AEIS Newsletter

AEIS News, Volume 5:1 (March 2007)

by User Not Found | 11/01/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter From the Chair
    • Letter From the Coeditors
  • Announcements
    • US Citizenship Update: TESOL Provides Expertise for Redesign of the U.S. Naturalization Test
    • US Citizenship Update: Citizenship Symposium
    • US Citizenship Update: The New Citizenship Test
    • Jill Kramer to Present a TESOL 2007 Session on “Providing Leadership in Adult ESOL Programs”
  • Articles
    • Learning to Live in Thailand
    • How to Plan and Organize an Adult ESOL Book Club at a Community Public Library
    • Class Dictation Activity for a Rainy Day
  • About This Member Community
    • ESOL in Adult Education Interest Section (AEIS)

Leadership Updates Letter From the Chair

MaryAnn Florez, AEIS Chair, 2006-07,

I don't know about you all, but some years are easier to put away than others. This past one was a doozie. In addition to all the global issues and events that continue to test our minds and hearts, countless local and personal issues have demanded our attention and effort. As adult ESL teachers, we are looking at all those things as individuals, as members of a field, and as advocates for our students. It can be tiring—even daunting—at times. But coming soon, we have an opportunity to share all that with each other—the challenges, the fears, the ideas, the hopes, and, most important, the triumphs. Let's get ready for TESOL 2007 in Seattle!

Submissions and Accepted Sessions
The convention in Seattle, officially open March 21-24, will be the 41st time that TESOL professionals have gathered, and we're looking forward to a busy schedule for adult educators! We had 187 sessions submitted through AEIS for consideration for the convention this year, and 54 of those sessions were selected for presentation. Those aren't bad numbers, and as AEIS still ranks as one of the largest interest sections in the organization, I'm sure there will be an eager and robust audience for the 9 discussion groups, 13 poster sessions, 15 demonstrations, 8 workshops, 3 colloquia, 4 papers, 1 InterSection, and 1 Academic Session. As always, AEIS proposal readers and leadership made a concerted effort to select sessions that represent a range of important current topics and issues identified by members, as well as a variety of presentation formats to keep things interesting. As always, we were mindful of members' desire for a balance of relevant, practice-oriented sessions, as well as research and issue-oriented ones. That's why you'll find sessions on multilevel strategies, phonics for low-literacy learners, storytelling, and effective grouping next to sessions on standards, assessment, supporting learner transitions, and adult ESL course design.

I want to express special thanks to everyone who read and rated proposals this year. This is a volunteer effort, with specific criteria and deadlines that no doubt come at the worst possible time for many people. We had a very good response to the call for readers and a great return on the actual reading and rating. Thank you all for your hard work and important contribution to this year's convention.

Business Meeting, Planning Meeting, AEIS Booth
There will be many opportunities for us to get together at the convention this year, and I want to urge all of you to take advantage of them. The AEIS Business Meeting will be held as usual on Wednesday evening, March 21, 5-7 p.m., in Room 309 of the Seattle Convention Center. I hope you all will be able to attend, because this is our opportunity to touch base on the things that are important to us as adult educators in TESOL, and to start making plans for the coming year and convention. We will also have our traditional planning meeting the next day, Thursday, March 22, noon-1 p.m., in Room 309. This meeting will extend our opportunity to talk and plan.

Another important point of contact is the AEIS booth, which will be, as always, in the interest section area of the Exhibit Hall. The booth is a great place to get updates on convention and AEIS activities, as well as other information relevant to AEIS members. You might also find it a great networking point, and I encourage those who are interested to sign up to spend time at the booth, meeting and greeting and sharing information about AEIS. Or drop off some information about your program or the work that your organization is doing in adult ESL. Please try to stop by the booth at some time during the convention.

Last year one of our AEIS leaders, Philip Less, put together a wonderful schedule of AEIS-relevant sessions. It was a great way to keep sessions at your fingertips. We're hoping that we can do this again and will keep you posted on the progress of that through the AEIS e-mail distribution list.

Naturalization Test Information
For the past two conventions, a lot of discussion has focused on the redesign of the U.S. naturalization test, and this year will be no different. In this newsletter, you will find an article describing the collaborative effort between USCIS and TESOL in the past year, as well as information on all the USCIS-sponsored sessions that will be held at the convention on the topic of the naturalization test, including a free preconvention symposium on Tuesday, March 20. Please take the time to review these articles, as well as the one contributed by one of our own members, Lynne Weintraub, who offers views from the field. It's an important topic.

