As I’m on my journey, I thought I’d start a ‘where to go’ section for myself (and you) for resources and lesson ideas. Referenced where possible!


See English as a global language.


We teach many idioms in ESOL, but I have never even thought of covering idioms in literacy, and I have no idea why.

I think it depends on the purpose of the activity to be honest, and its validity in a learner’s development. You could do a similar activity to the one above (but maybe with more relevant examples to them). They could make a fun coded idiom letter to a friend.


Create a crossword where the answers start with some selected prefixes. You can obtain the necessary software from as suggested in SfLQI


Differences between formal and informal English in the Adult ESOL Core Curriculum, p. 99. as suggested in SfLQI


Source materials for work on synonyms, go to the online visual thesaurus at: as suggested in SfLQI

Making sense of spelling


Today, we were directed towards Millar, R. & Klein, C. (2002) Making Sense of Spelling: A guide to teaching and learning how to spell. SENJIT: London. I love books like this that give you easy to follow checklists and methods to use in class. The following are ‘instructions’ slightly adapted so I can print them off easily (my memory is rubbish mid-class sometimes!), but all ideas are taken from pages 15-18.

Step 1

  • Looking at a piece of the learner’s own writing, group errors to find patterns such as rules, letter patterns, suffixes and prefixes (catalogue errors on the Spelling analysis learner self assessment for your file to help you select words to be learned). An example of the spelling assessment, and a piece of learner writing are below.
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  • Select a maximum of 10-12 words with the learner
    • choose words which learners spell nearly right/learner already knows similar word
    • choose words which the learner uses often
    • choose ones they want to learn
    • choose common words
    • choose words with common patterns (but don’t present confusing ones in the same week)

Step 2

  • Make a list of appropriate words for learners to spell. You could use the ‘spelling’ column on the Spelling and dictation record sheet I made, along with a few other documents in here that I find useful. I also find it useful to print all spelling stuff on coloured paper. Working anywhere, nevermind on outreach, colours help my organisation(slightly).

Step 3

Use Look say cover write check with the learners. They can keep this to practise at home (as I only see my group at the moment once per week) but I usually take a photo of it (just in case they lose it, and also for evidence of their progression).

Step 4

The following week,  using the dictation columns of the Spelling and dictation record sheet complete a dictation exercise with learners, ensuring that the learner:

  • repeats the word aloud
  • writes it
  • spells it orally
  • if a learner makes a mistake
    • ask them if they can find it, but don’t let them struggle. Show them the right spelling, compare and discuss. Make a note of any difficulties on the spelling record sheet.
    • get them to look at it again, and write it from memory – add the word to next week’s list (on the spelling record sheet)
  • add words learned to a personal dictionary (usually an exercise book that they can keep with them).

They suggest that dictations should also involve writing sentences using words that they already know to give practice.

  • dictate a sentence
  • get the learner to repeat it and write it from memory
  • get them to proof read immediately and correct errors
  • point out any errors and encourage them to correct them
  • if it’s not corrected, show the correct version and ask them to write it again from memory


Sometimes I’ve found it difficult to keep track of learner’s errors, so have at times not completed the spelling analysis. Also, even though class sizes are small, it can be hard to capture what is really happening, especially if you’re working with someone else. I’ve ‘caught’ learners throwing pieces of work away or changing their selections to synonyms they can spell, even with good levels of rapport and trust. This, of course, is a completely understandable coping mechanism for a skill which some have hidden away from others for years. Sometimes you have to encourage learners to take risks. Sometimes there’s just stuff you’ll miss, no matter how hard you try. People often come and go, depending on what is happening in the rest of their lives. I feel I need to get better at processes in an environment which doesn’t lend itself to processes sometimes.

Sometimes, I don’t get enough words per session from learners as the pace of work produced is slow, the words they find difficult are topic-specific, aren’t used frequently enough, or sometimes, they just don’t want to learn the words they’ve made mistakes with. I negotiate a lot with my learners. Sometimes possibly too much, but I’m always aware that they find it difficult, and there are often a lot of disputes in class, so sometimes it’s about making the best of what we’ve got on the day.

I’m going to try to use the above documents more, and print this page off as my ‘checklist’. I also have a volunteer, but with learners needing a lot of individual attention, it’s sometimes a bit thin on the ground with a tutor, a volunteer, and 5 learners.

I think I need to implement this more next term, and I’ll then be in a better place to reflect on my findings, as at the moment it kind of works, but the system doesn’t get followed. You might see this as my inability to control my classroom, or as adequate reflection in action. If a learner tells me they haven’t practised their spellings and can’t be bothered with them that day because their medication has changed too, then I don’t think I’m in a position to insist, but encourage.

Discourse markers cards


I found this and found it useful for learners working at E3+. Unfortunately it seems this has been reproduced a million times, so apologies if you’re the original creator and please let me know if you are. I found mine here though. discourse-markers-table-cards-495w

Learning is…


I’ve tried this activity before, and it more than fell on it’s rear end. I am pleased to say, and encourage you to, try something twice.

