2006).

Next Steps

First, we’re reaching out to teachers of computer literacy or teachers interested in integrating this content into their lessons who will use the free materials on our website. We have a few shareable units already, and our goal is to get concrete feedback from more teachers on the existing lessons to ensure greater applicability of these units. Features of our materials include:

Student Handouts with the following sections (see Figures 1 and 2):

  • Clearly written objectives
  • Vocabulary & building background
  • Exploring to learn
  • Authentic, project-based, collaborative tasks
  • Assessment tasks, including:
    - Follow-up (circling back to vocabulary and objectives)
    - Repeat & remember (extension tasks)
    - Connections to real life (discussion about how we can use the lesson in real life)

Figure 1(click to enlarge)

Figure 2(click to enlarge)

The Teacher's Guide (see Figure 3):

  • National Reporting System/Student Performance Level 
  • Timeframe
  • Assumptions and prerequisites
  •  Instructional strategies
  • Metaphor suggestions to explain abstract concepts (e.g., save vs. save as)
  • Exit ticket ideas

Figure 3(click to enlarge)

Lesson Accessories include:

  • Screencasts (for flipping instruction and instructional review)
  • Online vocabulary practice using Quizlet, including quizzes
  • Connections to existing resources (GCF free, BBC Webwise, etc.)

We plan to develop more Student Handouts and Teacher Guides corresponding to the topics in our recommended sequence. To that end, we are eager to have teachers from across the nation collaborate with us in creating more materials faster. This teacher support and collaboration can take many forms. Teachers may create entire units to be shared on our website, send us successful ideas/concepts that can be integrated into units, add to our existing web resources bank, or share useful technology tools. Through teamcomplit, we seek to create a unique space for instructors to access ready-to-use resources as well as connect to their peers for support.


Carroll, L. (1865). Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. London: MacMillan Publishing Co.

Christen, W. L., & Murphy, T. J. (1991). Increasing comprehension by activating prior knowledge. (ERIC Digest No. 61). Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED328885)

Cordova, D. I., & Lepper, M. R. (1996). Intrinsic motivation and the process of learning: Beneficial effects of contextualization, personalization, and choice. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 715–730.

Echevarria, J., Vogt, M. E., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English language learners: The SIOP® Model (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2008). Better learning through structured teaching: A framework for the gradual release of responsibility. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

García, G. E., & Godina, H. (2004). Addressing the literacy needs of adolescent English language learners. In T. Jetton & J. Dole (Eds.), Research and practice in adolescent literacy (pp. 304–320). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Goodman, M., Finnegan, R., Mohadjer, L., Krenzke, T., & Hogan, J. (2013). Literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments among U.S. adults: Results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies 2012: First look(NCES 2014-008). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

Markham, T. (2011). Project based learning. Teacher Librarian, 39(2), 38–42.

OECD. (2013). OECD skills outlook 2013: First results from the Survey of Adult Skills. Paris, France: Author. Retrieved from

Stahl, S., & Nagy, W. (2006). Teaching word meanings. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Many thanks to Miriam Burt at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL). Miriam's SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) training inspired much of the organization of our materials and instructional strategies. The sections included in our student handouts are largely designed around SIOP principles.

Heather Tatton-Harris is the curriculum coordinator at Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School. She holds an MA in TESOL and an EdM in applied linguistics from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Neela Jayaraman brings 12 years of ESL/EFL and computer literacy teaching experience. She also supports and trains teachers and colleagues in technology and its numerous uses in the classroom.


In order to keep up with technology nowadays, teachers are constantly looking for fun, motivating, and useful tech tools to add to their repertoire. However, there are so many to choose from that it can take quite a bit of time to sort out the wheat from the chaff. In my presentation at the 2014 TESOL conference, I talked about a fun and easy-to-use website called Brainshark. In short, Brainshark allows you to create and add audio to photo slide shows and PowerPoint presentations as well as record your own podcasts. This website can be used by the teacher and the students to develop creative and motivating student-generated projects. View the example brainshark presentation I made for the TESOL conference. In this article, I will review the basics for using Brainshark and offer pointers for teachers and students.

