TESOL Connections

Building Capacity Through Cascading ELT Professional Development: A Year in Uzbekistan

by Heidi Faust

This is the story of how TESOL International Association, together with George Mason University (GMU) and American Councils for International Education, designed a cascading professional development program to reach approximately 15,000 secondary English teachers across multiple regions of Uzbekistan. 

This is the story of how TESOL International Association, together with George Mason University (GMU) and American Councils for International Education, designed a cascading professional development program to reach approximately 15,000 secondary English teachers across multiple regions of Uzbekistan.

Shah-i-Zinda, Necropolis of Mausoleums, Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

The English Speaking Nation Secondary Teacher Training Program

In late 2019, TESOL and GMU were each granted subawards of the English Speaking Nation (ESN) Secondary Teacher Training Program in Uzbekistan, a program funded by the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy Tashkent and administered by American Councils for International Education, to advance the English proficiency and English language teaching (ELT) pedagogy in secondary public schools in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Education.

The program began with a context analysis led by GMU in collaboration with TESOL to help us understand the opportunities, resources, challenges, and areas of need. This article highlights key aspects of the program, which will continue through September 2022.


Understanding the teaching, learning, and cultural context in Uzbekistan was essential to our planning and development.

Culture and Language

Like other countries in Central Asia, Uzbekistan is a former Soviet Republic where plurilingualism is common. Uzbek and Russian languages are used in state and business matters, as a well as several other regional languages, such as Tajik and Karakalpak. A large majority of the population are Muslim, and traditional familial gender roles and hierarchical relationships are commonly observed in the regions.

Teaching and Education

Female teachers often have extensive responsibilities in the home that sometimes compete with professional development opportunities, especially those involving travel. Classrooms are generally hierarchical with the teacher and the textbook at the center of knowledge, and curriculum can be highly regulated with limited teacher and student autonomy. Public school teachers also work 6 days a week in most settings and commonly take on additional private tutoring or extra jobs to supplement their salaries. In rural areas, English-speaking environments can be hard for teachers and students to access, and English teacher proficiency levels typically range from A2–B2 levels on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Other Considerations

Frequent interruptions to electricity along with limited or expensive internet access have created barriers to the development of digital literacy skills, with a primary reliance on cell phones as a digital tool for communication and learning. Running the program during the COVID-19 pandemic added more layers of complexity to our program.

All of these factors impacted where, when, and how teacher development opportunities were delivered.

Cascading Structure

To build capacity in the program and to make it scalable, we planned to implement a cascading training model, which included engaging local ELT professionals supported by TESOL and GMU instructors, TESOL coaches, and ESN coaches from American Councils:

  • Core Trainers (CTs): teachers with the strongest English skills and capacity for facilitating professional development, who will have earned the TESOL Core Certificate

  • Regional Peer Mentors (RPMs): high-performing teachers with strong potential for facilitating professional development

  • Mentees: teachers from secondary public schools from regions with a high need for ELT capacity building

The first phase of the program focused on the development of the core trainers and subsequently approximately 300 regional peer mentors who took the TESOL Core Certificate ProgramTM (TCCP), and many also participated in the Teaching English Through English online course developed and facilitated by the GMU team, led by Dr. Joan Kang Shin.

To enhance the English proficiency levels in classroom and professional English, some RPMs also participated in the National Geographic EL Teach program. Approximately 220 CTs and RPMs participated in one of two weeklong ELT development training of trainers programs following the TCCP and Teaching English Through English course to prepare for cascading training to the other RPMs, who will mentor the mentees in the final phase of the program. Figure 1 shows the cascading structure, which will ultimately reach approximately 15,000 teachers from secondary public schools, with the first wave of cascading beginning Spring 2022.

Figure. Cascading structure of the English Speaking Nation Secondary Teacher Training Program (Source: American Councils and ESN Program). (Click here to enlarge)

Throughout these professional development programs, teachers collaborated regionally and nationally, enhanced their English language and teaching pedagogy, and began to prepare to facilitate professional learning with their colleagues. Professional development was designed and delivered by expert TESOL instructors and coaches, George Mason University Faculty, and ESN coaches from American Councils.

Training of Trainers participants share the certificates they earned in the TESOL Core Certificate Program courses.

TESOL Core Certificate Program

The TCCP is an internationally recognized 140-hour short-term certificate program that includes 120 hours of coursework delivered in two 60-hour courses: Foundations of TESOL and a specialty course, in this case Teaching and Assessing Adolescent Learners. Teachers also complete a 20-hour practicum, which includes 10 hours of observation and 10 hours of teaching.

The TCCP is typically offered online asynchronously. In consideration of the context and challenges presented in virtual learning, we adapted the courses for face-to-face delivery and employed strategies for content-based instruction to support teacher comprehension of the more theoretical and academic aspects of the course in English. We were prepared to teach the first cohort of CTs in spring of 2020 but postponed until summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several more sessions were planned and postponed until we pivoted back to virtual instruction and offered the first 40 hours of the Foundations of TESOL course to the CTs in November 2020, with the hope of finishing in person, but ultimately conducted the remainder of the first course virtually.

Online Course Adaptations

Our instructional development team drew on the expertise of Dr. Gena Bennett, Dr. Nancy Ackles, Lisa Mann, and Elise Brittain, all of whom had experience working in the region. In order to consider contextual challenges and scaffold the virtual learning experience, we made several adjustments to the delivery and content of the online Foundations of TESOL course, which included providing scaffolds for the language, content, and technology of the course:

  • We moved the course to Google Classroom to allow for easy storage and access to documents, but also relied heavily on the Telegram messaging app for course communications, discussions, and sometimes assignment submissions.

  • To support language development and access to the content, we created video lecture PowerPoints from academic readings to reduce the linguistic demands and provide multiple listening and reading opportunities.

  • We utilized online vocabulary tools and games like Quizlet to support course vocabulary practice, while also embedding tools teachers could use with their students.

  • We doubled the length of each module to be delivered over 2 weeks instead of 1 to provide more time to digest the content.

