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For Instructors

Using the CAELA Web Site

Classroom Instruction
Adult ESL teachers and tutors often seek advice on activities, methods, and approaches that can work in their particular situations. The following two examples show how a novice instructor and an experienced instructor might use the CAELA Web site.


Example 1: Novice Instructor
Situation: A rural section of a state has seen a recent, rapid increase in adult immigrants, who have come to the area to take entry-level jobs at a meat-packing plant. Up until now, the small adult education center has offered only adult basic education (ABE) and General Education Development (GED) preparation classes. Any immigrants that wanted to study took the ABE class. Now, there are enough adult English language learners to support a class, so one of the ABE teachers— a former middle-school math teacher—has agreed to teach the class. It will be 7 months before the yearly adult education conference, and the ESL class begins in 3 weeks.

How the CAELA Web site can help: Through the CAELA Web site, the teacher can begin learning independently about adult ESL.

First, she can visit Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) under ESL Resources ( While all 18 FAQs are relevant to a novice, for this teacher the most immediately pertinent FAQs may be these:

7. What are the characteristics of adults learning English in the United States?
8. How do adult English language learners differ from adult basic education learners?
9. What instructional practices best meet the needs of adult English language learners?
10. How long does it take an adult to learn English?
12. How can I find out more about teaching English as second language?
18. What do beginning adult ESL, teachers, and tutors, need to know?

Each FAQ cites briefs, digests, and other resources relevant to the specific topic.

Having become familiar with these FAQs, the teacher can then make use of the following four resources:

This paper gives a concise overview of four essential questions that all adult ESL teachers should consider: How do the principles of adult learning apply to adult English language learners? What do instructors need to know about second language acquisition (SLA)? What do instructors need to know about culture and working with multicultural groups? What instructional approaches support second language development in adults?

If the novice teacher has no more time than to thoroughly study this Q & A, she could discover the basics of the principles and methods that are appropriate for adult ESL from this brief overview.

This collection includes links to CAELA and other resources, including articles, reports, teacher reference books, curricula, organizations, an electronic discussion list, and policy issues that affect the field. For the novice teacher, with limited time to absorb a huge amount of data, the practical advice gathered from an experienced teacher focus group may demystify the field. The advice would include such comments as “Write the day’s agenda on the board,” “Do a lot of physical activity,” and “Limit teacher talk.”

Because this 238-page compendium was developed to serve the needs of practitioners new to adult ESL, many of the topics of concern to the novice are addressed here. Topics include background characteristics of nonnative speakers in the U.S., assessment and needs assessment, and how to promote interaction and communication ( and reading development ( Because the toolkit was developed specifically for family literacy programs, several sections specifically related to parent education may not be directly relevant.

Focusing on the skill of reading, this brief makes the critically important point that teaching adult English language learners requires different approaches from ABE.

The teacher can also subscribe to the quarterly online newsletter CAELA Currents ( and the adult English language electronic discussion list ( The newsletter will help connect the novice to current activities in the field and the electronic discussion can provide a forum for communicating with approximately 800 adult (mostly) ESL practitioners from around the country and world.

Finally, the teacher can use the CAELA Web site for a systematic, focused course of self-study. In fact, throughout the process of her self-education, the novice teacher can use the CAELA Web as a way to methodically develop her professional knowledge of adult ESL—to become, in effect, her own teacher. Here are some of the things she can do:

  • Begin a journal in which she keeps track of questions and concerns she has about teaching adult ESL. As she reads through the online resources, she can jot down possible answers or explanations.


  • Narrow the scope of study to one or two goals that fit into her time frame and her situation. For example, if adult immigrants at the meat-packing have beginning level skills in speaking, reading, and writing English, there is no immediate reason for the teacher to study how adult ESL learners can transition to GED or community education. Rather, she should access documents directly relevant to her situation, such as Working with Literacy-Level Adult English Language Learners (
  • Systematically choose, try out, and reflect on specific activities, such as those found in the activities sections of the Practitioner Toolkit. After trying out a new activity in the classroom, she can reflect upon the experience, asking herself: How did the activity work? What would make it better? Is it worth trying again? Then she can jot down the reflections in the journal.


  • E-mail CAELA staff ( with questions about instructional practice, appropriate learner materials, use of technology, sources of information about specific cultural groups, and other concerns.
  • Share questions, concerns, and information with the adult ESL discussion list community.
  •  Set aside a regular time to share new knowledge and concerns with the program administrator, who can also benefit from the new knowledge. The novice can ask the administrator to observe the class, making sure that the observation focuses on the activities and approaches she has been experimenting with.                                                                                         
  • Go back to her journal after several weeks, and again after several months, to review the initial set of questions and concerns to see which questions have been answered, which remain, and what new questions have arisen.

