Do You Speak American?

November 25, 2009 at 1:02 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Development | Comments Off on Do You Speak American?

It is well known that the drift of our dialect from its British origins is widening.  The extent to which we have made English “our own” was recently illuminated in my class when a vocabulary word inadvertently denoted both a person and an article of clothing; albeit while discussing Halloween.  When a picture of a cowboy costume was displayed, a student asked what the man was wearing on his legs.  The class aide replied, “Those are his chaps”.  Understandably, this answer confused our student.  He pointed again to the cowboy’s legs and repeatedly asked us where the chaps were in the picture. We realized that the student was previously exposed to British English as he searched for the cowboy’s supposed friends.

Following our country’s image as a “melting pot”; our dialect has assimilated a vast array of languages.  While this tendency may cause unanticipated issues when explaining words like “chap”, we can also turn it to our advantage.  Explaining the name of our country to a class that was 100% Spanish speaking was easier by borrowing the Spanish word “uno (the number one)” and relating it to “united”. 

Numerous studies have been conducted on the advent of “American English”.  One such documentary was produced by Robert MacNeil and PBS, titled: Do You Speak American?  MacNeil, who moved to the States 40 years ago, places emphasis on immigrants in both learning and producing American English.  As he travels across the country, he finds towns that speak primarily German or Spanish, including El Cenizo, Texas which made Spanish its official language in 1999.  MacNeil highlights the growing need for ESOL programs when he meets a family who learned German from their neighbors, instead of English, out of survival when they immigrated.  He also discovers a number of English dialects that have synthesized with French, Creole, and Arabic.  Moreover, the documentary encounters regions of the country (from Appalachia to California) that speak English with slang and accents so strong that they are incomprehensible to other Americans.

I’ve learned that viewing American English as dynamic rather than static is helpful for the classroom.  We inevitably teach a particular form of English that is fitted with lingo and accents specific to the teacher and subject to further change. 

– Matt Arnold,  AmeriCorps Instructor

Exact Change, Please.

November 16, 2009 at 5:51 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Development, Teaching | Comments Off on Exact Change, Please.

When several students gave me their checkbooks at registration, I was a little surprised.  When I realized that they wanted me to write the check for them, I was more than taken aback.  The incident showed me how easy it can be to take advantage of the fact that people don’t speak English.  I knew that I wanted to cover money basics at some point during the semester.

My chance came when I started a unit on personal finance with my Level 3 beginners.  I decided to preface the unit with a coin counting exercise.  I had my students make small purchases from “Teacher’s Store” with plastic coin replicas.  We went over the values of the different coins, and I was surprised that even my Level 3 students were unsure of the names and value of some of the coins.  I had them show me alternative ways of counting out exact change for things like candy bars or a piece of gum.  They were very pleased with themselves when they came up with different solutions.

After we covered money values, we went grocery shopping with coupons.  The shopping activity was also very exciting to watch as a teacher, because my students really got into it.  There was a small scramble to get the coupon for the biggest value when I passed them out.  Once they finished grocery shopping, they had to pay for their groceries with a check.  This turned out to be an excellent practical activity for the class, because my students have to do this all of the time.  Now they don’t have to give someone a wad of cash or a blank check and hope that person will give them back the correct amount.  They can count the money out themselves.  I could tell that some of my students left feeling more confident and independent in their money handling abilities, which made me feel proud as a teacher.

– Erin Andrews, AmeriCorps Instructor


November 10, 2009 at 9:00 AM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Development, Teaching | Comments Off on BINGO!

I loved playing BINGO in school, mostly because it was a mental break.  All I had to do was recognize a word, get five in a row by chance, and usually, I’d end up with a prize.  BINGO works the same way in our classrooms.  It is a great activity to provide students with practice recognizing words and repeating them, but it can also be so much more.  I have discovered BINGO is a great way to measure my students’ progress and to make sure that they understand what we’ve just learned.  Instead of reading a word, I will say the definition, and they have to decide what word I am describing.  I have found that my students enjoy the added challenge, and it has also been a very useful assessment tool for me.  Assessing our students does not need to be a formal process.  Use activities such as BINGO to measure their knowledge, and do it now!  Don’t wait until the end of the term when you can hardly remember which of your students were able to introduce themselves back in week one.  Assessing students is most valuable when it is done throughout the term, because we, as teachers, can use that information to improve our teaching techniques.