  • We added synchronous online sessions each week to support engagement, speaking practice, and modeling of key course concepts.

  • For assignment completion, we provided a variety of high tech/low tech options. For example, teachers could choose to summarize their learning by creating a digital infographic, or they could hand draw a graphic organizer and submit a picture of it.

This model stretched us as developers and instructors, and also stretched the CTs, many of whom engaged in an online course for the first time.

In-person Courses

We delivered the Adolescent Learners course of the TCCP in-person for the core trainers, employing an experiential and inquiry-based approach that modeled learner-centered and communicative pedagogies. With the support of American Councils, 13 sections of the TCCP were offered, two blended, and the rest fully in person across 6 regions of Uzbekistan during 2021. COVID-19 precautions included preentry COVID-19 tests, daily temperature checks, and use of masks.

TCCP courses were taught by TESOL instructors and coaches, ESN coaches, and one CT in Tashkent, Fergana, Namangan, Bukhara, Samarkand, and Nukus. American Councils provided in-country logistical support. Following the 120 hours of coursework, CTs and RPMs began their practicum. Coaches provided model lessons and feedback on observations for CTs, who would in turn support RPMs in their practicums, yet another part of the cascading training and mentoring.

ELT Development Program (Training of Trainers)

The Training of Trainers program brought CTs and RPMs from the regions to Tashkent during one of two weeklong sessions held 20 September to 2 October 2021. The agenda included activities to review and synthesize learning from the previous courses, a 2-day institute on The 6 Principles for Exemplary Teaching of English Learners® which culminated with cooperative microteaching led by TESOL trainers Dr. JoAnn (Jodi) Crandall, Mary Scholl, Dr. Gena Bennett, and myself; introduction to training planning tools and best practices led virtually by George Mason faculty and facilitated by ESN coaches locally; and, finally, team action planning and workshop development in regional teams.

Teachers engage in cooperative learning activities and summarize key concepts before giving group presentations.

The TESOL 6 Principles training program included scaffolded facilitation plans and materials written to be accessible at the A2–B1 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, developed in collaboration with TESOL consultant and trainer Linda Wesley. The Training of Trainers program was also facilitated in collaboration with ESN coaches from the American Councils ESN U.S. Coaching Program. CTs and RPMs prepared action plans to conduct between 40–50 hours of training upon return to the regions.

TESOL Coaches

To provide continuity, language models, and classroom-based feedback and mentoring over time, TESOL selected five ELT coaches to go to Uzbekistan to work with CTs and RPMs in the regions for periods of 3–9 months. Arriving in time for the Training of Trainers program, several coaches were able to meet the CTs and RPMs and support the development of action plans and workshops for the cascading training of both the Teaching English through English course and the 6 Principles. Additionally, coaches taught the final three sections of the TCCP and were able to support practicum observations immediately following the course completion by leading observation and feedback sessions at local schools with the presenting teacher and local CTs and RPMs.

ELT Development Program (Training of Trainers) TESOL Facilitators, TESOL Coaches, and ESN Coaches.

In January and February of 2022, amidst a return of the pandemic and national school closings, coaches helped the CTs and RPMs in conducting virtual teaching and observation lessons on Zoom, supporting the preparation of cascading training plans and schedules, and developing proposals for the TESOL Regional Conference to be held in Tashkent in June. RPMs are finishing their practicums in February and plan to begin cascading in March.

TESOL Coaches, Left to Right: Lizabeth England, Tamrika Khvtisiashvili, Armen Kassabian, Laura Hancock (missing from photo is Yuta Otake).

TESOL Regional Conference

The TESOL Regional Conference, entitled “Language Teachers as Innovators: Digital Literacies and Communicative Approaches,” will be held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan 13–16 June 2022 and is expected to bring together approximately 600 ELT professionals in discussion of “ELT innovations in the advancement of learner-centered, communicative English instruction; digital and multiliteracies; and ELT professionalism within a Central Asian context” (TESOL International Association, 2022). CTs and RPMs have also worked with ESN and TESOL coaches to prepare proposals for the event.

Professionalism and Capacity Building

Through the work highlighted in this article, it was important to consider sustainability and capacity building. Though our PD programs aimed to lay a strong foundation for the advancement of ELT in Uzbekistan, we aspire to support teachers in their own continuous professional development.

Through the ESN program, we provided TESOL memberships to 90 CTs and more than 300 RPMs. Important to the sustainability of the program was scaffolding the learning, mentoring, and facilitating process. As teachers have observed and provided collegial feedback in classroom teaching, developed training plans and cofacilitated professional development with their peers, and prepared proposals—and will soon present conference presentations—we hope they likewise will engage with ELT colleagues globally through the association and continue to contribute to the field of ELT, both in Uzbekistan and as global TESOL members.

Participants of the ELT Development Training of Trainers Program, Tashkent.


TESOL International Association. (2022). TESOL Regional Conference 2022. https://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/tesol-academies-conferences-symposiums/upcoming-regional-tesol-conferences/tesol-regional-conference-2022


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Heidi Faust, Consultant on Grants and Special Projects for TESOL International Association, directs the TESOL English Speaking Nation Grant Subaward on behalf of TESOL, along with other blended professional learning projects. She has led international ELT capacity building projects in Peru, India, the Dominican Republic, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, and has developed and facilitated online and in-person professional learning programs with teachers from more than 100 countries.

TESOL Board Connect: The 4 Es of Volunteering for TESOL

by Gabriela Kleckova

TESOL 2021–2022 President Gabriela Kleckova considers all she has gained by being an active member of TESOL, from taking on small volunteer roles over two decades ago to accepting the highest office in the association. She shares the four Es, as she's come to call them, of volunteering for TESOL: enjoyment, engagement, excitement, and education. 

As my term as TESOL president is coming to an end, I would like to take this opportunity to share what volunteering with the association means to me.

I joined TESOL in 1999 and I’ve always been an active member of the association. I have gone from small volunteer roles to roles with higher responsibilities, and I’ve taken part many times in TESOL’s online and face-to-face professional learning and networking opportunities.