Example 2: Experienced Instructor 
An experienced instructor might use the CAELA Web site to search for a specific resource, reference, or link when presented, as in the example below, with a new or challenging teaching assignment.

Situation: An instructor teaches in a large, multifaceted, urban adult ESL program that supports nine levels of instruction. He has taught high intermediate and advanced classes for several years, but has just been asked by his supervisor to switch to teaching the beginning level class. Learners in this class typically have very limited English proficiency and little or no access to education in their native countries. The class is made up of learners from 11 countries who speak at least 7 languages. The instructor has a TESOL certificate from a local university, keeps up on new textbooks and resources for the higher levels, but is uncertain about how to teach people who “never went to school.”

How the CAELA Web site can help: First, the teacher can use the CAELA Web site to access information and links, specific to his situation. The teacher has accessed the CAELA Web site before, but is now looking for information targeting beginning levels. He can find pertinent information from the following sources:

  • Q & A: Working with Literacy-Level Adult English Language Learners

This paper describes literacy-level learners and the skills they need to develop. It also discusses effective practices for literacy-level classes and gives examples of activities and techniques that support these practices. The experienced teacher will be able to compare the information here with his experiences with higher levels to see what techniques and strategies are the same and what needs to be added or adapted. Other digests that deal with this topic include Teaching Low-Level Adult ESL Learners ( and Teaching Multilevel Adult ESL Classes (

  • Digest: Reading and Adult English Language Learners: The Role of the First Language

This digest discusses how learning to read in another language is related to a learner’s first language. Does the learner speak a language that is not written or is in just in the process of being written, such as Somali Bantu? Is the learner from a culture that uses nonalphabetic writing such as Chinese, or is the learner familiar with a non-Roman alphabet such as Arabic, Russian, Korean, or Thai? Is the learner nonliterate because—although her language uses a Roman alphabet—she never had the opportunity to go to school?

The experienced teacher has been familiar with learners who mostly had at least a high school education and who had studied English at home or in the United States. Because of this, he had no need for this information before; this article can help him better understand the diverse learners in his class.

  • Digest: Trauma and the Adult English Language Learner   

Immigrants and refugees at all levels may have experienced trauma in their home countries, in transition to the United States, and in their current situations. Since trauma is one of the reasons that learners may not perform well during intake interviews, on standardized assessments, and in class, some of these learners may end up in the beginner class even if their actual English proficiency level is higher. The experienced teacher may want to skim this digest, as well as several others that deal with learning and sociocultural concerns. Available from, they include ESL Instruction and Adults With Learning Disabilities, Refugees as English Language Learners: Issues and Concerns, Cross-Cultural Issues in Adult ESL Classrooms, and Mental Health and the Adult Refugee: The Role of the ESL Teacher.

  • Picture Stories for ESL Health Literacy

The experienced teacher may need some step-by-step examples of appropriate activities that help beginning-level learners acquire language and content they need. This section of the CAELA Web site gives the rationale, general instructions, and detailed instructions for using picture stories to teach eight important health topics, including medical emergencies, good nutrition, and depression. These lessons are of particular use to learners who may need visual support for learning. To the teacher who is only familiar with intermediate and advanced learners, the stories also model the amount and type of preparation needed when working with beginners.

  • Literacy- and Beginning-Level Texts for Adult English Language Learners

This annotated bibliography of textbooks can introduce the teacher to appropriate materials and to publishers of materials for his beginning level class.

Like the novice teacher, the experienced teacher can also use the CAELA Web site to educate himself in a systematic and focused way about the needs of his beginning level students. Here is how he might proceed:

  • Begin a journal in which he keeps tract of questions and concerns about teaching a beginning level class.  
  • Systematically choose, try out, and reflect on specific activities such as those recommended in Working with Literacy-Level Adult English Language Learners and other digests and the picture stories. After trying out a particular activity, he can ask himself, How did the activity work? What would make it better? Is it worth trying again? Then he can jot down the reflections in his journal.
  • Subscribe to the adult English language electronic discussion list ( Through this discussion list, the instructor can communicate with other teachers who work with beginning level adult English language learners. In fact, list participants regularly ask and answer questions about how to best teach beginning level classes.
  • E-mail CAELA staff ( with questions about strategies that are most effective with beginning-level learners, research informing instructional practice, and sources of information about specific cultural groups.
  • Set aside a regular time to share new information and techniques with the program administrator; ask the administrator to observe the class.
  • Review the initial journal questions and concerns, after several weeks and again after several months, to reflect on what has worked well, what questions or concerns remain, and what knowledge has been gained.


Click here for examples of how to use the CAELA Web site for staff development.

This CAELA web page is still being developed. If you have questions or comments about this topic, please email