– Courtney Pergal, AmeriCorps Instructor

Learning Styles

November 6, 2009 at 9:00 AM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Development, Teaching | 1 Comment

I am a meticulous note-taker. I draw pictures, transcribe lengthy lectures, and, ultimately, re-write pages of notes in more detail. Why all of this effort, you might ask? I am a visual and tactile learner – verbal comprehension is very difficult for me. We are all some combination of the three styles of learning – visual, tactile, and auditory – but it is important to understand the way you learn best. As an ESL teacher, it is also important to recognize the learning styles of your students. While at a VALRC training a month ago, I was reminded of the importance of recognizing the learning styles of your students. Below is a synopsis of the learning styles as presented at the ESOL Basics workshop.

The auditory learning style relates to listening and verbalizing. Auditory learners have little difficulty remembering conversations, lectures, or dialogues. Discussions help them focus, comprehend, and remember information. The visual learning style relates to seeing and imagining. Visual learners remember what they see, and prefer to have information or instructions written down. Organizing information into charts, graphs, and maps helps them remember details. The tactile (kinesthetic) learning style relates to doing things. Tactile learners like hands-on, direct involvement, movement, and touch. It is easier for them to remember information when a real-life situation is used as an example. I try to keep these styles in mind as I plan my lessons.

– Minta Trivette, AmeriCorps Instructor

A Positive Partnership

November 5, 2009 at 9:00 AM | Posted in Class, Community Partners, ESOL, Family Learning | Comments Off on A Positive Partnership

It would be easy for LCNV’s Family Learning class at Crestwood Elementary School to feel like it is its own island; classes are held in two trailers adjacent to the school’s main building and parents attending the class do not need to enter the main school building to come to class or to sign-in, but thanks to a creative collaboration with the school’s physical education program (among other school involvement efforts) the FLP class feels like it is a part of the Crestwood school community.

On October 28, 2009 the class visited the school gym for a physical fitness activity.  What does a visit to the school gym have to do with learning English?  For the students in the class the links are many.


Students participate in a physical fitness activity at Crestwood Elementary.

On the day of the visit, class began as it usually does in the Crestwood Family Learning Center trailer with students settling into their routines.  After reviewing the date, days of the week and discussing when words are capitalized, Elizabeth Magee, the lead teacher read the children’s book, “Miss Bindergarten Takes a Field Trip With Kindergarten” aloud and discussed how children in school go on field trips.  Shortly after that, the class of adult students went on a field trip of their own.

The Crestwood Elementary P.E. teacher Mr. Magee (no relation to Elizabeth Magee) warmly greeted the students as they entered the gym.  For students new to the class (many of which are also new to the country) this was an opportunity to meet the P.E teacher after hearing about physical education in the U.S school system in previous lessons.  Mr. Magee welcomed familiar students who had attended the class in prior semesters and had visited the gym as an FLP class before.  He discussed the role of physical education in academics and suggested physical activity as a way to increase concentration for learning and relieve test anxiety for adults and children alike.  He demonstrated some activities that children regularly do in P.E class and set up stations for everyone to participate.  After an energetic warm-up around the gym the students tried out different stations: making baskets, playing soccer, jumping rope, hula-hooping, and playing catch.

It was nice to see two very beginning students who do not share a common native language engaging in a game of soccer.  Although they were not communicating verbally they were sharing a connection that could transition into the classroom.  As the class exited the gym with smiles on their faces, children from the school were lined up for their P.E. class.  One child said, “Those are some big kids.”  Another added, “They’re not kids.  What are they doing here?”  Elizabeth responded, “They’re here because they’re students in this school too.”  “Oh yeah, my mom does that!”

Much gratitude is owed to Mr. Magee for his ongoing support of the FLP class.  Sharing his time and expertise has given the students a snapshot of an aspect of the U.S school system.  His positive attitude has made the students feel welcome in the school community.