The first step to accessing Brainshark is to set up an account. Go to the home page to sign up. It is free of cost, but there is a simple registration form to fill out (see Figure 1). Once you have finished creating your account, you can begin uploading content immediately. If you would like your students to upload and alter content on their own, each student (or group of students working on a project) should set up their own account.

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

To start creating content on this website, you will need a computer with a microphone and Internet access. Once you have logged in, click on the green button that says “Upload content” to see a list of the types of content you can create. You can use Brainshark to add audio to a PowerPoint presentation, narrate a document, upload a video, make a photo album, or produce a podcast. In my experience, the most useful tools are adding a voice to a PowerPoint presentation, making a photo album, and producing a podcast (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 (click to enlarge)

The basics for adding audio to a PowerPoint presentation and making a photo album are pretty much the same. The first step is to upload the PowerPoint slides or the pictures you would like to use in your photo album. The PowerPoint will automatically upload the slides in the correct order. However, make sure that you put your pictures in order before uploading and then upload them in the order you would like them to appear in the slide show. This makes recording the audio much easier. You will also want to edit the pictures before you upload them (make sure they are facing in the right direction, cropped, adjusted to the appropriate contrast, etc.). You will not be able to edit photos once they are included in your Brainshark slideshow. As you can see in Figure 3, I typically number my pictures for a photo album to facilitate uploading in the correct order.

Figure 3 (click to enlarge)

The next step is to add audio. You can add audio to each slide and also add background music to the whole presentation. The option to do this will pop up once you have uploaded all the slides (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 (click to enlarge)

You can add audio in two ways: using the microphone in your computer or by calling the number listed on the screen with a landline or cell phone. You will need your computer in front of you whether you use a phone or a microphone. I have found that the audio is crisper and sounds clearer if you use your computer’s microphone. Recording audio is fairly simple. As you speak, the website will proceed slide by slide and allow you to re-record as needed. Once finished, you can continue to edit your slideshow. You can see all these editing options in Figure 5.

Figure 5 (click to enlarge)

Once a presentation has been saved, you can title it, add a description, download the audio to your computer, set the privacy settings for the presentation, and share it (see Figure 6). You can publish it to YouTube if you have your own channel, but keep in mind that the presentation cannot exceed 15 minutes per YouTube's time restriction. Unfortunately, you can’t download the whole presentation to your computer from the Brainshark website; you can only download the audio. However, you can use a program like Freecorder to record the full presentation and save it to your computer.

Figure 6 (click to enlarge)

Creating a podcast has the same basic process as the PowerPoint and the photo album; you simply skip the step in which slides are uploaded. Keep in mind that you can also add audio to a short video and to a Microsoft Word document. This also follows the same basic process explained above. The website is fairly intuitive and provides a lot of easy-to-follow prompts for creating a new piece of content. When in doubt, follow the prompts! One thing to keep in mind with video is that Brainshark will not remove existing audio. Therefore, it is best to upload a video without audio and use Brainshark to add dialog. Another option is to upload a video with audio and add background music with Brainshark.

Now that you have the basics, play around! You can do a lot in the “edit presentation” part of the platform. You can add background music (upload your own or choose from the deliciously cheesy options provided by Brainshark), change the order of your slides, add more slides, re-record audio, or even combine media so that you have a video and photos together in the same presentation. Have fun with it!

Here are some ways that I have used Brainshark to create materials for my classroom:

a. Use the “Produce a Podcast” option to create semiauthentic listening texts.
b. Present your grammar in class by “Adding Voice to a PowerPoint.”
c. Use the “Narrate a Document” feature to upload handouts, quizzes, or even parts of the class text book. It is then possible to e-mail students the link to the document so that they can watch/listen to the presentation at home before class. Think about the applications for test prep classes!
d. Use the “Make a Photo Album” feature to introduce your class to the topic of a new unit, new vocabulary, or a new grammar point.
e. “Make a Photo Album” by scanning in pictures and reading a short story over them to create a listening text.
f. “Add Voice to a PowerPoint” for a grammar presentation for your students to listen to and practice with before class (flipping the classroom).