In Closing
There will be an abundance of enrichment opportunities at the 2007 convention. I hope that you'll also find some time to enjoy Seattle and each other. One of the things that I love most about TESOL conventions is the chance to meet my colleagues. Sometimes it's that serendipitous discovery of someone new with whom you share a question or interest. Sometimes it's renewing an old acquaintance and catching up. And sometimes it's putting a face and a voice to someone you've been corresponding with or even working with via e-mail or the Web. Whatever the situation, I hope you all will find the time to make the people connections as well as the professional connections. Looking forward to seeing you at TESOL 2007!

Letter From the Coeditors

Susan Finn Miller,, and Irina Khetsouriani,

Thanks to our generous colleagues, you will find much of interest in this issue of the Adult Education Interest Section newsletter. We want to thank newsletter contributors Liz Bigler, Emily Bradshaw, Lynne Weintraub, and Barbara Wookey and, of course, our wonderful chair, MaryAnn Florez. In addition to practical teaching activities and programming ideas, you will find much important information in this issue about the pending changes to the U.S. naturalization test.

As you read these articles, we hope you will think about what you might have to share with colleagues in this space. We encourage each reader to consider making a contribution. Everyone has something to share. Writing for this newsletter can be a wonderful professional development opportunity in and of itself, and all of us receive the benefit of ideas shared. We are already preparing for our next newsletter, so send us an e-mail now to let us know you are interested. We will support you every step of the way!

Happy reading!

Announcements US Citizenship Update: TESOL Provides Expertise for Redesign of the U.S. Naturalization Test

For many adult English language learners in the United States, improving their proficiency in English is part of a larger goal: to become a U.S. citizen. For TESOL members working with adult English language learners in the United States, immigration and citizenship issues are familiar territory because the members often serve as advocates for their students who are trying to navigate the sometimes complicated path to U.S. citizenship.

Last year, TESOL was given a unique and unprecedented opportunity to advocate on behalf of adult English language learners in the United States when the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) asked the association to share its expertise as part of a project to redesign and standardize the U.S. naturalization test.
U.S. law requires that applicants for naturalization (a) demonstrate an understanding of the English language, "including an ability to speak, read, and write words in ordinary usage," and (b) demonstrate knowledge and understanding of basic U.S. history, and the principles and form of U.S. government. Applicants typically demonstrate their English language proficiency in an oral interview, and they are asked up to 10 civics questions to demonstrate their understanding of civics. Among USCIS offices, testing methods have varied in terms of how the test is prepared and administered, and how the results are collected and evaluated. Even among offices that use the same testing methods, the test formats can also vary.
In 1990, the U.S. Congress created the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform to assess U.S. immigration policy and make recommendations regarding its implementation and effects. When the commission issued its final report in 1997, it recommended, among other actions, that the naturalization testing process be standardized and revised to better determine if applicants have a meaningful knowledge of U.S. history and government and can communicate in English. That same year, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (now USCIS) began to redesign the testing process. The continuing goal is to develop a more fair and uniform approach to testing, including standard and meaningful test content, standardized testing instruments and protocols, standard scoring, and standard levels of passing.

Because the redesign process was initiated a decade ago, it has undergone several changes and reforms. To get input about the redesign, USCIS informed stakeholder organizations (including TESOL) about the effort and asked for feedback. At that time, TESOL urged USCIS to consider the needs of adult English language learners in the redesign because they would be most likely to take the test.

In 2005, the redesign project was overhauled once again, and TESOL stepped up its advocacy efforts over concern that the redesign may have become politicized. As a result, TESOL and USCIS began a more regular dialogue. A year later, USCIS formally requested input from TESOL on elements of the redesign.

The TESOL Advisory Panel

Using criteria provided by USCIS, the TESOL Executive Committee assembled a panel of members with expertise in adult second language acquisition, second language assessment, citizenship issues, and other related areas. The panel met with USCIS officials to provide expert guidance on specific aspects of the naturalization test, primarily the procedures and criteria for the English language test and the language level of the U.S. history and civics test. The work of the panel was set within certain predetermined parameters so that it was focused only on elements of language levels and testing procedures.

In the redesign process, USCIS considered multiple perspectives, including views of U.S. history professors and experts, USCIS officers, community-based organizations, and other stakeholder groups. It also reviewed state and local history standards, adult learning standards, citizenship preparation courses, and the current government-authorized textbooks and other sound civics curricula. During this time USCIS also maintained its outreach to a broad range of stakeholder groups through a series of informational conference calls, which included TESOL members and staff.

TESOL's Ongoing Participation in the Process
In late 2006, USCIS announced its preliminary plans for the redesigned test, including a draft list of civics questions. Although the format of both the English language and U.S. history portions of the test is relatively unchanged, the content has been changed in an effort to make the test more meaningful. (Information on the specific changes is available at

This year, USCIS will pilot the new test. During the pilot period, USCIS will compile and analyze data, with a goal of fully implementing the new exam in 2008, and the TESOL Advisory Panel will continue to provide expert advice and feedback on the pilot's implementation and initial results.