I have continued seeking opportunities to volunteer for four key reasons—the same reasons I decided to run for the highest office in the association and serve as TESOL president. They are the fantastic pay-offs for giving time and energy to the organization. I call them four Es: enjoyment, engagement, excitement, and education.

Volunteering in TESOL Offers Enjoyment

Overall, I find joy, satisfaction, and pleasure in creating and shaping conditions that make other people feel good and that allow me to find and support people’s potential. Volunteering in TESOL has allowed me to work with colleagues to create situations that make members feel satisfied professionally and personally. It has allowed me to interact and contribute, and to help build a place of collaboration with and of a diverse group of professionals who share similar passions.

The joys of serving and seeing the association blossom are similar to those joys I feel with my students when good things happen in the classroom—when I succeed in creating opportunities for our learners that allow them to thrive and grow.

Volunteering in TESOL Offers Engagement

Volunteering offers another level of engagement and social interaction with colleagues beyond professional encounters at TESOL events and activities. I have been able to make connections with people from various professional contexts and of various professional interests while joining efforts with them for a common purpose.

Volunteering in TESOL Offers Excitement

Serving in TESOL has provided me with thrills! Although I have had moments as president when the thrill was of a nerve-wracking nature, serving has mostly led to the feeling of great excitement associated with making a difference and bringing members together. It’s a constant and gratifying challenge to meet the needs of the members, with their various levels of expertise, backgrounds, expectations, and desires. It’s always exciting to figure out how to initiate a change or add to something—a service, program, or publication—in order to serve the members’ needs and help them feel welcome and at home.

Volunteering in TESOL Offers Education

Any leadership position I have served in has offered me, like an education course, multiple lessons and series of lessons on one topic. I have not only learned about the culture of the association, but I have also had the opportunity to develop new ideas, experiences, and skills as a professional and a person. Interestingly enough, I sometimes have difficulty separating my learning outcomes from taking part in professional learning provided by TESOL and the learning outcomes of volunteering in TESOL. Both have afforded me new insights about the profession, leadership, myself, and the world through discussions and joint activities with fellow professionals from the different corners of the world.

Back to the Beginning: What TESOL Means to Me

In April 2021, I wrote about what TESOL means to me. As I reflect on what I wrote then about membership in TESOL, I discover my volunteering with TESOL has enhanced the value of TESOL membership for me. This has been true from my very first volunteer experience as a TESOL student e-list comanager to my most recent one as TESOL president.

Like membership, my many years of volunteering in TESOL are a collage of professional and personal experiences that have made me a better professional—and in many ways even a better person. Being a part of member governance groups composed of diverse professionals has transformed my beliefs, ideas, and actions inside and outside the classroom and my leadership positions. Volunteering with colleagues from various multilingual contexts worldwide has changed me:

It has made me more open-minded and respectful of the variety of human beings we work with.

It has made me more aware of the world outside the Czech Republic.

It has inspired and informed my work as a second language teacher educator and leader.

If you wish to expand your professional learning opportunities and networking in TESOL, I would like to encourage you to seek ways to volunteer and join others in building our professional home and contribute to the advancement of English language teaching and the association itself. There are many ways to get involved in TESOL. If you are currently volunteering or have already volunteered with TESOL in its 56 years of existence, I would like to express my deep gratitude for you choosing to serve and to build the global community of English language teaching professionals and our profession.

The ride with TESOL.

Thank you, TESOL, for all the enjoyment, excitement, engagement, and education I have experienced on your grounds. Thank you, members, for electing me as your president and giving me the opportunity of serving in a unique leadership position. I have had a memorable ride with TESOL. It has been fun and an honor to serve you as TESOL president for 2021–2022.

P.S. I would be happy to discuss with you your volunteer experiences in TESOL or your interest in volunteering with the association. Please reach out to me!

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Gabriela Kleckova, PhD, is TESOL International Association president (2021–2022). She chairs the English Department at the Faculty of Education, University of West Bohemia, in the Czech Republic. She has taught a wide range of general English courses and ESOL professional courses for preservice and in-service teachers of various cultural and language backgrounds. Her professional interests include the effectiveness and utility of visual design of ELT materials, teacher education, innovation in education, and leadership. You can follow Gabriela’s year of leading the association on Instagram @tesol_president to engage in dialogue and to think about the profession.

Creative Activities for Improving Students' Public Speaking Skills

by Lisa Leopold
Training in public speaking can yield enormous benefits. These activities help hone ELs' verbal and nonverbal presentation delivery skills. 

A large-scale survey among U.S. college students, which replicated earlier studies among the general population, found that fear of public speaking was more common than the fear of death (Dwyer & Davidson, 2012). Those survey results are reflective of speeches delivered in one’s first language, so imagine the fear nonnative-English-speaking students must experience when delivering a speech in their second, third, or fourth language. In fact, research shows that public speaking is extremely challenging for nonnative English speakers (Barrett & Liu, 2016), yet it is also essential for their success (Zhang & Ardasheva, 2019). Despite the importance of public speaking, most English for academic purposes (EAP) programs prioritize academic literacy over oratory skills (Bankowski, 2010). However, training in public speaking can yield enormous benefits. Not only does it improve students’ oral English skills, but it also develops students’ critical thinking and enhances their intercultural communication skills (Lucas, 2013).

The following activities are intended to hone students’ verbal and nonverbal delivery skills for presentations. The activities were incorporated into a Professional Presentation Skills course for international graduate students at an advanced proficiency level, though they could easily be adapted for any intermediate or advanced EAP or English as a second language course in which students deliver presentations.

Improving Verbal Delivery Skills

Reducing Fillers

Excessive fillers (such as “um” or “ah”) may reduce a speaker’s credibility and distract the audience from the presenter’s main message. By drawing students’ conscious attention to their use of fillers, these activities are intended to reduce their frequency.