Brainshark can spice up many types of lessons: reading, listening, speaking, and so on. However, I think the real fun starts when you get your students involved in the process. Here are some creative project ideas that you can use with your students:

a. Have your students do a research project and prepare “Add Voice to a PowerPoint” or “Make a Photo Album” featuring the context of their research. Have the students show it to the class and prepare a little quiz to give their audience afterwards.
b. Have learners “Make a Photo Album” about what being a part of a specific culture (American, Korean, Italian, etc.) means to them.
c. Have students “Produce a Podcast” of a short story that they have written.
d. Have students write a short story, draw illustrations, and “Add Voice to a PowerPoint” or “Make a Photo Album” of the illustrated story.
e. Put the students into groups of three or four. Have each group record a video without sound (just miming). Upload all the videos to Brainshark. Assign each group a different video and have them record the audio/dialog with the “Upload a Video” feature. Have the groups show the final videos to each other and compare and contrast the original message of the video with the final product.
f. The teacher “Produces a Podcast” of a short article. Then all students individually record a podcast of the same article. The students listen to the teacher’s speech and compare and contrast it with their own to highlight the differences and build pronunciation awareness.

I hope that I have presented a good case for choosing Brainshark as an effective tech tool for teachers and students alike. The classroom applications are in no way limited to the ideas I have presented here, and I welcome your feedback in terms of what you have tried and would like to try, and any new ideas you may have! Good luck and have fun!

Autumn Westphal is the deputy head of teacher training at Rennert in New York City. She is also a licensed teacher trainer and local trainer of trainers through the World Learning-School for International Training (SIT) Graduate Institute.


I instruct ELLs of all ages at the Ohio Program of Intensive English at Ohio University. Our students are constantly seeking to improve their English language skills in the most efficient and effective ways possible, and one especially challenging area of instruction has been to systematically increase students’ reading rate and comprehension. In large part, this is due to the fact that multiple variables affect a student’s conscious improvement of his or her reading speed and understanding of a text. Among the most important include the ability to read in thought groups, the determination to have full understanding of all content words that are read, and fatigue. Moreover, when students focus on increasing their reading rate, comprehension of the text often suffers, and vice versa.

In my classes, I prefer to use the term “paced reading,” because I want my students to read an entire text at the same rate. “Speed reading” suggests that a text is read as fast as possible but not at any particular rate. Paced reading, which aids a reader’s fluency, is more controlled and consistent, and once a student is confident at a particular reading rate, the pace can be increased. According to Nation (2009), reading rate and comprehension are inextricably linked; as an ELL begins to control faster reading, comprehension is also likely to increase. This is because the meaning of a sentence becomes clearer when it takes less time to link the beginning, middle, and end of a sentence together. Likewise, a higher level of fluency is achieved as the comprehension of a text as a whole becomes more apparent when a series of sentences can be connected with meaning. If a student’s reading pace is too slow, it is easier to forget what had been previously read.

At the 2014 TESOL international convention, I provided my audience with a teaching tip on how to increase their learners’ reading rates and comprehension. During the presentation, I showcased a few of the most popular online speed reading applications and discussed the positive and negative aspects of using them with students; some are better than others. Often, these applications are used once or twice in the classroom with little effect other than frustrating both learner and teacher. Choosing the most appropriate reading method can be tricky, and during the presentation, I suggested that when choosing an application, a few considerations must be addressed.

Considerations for Increasing Reading Rate and Comprehension

First, there needs to be sustainability in the students’ practice with this particular method. This is best accomplished when systematically planned out over the course of a semester or term of at least 5 weeks. Trying the method once or twice will not usually increase a learner’s reading rate.

Second, the ultimate goal is for the learner to exert his or her own autonomy when applying the method. Practice should not be limited to the classroom but also applied at home, in other classes, and with a variety of reading material.

Finally, both learner and instructor should set realistic goals for increasing reading rate and comprehension. Striving for an increase of 300 words per minute in a week at 100% comprehension is admirable but not realistic. An average increase of 25 words per minute every semester might be a more appropriate goal. Each learner should practice reading a variety of texts at increasingly faster speeds. These texts should be carefully selected by the instructor to match the student’s reading level. The more practice the reader gets at a particular pace, the better that speed becomes internalized. Learners should be able to comfortably read a variety of texts (newspapers, books, online articles, etc.) at the practiced pace.