To provide additional information about the new naturalization test and prepare adult educators working with citizenship candidates, USCIS representatives will be presenting a series of workshops and a symposium on citizenship at the 2007 TESOL Convention and Exhibit in Seattle, Washington. Registration information for the Symposium on Adult Civics and Citizenship Education in the United States, which will be held on Tuesday, March 20, is available in the 2007 Advance Program.

US Citizenship Update: Citizenship Symposium

Symposium on Adult Civics and Citizenship Education in the United States

Tuesday, March 20, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
Ticketed Event #98

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Office of Citizenship and the United States Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) in collaboration with TESOL present a Symposium on Adult Civics and Citizenship Education in the United States. This symposium features a first look at the newly revised U.S. Naturalization Test and Study Guide, as well as a panel of distinguished speakers including Noah Pickus, associate director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University and the internationally known author of True Faith and Allegiance: Immigration and American Civic Nationalism, a history and analysis of naturalization in the United States. The panel discussion, designed to enhance the skills and knowledge of adult civics and citizenship instructors, will focus on four key content areas: American history, government, civics, and the U.S. naturalization process.

There is no registration fee for the symposium; however, the event is limited to the first 150 registrants. To ensure a seat, please register in advance at the ticketed events booth in the registration area.

In addition to the panel discussion, there will be five breakout sessions through the course of the TESOL convention, offering in-depth training in the five content areas as well as presenting a first look at the revised Naturalization Test and Study Guide. The following sessions are open to all registered convention attendees:

Understanding the Basics of the Naturalization Process

Thursday, March 22, 9:30-11:15 a.m.
Seattle Convention Center, Room 204

This session will provide in-depth knowledge of the laws and policies impacting the naturalization process. Adult ESL educators should come away with information that they can use to support their students as they navigate toward U.S. citizenship.

Ginger Fletcher, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of Homeland Security, Washington, DC

Lynn Thai, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, Washington, DC

Helping Students Pass the Naturalization Interview

Thursday, March 22, 2:00-3:45 p.m.
Sheraton Seattle/Willow A Room

In this session, we will review components of the naturalization interview and identify typical problem areas. Instructional approaches and resources will be discussed. Participants will come away with some tools and strategies to help their students pass the naturalization test.

Michael R. Jones, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, Washington, DC

Gloria W. Gillette, Northeast ABLE Resource Center, Euclid, OH

American History in the Revised U.S. Naturalization Test

Friday, March 23, 4:00-5:45 p.m.
Seattle Convention Center, Room 308

This session will outline the American history content found on the revised U.S. naturalization test. The presenters will show how to teach that content utilizing ESL methodology. Particular emphasis will be paid to connecting the historical content to students' lives.

Carol Garcia, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL
Karen Hilgeman, Adult Learning Resource Center, Des Plaines, IL

American Government in the Revised U.S. Naturalization Test

Saturday. March 24, 9:30-11:15 a.m.
Convention Center Room 205

This session outlines concepts of American government found on the revised naturalization test. The presenters will show how to teach that content utilizing ESL methodology. Connecting the structure of the U.S. government to students' lives will be emphasized.

Carol Garcia, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL
Karen Hilgeman, Adult Learning Resource Center, Des Plaines, IL

Teach Rights and Responsibilities With the Constitution

Saturday. March 24, 2:00-3:45 p.m.
Convention Center Room 206

In this session, we will discuss the Constitution as a tool to teach students about civic responsibility and their rights as residents or citizens of the United States. Concepts taken from the Constitution will be used to demonstrate instructional approaches.

Gemma Santos, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami, FL

US Citizenship Update: The New Citizenship Test

The New Citizen Test: What Do We Know Now and How Do We Plan Ahead?
Lynne Weintraub,

Pilot Test Begins
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and newspapers around the country have recently announced pilot testing of a new set of citizenship questions in 10 U.S. cities.* In conjunction with this pilot test, USCIS has released the 144 questions that pilot test participants will encounter. In the adult education world, the news has given rise to confusion about when and how students should begin preparing for the new test, and whether this test will present more difficulty for our students than the current one does. The purpose of this article is to clear up some confusion and discuss implications of the new test for citizenship educators. Let's start with three important points about the pilot test:

