Using Children’s Books in the Classroom

July 21, 2011 at 3:32 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, ESOL, Family Learning, Lesson Plans, Teaching | Comments Off on Using Children’s Books in the Classroom
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It is a good idea to do something different in the classroom. One easy way to do this is by introducing books into the classroom. During the summer session I did this with my level one student’s and to an extent it was a success. We read Clifford Gets a Job and School Bus. My students were excited about reading a book in English. The first one we read wasSchool Bus, by Donald Crews, a hardcover with lots of pictures and few words. They loved that that I asked them to describe what they saw and that I slowly explained the words they did not understand. The book actually got the whole class asking about colors. What color is your shirt teacher? What color is the marker? There was one student that did not know any of the colors, and as a teacher, I was proud of how our class helped that one student learn her colors. “Yellow,” they said pointing to a picture of the school bus. “Red, yellow, green” as they pointed to the picture of the traffic light. “Orange,” said another student as he stretched his shirt. They liked the book so much that they asked me to bring another book for them.

So I brought in Clifford Gets a Job, by Norman Bridwell, which was very relevant since we had just finished going over occupations. The thing about this book is that while it has a lot of very colorful pictures it also has a lot more words and full sentences. This was a challenge for my level one students. It did not go as smoothly as the School Bus book. It unfortunately took me almost the whole class to go over it. I was expecting it only to take about 30 minutes. For longer books I suggest having questions ready to guide the lesson.

-Jose Flores, Lead Teacher and AmeriCorps Member

Library Trip and Graduation Activities

May 16, 2011 at 11:06 AM | Posted in Class, Community, Lesson Plans, Teaching, Volunteers | Comments Off on Library Trip and Graduation Activities
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My Family Learning Program Crestwood Elementary class took a field trip to the Richard Byrd Library this spring.  It was pouring rain.  Icy rain has become traditional for our class library visit day.  Sandy Freund, Richard Byrd Library Manager, welcomed us and showed us all around the library.  She then read us a Lois Ehlert book!  It is a bilingual book called Un Lazo a la Luna, Moon Rope in English.  Sandy is bilingual, having grown up in Argentina, and I had asked her to read us a bilingual book to encourage our students to use the library with their children, especially during the summer.  The reading went over very well, and there were many appreciative faces among our students.  Four students received library cards – Elsa, Kathia, Zulma, and Teresa.  All have kids who will benefit from coming to the library.  Now all of our students have library cards!

After class, I met with volunteer teachers Marla and Judy to iron out some details about graduation and the next five classes.  We will be having a spelling bee using words learned and used in class during the last semester.  The spelling bee will be held during the first part of the graduation day class on May 25.  We are going to give out a spelling list beforehand to all the students so they can practice spelling in English.

-Elizabeth Magee, LCNV Lead Teacher, Family Learning Program, Crestwood Elementary School

Going to the Doctor Activity

March 23, 2011 at 12:17 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Family Learning, Lesson Plans, Teaching | 1 Comment
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Last week, I finished up the health unit with my Family Learning class. We had learned a series of dialogues for visiting the doctor including how to make an appointment, how to describe symptoms to the doctor, and how to fill a prescription at the pharmacy. To review these dialogues, I made stations all around the classroom to reflect the process of going to the doctor and getting a prescription. Before the students circulated through the stations, they all picked out an illness written on an index card from an envelope.

At station one, students either looked up a physician in the phone book or found a free clinic using a website loaded on my computer ( They then wrote down the phone number and using old, unconnected phones made an appointment to see the doctor (I had a student act as the doctor).

At station two, “the waiting room,” students signed in with the receptionist (my class aide) and filled out a medical health history form.

At station three, “the examination room,” students described their symptoms to the doctor (another student). The doctor then wrote a prescription on a mock prescription pad.

At station four, “the pharmacy,” students told the pharmacist that they needed to fill a prescription. The pharmacist (a student) would ask to see their prescription as well as their insurance card.