Popular Online Tools

Among the most popular online tools available for instructors and students include Spreeder, Spritz, and Eyercize, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Spreeder is a website that allows one to six words of text to be displayed at any speed set by the reader. The display of the text in is inherently inauthentic: whole sentences or blocks of text suddenly disappear and are replaced with new ones, making it difficult, if not impossible, to internalize the set pace.

Spritz is a relatively new source for online speed reading that works similarly to Spreeder. According to a blog written by two of the company’s founders, we all read by focusing on what is referred to as “an optimal recognition point” (ORP) or a letter in the middle of each word (Maurer & Locke, 2014). The software pinpoints the ORP in every word and colors the letter red. Words appear and disappear at the pace set by the reader, very much like Spreeder. While this software application may help someone move through a text at a much faster pace, it really only works well if the reader is a native speaker. Simply put, this does not translate well to day-to-day reading for ELLs.

Eyercize is a website designed to provide readers with a combination of paced reading and chunking practice. The reading rate can be set from 100 to 5,000 words per minute and can show up to 33 lines of text. The useful aspect of this tool is that the chunked words are highlighted for the reader to focus on while reading, which helps to break the habit of reading each individual word in a sentence. The negative aspect to is that only the website’s text can be used; no pasting option is available, which again makes it impossible for learners to practice using a variety of readings at various levels.

An Alternative: iMovie

In contrast to the aforementioned speed reading tools, I prefer to use iMovie as an instrument for paced reading in my ESL classes because it is very easy and quick to use. iMovie is a user-friendly video editing software program. It has been around since 1999, comes standard with all new Macintosh computers, and is also available for purchase from the Apple App store for about US$5.iMovie can be used to help learners internalize a particular reading pace by making a simple movie of moving text, which can be played on any computer device.

The steps are relatively easy. First, open iMovie, and start a new project (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Click and drag the scrolling credits option from the title browser into your movie screen, found on the top left-hand part of the screen (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Then, double-click on the default text and paste or type the text you want your learners to read. Next, you should edit the text so that it is easy to read (black font, size 18; see Figure 3).

Figure 3

The length of the film is essentially the pace in which the text moves. In the top left of the screen, there is an option to determine the duration of the movie, which is the reading speed (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Simply multiply the number of words in the text by 60 (seconds), divide that number by the desired words per minute, and you are ready to have your students practice paced reading.

The scrolling credits option that comes at the end of a film can help create a more realistic reading experience.Instead of using a program like Spreeder, where the text appears and disappears, iMovie text moves upward in a nonstop fluid motion, forcing the reader to adjust his or her reading rate to the calculated pace. This pace is better internalized as the reader can see exactly how fast they need to read in order to keep up with the pace. Parts of sentences can be reread if necessary, but the need to do so quickly before the lines disappear is also internalized. For more detailed step-by-step instructions on how to use iMovie as a tool for paced reading, view my presentation handout.


Maurer, M., & Locke, J. (2014, February 16). Why Spritz works: It’s all about the alignment of words [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Nation, P. (2009). Reading faster. International Journal of English Studies, 9(2), 131–144.

Luke Coffelt is a lecturer at the Ohio Program of Intensive English at Ohio University and the coordinator for the College of Business. He began his teaching career in Egypt, where he developed a passion for computer-assisted language learning. His recent professional focus has been on instructing English for specific purposes courses to undergraduate business students.



Adult educators have participated in user groups to learn about, search for, use, evaluate, and share science and math open educational resources (OER) through a project led by the American Institutes for Research and funded by the U.S. Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE). (Learn more about the Open Educational Resources to Enhance STEM Teaching and Learning in Adult education [OER STEM] project). According to the U.S. Office of Educational Technology, OER are “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits sharing, accessing, repurposing—including for commercial purposes—and collaborating with others” (National Education Technology Plan, 2013, p. 56). 

These materials can consist of full courses, course materials, modules, text books, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools. The addition of such material brings the science content out of the textbook into the hands of the student. Whether it is a video of shifting tectonic plates and the resultant earthquake which will ensue or an interactive lab where students put the three laws of motion to work in the design of a roller coaster, concepts come alive, enhancing student understanding and retention of the scientific concepts. One question that arose during the OER STEM project for teachers was: Have you used any of the OER lessons with ESL students? This question formed the foundation for collaboration between the adult basic education (ABE) and ESL programs at Garnet Career Center in Charleston, West Virginia.


