We are a group of ESL-ers in Cleveland Ohio who are trying to teach refugees and immigrants basic survival English.

We invite you to join us with your posts.
We will try to put articles of interest to those of you who share your talents and time with the newly arrived in our cities.

Some of our students learning.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Literacy continued

First : to answer some questions from last time.

Here are two websites that give examples of alphabet cloze exercises and a list of site words (dolch words).



To continue our discussion on literacy.
Here is a list of differences and some similarities between literate and non-literate English learners. Note that only one item is the same. Both types will learn best when content is relevant to their lives.

Literate Learners
Learn from print
Tend to be visually oriented
Make lists to remember
Spend years learning to read
Know they can learn
Learn best when content is relevant to their lives
Can distinguish between important and less important points

Non-Literate Learners
Learn by doing and watching
Tend to be aurally oriented
Repeat to remember
Have limited time for learning to read
Lack confidence in their learning ability
Learn best when content is relevant to their lives
May accept all content as being of equal value

One more important point about non-literate students:
Non-literate students may have difficulty with other visual concepts. Simple drawings for houses, furniture, and so on may not be recognized. For some, two-dimensional pictures may not be viewed in the same way. Therefore, maps, charts, graphs, floor plans, and other simple schematics which help literate people organize information will all be challenging for nonliterate students to figure out. You have to teach students the skill of how to read schematics.
Using a pointer or your fingers, show how to track vertically and horizontally to locate information.

Literacy Basics
When students are pre-literate and have had little or no exposure to literacy education, they will need to start with some literacy basics before attempting reading and writing activities. Some students may have difficulties in seeing shapes and patterns. Try using non-print sources to help with this such as wooden block puzzles and use Cuisenaire rods (these are just colored rods of wood or plastic that are used in teaching math) to represent words. If you don’t have access to rods, just use colored card stock. The idea is to get across that each one stands for a word. Young children’s puzzles that have a picture or word under the shape you pick up can help greatly.
You may also need to work with paper orientation, pen holding, directionality, and tracing before starting any kind of writing or copying.

Demonstrate for students how to hold a pencil between the thumb and first two fingers about an inch above the point. Check that the end of the pencil is pointing back towards the shoulder of the writing arm, and the pencil is held an inch above the point. The index finger controls the pressure and should rest on the pencil. Demonstrate both right and left handed. Students should imitate you. Often students grip the pencil too tightly, so help them to relax their hands by
shaking them out every so often.

Demonstrate and have students practice drawing lines, circles, and patterns. Start with having students tracing over models you have prepared and gradually move to them producing the model on blank lines.

Students need to recognize left-to-right and top-to-bottom directionality. Draw lines on the board or paper from left to right. Have students copy, air drawing from left to right and / or drawing with fingers on the table. Provide paper for students to trace lines from left to right. Repeat for top-to-bottom directionality.

Students need to know how to orient their body to paper on a table. For right-handed students, the paper should be perpendicular to the edge of the table. The left-handed paper position is about a forty-five degree angle from the edge of the table.

Provide a number of worksheets for each student with their own name printed on them. Don’t expect students to recognize or write their names at this point. Have students trace over their name. Keep observing them and note how they are holding the pen.

I know these sound very basic but for some of your students, they may be necessary. Again, this is why it is important to know what their background is in literacy.


We are teaching a huge variety of students. Some may be able to communicate their needs orally but not read and write in English. Others may be a beginner in all skills. Every student is going to have varying experiences and this affects the materials you select, your instructional focus, and the rate of your students’ progress.
Pre-literate students come from an oral language tradition. For this reason, the concept of communicating through reading and writing can be difficult to grasp. Holding a pen and opening a book are all new experiences. It is important for pre-literate students to have a foundation of oral language skills before focusing on reading and writing.
Non-literate students come from a culture with a written language, but they have had little or no exposure to literacy in their first or second language. They did not have any formal schooling and did not learn any native language literacy. For non-literate students, instruction should still emphasize the connection between spoken and written language.
Semi-literate students have some but minimal literacy in their own language. They may be very nervous and hesitant and lack confidence in their literacy skills.
Students may speak and are literate in a language that does not have a Roman alphabet. Some writing systems are alphabetic and some are not. Chinese is symbolic where symbols represent a word or idea rather than separate sounds. Arabic is alphabetic where the symbols represent sounds, but it is not a Roman alphabet. Students from these backgrounds can transfer skills from one language to another even if the script is completely different. These students have usually had some schooling in their native language. If you have an opportunity to watch your students read or write in their native languages, note their comfort level. Do they write with ease? If so, they probably have good native language literacy skills.

If you are unsure where your students are in literacy, try the following activities.

If students are pre-literate, you may find them unable to complete any of the tasks.

1 Can my students write their names in English?
2 Can my students identify any basic sight words from cards?
3 When pointing to the following letters, do my students have a concept of what sounds they make?
4 Can my students complete an English alphabet cloze exercise?
5 Can my students copy sentences in English?
6 Can my students read simple sentences in English?
7 Can my students write simple dictated sentences?
8 What are my students. educational backgrounds?

Whatever you discover about your students. levels, what you teach must have meaning for them.
Start with oral language and begin to make connections to the written word.

Next month we will look at some more differences and ways to teach.