At station five, also “the pharmacy,” students told the pharmacist they needed to pick up their prescription. The pharmacist would then hand the student their medicine…chocolate!

As the students collected their candy, I noticed a lot of giggling from the pharmacy corner of the room. The student acting as the doctor had written a special prescription for each student, 1 chocolate, 1x a day, x10 days.

My class enjoyed this activity, and it was an effective way to practice the conversational skills needed to visit the doctor.

-Kerrin Epstein, Lead Teacher and AmeriCorps Member

Teaching Level 1

March 15, 2011 at 1:23 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, ESOL, Family Learning, Lesson Plans, Teaching | Comments Off on Teaching Level 1
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One of the hardest things to do is teach those students that have little or no English. The challenges are many. You want these students to have a good start and to have the confidence necessary to continue learning. The following are examples of activities I have been doing in my two level one classes. First of all, I think it helps to have a “routine,” so the students know what to expect. I start my classes with “discussion questions” such as, “how is the weather outside?” and “what did you do this weekend?” I find that these two questions get the students to say something. Secondly, I go over the homework. This is really a great way to review what was discussed during the previous class. I always choose students to go over homework randomly.  This is a great way to check if there are any areas that really need to be reinforced. Third, I try to have different types of activities for a new lesson. If at all possible, I include one activity with a partner, one activity that gets the students off their seats, and one class activity. Finally, I spend the last 10 minutes of class going over what the students will need to do for homework. If the homework is from the workbook, we do a number of problems from each section. What do you do differently? 

-José Flores, Lead Teacher and AmeriCorps Member

A Recap of the VLLC Conference

March 3, 2011 at 1:38 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, Community, ESOL, Family Learning, Lesson Plans, Teaching, Training, Tutoring, Volunteers | 2 Comments
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Last week the four AmeriCorps members as well as Katie Beckman, Elise Bruml, and Patti Donnelly trekked down to Richmond for the annual Virginia Literacy Leadership Council (VLLC) Conference, Feb 24-25.   About eighty adult educators hailing from all over Virginia and representing organizations serving across the spectrum of ABE, GED, and ESOL attended this two-day conference.

The speaker-list included such names as Lauren Ellington and Hillary Major (who should sound familiar if you’ve ever taken a VALRC online training) and Gloria Williams-Brevard (of USCIS, who the AmeriCorps actually had the pleasure of meeting several months ago at an ESOL event hosted by the Thomas Jefferson Library in Falls Church).

One of my favorite presentations was given by Brooke Hammond Perez of Hogar Immigrant Services, an organization based out of Falls Church that provides ESOL, GED, and citizenship instruction for a student body similar to the one that LCNV serves.  As part of their program, every Thursday after English class, a guest speaker (usually some sort of professional from the community) gives a presentation to the students surrounding an applicable topic in his or her field of expertise.  Individuals who have been part of Hogar’s Speaker Series have covered such topics as “Know your Rights” (a discussion of students’ rights regardless of citizenship status), “Personal Finances” (the importance of saving your money), “Domestic Abuse,” “Speaking to your Doctor,” “Getting your GED,” and many more.  It was wonderful to witness a successful program that an organization similar to ours implemented in order to bridge the gap that so often forms between our students and the greater community.   The AmeriCorps are interested in looking into how we can possibly assemble a comparable pilot program at one of our sites.

Tanya Conover of Prince William County Public Schools Adult ESOL program also gave a great presentation on how her organization incorporates writing into their classrooms.  The students write about topics very personal to them – from their lives in their native countries and their relationships with their children, to how they met their spouses and ways they’re adjusting to life in the U.S.  The stories are published in a wonderful compilation entitled: Our Voices, which will also soon be transformed into an audio media with the new name: Our Voices will not be Silent.  I speak for all the AmeriCorps when I say that we found this presentation very valuable and can’t wait to apply some of Tanya’s practices in our classrooms.