  • No one will be forced to take the pilot test. It began in February and will continue until enough data are gathered to complete the study—probably 4 or 5 months. It is voluntary, so only those applicants who agree to participate will take the pilot test. If they fail, they will immediately be given a chance to take the current test.
    What does this mean for teachers? If your students are likely to have their interviews between January and May, and they live in one of the 10 pilot test cities, you might consider incorporating the pilot test questions into your lessons—but your students do not have to pass the pilot test in order to become citizens, so it's entirely up to you and your students. If you do not live in a pilot test city, you will probably want to hold off for a while (read on).
  • A final (shorter) list of test questions will be released after the pilot test data has been analyzed. USCIS plans to weed the 144 questions down to a list of 100. Questions that were problematic for examinees in the pilot test will be eliminated. The release of the final question list might happen as early as summer of 2007; however, if additional study is needed (e.g., if it's clear that there are not enough data from key demographic segments), we might not see the final list until later.
    What does this mean for teachers? There's no sense in designing curriculum for the new test when we don't yet know which questions will remain on it. Almost a quarter of the pilot test questions will be weeded out of the final version (presumably those that pilot test participants had the most difficulty with). Once we have the final details it will be more practical to begin designing a new curriculum.
  • After the questions are finalized, we will have a full year to retool our classes. Once the questions are finalized, USCIS has committed to giving educators 12 months to get ready for the new test. For example, if the final test version is released in July 2007, national implementation of the new test will not happen until July 2008.
    What does this mean for teachers? Once the final list of test questions is released, we will have the information we need to begin revising our citizenship curriculum. We should plan to implement this new curriculum once we have students in the classroom whose interviews are likely to be more than 1 year after the date that the final test is released. It is unlikely that this date will be earlier than the summer of 2008. In cases in which we are not sure whether students will be interviewed before or after the implementation date, or in which only some of the students in a given class are likely to get the new test, it may be necessary to overlap old and new curricula through a change-over period.

What Does the New Test Look Like?
The current test is being revised and standardized—but you won't see a radical transformation. As with the current civics test, students will be asked 10 oral questions and will be required to answer 6 of them correctly to pass. One new wrinkle is that for many of the questions, there are multiple possible correct answers. USCIS study materials will offer several "right" answers, but students will need to produce only one (in some cases, two) of the possible options to get the question right. Much of the civics content that we currently teach remains unchanged. Some topics have been refocused, and a few new topics are being introduced. For example, expect fewer questions about the flag, but count on some basic U.S. geography being included.

The literacy test has also undergone minor revisions. For the reading component, students will be given a civics-related question on paper, such as "Who was the first U.S. president?" and asked to read the question aloud. For writing, the examiner will dictate a full-sentence answer to the initial question. The student is expected to write what he or she hears: for example, "George Washington was the first president." (Note: Students do not need to know the answer to the question—they simply have to write the dictated sentence correctly.) USCIS study materials will not provide the actual literacy test questions and answers, but instead will offer a word list that students need to master in order to read the questions and perform the dictation task. As with the current literacy test, students who are unable to write the first dictated sentence will have a chance to try again with a second and third sentence before they would receive a failing score. Examiners will evaluate students' responses using a rubric supplied by USCIS (and designed by a panel of language educators selected by TESOL).

Examiners will continue to assess students' oral proficiency based on responses to questions about their applications. Examiners will be given some suggestions on how to word these questions in plain English (and some guidelines for determining whether an applicant's performance meets the "high beginning" standard). Unfortunately, USCIS has declined to share these suggested rewordings with practitioners, but a study guide will suggest key vocabulary words to help students prepare for the interview.

How Does It All Stack Up?
The rationale for revising the test was to make it fairer (meaning that every applicant in every location would face the same level of difficulty) and more meaningful (i.e., not just an exercise in reciting trivia). It has also been emphasized repeatedly that USICS is not aiming to make the new test more difficult than the current one. To what extent has the test redesign project succeeded with these objectives? Plans for the pilot test indicate that the civics and literacy tests will indeed be standardized to a greater degree than is the current test. However, since the speaking (interview) test will not change significantly, it is unclear whether future applicants will experience a genuinely more uniform and fair administration of this particular test component. The new literacy test items (developed by the TESOL committee) do appear more meaningful and fair (in terms of levels of difficulty) than the current test. Are the newly released civics questions more "meaningful" than the current ones? Will the new test be more difficult than the current one? Opinions about this vary. Take a look at the pilot test questions at and decide for yourself. The AEIS will continue to keep you posted on new test developments through the newsletter, Web site, and action alerts, so keep in touch!

Finally, you may want to join Lynne Weintraub's session at TESOL in Seattle on preparing students for naturalization interviews. The session will demonstrate realistic practice interviews and explain the purpose of conducting them. The presenters will discuss the reasoning behind those intrusive personal questions, and offer suggestions for unlocking difficult terms, coaching effective responses, and mitigating student anxiety.

