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Summary of Online Discussion on Working with Literacy-Level Adult English Language Learners

Below is a summary of an electronic discussion that took place on the Adult English Language discussion list, August 7-11, 2006. The discussion list is part of the National Institute for Literacy's Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) and is moderated by staff at the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

For information about subscribing to the adult English language discussion list or to read current and past postings, go to

To read about the guest panelists for the discussion, click here.

If you wish to read or reread the individual postings from this discussion you can access them from the National Institute for Literacy’s Web site at and looking at 2006 in the archives section.  From there you can search by  date, thread, subject, or author. The official dates of the discussion were  August 7-11, 2006, but the de facto dates were August 3-13, 2006 with the posting numbers roughly from 518 to 593. 

The main topics discussed by subscribers and panelists were the use of native language in the classroom, using volunteers, issues related to learner retention, community-building in the classroom, information about refugees, and identification of resources.  Native language use for learners and teachers and effective and appropriate use of  volunteers with literacy-level adult English language learners were  by far the most discussed topics.  On both of these topics, subscribers and panelists shared a variety of perspectives.

In the native language thread, the list heard from teachers who work with learners who share a common language that the teacher also speaks, teachers who work with multilingual groups where using some students’ native language may seem insensitive to other learners, from those who distinguished between teacher use and learner use of a language other than English, as well as many other perspectives.  

The discussion about using volunteers with literacy-level learners centered on what to look for in a prospective volunteer, appropriate training, use and supervision of volunteers, and some specific types of activities teachers or administrators may ask volunteers to work on with literacy-level learners.

As some teachers are now beginning new classes—literacy-level and other levels— I hope you will consider sharing approaches, techniques, and materials that are working well for you and the learners in your classes. I hope you will also share some of the challenges you face —such as deciding if, when, and how to use languages other than English in the class; how you use, or would like to use volunteers; and other topics. Thanks for your continued interest and input.

Lynda Terrill
Adult English language discussion list moderator
September 2006