The use of open educational resources (OER) in adult basic education has improved student engagement during my science classes at Garnet Career Center in Charleston, West Virginia, as well as the retention of basic scientific concepts or processes. As a result of my participation in the Open Educational Resources to Enhance STEM Teaching and Learning in Adult education (OER STEM) project, these valuable resources have been shared with adult educators throughout the state of West Virginia. Currently, OER are regularly utilized in adult education classrooms across the state. For additional information on the origin and use of open educational resources, this Teachers Without Borders web page is very informative.


The use of OER in an ESL classroom was something that none of the ABE or ESL staff at Garnet Career Center had considered. Mr. Shawn Wolfe, ESL developer and instructor at the West Virginia Department of Education Regional Education Service Agency 3, agreed to meet with me regarding the use of a science lesson that incorporated an open educational resource (OER) in his program. My proposal was that I would teach a science lesson, “Making Paper Clips Float” (WGBH Educational Foundation & Public Broadcasting Service, 2007–2014), which I had found on the OER Commons website. Our meeting produced the process and timeline for this project.

Targeted Audience

Mr. Wolfe selected an intermediate ESL class to participate in the lesson. The intermediate class was composed of adult learners representing eight different nationalities. The class size was 18 with an average attendance of 12 students per class.


Following completion of the class, students would be asked to respond to a survey comprising three open-ended questions:

  • Did you like a class focused on scientific concepts?
  • What part of the lesson surprised you?
  • What part of the lesson was the most interesting?


The lesson preparation included: teaching properties and concepts of water that ESL students may not know, the identification of academic vocabulary, and review of lesson structure to assure ESL classroom routines were utilized wherever possible. The ESL program uses a web application that scans text and highlights words according to predetermined categories. The ESL teachers routinely teach words highlighted in yellow, which represent academic vocabulary. All highlighted words in the lesson were taught as vocabulary during the introductory phases of the lesson. This site is not limited to ESL teachers. Any teacher can copy and paste text into the application for the identification of academic vocabulary.


Prior to the introduction of the OER science lesson, I gave a brief overview related to the characteristics and properties of water. To provide a visual image of the concept, I showed a slide from the OER Commons PBS science resource demonstrating how water is displaced when an object is introduced. I presented and defined the vocabulary for the lesson, while students also had the opportunity to ask questions. We identified various objects, and, as a class, students discussed whether the object would sink or float.

I gave students a 4”x6” note card and instructed them to write their prediction of the outcome of the experiment “Making Paper Clips Float,” and then I distributed supplies for the experiment. Students each conducted three trials of the experiment, recorded the results, and proposed an explanation if their paper clip did not float. Approximately one out of four students were able to make the paper clip float. Discussion centered on possible explanations, such as speed of placement, angle of placement, or amount of water in the cup. Students who were able to complete the experiment successfully demonstrated their process. Following the demonstration, approximately three out of four students were able to conduct the experiment successfully.

Next, students were given a small cup that contained several drops of dish soap. Before adding the dish soap to the water, I once again asked students to write a prediction related to the effect this would have on the paper clip. Casual observation of the phenomenon led several students to the conclusion that the dish soap pushed the paper clip through the water. After a discussion related to the properties of water, the class understood that the dish soap disrupted the surface tension of the water, causing water molecules to break away and bond with the dish soap rather than bonding with hydrogen atoms of other water molecules. The effect students observed was the water “pulling” the paper clip toward the rim of the cup. I then gave students time to experiment on their own with various objects, paper, soap, and pepper, and record their observations of each reaction. I asked students to complete a three-question survey on the lesson at the end of class.


Both Mr. Wolfe and I were pleased with the student response to the lesson. Students were engaged throughout the 90-minute class period. Discussion clarified any confusion as to vocabulary concerns expressed by students, as well as extended concepts creating a natural transition into individualized student experimentation. Results of the survey indicated:

  • Students were receptive to a “science” lesson. One student wrote, “It’s good way to explain the density and surface tension. So we can have an idea how the theory works.”
  • Students felt they learned more from incorrect predictions. Another student wrote, “Has been a long time since I don’t see or interact with science related experiments and I found this demonstration just spectacular. The water experiment made me guess and saw unexpected results. I LIKED IT.”
  • Students found the experimentation component to be the most interesting. A student commented, “I like this lesson. I started to remember my school in Russia. We had many experience but we had never had with water the same. I want to show it to my daughter (9 years old).”