Once I had spoken to my group in session 1 (a few weeks ago now) about what they wanted to learn, and ironed out my plans to develop group goals, I introduced this activity again.

1. Learners picked a picture that represented learning to them.

2. They discussed this before being given a skeleton worksheet.

3. The learners wrote with varying complexity.

4. They fed their ideas back and agree to make a group poem, which will be published in the next edition of our magazine.

Enjoy! Learning is interesting and fun

Group work, and activating prior knowledge and its impact


In my first session this term, I had two E2 consolidating/emerging to E3 learners. It has always been apparent, but I was in a position to try something new, so I have been working on developing some group aims and objectives.

I started term by asking learners if they had anything they would like to learn as a group. I often find with literacy learners that they either give a blanket statement like ‘improve reading’ or decide they don’t want to do anything as a group because they don’t like to. I started to wonder. How much of the latter is actually true?

Unusually, I decided to go against my group and ask tell them about something I wanted to try and the reasons behind it. I told them I wanted to develop some group goals because I feel that there are benefits to group work they haven’t been open to exploring before.

I asked them what they thought the benefits were. One response was ‘there’s not!’. Another response was ‘well we’ve all got different things to educate ourselves about so what’s the point?’ This was the exact attitude that I wanted to diminish. I’ve been thinking that learners in homelessness services get treated solely as individuals to the extent that it sometimes changes their expectations of classes and inhibits opportunities for development. I started to question their responses and pose some hypothetical situations such as ‘what if I was busy and you were sitting waiting for me to finish with someone else? What could you do?’ eventually this elicited that they could ask someone else because they might also have the skills. One learner even suggested that this could be a better than asking a tutor sometimes.

I also threw a couple of suggestions in such as ‘when do you think team work would be useful outside of the classroom?’ They all agreed in their futures if they find employment, then this would be a beneficial skill to have.

Whilst I agree that learning in literacy especially should be predominately learner-led, it also highlight to me that often our adult literacy learners aren’t aware of things they don’t know yet. So it is up to my confidence to try to introduce them. I have lost count of the times when I’ve felt their motivation is low and linked this mainly with their unawareness of pre-study skills, including group work. We have open access classes, and sometimes I’ve tried not to scare learners off. Sometimes, I now see this has not been particularly helpful to their progress.

It has been easy in the past to steer clear of group work because most of the times I have done it, it’s gone horribly wrong. Either one learner wasn’t happy with the content, couldn’t agree with their peers, or just plainly didn’t see the point in the activities. The only thing that’s changed is my ‘pitch’ to the class as to why I think it’s important to develop speaking and listening skills and group work, and stick to my guns. So far (touch wood!), so good.

I started with the idea of group reading for pleasure. The learners didn’t seem so impressed at first.

I started with some photocopies of the front cover and elicited what the cover told them about the story. Immediately, they said the boy on the front looked like a ‘loveable rogue’ and they felt they identified with him on some level. Learners offered their stories of being children and being naughty, but being admirable with their cheekiness.

They discussed some questions then we went onto reading. Each learner took it in turns to read aloud. With lots of encouragement from me to signal when they’d had enough, and asked the group openly who would like to read next. I was amazed when they were offering to read aloud and relieve their peers from duty. As the chapter unfolded, and we stopped to think about what was happening and I concept checked to assess how much they were concentrating on decoding/barking v following the story. A few more activities were introduced, checking comprehension.

Learners fed back that it was easier to read as a group as sometimes you were reading, sometimes you were having a break, following the story, but concentrating more on listening. At the end of the session the feedback was amazing. One learner divulged that that was the first time in her life that she’d read a chapter of a book.

I’ve also been trying to do a warmer at the start of each session. I’ve been trying to relate them to the sessions, although a few have had, as the learners fed back, tedious links. The purpose of a few were to encourage the learners to talk to each other about their experiences, choices, develop listening skills and respect turn taking. They also served the purpose of highlighting any interests they might have had which I could use for future, and as most have involved some sort of sentence starter, as a way for me to see more examples of their writing other than a project. I think the activities have been working well, but what I need to do is stipulate what I am looking for more clearly than I have done.

Sometimes learners aren’t open to ideas. Sometimes, I think we’ve got to tell them why we think something is important, why we want to try it, and do it anyway.

Negotiating homework


This is a task for negotiating homework.