– Carisa Pineda, Director of Family Learning Programs

Food and Family

November 4, 2009 at 9:00 AM | Posted in Class, ESOL, Lesson Plans, Teaching | Comments Off on Food and Family

Struggling to get your students talking?  Some nights it is a challenge to get my students engaged in discussion with each other; other nights it comes naturally.  For those not so natural nights, I have found a couple of topics that always get my students excited.  The first one is food.  Everyone loves food, and it is something we all have in common, no matter what language we speak or from what culture we come.  My students love telling me about the dishes they make in their home and how delicious the food is from their country of origin.  Ask them about their favorite restaurant, and they’ll talk for half the class describing the restaurant to each other, explaining the dishes and even where it is located.  Food is common ground in our classrooms and is something everyone enjoys discussing.

The second topic that always sparks conversation without fail is family.  To my students, family is the most important part of their lives.  Their faces light up as they share stories about their children and spouses.  Last week, I had my students working in pairs on a pronoun worksheet.  As I walked around the classroom monitoring my students’ progress, I listened as two of my students were having a conversation about their families, home, responsibilities, and routine.  Ten minutes later, as the rest of the class finished the worksheet, these two students were still chatting away.  Blank worksheets sat in front of them.  As much as I wanted them to practice pronouns, they were engaged in a lengthy conversation, and that is what English class is all about.  There are some nights I try to force that kind of dialogue, so when it happens naturally, I can’t bring myself to cut it off.  If you want to get the conversation going in your classroom, even if it is a little off topic to your lesson, just ask your students about food and family; it never fails.

– Courtney Pergal, AmeriCorps Instructor

The Building Blocks of ESOL

November 4, 2009 at 9:00 AM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, ESOL | Comments Off on The Building Blocks of ESOL

I could see the strain and frustration on their faces.  My students had been working very hard to grasp some difficult English concepts over the last couple of classes.  They were doing very well, and I wanted to give them a reward for working so hard, so I brought in a couple of games that I really enjoyed playing, and adapted them to my lesson plan.  

One of the games was Questions Jenga.  My students were working with numbers, and the game was a perfect way for my students to practice writing and pronouncing numbers.  On each block, I wrote a numerical number on one side of the block and spelled out the word for a different number on another side.  I found that this setup offered a chance for students to play the game at various stages of difficulty, based on the directions provided by the instructor.  For the first game, however, I gave my students a choice.  They could write out the word that represented the numerical number, or they could read the spelled-out number and pronounce it correctly.  Most students went for pronunciation, as writing and spelling tend to be more difficult.  Like I said, though, it’s easy to make the game more challenging by simply providing a different set of rules.  

I gave my students the game, and they got off to a disappointingly slow start. My students removed and replaced bricks with painstaking caution.  Maybe it’s the five year old kid in me, but I only build a tower of blocks because I want to see it come crashing down!  It was tedious to even watch.  Finally, the moment for which I had been waiting arrived, and the tower collapsed, scattering small wooden bricks all over the table and my students.  I looked at the expressions of mild surprise and disappointment on their faces and waited for the change to take place.  Gradually, I began to see the light go off and sly grins tugging at the edges of their mouths.  I moved on to observe a different group, as they rebuilt the tower, but I remember listening to exclamations of “stop touching the table!” and hearing the tower come smashing down much sooner than it did during the first game.

– Erin Andrews,  AmeriCorps Instructor

Thank You to our Basic Literacy Tutors and Trainers!

November 3, 2009 at 9:00 AM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Training, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on Thank You to our Basic Literacy Tutors and Trainers!

After the series of three Saturdays for our new Basic Adult Literacy Tutors Training Program I am letting out a huge sigh of relief!  As the Program Assistant for the Literacy Council, I have been the resident pinch hitter while our wonderful Basic Adult Literacy Program Specialist, Rebekah Bundang, who is on Family Leave, enjoys the new experiences of her infant daughter.  Though I eagerly await news of her return in December, I feel as if the training was a success and preparations for it have helped me better understand the needs of the program and how to manage the many tutoring relationships.

The Basic Program has the benefit of excellent volunteer trainers to lead the workshops.  Lisa Bellamy, Marykate Dougherty, Sandi Eisenstein, Ryan Garton, Patricia Hayden, Samantha Levine-Finley, Pat May, Nick Rosenbach, and Christine Stromme each bring professionalism, teaching experience, dedication, a love of the students they have served as well as their individual talents to try to create a stimulating environment and training for the future tutors in the LCNV community.  They have invited the staff to join the training team and I have volunteered to be that staffer.  I attended all three sessions and was pleased to see the passion and familiarity they have with the trials and tribulations of tutoring one to one reinforced with the well tried and true teaching methodologies.