*The pilot test cities are Albany, NY; Boston, MA; Charleston, SC; Denver, CO; El Paso, TX; Kansas City, MO; Miami, FL; San Antonio, TX; Tucson, AZ; and Yakima, WA.

Lynne Weintraub is the author of "Citizenship: Passing the Test" and "Citizenship: Ready for the Interview." She coordinates a library literacy program for immigrants in Amherst, Massachusetts, and is an independent consultant in the areas of curriculum/staff development and testing. You can visit Lynne's citizenship educator blog at

Jill Kramer to Present a TESOL 2007 Session on “Providing Leadership in Adult ESOL Programs” Are you coming to TESOL in Seattle? Join me, Jill Kramer, on Wednesday March 21, at 7:30 a.m. (I know—I'm not a morning person either) for a discussion group on leadership. We'll meet in the Grand Hyatt in Leonesa lll Room. Bring your ideas on how to provide leadership in adult programs that have a largely part-time staff working in scattered locations. We'll also talk about providing professional development.
Questions? Contact Jill Kramer at

Articles Learning to Live in Thailand

How Living Abroad Helped Me Understand Students' Needs
Emily S. Bradshaw

When I accepted a position teaching English at a university in Thailand, I had high hopes for the 10 months I would spend living on the opposite side of the world. Living abroad had long been my dream, and I looked forward to experiencing life in Asia for myself. I was sure that I would have many exciting and rich cultural experiences in Thailand. I also expected to have difficulties, given that I was not familiar with either the language or culture of my new home. However, I looked forward to these challenges as well, knowing that they would give me important insights into the lives of my former students, adult immigrants in the United States.

As an English teacher to adult immigrants in my hometown, I worked with people from all over the world. Some of them had come to the United States for work opportunities; others came to escape war and political turmoil in their home countries. Most of them arrived in the United States with little or no English skills. I watched as these individuals struggled to learn the language, find employment, become familiar with new forms of transportation, adjust to cultural differences, and search for a sense of belonging in the community. Some immigrants faced the additional challenges of learning a new alphabet and adjusting to life apart from their families.

I viewed my 10 months in Thailand as an opportunity to experience, firsthand, what it means to live as an immigrant. Like many of my former students, I left my family and friends behind to live and work in an unfamiliar country. I had little knowledge of the Thai language, and I would need to learn a new alphabet to read signs on streets and buildings and items on restaurant menus. I would have many misunderstandings because of cultural differences, and I would experience the highs and lows of culture shock.

My adventure in Thailand is now coming to a close. I have experienced many of the joys and challenges of living in a new culture, and I have dealt with many of the same problems that adult immigrants face in the United States. Though my situation in Thailand was similar to that of an immigrant in many ways, it was not exactly the same. Immigrants typically settle in a new country with the intention of remaining there permanently, but my stay in Thailand was limited to 10 months. Knowing that my stay in Thailand was temporary certainly affected my language learning and cultural adjustment. Nevertheless, learning to live in a new land helped me better understand my former students. I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on my experiences in Thailand and share some of my newfound insights into the lives of adult immigrants.

Obstacles to Language Learning
Before leaving for Thailand, I believed that I would throw myself into the task of learning the Thai language during my 10-month stay. I imagined myself attending language classes, meeting with a tutor, studying Thai vocabulary and grammar in the evenings after work, and practicing my language as much as possible out in the community. Unfortunately, I encountered several obstacles to learning the language.
First, I was unable to find a Thai language class that I could attend without a great deal of inconvenience. My university offered some beginning Thai language courses for international students and faculty members during my first semester, but all of the courses were held during the day when I was busy teaching my own classes. Though I asked around about other courses, I never found one that fit my work schedule. The lack of available courses was not the only problem, however. Having no international driver's license or motorized vehicle, the only modes of transportation available to me were my bicycle and the sorng tau, a truck with two rows of seats in the back that drives along a specified route. In order for me to attend a language course, it needed to be located either very near my home or directly on the sorng tau route.

Second, I did not have access to adequate self-study materials. Before leaving for Thailand, I collected some Thai-language self-study materials, including two computer programs, an audio program, and a workbook. I planned to learn and practice the language with my self-study materials every day after work. Unfortunately, the self-study materials were not well-suited to my needs. All of them included lists of vocabulary words that I simply didn't need. One of my computer programs taught the Thai words for foods, but included only Western foods that aren't readily available in Thailand. My workbook taught me how to talk about books, pencil sharpeners, and chalkboards, which are important words in a classroom, but not in daily life. I had very specific, urgent language needs. I needed to learn how to order food at restaurants, ask how much items cost at the market, ask for directions, and make basic small talk with people. None of my materials covered these topics, and I eventually stopped using them.