OER science material can be used, with minimal adaptation, in the ESL classroom and is available free of charge to educators interested in using the material. The addition of vocabulary work as part of the introduction reduced the potential for miscommunication or lack of understanding due to communication differences. Based on the positive reception by ESL students and teachers, additional lessons will be modified for use during the 2014–2015 program year. Mr. Wolfe reported that many ESL students have a goal of passing the high school equivalency test. Therefore, the inclusion of OER science material in the ESL classroom will also provide an understanding of scientific concepts students will need for the examination. Finally, in an e-mail regarding the collaboration process, Mr. Wolfe made the following comment, “The students really enjoyed the lesson, and I certainly would be willing to collaborate anytime in the future. My goal is to make sure that at all levels of our program we are fostering the build-up of academic vocabulary so that it will be easier for learners from our program to transition into ABE” (S. Wolfe, personal communication, June 10, 2014).


Further collaboration between ABE and ESL programs would provide additional insight into effective modifications needed to utilize OER science materials across programs. A passage (500–800 words) of text on the topic of the lesson should be provided to students as part of the introduction to the scientific concept. Mr. Wolfe explained further,

One ESL strategy when teaching content or concepts is to “front-load” vocabulary by having the learners scan an article and highlight or circle words that are unfamiliar and to talk about their usage and meaning in small groups or as a whole class. This allows them to preview complex words so that when they later encounter them in instruction, they at least have a working memory of the vocabulary and are generally able to grasp new concepts much better. (S. Wolfe, personal communication, June 10, 2014)

Further collaboration of the ABE and ESL teachers at Garnet Career Center during the upcoming program year will allow for continued improvement of the presentation of OER STEM content in the ESL classroom.


National Coalition for Literacy. (2010, November 11). National Education Technology Plan includes adult education [National Coalition for Literacy Web log post]. Retrieved from, page 56

WGBH Educational Foundation & Public Broadcasting Service. (2007–2014). Surface Tension: Making paperclips float. Retrieved from

Leslie Humphreys, M.Ed, is an ABE teacher at Garnet Career Center with 14+ years in the field. She has served on both cohorts of the OER STEM project. Mrs. Humphreys is currently pursuing a doctorate in education with an emphasis on curriculum and teaching.


When I was a special education teacher, I always said, “Early intervention is important.”

Now that I teach adults who are struggling readers, I’m saying, “Intervention is important at any age, and it can empower adults to succeed.”

Imagine that you never graduated from high school. Would you be able to work at your current job without a diploma? What if English wasn’t your first language? What job could you do? What salary could you earn?

Imagine that you’re an adult who reads and writes at a fourth-grade level. How would your life be different?

Last August I started teaching adult basic education reading classes at a local community college located in northwest Illinois near the Wisconsin border. Eighty percent of the college district is rural and twenty percent is suburban in nature. There are about 6,000 students enrolled in the credit programs and about 900 students in the ESL or GED programs. My students are given a general survey assessment called the Test for Adult Basic Education to establish how well they read in general. The students in my class read at a fourth- to eighth-grade level, and most of them are trying to improve their skills so they can pass the GED test. They range in age from 19–65. Many of them attended public schools in the United States but never graduated due to reasons that include work/family economic needs, poor attendance, academic difficulties, or disengagement from school. English is the second language for some of the students who have moved here from Pakistan, Venezuela, and Mexico. They had already taken ESL classes at the college and were taking my class to improve their literacy skills. A few have learning disabilities or dyslexia. All of my students have a wide variety of skill levels and abilities.

On the first day of this reading class, each student entered nervously. My two volunteers and I were friendly and encouraging but I could feel the tension in the room. I tried to imagine what my new students might be thinking.

I hope that this teacher doesn’t make me read out loud in front of the class.”
“I’m so embarrassed about my spelling.”
“I don’t know when I can find the time to do any homework.”
“I wish it wasn’t so hard for me to understand the meanings of words.”
“I wonder if I should tell the teacher about my learning disabilities.”