I was so excited to meet the new tutors.  Their zeal and anxiety remind me of the two years I spent as an AmeriCorps in the ESL classrooms.  Every teacher worries they might leave some need of their student’s education unfulfilled, but the training really brought home the importance of creating student goal-focused instruction and a comfortable environment for the student.  As the trainee tutors were matched with students after the first session, they were so excited to lesson plan using real-life circumstances and brainstorm with their colleagues about what might be effective. 

As we continue to work to match these excited new tutors and the students waiting, I am so pleased to have trained with the new tutors and our excellent volunteer trainers.  The one to one work can truly be inspiring.  If you are interested in learning more about the Basic Adult Literacy Program or our other educational programs and trainings, please visit the LCNV website or email our Director of Volunteers, Belle Penaranda at    

– Katie Beckman, Programs Assistant

LCNV Calendar: November 2009

November 2, 2009 at 9:00 AM | Posted in Announcements, Calendar, News | Comments Off on LCNV Calendar: November 2009

Although the days are getting shorter, that doesn’t mean that the Literacy Council is slowing down one bit! Here’s what’s going on in the month of November:

Saturdays, November 7, 14, and 21: Volunteers are wanted for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Tutor Training. This intensive 3-Saturday workshop trains volunteers to tutor an adult learning to speak, understand, read, and write English. Please click here for more information.

Saturday, November 7: Curious about the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia?  Have you always wanted to help out but wasn’t quite sure about what’s available?  Visit us for a New Volunteer Orientation in Centreville, taking place on this day from 10:30-11:30 am.  Please click here for more information and to sign up.

FLP classes are cancelled on Monday, November 2nd and Tuesday, November 3rd.  ESOLC classes are cancelled on Wednesday, November 11th for Veterans’ Day. All classes are cancelled on Wednesday, November 25 and Thursday, November 26 for Thanksgiving.  LCNV offices are closed Thursday, N

ovember 26-Friday, November 27.

Tuesday, December 1: LCNV Holiday Potluck Party – all are invited!  Please bring a dish to share with 6-10 people.  There will be prizes, entertainment, and plenty of time to meet and catch up with friends!  James Lee Community Center, 2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church, VA 22042, 6-8 pm. Please RSVP to or 703-237-0866.

– Belle Peñaranda, Director of Volunteers

Culture of Gratitude

November 1, 2009 at 9:00 AM | Posted in Community Partners, Volunteers | Comments Off on Culture of Gratitude

Working in adult education is very rewarding because the learners are such grateful learners.  Every new morsel of information we teach them is treasured and appreciated.  I’m not sure every third or fourth grade teacher can say that.  Interesting though, is that as teachers and administrators, we are grateful for our learners.  Their achievements are our achievements; their successes contribute to our success.  We measure our organizational success by the goals and educational gains of our learners.  At the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia we have much to be grateful for in the amazing accomplishments of our adult learners.  Last year our students reported these significant achievements.

Goals Achieved Number of Learners
Attained consumer skills 533
Attained wellness and healthy lifestyles 384
Entered employment 121
Entered other education and/or training 148
Improved employability skills 478
Increased involvement in children’s educational activities 244
Increased involvement in community activities 306
Obtained citizenship/achieved citizenship skills 128
Other personal goal 938
Registered to vote/voted for first time 35
Retained employment 369

None of this could be accomplished without the help of our volunteer teachers and tutors.  Day after day members from our community come to the Literacy Council willing to give their time.  They attend our rigorous training programs and then work hours week after week to help adults reach their learning goals.  So often we hear back from these volunteers that they are grateful for their experience; that they get back much more than they give. At the same time, the learners are saying, “My tutor does so much for me, how can I ever thank them?”  At the Literacy Council we are truly indebted to our dedicated volunteers and feel much the same way as many learners, “How can we ever thank them enough?”

The work we do together — learners, volunteers, staff, board, donors – is done in a circle of gratitude and appreciation.  Come join us.  You will love the culture here.

– Patti Donnelly, Executive Director

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