Third, I had a harder time adjusting to my new home than I expected, and this affected my language learning. My first few months in Thailand were filled with homesickness and a strong desire to return home to my loved ones. During this time, I found it very difficult to mentally live in Thailand. My thoughts were consumed with home, and I threw my energies into reaching out to those I left behind and surrounding myself with familiar things. Eventually, I made my peace with living in Thailand and committed to being in Thailand mentally as well as physically. My newfound acceptance of my circumstances led to a greater desire to learn the Thai language. During this time, I learned many new words and phrases, and I was eager to use my language. My motivation level did not remain high throughout the remainder of my stay; it went up and down many times. In general, I felt that the times when I was happiest living in Thailand were also the times when I was learning the most language.

Finally, my language learning was limited by the fact that I had few opportunities to use the language. As an English teacher at the university, almost all of my daily interactions were with my students and other English teachers in my department. Everyone around me spoke English. Consequently, I had very little need for Thai until I left the university grounds. Virtually all of the interactions I had in Thai were with cashiers and waiters in restaurants. In the end, I became fairly proficient in ordering foods and talking about food, but I gained little knowledge of conversational Thai.

Receiving Help From Others
Though I faced difficulties with the language in Thailand, my stay was made very pleasant by my students and colleagues who took it upon themselves to help me whenever I was in need. When I first arrived, I was able to do very little on my own. I could not read my mail, order food in restaurants, talk to my landlord, or complete transactions at the bank. My students and colleagues helped me with almost everything, from showing me how to ride the sorng tauto telling my hair stylist how I wanted my hair cut. It was frustrating to have so little independence, but I cannot imagine how I would have coped without them. I am so grateful for the help they gave me.

Many of my bilingual students and colleagues made themselves available to me at any time. Whenever problems arose, I was free to call them for help. I usually called them in "emergency" situations, such as when I had miscommunications with taxi drivers and didn't know how to tell them where my apartment was. Having 15 to 20 people whom I could call for help gave me peace of mind in difficult situations.

Sometimes, I received help that enabled me to become more independent. During my first month, I ate only two dishes: fried rice and red curry chicken. My problem was not that I disliked Thai food, but that I could not read the menus at restaurants and I did not know the names of Thai foods. One student, upon learning this, wrote out the names of foods served in the restaurants near my apartment. Her 10-page list included a pronunciation guide and description of each food. I began carrying the guide with me in my purse and used it until I had learned the names of my favorite Thai foods.

I was very fortunate to have so many people in my life offer their assistance to me. In my first weeks, I needed help with almost everything. Had the responsibility of teaching me how to live in Thailand fallen on just one person, that person would have soon been overwhelmed by my needs. Having access to a larger community of people meant that I did not have to rely too heavily on one person and that no one person was unreasonably burdened with my problems.

Lessons Learned in Thailand
My experiences in Thailand have given me a better understanding of what it means to be placed in a new environment without the ability to communicate or accomplish basic tasks necessary for survival. I have a deeper respect for my former adult students who regularly came to English classes after long days at work and studied the language during their spare moments at home. I am also impressed at the self-sufficiency that many of them acquired early-on in their stays in the United States.

My months in Thailand also taught me the value of community support. Community programs that serve immigrants, through both language programs and other forms of assistance, can be an invaluable source of help for newcomers in our communities. These programs can help individuals become comfortable and established in their new environments by teaching language, demonstrating how to use public transportation, initiating discussions about cultural differences, offering job placement assistance, providing a sense of community, and offering help and advice in unfamiliar situations.

My 10 months in Thailand provided me with many valuable experiences and precious memories. Like everyone who spends time in a foreign country, I experienced many highs and lows as I adjusted to a different environment and way of life. I have a deeper understanding of the challenges of living and working in a new country. It is my hope that my knowledge and experiences will help me become a more compassionate, helpful teacher to my future students in the United States.

Emily Bradshaw taught English in a community ESL program for 4 years before earning her MA from Northern Arizona University. She is currently teaching at Khon Kaen University in Thailand.

How to Plan and Organize an Adult ESOL Book Club at a Community Public Library

Barbara Wookey,

Free adult ESOL classes are showing up everywhere and many of them are federally funded with grant dollars. Now some public libraries are beginning to offer these classes as a service to their nonnative English-speaking patrons.

One such library is the Upper Arlington (UA) Public Library in northwest Columbus, Ohio. Upper Arlington is located near The Ohio State University main campus and many of the participants are associated with the university. Many participants are Asian, but some are from South and Central America and West Africa. The library began offering an English conversation class a few years ago and later added a book club.