During that first class I tried to help them understand their assessment results. They shared their personal reading-related goals with me. We worked together to create learning plans based on their needs. In my program, a battery of diagnostic reading assessments (using the Bader Reading and Language Inventory, the Word Meaning Test, and the Sylvia Greene’s Informal Word Analysis is administered individually to the new students in the class I teach. These assessments identify each student’s reading strengths and needs in alphabetics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. After their skill gaps are determined, we try to address their learning needs through leveled materials and small-group instruction.

During vocabulary lessons, the students orally discussed the words, did practice activities in small groups, and completed written work. To improve reading fluency, students worked in collaborative groups and orally read books at their reading level. Some students needed to work on alphabetics, so they worked on phonics lessons to improve their knowledge of syllabication rules and syllable types. Reading comprehension strategies were directly taught, modeled, and then practiced. Various groups were formed to practice strategies such as summarizing or using text structures. The goal was to provide evidence-based reading instruction that would teach students to engage with the text and read for meaning. My volunteer classroom aides and I made sure that the students understood that they were going to be defined by their abilities, not their deficiencies.

One day a student named Sandy commented to me, “I’m not smart since I can’t read well.”

Her statement brought back memories of the discussions that I had with my middle school students who had learning disabilities. I always told them, “You’re smart kids who just learn differently.”

I told Sandy, “Reading problems have nothing to do with intelligence. If English is your second language, then you may not have learned some basic skills. If you didn’t finish high school, then you may have missed instruction that would have helped you become a proficient reader. Students with dyslexia have brains that are wired differently, so they may not have received the specialized instruction they needed. In this class, you will learn and practice essential skills that will help you become a better reader. Everyone in this class is smart and has the potential to improve their reading.”

As the weeks passed, my students continued to work on reading accurately and rapidly, developing their academic vocabulary, and using reading comprehension strategies. Trust developed and no one was afraid to make mistakes or to ask questions. We shared stories, recipes, and supported each other. We had a baby shower for one mother-to-be and a going-away party for a woman who was traveling to her homeland of Pakistan.

During the final weeks of class, we read short biographies about adults who had overcome obstacles that included poverty, racism, illness, drugs, and violence. None of the people in these biographies were rich or famous. These “heroes” had found the strength to continue their education and become respected members of the community. The students connected to the people in these true accounts of perseverance and I was delighted when they begged me to let them take the books home so they could continue to read more stories.

One of my students, named Lisa, said, “Why can’t we write stories about our own lives? All of us have had to overcome challenges and we haven’t given up.”

“What a great idea!” I exclaimed. I knew their stories could be inspirational to other struggling readers here on campus. “We can also interview former students who have passed the GED and see how their lives have changed. Let’s do it!”

On the last day of class, it was heartwarming to see how these students had transformed. Their reading and writing skills had improved, but more important, each of them had gained confidence in their own worth and abilities. My students were chatting and laughing and hugging each other. We were all posing for photographs. They organized their completed work into categories that included vocabulary, fluency, alphabetics, and reading comprehension. Each student put their materials into their own binder so they could review the strategies and concepts that they had learned.

Everyone was excited when I said that my boss loved Lisa’s suggestion and that he gave us permission to write biographies that will be compiled into a book. Lisa and I scheduled a date to meet so we could work together to organize this biography project. Right now the working title for our book is Everyday Heroes From County College.

Over the years, I have had many memorable teaching experiences. Working with this class of adults has been one of the highlights of my career. I’m so grateful that I was able to facilitate the learning process for those involved. It’s never too late to empower students to succeed.


Bader, L.A., & Pearce, D.L. (2009). Bader Reading and Language Inventory (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Davidson, R. & Bruce, K. (2002). Davidson-Bruce Word Meaning Test. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy. Retrieved from

Greene, S. Sylvia Greene's Informal Word Analysis Inventory. (1996). Retrieved from


Kathy Young is an adult basic education reading instructor at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Illinois. For many years she was a special education teacher at a middle school and a high school. She is the author of Smart on the Inside – A True Story about Succeeding in Spite of Learning Disabilities. Her website contains free resources for teaching struggling readers.



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