Game 1

In the first game, one student speaks in front of the class (about a topic of his or her choice or a given topic) for 1 minute. Every time the student uses a filler, the class claps their hands, and one student in the audience counts the total number of fillers the speaker used. The cycle is repeated until all students have delivered a 1-minute speech. The student who has used the fewest number of fillers wins the game.

Game 2

In the second game, the class is divided into two teams seated on opposite sides of the classroom. One student from each team stands in front of the opposing team to speak (simultaneously) about a topic the opposing team selects. As soon as either speaker uses a filler word, that student is “out,” and the other team wins a point. The game continues until all students have spoken, and the team with the highest score wins the game.

Improving Voice Projection

A powerful voice commands attention and is particularly important when speaking to a large audience. This activity is intended to help students project their voices when speaking in a large auditorium and is best conducted in a spacious venue or outside.

Students form two lines facing each other (no more than 12 inches apart). With the person directly across from them, students carry on a conversation about any topic (e.g., their coursework, their weekend plans), as they continue to step farther apart from their classmate. They must project their voices loudly to be heard by their partner over the other voices in the room.

Improving Intonation, Pausing, and Stress

How a speech is delivered—in a monotone or passionate way—may have a lasting impact on the audience’s retention of information. This activity is intended to help students improve intonation, pausing, and stress in presentations.

Part 1: Analyzing the Speech

As students follow along with a transcript, they watch short recorded versions of two speakers: one monotone and the other passionate. For the monotone speech, I have used 11:03–11:31 of Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. For the passionate speech, I have used 27:47–28:05 of Cory Booker’s 2017 commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania. Students mark their transcripts for the intonation, pausing, and primary and contrasting stress they hear the speaker use. It is helpful to divide the class so that 1/3 of the students are focused on intonation, 1/3 on pausing, and 1/3 on stress. It is also helpful to allow them to listen to the speeches multiple times. The class debriefs afterwards on the lessons learned (e.g., where stress commonly falls, such as on contrasting words or on the last content word in a message unit, or where in a speaker’s delivery he typically pauses, such as at the end of a message unit).

Part 2: Delivering the Speech

All students in the class then receive excerpts from two different speech transcripts, which should be less than 1 minute when delivered orally. One speech excerpt is for themselves; the other is for their partner. No student pair should be assigned the same speech excerpts as another pair.

Working individually, each student marks the two transcripts for places to pause, words to stress, and how to use intonation. Working in dyads, each student reads aloud one of the passages as the partner follows along with the transcript they have marked. The listener provides suggestions for improving vocal variety, such as, “Try stressing this word, or try pausing longer after this phrase.” After all students have practiced honing their delivery skills with the help of their peer coach, they sit in the front of the classroom with their backs facing the projector screen behind them. One student stands up, facing the audience and the projector screen and delivers their passage aloud to the others. They use the words projected on the screen in front of them (which the instructor has prepared on a slide deck) as a teleprompter for their script. After all students have delivered their passages, they vote for the “best” delivery (other than their own), and the student earning the most votes is awarded a prize.

Improving Nonverbal Delivery Skills

Improving Eye Contact

Many presenters have the tendency to divert their eyes up or down, away from the audience, when thinking of what to say next. This activity is intended to help presenters sustain continuous eye contact.

Working with a partner, one student speaks for 1.5 minutes about a topic chosen by their partner. The partner claps their hands anytime the speaker breaks eye contact by looking up, down, or away. Then, students switch roles as the presenter and audience member. When they have mastered sustaining eye contact for 1.5 minutes, the length of time can be gradually increased.

Improving Hand Gestures

Many presenters gesture spontaneously, without careful planning, which sometimes results in repetitive, nonpurposeful hand movements. This activity is intended to help students use meaningful hand gestures.

Standing in a circle, students take turns demonstrating how they would gesture for various speaking purposes, to

  • emphasize a point,

  • show contrast between ideas,

  • indicate a division of points into categories,

  • enumerate points,

  • show receptiveness to the audience, and

  • encourage the audience to participate.

Students discuss cultural variations and taboo gestures (e.g., with which finger they start counting or whether it is considered impolite to point to the audience).

As a variation of this activity, students play “gesturing charades,” whereby one student draws a card with an instruction, such as “enumerate points.” The student uses a nonverbal hand gesture to convey this meaning, and the class guesses the meaning the student is trying to convey.


The aforementioned activities are intended to help students polish their presentation skills. As an added benefit, the activities build camaraderie and trust, thereby mitigating students’ fears of public speaking.

Note: A version of this article first appeared in the December 2021 issue of As We Speak, the newsletter for the TESOL International Association Speech, Pronunciation, and Listening Interest Section.


Bankowski, E. (2010). Developing skills for effective academic presentations in EAP. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 22(2), 187–196.

Barrett, N. E., & Liu, G. (2016). Global trends and research aims for English academic oral presentations: Changes, challenges, and opportunities for learning technology. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 1227–1271. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654316628296

Dwyer, K. K., & Davidson, M. M. (2012). Is public speaking really more feared than death? Communication Research Reports, 29(2), 99–107.http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08824096.2012.667772

Lucas, S. E. (2013). English public speaking and the cultivation of talents for Chinese college students. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 36(2), 163–182. https://doi.org/10.1515/cjal-2013-0011

Zhang, X., & Ardasheva, Y. (2019). Sources of college EFL learners’ self-efficacy in the English public speaking domain. English for Specific Purposes, 53, 47–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2018.09.004

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Lisa Leopold specializes in teaching English for academic and professional purposes to international graduate students. Her research interests include pragmatics and public speaking pedagogy.

Preparing ELs for Academic Interaction Listening Expectations

by Kate Kinsella
Provide multilingual learners with explicit preparation in expectations for attentive listening during content-based lesson interactions. 