This ESOL Book Club was a new concept for the library as well as for me, an ESOL adult teacher. After starting this book club and realizing its success, I mapped out the steps that I took to develop and implement it, in hopes that other community libraries and ESOL teachers would see the value of such a program and perhaps collaborate to develop programs in their communities.

Once it was decided that we would develop the ESOL book club, the library and I began the initial steps in the planning process.

  • I met with the library staff to discuss plans for the use of the room, library equipment, and other resources. We discussed how the book club would be promoted and marketed. At the UA Library I worked with two staff members: the program coordinator for adult services and the coordinator for public relations. The library created attractive fliers that were posted and distributed to local ethnic restaurants and grocery stores. The library also included the information in their seasonal program booklets that are available throughout the community.
  • I planned for potential participants—number, ethnicity, reading level—as well as the possible need for provisions for young children. I requested demographic information from the local elementary school and the city offices. Our nonnative English population is primarily Korean and Chinese. Most of the participants have high-level English skills in reading and writing, and their need is to improve their spoken English.
  • The book selection was the most time-consuming aspect of the planning stage. The program coordinator and I met several times to discuss possible books. We decided to use a young adult book with an adult theme and adult characters. The books were of moderate length, between 100 and 200 pages, and focused on authentic American culture and history. Our first book was S.O.S. Titanic by Eve Bunting. Subsequent books were Benjamin Franklin by Peter and Connie Roop; an adapted version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain; Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman; Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan;Eleanor Roosevelt by Mary Winget; Any Small Goodness: A Novel of the Barrio by Tony Johnston; and John F. Kennedy by Jane Sutcliffe. The library orders the books and students can either borrow a book or pay a nominal fee.

Plans and Activities

  • In planning for the class, I prepared a schedule of dates and chapters and made copies for the participants. Our sessions lasted an hour and a half, and we covered one chapter each session. I kept attendance for my own information. We also had refreshments each time to foster a social atmosphere rather than an academic one.
  • I prepared supplemental information/activities related to the book. I collected and displayed books and video/audio material related to the theme of the book that participants could check out with their library cards. The Internet provided a great deal of information and study guides. For S.O.S. Titanic I included discussions about ships, icebergs, life in the early 1900s, and the Morse code. We did an ongoing character study and a description of the ship. For some books, I also prepared questions for each chapter for the students to discuss during our club meetings. When we read the Tom Sawyer book, we spent more time actually reading the book during our meetings in order to discuss and analyze the language used.

Positive Results
The book club for nonnative English speakers had many positive results, some of which I didn't foresee.

  • This program empowers English language learners to succeed in reading American fiction and nonfiction. It also provides them with knowledge of American culture and history.
  • Because of the setting, the nonnative English speakers are introduced to the library and its many services—sometimes for the first time. We incorporated tours of each section of the library so participants could discover what was offered and meet the librarians.
  • Because of the overwhelming interest in this program and the library's desire to be of service to this ESOL patron population, I was asked to present workshops for library staff. The trainings covered topics such as communicating, cultural differences, and materials these patrons might be seeking. Staff members who attended were given an ESOL pin to wear on their nametags to distinguish them as ESOL staff.
  • The library has created a new page on its Web site devoted to resources on ESOL and U.S. citizenship.

A library-based ESOL class for adults benefits the library as it provides a necessary service to their international patrons. It benefits the participants because they have the opportunity to practice their English, meet other nonnative English speakers, and become a part of the community in which they live.

Barbara Wookey is the ESOL coordinator for the Delaware Area Career Center where she teaches an online ESOL class. She also teaches for the Upper Arlington Public Library and Ohio State University. Barbara currently serves as president of Ohio TESOL.

Class Dictation Activity for a Rainy Day

Liz Bigler,

Beginning and intermediate students can benefit in a variety of ways from seeing spoken words in writing. I use an activity with both adults and children that helps strengthen the ties between spoken and written language. I find this often helps not just with literacy skills, but with pronunciation and speech, too, because students are seeing and identifying the actual words and sounds made, rather than just producing what they think they hear others say. Here's how I implement (and adapt) this "no prep" activity.

I get one or several of the students to tell me something they did over the week or something that is of interest or importance in their lives. It can be as easy as someone going shopping and buying X, Y, and Z at the Something Mart, or as complex as someone's daughter hanging around a group of girls the mom doesn't like. If no one can come up with anything, even with much prompting and probing, I tell them about something I did.

I have the student tell the story a little bit at a time, and I write it on the board as he or she tells it. Though some teaching pedagogies recommend writing exactly what students say as they say it, I prompt the students to do error correction. I might write it wrong and get them to correct it before I go on. For example, I write, "I buy two box diaper," and say, "Class [or the individual student's name], who can see a problem with this sentence?" I then correct the error before moving on to the next sentence.

