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.
  •   2014-12-27 09.39.032014-12-27 09.39.15
  • 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.

Reflection on 2 first day warmers


Looking back at my PGDE, I realised at how useful reflection is, and whilst we may do it in our heads, there is a benefit to writing it all down. Sometimes, I still fall into the trap. Mine is more showing consequences of not reflecting and the reasons why I didn’t at the time. Because I am nervous in my lessons, I have found that I have an unfortunate ability to talk too much and not give clear instructions sometimes. I have opted for the plan, implement, reflect process as I understand it! As Scrivener (1994, p.25) points out when he first started teaching ‘I found it hard to worry about the ‘bigger’ questions until I had gained at least some initial confidence in the basic mechanics of running activities and working with students’, which I have also found sometimes, even after a few years of being out in the big bad world of teaching on your own.


I decided to use a warmer activity that we had done in one of our lessons with our tutor Karen, mainly because I found it enjoyable, and I saw the benefit that this activity was to take lots of pictures to elicit how the students feel about learning literacy. I had a quiet class of 3, with one ESOL E1 learner who had been unexpectedly rough sleeping for a few weeks (when he has previously come to class, he has been eager, although not accurate), a L1 learner who won’t write and a L1 learner who is arguably consolidating E3 but has recently passed an E3 Functional Skills qualification. Then the learners were to move on to an activity where they complete sentence starters ‘Learning is…/I like to learn…/learn best when…’ One learner picked a picture of an eye test, reporting that learning literacy is ‘knowing your ABCs and then trying to make sense of the bigger picture. Impressed, I asked my ESOL learner why he chose a picture. He said he chose a picture of the docks because he likes Liverpool. The other learner refused to pick a picture or get involved. This happens every now and again, and I usually set a productive writing task using their lives as a stimulus. Usually, these are the learners who have little intention of coming back to class and can be disruptive to the rest of the group (edit: I was feeling frustrated this day. The learners I work with often aren’t in a position where literacy is the highest priority and I have a high drop-out rate). Last week I had a list of questions, with the subject omitted, had the students fold the paper in 3 to hide the questions and write their name on the sheet before passing it to their left. They then continued to write their name in the next question. They then had to open it up, guess what the answer to the questions were, then go and ask other students what their answers would have been.

Learning is…

Warmer – What’s xyz ‘s favourite colour


I noticed because of the lack of focus my learners had as a group, it was difficult to elicit discussion about their pictures and also after they’d finished writing their sentences. The learners were not interested in each other, or the activity at all. I noticed that my instructions may not have been clear as they students seemed to be confused about what they had to do and also seemed bored of having to write their name ten times. This stage seemed to drag on a little too. The students asked each other questions to find out if they were right or not. The activity ended up successful in the class, but left me wondering the purpose as it seemed difficult from start to finish.


In the first warmer:

1. I could have changed the activity when I knew the learners I had. Saying that though, I don’t regret doing the activity as to encourage group dynamics in future, changing activities to non-discussion ones probably isn’t the best idea if I actually want them to develop their speaking and listening skills.

2. Appropriateness: I knew before I undertook the activity that the learners aren’t familiar with working with each other. I knew the ESOL learner might find it difficult, but thought with explanation it would be ok. I didn’t anticipate a learner being completely disinterested and under the influence of alcohol.

3. I need to discuss with the drop in service the tyoe of learner that is appropriate. It is difficult though as I do not want to exclude any learner from participating. Sometimes because they are not in the right frame of mind for a session, and lack their own motivation, it has a serious impact of the progress made in the session which is always difficult to manage.

With the second warmer, on reflection I could see a number of problems:

1. Give students clearer instructions, INCLUDING PURPOSE: by setting up the activity better/simplifying it/writing instructions on the board ‘pass to your left’.

2. Clarification/classroom management: Ensure that students know what they have to do next by asking a student to tell me before letting them get on with the activity, make sure everyone is listening to the explanation.

3. Appropriateness: The students knew each other better than I thought, so choose activities carefully. Maybe a simpler warmer would be more appropriate. I can also see that what I found enjoyable when I’ve done the activity before, students may not!

4. Time management: If clearer instructions are given, the activity would not have lasted so long. I could also introduce a time limit for the learners to complete the activity in.

Plan & implement

In different activities in the following lessons, I had planned to write down and give clearer instructions to students. I asked a learner to tell me what they had to do before letting them continue with an activity. I had alas decided that dependant on the activity, I would choose either to give, or not to give time limits, depending on the purpose. For warmers, I need to continue to introduce time limits. I spoke to the drop in and discussed the referrals up to the class that they make. I am hopeful this will be taken forward, however I am still not comfortable where the whether a learner is allowed to participate line lies. We have our code of conduct (below) however we are also operating on an outreach basis and also have to comply with the venue’s rules. In this particular drop-in, it is for rough sleepers. Whilst it isn’t a wet drop-in, many clients may be under the influence, suffer from mental health problems, health problems and are waiting to see the nurse (the same night as my class) rough sleep, are hungry, disengaged, and have one or more than one of these challenges. It is easy to see why the environment and their situation in general may not be conducive to learning. This doesn’t make me want to try less, but be more assertive and confident in my teaching.

Code of conduct

• Participate in classes and have a positive attitude towards learning
• Treat everyone with equal respect, courtesy and consideration
• Under no circumstance to display racist or sexist behaviour or language
• To respect the learning environment and share resources
• To respect confidentiality in a group setting
• Under no circumstances to possess or be under the influence of alcohol or drugs
• Under no circumstances to engage in any illegal or offensive activity
• Under no circumstances to display abusive or aggressive behaviour towards anyone


By writing down my instructions and staging them better, I have found this has helped the students understand what they have to do better and the lesson flowed better. By learners repeating what they had to do, it helped me to see whether I needed to step in or take a step back and let them get on with it. Time management was improved and I found it a useful tool to ask students how long they needed as it helped me to get to know the students and their capabilities a little better, improving my formative assessment too. I have also found a quote that I like. It’s a little wordy but when I started writing this post, I was worried whether I have actually improved on anything but this showed me that it becomes easier to find and analyse practice. This is taken from Scrivener (1994, p.19). It comes at the end of a chapter reviewing potential problems and reads, ‘These are the kind of problems we all have. You’ll find yourself doing these things – so notice yourself doing them and note the ways in which they do or don’t seem to ‘prevent’ learning. But also accept that this is part of the natural process of your own learning and development. As your awareness and confidence grow you’ll find that you not only become more able to recognise such problems in your own teaching, but that you can also start to find effective alternative options that can enable rather than hinder learning’. I can completely relate to this quote as I feel swamped relatively often. I suppose it’s the same as when learners’ filters are up, they find it difficult to see the wood for the trees. I feel the same sometimes, but will try to reflect more and liaise with colleagues more regularly with peers.


Scrivener, J. (1994) Learning Teaching. Heninmann:Oxford

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.