College and career readiness initiatives within the United States aim to prepare K–12 learners for increasingly complex life, learning, and work environments. Across the school day, young scholars are expected to experience lessons integrating meaningful task-based interactions. The anchor speaking and listening Common Core State Standard for upper elementary and secondary coursework details expectations for productive lesson discussion and collaboration: SL1 “Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade (3-12) topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly” (CCSS, 2010). The standards architects clearly envisioned young scholars dynamically interacting with peers, thoughtfully voicing their perspectives on lesson content, and authentically listening. Though interdisciplinary educators readily assign problem-solving and complex literacy tasks to peer working groups, all too often they have failed to equip multilingual learners with the requisite expressive and interpretive skills. A consistent area of instructional benign neglect is explicit preparation in both the verbal and nonverbal expectations for attentive listening during content-based lesson interactions (Kinsella, 2016).

Students approaching core content in a language they are striving to master embark upon standards-aligned lesson interactions with pronounced listening challenges. Rubin (1995) points out that listening during lesson exchanges poses inordinate processing demands on second language learners because they “must store information in short-term memory at the same time as they are working to understand the information” (p. 8). In other words, the challenge of interpreting a teacher’s discussion prompt and expectations for a partner interaction or the assigned classmate’s perspective lies in the necessity to process input immediately and accurately, unlike in reading, where there is an opportunity to reread and digest the message.

Attentive Listening Training:
When Is It Needed?

Effective communication during a collaborative process requires more than a relevant lesson prompt, an affable elbow partner, and a conducive seating arrangement. As an instructional coach, I have observed multiple red flags during lesson observations that signal the need for a strategic intervention.

Predictable indicators that a class has not received practical training for the attentive listening demands of academic interaction include students who are displaying one or more of the following behaviors:

  1. not maintaining eye contact or nodding to demonstrate active engagement;

  2. speaking quickly and softly, prohibiting their partner’s accurate auditory processing;

  3. failing to ask clarifying questions when they have missed a portion of a partner’s response or don’t understand;

  4. offering ideas that have already been contributed without recognition; and

  5. not providing affirming feedback when lesson partners suggest an approach or provide relevant content.

Introducing Physical Features
of Attentive Listening

To effectively implement interactive lesson tasks with multilingual learners, it’s important to provide initial instruction in the physical features of attentive listening in U.S. classroom settings. Norms and expectations for body language during face-to-face exchanges can differ subtly or strikingly across cultures and communities. Within workplace and academic settings in the United States, for example, there are fairly consistent expectations that individuals establish and maintain eye contact while conversing, whether with peers or superiors, to demonstrate engaged listening and a modicum of respect. However, development of this critical “soft skill” is often overlooked in teacher preparation to work with students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. We shouldn’t rely upon our students’ ability to function as armchair anthropologists, skillfully noting communication protocol distinctions between their prior schooling and current setting.

In my experiences supporting multilingual learner communicative competence in K–12 and higher education, eye contact has proven to be the most nuanced and sensitive component of nonverbal communication. I advise preparing thoughtful notes to draw from when introducing this variable rather than improvising and running the risk of further confusing students about protocols for face-to-face interactions. I offer the following commentary for my students as a starting point for discussion.

Sample Notes for Introducing the Importance
of Eye Contact

In the United States, looking at someone’s eyes as you speak shows respect and active listening. It is so important in North American society that there is an expression “to make eye contact,” just like two magnets making contact and not coming apart. Looking away may tell the speaker that you are not interested, distracted, nervous, or unprepared.

This isn’t universal. In some communities and cultures, eye contact may not be so necessary or have different rules for showing respect, such as a child not looking directly at an elder’s eyes while speaking. Adjust your behavior and respectfully follow what you know to be appropriate at home and in your community. But at school and work, it is an expectation that you look directly at a person’s eyes when they are communicating important information to you. It is also vital when you speak to people who are helping you in official places, like a doctor’s office, a bank, or a police station.

Preparing Visual References for Nonverbal Features

Taking into consideration the class’s age range and context for schooling, it is useful to prepare a visual reference to graphically illustrate physical attributes of attentive listening. For example, the poster shown in Figure 1 was designed for elementary learners in a dual language program as part of a professional development initiative to increase the quality and quantity of academic interactions taking place across the school day. Students become more mindful of their body language during class discussions, whether teacher-led or with peers, when complemented by

  • nonjudgmental explanation,

  • modeling,

  • orchestrated practice, and

  • respectful reminders.

Conscientious attention to how they are presenting themselves physically during interactions serves English learners well as they navigate the school day communicating with different teachers, instructional aids, classmates, counselors, and administrators.

Figure 1. Demonstrating attentive listening: nonverbal communication. (Click here to enlarge.)

Building Productive Verbal Skills for Attentive Listening: Discussion and Collaboration

Classroom academic interactions include two major task types: discussion and collaboration. Many educators use the terms conversation, discussion, and collaboration interchangeably. If an English learner transitions from foundational coursework in a newcomer support context having only been instructed to “think-pair-share,” it can come as quite a surprise when core content-area teachers incorporate rigorous lesson tasks with expectations for mature discussion or collaboration.

Types of Academic Interactions

  • Discussion: exchanging ideas on an assigned topic with a lesson partner, group, or class, drawing from text evidence, lesson content, background knowledge, or prior experience

  • Collaboration: working together with a lesson partner or group on an assigned task to create a mutually agreed upon and jointly constructed response, solution, or project

Both academic interaction types necessitate more accountable listening than casual sharing. To lighten the cognitive load for English learners, educators across subject areas should strive for lexical precision when assigning lesson interactions and specify whether it is a brief informal conversation using everyday English, an academic discussion, or a collaborative endeavor. In this way, novice English speakers will at least approach the task with a clearer idea of the interaction process and intended outcome.

Addressing Language Functions
for Discussion and Collaboration

To engage appropriately in a lesson interaction and demonstrate attentive listening, all students benefit from planned, intentional instruction in expressions to accomplish a range of communicative purposes or functions (Dutro & Kinsella, 2010). Academic discussion and collaboration involve several overlapping language functions, but collaboration requires an additional linguistic skill set. Both entail expressive uses of language, such as stating and supporting opinions with evidence drawn from text sources, background information, or experience. Productive discussion and collaboration focused on academic content similarly hinge on recognizing others’ responses by agreeing, comparing, or building upon what has been stated.