The purpose:

  • give me an opportunity to assess thinking skills (engagement in the activity)
  • give me an opportunity for me to see what they think about homework/know my learners better
  • give them the opportunity to think about homework and how important they think it is/how necessary for them

The task:

  • Ask learners if they know what a brainstorm is (not everyone knows!). Elicit answers.
  • Explain instructions/rules (give them on a separate sheet to keep) suggesting:
    • Select a scribe with post its and a pen
    • Write the first things that come into their head – there are no right or wrong answers
    • Try to get as many ideas as possible, making sure you let everyone put their ideas forward
    • Every idea has equal worth
    • Think about other people’s ideas and write any further ideas you’ve got, discussing them with each other
    • Give them a time limit (something which I sometimes forget to do, then remember a minute later!)
    • Then…give them the topic – homework.
  • The class will be a small group, so get feedback throughout – I can hear everything that is said, so there’s not much point in doing it twice, although presentation skills would be put to good use/selecting a team member to feedback (but will work on this in other ways)
  • Depending on how it’s going (and whether they are naturally listing positives and negatives), give learners a positive and negative heading, and ask them to categorise their answers. If their answers are more general, ask them to now think of homework for themselves, as opposed to kids, and add some positive and negatives of homework
  • Get them to choose their top 5 reasons to do some homework
  • Allay any concerns they have about their bottom reasons for not doing homework!
  • Plan accordingly. Homework is not compulsorary!

If all else fails, I can just have a 121 discussion.

Reading for pleasure in an adult literacy classroom, and oral reading fluency


Burton (2007, p.11) poses the questions, ‘It has been suggested that reading aloud is an activity that is hardly ever done by adults. Is this true? Take a minute to think about occasions when you, or other you know, have read something aloud’.

From observing other classes, through to volunteering in literacy sessions for a year, and eventually teaching literacy myself, I noticed that I, along with the other situations I had been in, had always ‘avoided’ reading activities with adult literacy learners to some extent. Of course we covered reading in sessions, however the start of my literacy class saw comprehension type activities and naturally dismissed reading for pleasure, or anything with wasn’t directly productive, or have focus on productive skills at least.

As time has gone on, I have encouraged my learners to take a more active part in reading for pleasure, and after picking up on bits of research here and there, decided to introduce it to my class more formally.

On the face of it, my classes are ‘literacy’ as opposed to ‘reading’.

In one study, ‘silent reading was the ‘activity’ that happened most often, corresponding with the large amounts of time learners spent working alone. ‘Active’ reading tuition…took up less that half of the class time/’ Burton, (2007, p.5). Burton, (2007, p.7) looks at ‘useful approaches mentioned in research which don’t seem to be used in the adult literacy classroom as often as might be expected’, with one of the main reasons for this lack being target-focused classes, leaving the tutor less willing to ‘take risks’.

Although my classes are target driven to some extent, I have some flexibility and say in how they are run. Our aim is to provide qualifications for learners, so as long as my choices have this in mind, we’re able to go ahead with most plans.

It took a long time to develop my literacy class, and although I now only have 3 regular learners, with one who focuses on qualification outcomes, they are 3 more than I’ve had for a long time, and the group is stable enough for me to try new things.

I had started to deliver a phonics-based programme with another learner 121, and had seen his levels of confidence increase significantly, as well as my pride in him. I started to think about how I could replicate this with ‘more advanced’ literacy learners (i.e. E1+).

Burton (2007, p.7) continues by suggesting that ‘practice in this, rather than just being a meaningless ‘exercise’, has been shown to assist reading comprehension and improve confidence’. Burton (2007) suggests a number of strategies to help reading, including oral reading fluency.

With this in mind, I started to consider how I could work oral reading fluency into my sessions, whilst still aiming for qualifications with learners. I decided to take a few Oxford Bookworms originally intended for ESOL learners, to my class one night. I told my learners I would like to try to focus on reading skills this term, and there were a few grumbles around the room. We talked this through for a few minutes (I got the hint the second time someone asked me if they could go out for a smoke), and they said they didn’t mind which book they read. The next week we started by using the suggested activities in the back of the book.

I found that analysing the back page, thinking about what it made us this about, seeing if we had any questions, discussing whether they think they’d like to read it or not, and repeating the process with the front cover was beneficial for the learners’ engagement. I was worried one might not want to read a book, but persevered and made it silently compulsory. The reaction to which I was really surprised at; there wasn’t one.

At the beginning of the term, learners expressed that they wanted to work individually, however agreed that with reading activities, this was a good option as a group. We decided to split the session into individual work, with about 30 minutes of group reading, either at the beginning, or at the end. They ‘let’ me set activities, discussion points, pair work, worksheets etc, and to my amazement, we worked through two books in a term.

The only downfall, was that I chose a book at approximately Entry 2-3, which was not challenging enough for one learner. I could choose some titles at a higher level, and pair him with a volunteer, although this might be equally disruptive for both ‘groups’. Another option could be to choose a slightly more challenging book, and set differentiated activities for the higher level learners, where they can choose to either read silently and complete activities, or join in and complete activities as homework.

I plan to use more oral fluency techniques in the classroom as I found my group were happier (observation of their behaviour, not empirical evidence!), they were supportive of each other, they listened better, they shared their ideas and seemed to engaged in the texts better. It was a pure pleasure to see them modelling my praise of them reading on each other, and it even felt like it made my praise for learners  a little redundant at one point, them favouring their peers’ support.