Author Topic: Teaching Adults With Lower Literacy in Their L1  (Read 3633 times)

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Offline jrchia2

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Teaching Adults With Lower Literacy in Their L1
« on: May 08, 2018, 02:56:52 PM »
I have taught ESL courses in China to migrant factory workers, and one of the challenges was teaching adults of very different literacy levels. Some of my students had university degrees while others only had 2nd or 3rd grade education. At first, as a new teacher, I wasn't aware that there was such a wide range of literacy levels among my students. I foolishly assumed most were at least high school graduates, and I taught the class as though students were able to listen to a lecture while taking notes in their L1. Of course, this wasn't a good fit for students of lower literacy. Andrews (2005) describes this well in her article in the Internet TESL Journal:
[/size]This tip is regarding teaching technique.  When teaching pre-literate students itís best not to write a lot of information on the white board and have students copy it down while you continue to explain concepts. We can easily forget that pre-literate students cannot multi-task with their current language proficiency level and it is important to break down tasks into smaller components.  If students are busily copying down information from the board, they will not focus on what you are telling them because there are just too many things for them to focus their attention on. 
[/size]Andrews (2005) goes on to share her tips for teaching pre-literate adults, among which are to use other methods like role play and developing a sense of community in the classroom. I would definitely agree that for pre-literate adults, a sense of acceptance and safe community is very important. My students with lower literacy rates were much more hesitant to join the ESL class and it took more courage for them to consider tackling an L2. The teacher should prioritize building a sense of community (as Andrews also recommends), perhaps by encouraging activities like sharing snacks together as a class.
[/size]Another one of my specific teaching methods tips for adults with lower literacy in their L1 is to use audio and video resources and visual features. For example, instead of giving students a vocabulary list to take home and study, I would create a collection of images accompanied with an audio recording. Then the student could go home to study as such: see the images in sequential order and listen to the audio (e.g. "1. Hotdog .... 2. Hamburger ... 3. Fries ..." This was an option for my students because most of them had cell phones that could play audio files. For the few who didn't, they would share with a classmate. I could adapt this method for other features, such as learning the alphabet and phonics (e.g. "1. A ... 2. B ... or 1. "ta ..." 2. "te"...).
[/size]There are many other techniques, but they do depend on the specific group of students and what resources they have and what topic is being taught. The main point of this post is to discuss what might be helpful teaching methods for adults of lower literacy in their L1, to explore techniques that are tailored to their strengths and background.

Offline butler-auld

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Re: Teaching Adults With Lower Literacy in Their L1
« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2020, 11:09:36 AM »
The Minnesota Literacy Council has a really great Pre-Beginning ESL Stories bank. I am linking to the .pdf of 200+ pages of story materials. Definitely adapt these stories to meet the needs of your low/pre literate learners. I am also linking a list of topic ideas for lessons that the Minnesota Literacy Council created. It seems that you can also download a free unit or something if you type in your email, which is good news! Yay free resources  8) 

1) "The story bank is a collection of short stories written specifically for adult ESL learners as part of the Minnesota Literacy Councilís Adult ESL Curriculum with Transitions Skills." Here is the.pdf of the story bank: (if the link does not work, search for "ESL story bank" in a search engine, and it should come up quickly.)

2) Website with lesson plan topic ideas:

Minnesota Literacy Council. (n.d.). Pre-Beginning ESL Curriculum. Retrieved February 4, 2020, from

You would definitely need to read instructions aloud at the start of the class. I would be sure to check the vocabulary for the instructions on the resources because they are simple present tense forms and question forms but that vocabulary and syntax may need to be introduced in the first week of your class depending on the oral proficiency of the students. For example, "look at" and "what do you" would need to be pre-taught.
« Last Edit: February 04, 2020, 11:35:20 AM by butler-auld »
Hannah Butler-Auld