Additionally, within a mature discussion or task-based collaboration, effective partners seek clarification when a contribution isn’t entirely clear and restate to ensure they have a firm grasp on intended meaning. Successful collaboration begins with equitable discussion, gleaned either through a roundtable exchange or elicitation of ideas by a proactive team member. However, the stakes for comprehension are much higher with a collective response than with a simple exchange of ideas. True collaboration on an assignment requires additional language skills for providing feedback, making suggestions, and negotiating before jointly completing the task and reporting on behalf of the team.

Sample Language Functions and Expressions
for Discussion and Collaboration

Compare Ideas

  • My idea is a lot like (Name’s).
  • My (opinion, reaction) echoes (Name’s).
  • My response is similar to (Name’s).
  • My (response, experience) is comparable.
  • (Name) and I have similar understandings.

Agree With Ideas

  • I agree with (Name) that ________.
  • I completely agree with (Name’s) idea.
  • I share your perspective.
  • I see your point.
  • A point well taken.

Restate Ideas

  • So, you think that ________.
  • So, your (idea, opinion, example) is that ________.
  • So, you’re suggesting that ________.
  • Yes, that’s (right, correct).
  • No, not exactly. What I (said, meant) was ________.

Build Upon Ideas

  • My idea builds upon (Name’s).
  • I appreciate (Name’s) perspective, and I would add that ________.
  • That is a point well taken; however, I would point out that ________.

Sample Language Functions and Expressions
for Collaboration

Contribute Ideas

  • We could (say, put, write) ________.
  • What should we (say, put, write)________?
  • I think ________ makes the most sense.
  • I think ________ would work well.
  • I think we should (add, include, consider) ________.

Affirm Ideas

  • That makes sense.
  • I see what you are saying.
  • That’s a great (idea, suggestion, solution).
  • That would work.
  • I completely understand.

Clarify Ideas

  • I don’t quite understand your idea.
  • I’m not certain I understand your position.
  • I have a question about ________.
  • What exactly do you mean by ________?
  • Can you explain what you mean by ________?

Report a Partner/Team’s Ideas

  • My partner (Name) pointed out that ________.
  • My partner (Name) indicated that ________.
  • According to (Name), ________.
  • We (decided, concluded, determined) that ________.
  • Our (response, reason, opinion) is that ________.

Preparing Directions for Lesson Interactions With Attentive Listening Tasks

We can support English learners in understanding the speaking and listening expectations for planned lesson interactions by preparing clear visual displays. In research and lesson coaching experiences, I have observed English learners approach partner and group interactions unclear about the procedural and linguistic expectations and needlessly struggling.

Rather than entrust the roles, steps, and anticipated responses to their auditory processing, prepare a set of visuals for common discussion and collaboration tasks. Embedding direction slides in presentations works well, as does displaying direction cards with a document camera. As students develop their repertoire of useful expressions for common attentive listening tasks, such as comparing and restating to verify understanding, proceed to more complex language priorities such as paraphrasing and building upon and affirming ideas.

The slides shown in Figure 2 were developed for a schoolwide endeavor to maximize student verbal engagement and initiate all students, English learners and English-only alike, to cross-disciplinary expectations for academic discussions.

Figure 2. Sample direction slides for partner discussion and class discussion. (Click here to enlarge.)

Establish Concrete Listening Tasks for Class Discussions

Beginning with novice English speakers in elementary and secondary contexts, I have experienced considerable success establishing dual goals for attentive listening in class discussions: 1) the focused listening and possible brief note-taking task; 2) the language function(s) and key expressions.

1. Focused Listening

Prior to launching a unified-class discussion, concretize students’ listening task in terms of the specific content they should focus upon and strive to record. Merely encouraging students to “listen carefully” is not likely to reap promising results. In addition to establishing consistent norms and expressions for attentive listening, such as comparing and building upon previously stated ideas, specify the content you are anticipating, whether an effective strategy for solving a problem or a serious impact on the environment.

2. Identifying Key Content

Having clarified and visibly displayed class discussion expectations, as in the slide (Figure 2), I am well poised to facilitate a brief postdiscussion partner interaction requiring peers to identify the key content that caught their attention. Knowing the class discussion will be followed by a partner interaction builds in greater accountability for engaged listening.

I follow the brief partner exchange by calling on a few students to share with the unified class what they found most compelling, using the assigned frame, for example, An effective strategy I heard was ________. This final reporting activity proves to enhance student interest while creating another vehicle for affirming students’ unique contributions and respectful listening.

I recommend preparing a suite of response frames such as those shown in Figure 3, each incorporating a different type of listening goal for discussion prompts within your curricula. Consider drawing from these common targets for tasks within language and literacy instruction:

  • a strong argument

  • a well-justified position

  • a thoughtful analysis

  • a creative interpretation

  • a relevant example

  • a possible reason

  • a major cause

  • a serious effect

  • a unique perspective

  • an interesting experience

Figure 3. Attentive listening frames examples. (Click here to enlarge.)

Final Thoughts

Instituting school-wide teaching practices for academic discussion and collaboration with established speaking and listening expectations will increase the odds that multilingual learners are equitably prepared to handle with aplomb the demands of real-life listening during vital interactions in their social, academic, and professional lives.

Additional Lesson Resources


Common Core State Standards. (2010). Applications of Common Core State Standards for English language arts and literacy. http://www.corestandards.org

Dutro, S., & Kinsella. K. (2010). English language development: Issues and implementation in grades 6-12. In Improving education for English learners; Research-based approaches (pp.151–207). California Department of Education.

Kinsella, K. (March, 2016). Attentive listening: An overlooked component of academic interaction. Language Magazine, 28–35.

Rubin, J. (1995). Introduction. In D. J. Mendelsohn & J. Rubin (Eds.), A guide for the teaching of second language listening (pp. 7–12). Dominie Press.