Once I have a paragraph-sized narration of somebody's event, or a compilation of one sentence each from several members (e.g., "Dora went shopping at Publix. Evelyn got a new job at a school. Paula's daughter fell down when she was skating."), we read the writing as a class or take turns reading individually. I like to use a pointer and ask the group to read the words as I point to them. That way, more dominant students don't try to read a lot faster than the other students, and I can isolate words that might be problematic.

(By the way, did you know that a simple pointer can be made from the cardboard cover of a slacks wire hanger from the dry cleaner? Just pull it off the wire part. It's the perfect length and width for me. It also comes in handy as a pseudo-microphone and can be decorated for use as a magic wand!)

Then I ask the class questions about the narrative, including both factual questions and questions that are directed toward members of the class and their own experiences and lives. For example, with the above scenario, my questions might include, "Where did Dora go shopping? What did Dora do at Publix? Did Paula get a new job, or did Evelyn? The difficulty of the question can be adjusted according to individual students. For example, "Did Dora go to Publix or to Kroger?" is a much more easily answered question for someone of limited ability than "Why did Dora need to go to Publix?" I want to challenge individual students with the right level question, giving harder questions to higher level students, and helping those who get stuck. For example, if the "why" question is too difficult, it can be modified (e.g., "Did she need to do some shopping or did she want to get a job there?")

If students can't remember or produce the answers, I help them read the appropriate sentences to find the answers. I also seek to personalize the writing to other students. For example, I might ask, "How about you, Horacio—how long have you had your job? Marcia, where do you go shopping? Luz, do you shop at Publix or Kroger? Felicia, does your daughter like skating, too? Has she ever hurt herself falling down? How about you—do you have skates?" and so on.

In classes of more than six or so students, I write each student's name on a separate card and call on individuals to answer questions by working my way through the pile of cards. Using the cards helps me to check in with each student so they know I know they are there as well as to check each student's comprehension. In addition, if attendance must be taken, it can be done at the same time by marking attendance on the card. I always ask the question first before calling a student's name; this encourages everyone to pay attention because they know their turn might be next. Sometimes, I ask the whole class some questions just to mix it up.

As the next part of the lesson, once the class is familiar with the information on the board, I take my eraser and erase key words in the paragraph, putting a number in place of the word and creating a cloze test. For example, the board might read,

"Dora went __1__ at Publix. Evelyn got a __2__ job.
Paula's daughter fell __3__ when __4__ was skating."

Then, I have everybody who can write well enough get out a paper and pencil and number the paper from one to whatever the highest number is. They look at the board, read the sentences to themselves, and write in the missing word. So their answers might be as follows:
1. shopping
2. new
3. down
4. she

Students who are still learning to write work with more literate partners who can read the sentences to them, or they can work as a group with me while the others work independently. Spelling and grammar doesn't have to be correct but this activity can be an opportunity for students to improve on those kinds of things. More advanced or fast students can copy the whole paragraph or, without looking at the board, try to re-create the whole passage in writing.

One more variation of this exercise is to have students close their eyes while I erase certain words and write a silly word in its place. Then, they open their eyes and read the passage and try to find the "mistakes" (i.e., silly words). For example, the new sentences might read, "Evelyn ate a new job. Paula's daughter fell up when she was skipping." Students often enjoy this activity and are very intent on reading carefully once they open their eyes! Students go up to the board and correct the wrong word, writing the right one (or one that makes just as much sense). Even adults like to go to the board and use the marker or chalk, especially when I have already confirmed for them orally that they have the right solution.

I often use this lesson to work on everyday language. Through this activity, students engage in listening, speaking, reading, and writing English that relates to their everyday lives. The activity requires no preparation and no materials besides a chalkboard, chalk, paper, and pencils. It's good for a day when your other plans fall through, or when you have a much different class than you thought you were going to have (adult ed teachers of open-enrollment classes know what I'm talking about!), or when people forgot their books, or when something significant happens (or will happen) that you want to acknowledge. It's also a good activity to do if you have a class in which people straggle in (again, adult ed classes often have this scenario). You can start the class right on time, rewarding the people who are there, yet latecomers can join right in as the passage gets written.

Liz Bigler has taught English to adults and children for 16 years. She currently teaches at Seigakuin Atlanta International School in a two-way immersion program for Japanese-English.

About This Member Community ESOL in Adult Education Interest Section (AEIS)

The ESOL in Adult Education Interest Section serves the interest of adult students in ESL programs, their teachers, and administrators. It brings together the knowledge, precepts, and skills of two distinct but compatible areas: adult education and English as a second language.

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