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Practitioner Toolkit CoverPractitioner Toolkit: Working with Adult English Language Learners

This toolkit provides a variety of materials to help language and literacy instructors who are new to serving adults and families learning English. These materials include a first-day orientation guide, lesson plans, and research-to-practice papers on English language and literacy learning.

Download the complete Adobe PDF version of the Practitioner Toolkit. (1.7 MB, 241 pp.)

Or, browse through the Table of Contents below and select the topics that are of need to you and your program. The individual sections are available as PDFs.

Part I presents information for program staff about the population of adult English language learners in the United States. It describes the size of the population, countries and languages of origin, distribution in cities and states, first language background, English language and literacy levels, education levels, employment and income status, reasons for attending adult education programs, the challenges they face, and the strengths they bring to the learning setting. This section also describes types of programs that offer adult ESL instruction, the challenges that programs face, and some characteristics of effective programs.

This section of the Toolkit provides activities that teachers can use in their classes with learners from beginning to advanced levels of English language and literacy. Forms, surveys, and questionnaires that teachers can copy and use often accompany the activity descriptions. Activities are outlined in the following areas:

  • Orientation of new learners to programs

  • Needs assessment of learners and learner self-evaluation

  • Lesson planning

  • Activities to promote interaction and communication in classes

  • Activities to promote reading development

Part III Parent Education in Family Literacy Programs

Part III presents information about parent education as one of the four components of family literacy. Parent education is designed to help parents improve their skills at being the primary teacher for their children and become full partners in the education of their children.

This section begins with a brief description of family literacy, explains the goals and structure of parent education, offers strategies for implementing parent education, and provides activities that parents can engage in with their children at home and in their communities.

Parent Education Overview
Parent Education Instructional Strategies
Parent Education Activities
Sample Parent Education Lessons
Literacy Activities in the Home

Part IV Topics in Adult ESL Education and Family Literacy

Part IV provides discussion papers for educators who want more in-depth information pertaining to adult ESL education and family literacy. The following topics are addressed:

  • Research on second language acquisition and learning to read in a second language

  • Assessment of adult English language learners, including a discussion of federal requirements for accountability reporting and the use of assessments for tracking learner progress

  • Assessment instruments, including annotated charts showing published assessment instruments that are used in the field to assess English language and Spanish language proficiency

  • Research-based strategies for working with adult learners with learning disabilities and other special needs

  • Transition strategies used to help learners progress beyond adult ESL classes to other educatio nal and work opportunities

  • Permanent residency and citizenship attainment, including strategies for preparing students for the citizenship exam

Part V Resources

Part V provides information for practitioners working in adult ESL and family literacy programs on where to find additional resources.

Parent Education Resources
Adult ESL Resources


This Toolkit was developed by the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) in Louisville, KY in collaboration with the National Center for ESL Literacy Education (NCLE) at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, DC. Under the direction and guidance of Ursula Lord, Contracting Officer Representative (COR), Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), U.S. Department of Education.

Writers on this project include Sylvia Cobos Lieshoff, Noemi Aguilar, and Susan McShane, NCFL, and Miriam Burt, Joy Kreeft Peyton, Lynda Terrill, and Carol Van Duzer, NCLE.Content development, editorial services, and support were provided by Lynn Spencer and Diane DeMaio of OVAE Akeel Zaheer, Brenda Logan, Gail Price, Jennifer McMaster, and Justin Keibler of NCFL.

We are grateful to the hundreds of respondents to NCFL’s surveys and to the following focus group participants. Their input on the strengths and challenges of adult English language learners in their programs provided valuable insight that helped focus the content of this Toolkit.

Sr. Guadalupe Arciniega
Sisters of Loretto
Nerinx, KY 40049

Debby Cargill
Adult Education
Prince William County Schools
Lake Ridge, VA

Christine Hicks
Mt. Rogers Regional Adult Education Program
Abingdon, VA

Jacqueline Isbell
Even Start Family Literacy Program
Atlanta, GA

Miriam Kroeger
Arizona Department of Education/Adult Education
Phoenix, AZ

Susan Lythgoe
The Learning Source for Adults and Families
Lakewood, CO

Mary Helen Martinez
Community Action Adult Education Program
San Marcos, TX

Sharon McClaren
Alliance Public Schools
Alliance, NE

Connie Sapin
Ohio Literacy Resource Center
Kent, OH

Leslie Shimazaki
ABE/ESL Resource Center
San Diego, CA

Vicky Tangi
East Baton Rouge Parish Adult Education
Baton Rouge, LA


This document was designed and written by
The National Center for Family Literacy
The National Center for ESL Literacy Education at the
Center for Applied Linguistics

December 10, 2004

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education, and no official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education should be inferred.

This project was funded through a contract from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education to DTI Associates of Arlington, Virginia.

Updated with PDF files used for print publication: July 21, 2008

Order a print version of the Practitioner Toolkit for ease of use and reference from the CAL Store.