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and Appendixes A, B, and C 

Kate Kinsella, EdD writes curriculum, conducts K–12 research, and provides professional development addressing evidence-based practices to advance English language and literacy skills for multilingual learners. She is the author of research-informed curricular anchors for K–12 English learners, including English 3D, Language Launch, READ 180 ReaL Book, and the Academic Vocabulary Toolkit.

Adult Learners in SLW (Part 2): Using Graphic Organizers

by Joy Kreeft Peyton
Scaffolding writing using graphic organizers can facilitate text comprehension and help adult ELs shape key ideas. 

In the first article in this series, Rebeca Fernandez provides guidance on designing a course that provides adult English learners with multiple opportunities to use writing toward personal, academic, and professional goals. (See also discussion of these in Fernandez et al., 2017). The list of what learners need to be able to do in writing is long; mastering these skills is not easy; and students often feel anxious, alone, and unsupported as they seek to fulfill writing assignments which the teacher, often a native speaker of English, will read and judge (Martinez et al., 2011; Minahan & Schultz, 2015). In order to support them, teachers need to

  • develop and implement activities that connect oral language, reading, and writing that is related to the content that is the focus of instruction;

  • develop topics and structure for the writing;

  • align these with the writing standards followed in the program; and

  • ensure, through ongoing observation and assessment, that learners are developing these skills and abilities.

Providing many opportunities for learners to engage in academic and professional writing and providing clear, specific, visible supports for developing this type of writing is critical. Ferlazzo (2017) and Lee (2017) argue that the ability to produce written products at this level is achievable when students have appropriate supports of teacher guidance and scaffold-rich curricula.

Providing Scaffolds for Writing

There are a number of perspectives on ways to help learners be successful writers through supported interaction, scaffolding in the zone of proximal development, and apprenticeship. Vygotsky (1962, 1968) described the process of learning in the space or “zone of proximal development,” in which the learner is working to solve a problem or accomplish a task, and the teacher or a more competent peer “scaffolds” the learning by working collaboratively with the learner and demonstrating ways to move forward.

One type of scaffold and support that can help adult learners develop proficiency with academic writing is graphic organizers, which provide a framework for shaping key ideas in a written piece. Also known as a knowledge map, concept map, story map, cognitive organizer, advance organizer, or concept diagram, a graphic organizer uses visual symbols to represent knowledge, concepts, thoughts, or ideas in a text and show the relationships among them.

Using Graphic Organizers in Instruction

Jiang and Grabe (2007) conducted research on the use of graphic organizers in reading instruction and concluded that they are an effective way to facilitate text comprehension because they make the structure of texts visible. Here, we focus on the use of graphic organizers to develop ideas for and approaches to writing an academic text with learners at different levels.

Wrigley and Isserlis (n.d.) provide examples of graphic organizers that can be used in adult English as a second language (ESL) literacy classes at many different levels of ability, fluency, and comfort with reading and writing. They argue that graphic organizers provide opportunities for basic-level literacy learners (in any language) to contribute content and information and to raise topics and questions of interest as part of the process of developing oral and written language (e.g., getting to know one another, listing languages that they speak, listing favorite activities). LINCS and KET Education also have helpful resources for using graphic organizers with adult learners.

Two commonly used graphic organizers are a KWL chart and a Venn diagram, which are widely used in K–12 and adult education. Here, I give an example of how each one could be used in an adult education class, with the focus and vocabulary of a specific lesson topic. In the next sections, I describe less commonly used graphic organizers.

Table 1 shows a KWL chart developed by a class that is studying, thinking about, and using vocabulary related to climate change.

Table 1. Example KWL Chart – Climate Change


Want to Know


Earth’s temperatures are getting warmer.

What are all of the causes of climate change?

Climate change is caused by both natural changes to the earth and oceans and by human activity.

Another topic that a class might focus on is key features of the countries of origin of the students in the class. Students might work in pairs and complete a Venn diagram, each focusing on their country. They would write the name of one country at the top of one of the circles and the other country at the top of the other circle. Working together, they would list features of their countries that are different, in the outer part of the circles, and features that are the same in the center section. This activity could lead to a considerable amount of discussion, reading, and writing. If the entire class then came together to consider the countries of origin of all of the students in the class, the Venn diagram would have as many overlapping circles as the countries involved (see Figure 1). The result could be writing informational pieces (about one’s own or another person’s country), comparative writing (describing how the two countries are similar or different), or argumentative writing (making a statement about the key features of the two or more countries and defending it with data).

Figure 1. Example Venn diagram: countries students are from.

Using Graphic Organizers With Students at Different Levels

Graphic organizers can be used with adult English learners at different levels, from low beginning and beginning to advanced. (Some of these examples come from interviews that Kirsten Schaetzel, Rebeca Fernandez, and I did with adult ESL teachers about ways that they teach writing. The approaches are described in more detail in Peyton & Schaetzel, 2016.)

Scaffold 1: Writing Support
Beginning Literacy and Low Beginning Proficiency Levels

One teacher whom we interviewed works with adult learners who are beginning writers. She scaffolds their writing as they move from writing a single sentence to a paragraph. The writing support that she provides is a simple statement on the board each day with the date, which the learners copy in their notebooks:

    ➣ Today is Monday, February 19, 2018.

    After a few weeks, she adds a second sentence, like one of these:

      ➣ Today is Presidents' Day.
      ➣ The weather today is cold.

      The students copy both the date sentence and the new sentence. Later, without having written on the board, she asks them to write two sentences in their notebooks; students have their previous writing in their notebooks to use as models. It is easy to see how this simple writing support could develop over time, until the students are continually writing topic-focused paragraphs about the content on the board or in their notebooks.

      Scaffold 2: Conversation Grid
      Beginning Literacy and Low Beginning Proficiency Levels

      Another writing support that a teacher we interviewed uses is a conversation grid. Each student has a piece of paper with four student names across the top and four questions in a column down the left side of the page. Each student goes to four different students, asks one of the four questions of each student, and writes the answer in the appropriate space in the grid. Table 2 gives example questions and the answers for one student.

      Table 2. Conversation Grid Example: Asking About Backgrounds and Interests

      (Click here to enlarge.)

      This simple exercise can build over time, to more and more complex writing. Students might start by writing a few words (e.g., Juan, 2019, family and job; cars) and gradually move to writing phrases and then sentences, as this student did. They might move to asking each student they talk with all four questions, writing the answers in the spaces in the grid, and then writing summaries of the responses, comparing the responses, and sharing with others (orally or in writing) a summary of what they have learned. Like the previous examples, this can lead to informative/descriptive writing, comparative writing, and argumentative writing. That is, a teacher can start with a relatively simple activity and build it over time.

      Scaffold 3: RAFT
      Intermediate Levels and Multilevel Classes

      Students at intermediate levels are often part of multilevel classes, which can present challenges for teachers seeking to facilitate the writing of students with different background knowledge and language proficiencies.

      One graphic organizer that students can use alone or in groups, at their proficiency level, is RAFT, in which they think about a piece of writing from different perspectives and fill in a chart, answering these questions, before they begin to write a paper.

      Role: Who am I as a writer?
      Audience: To whom am I writing?
      Format: What form will the writing take?
      Topic: What is the subject or focus of the piece of writing?

      Calderón et al. (2018) give an example of what these components might look like in different writing activities. See Table 3 for an example I’ve created in a similar format. These components would be adjusted by the teacher and the students, depending on students’ interests and proficiency levels and the focus of the class, unit, or lesson.

      Table 3. RAFT Example: Global Warming

      (Click here to enlarge.)

      Completing the RAFT chart for different writing pieces gives students opportunities to explore different genres, styles, and tones and to consider different points of view on a topic. It also helps students to frame what may seem like an overwhelming assignment, to begin thinking about what they will write, and to lessen their anxiety in completing the assignment.

      Here is an example of a blank chart that students might fill in. Students would complete each section, alone or in pairs or small groups, and then develop their piece.







      Writing Piece



      Scaffold 4: Force Field Analysis
      Advanced Levels

      Finally, students at advanced levels need to be able to enter fully into the endeavor of writing academic texts. While they bring a considerable amount of language proficiency and personal resources to the task of writing, now they need to complete more high-stakes writing assignments.

      One graphic organizer for doing this that has been adapted and used by an adult English as a foreign language educator is Force Field Analysis (Van Bogaert, 2017). It was created by social psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1940s as a guide for individuals to make a decision or a change in their lives by analyzing the forces for and against a particular topic or proposed change and considering or communicating the reasons behind the decision. Using this graphic, individuals or groups in a class can consider both “driving” forces (that would promote change) and “restraining” forces (that would inhibit change). (See Figure 2.)

      Figure 2. Force field analysis example.

      In life generally, this can be a helpful way for students to think through personal decisions, life goals, and responsibilities. When used to support writing development, it can be a way to “unstick thinking”:

      • visually represent different views about or approaches to a topic,

      • organize those views in a systematic way,

      • generate ideas and develop a thesis or opening statement,

      • support the ideas generated, and

      • explore perceptions or opinions of opposing parties.

      With her university students, Van Bogaert (2017) used this graphic to generate and organize points that were relevant to papers they were writing. For example, working together, they generated ideas for a paper about why action on climate change has been limited, articulating driving forces (some people are pushing for industry changes) and restraining forces (some industries do not want to change), which includes recognition of different perspectives on its reality and its impact on different individuals and sectors of society.


      We have been able to see that students engaged in academic writing need not only continuous practice with writing and effective feedback on the writing they produce, they also need supports that place them in a community of writers and help them to generate and organize their ideas before they begin writing and while they are developing ideas or expressing them in a piece of writing. In the final article of this series (Part 3) on teaching adult learners second language writing, Kirsten Schaetzel discusses the use of test prompts to guide the teaching of academic writing.


      Calderón, M. E., Slakk, S., Carreón, A., & Peyton, J. K. (2018). ExC-ELL: Expediting comprehension for English language learners (3rd ed.). Margarita Calderón & Associates.

      Ferlazzo, J. (2017, April 22).Ways to teach ELLs to write academic essays: A discussion with Larry Ferlazzo. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-response-teaching-ells-to-write-academic-essays/2017/04

      Fernandez, R., Peyton, J. K., & Schaetzel, K. (2017, Summer). A survey of writing instruction in adult ESL programs: Are teaching practices meeting adult learner needs? Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education, 6(2), 5–20.

      Jiang, X., & Grabe, W. (2007). Graphic organizers in reading instruction: Research findings and issues. Reading in a Foreign Language, 19(1), 34–55.

      Martinez, C. T., Kock, N., & Cass, J. (2011). Pain and pleasure in short essay writing: Factors predicting university students’ writing anxiety and writing self-efficacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(5) 351–360.

      Minahan, J., & Schultz, J. J. (2015, January). Interventions can salve unseen anxiety barriers. The Phi Delta Kappan, 96(4), 46–50.

      Peyton, J. K., & Schaetzel, K. (2016). Teaching writing to adult English language learners: Lessons from the field. Journal of Literature and Art Studies, 6(11), 1407–1423. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309467693_Teaching_Writing_

      Van Bogaert, D. (2017, April 8). Force field analysis: A practical planning tool for professional development. Presentation at the Conference on Language, Learning, and Culture, Virginia International University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA.

      Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. MIT Press.

      Vygotsky, L. S. (1968). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.

      Wrigley, H., & Isserlis, J. (n.d.). Into the box out of the box grids, graphs, and ESL literacy. http://www.centreforliteracy.qc.ca/sites/default/files/GridsSurveys.pdf

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      Joy Kreeft Peyton is a senior fellow at the Center for Applied Linguistics, in Washington, DC. Her work, which focuses on language and culture in education, includes working with teachers and program leaders in K–12 and adult education settings to improve their instructional practice and study the implementation and outcomes of research-based practice. Her work includes implementing and studying approaches to writing that facilitate engagement and learning and promote academic and professional success.