Overall, going to the conference was a very valuable experience because we were given the opportunity to interact with adult educators from our community who have the same visions, joys, successes, and struggles that we all experience here at LCNV.  Getting a wider perspective of things happening in our field was very inspiring.

-Alicia Nieves, Lead Teacher and AmeriCorps Member

Health Literacy In-Service

February 18, 2011 at 1:00 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Basic Literacy, Class, Community, ESOL, Family Learning, Lesson Plans, Teaching, Training, Tutoring, Volunteers | 2 Comments
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Imagine this scenario: You are in a country in which you do not know any of the languages spoken. You are experiencing severe stomach pain, and you go to the hospital. You cannot understand the doctors, and you struggle to fill out the paperwork you are given by the receptionist. Soon, you find yourself on an operating table. You are given some kind of anesthesia. When you wake up, you have stitches on your lower abdomen, and you are made to understand that something has been removed. You go home without ever having an idea of what YOUR body is now missing.

Kate Singleton related this true story during her Health Literacy In-Service at the James Lee Community Center on February 9. Ms. Singleton, a former ESOL instructor herself, had a student who went to the hospital with stomach pain and had her gallbladder removed without the student realizing what was happening.

As ESL teachers, most of us have come across students who have difficulty receiving adequate health care because of limited English comprehension. In response to this widespread problem, Ms. Singleton, from INOVA Fairfax Hospital, is working through a grant to give health literacy presentations to ESOL speakers. She was kind enough to give this same presentation to LCNV volunteers, staff, and guests. The content of the In-Service included the challenges faced by ESOL learners in finding viable health care options, the effect of lower quality of health care for ESOL community members on society as a whole, and how ESOL teachers can help their students find the health care they need.

Ms. Singleton left the audience with two important take home messages. The first is that everyone has a right to an interpreter at health care facilities that receive federal payments for Medicare and Medicaid. The second is that patients should always ask for a financial counselor. Subsequently, important phrases for students to learn during health units include “I need an interpreter, please” and “I’d like to speak with a financial counselor, please.”

Additionally, Ms. Singleton handed out a practice Medical History Form (which I have already used as a teaching tool in my classes) and a list of Health Care Tips for ESL students. To view the forms simply click on the titles.

Thank you Kate Singleton for your informative presentation!

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Please use the “Leave a Comment” feature to post your thoughts.

Kerrin Epstein, AmeriCorps Member and Lead Teacher

The Phone as a Teaching Resource

February 1, 2011 at 3:29 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Class, ESOL, Lesson Plans, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on The Phone as a Teaching Resource
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Many ESOL tutors report how excited they are when their learners phone them for the first time rather than having their English-speaking contacts convey messages for them.  It marks a real milestone regarding students’ self-confidence in speaking English.

The phone also can serve as a valuable teaching resource, especially when it comes to homework. During the ESOL tutor training workshop, we talk about how tutors can use the phone to improve students’ listening comprehension skills.  For example, they can ask their learners to call recorded messages, such as the weather forecast, to obtain a specific piece of assigned information, such as the high temperature for the day.  Alternatively, tutors can request their students to leave them voice-mail messages in order to practice their speaking skills.

Tutors in both the ESOL and Basic programs also can use the phone to improve learners’ reading and writing.  Karen Singer, who wears two hats as an ESOL tutor and a member of the training team, reports that has used this medium for spelling practice by dictating previously learned words on her student’s answering machine for the learner to write.  Quarterly reports have included accounts of tutors successfully using e-mail to carry on written conversations with technologically-savvy students.  Perhaps texting could serve a similar function.  Have any of you tried this with your learners?  If so, we’d love to hear about your experiences.

-Elise Bruml, Director of Tutoring Programs

New Strategies for the Winter Session

January 12, 2011 at 4:11 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, ESOL, Family Learning, Graduations, Lesson Plans, Teaching | Comments Off on New Strategies for the Winter Session
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Here at the Literacy Council we are getting ready to start our new session of classes in a few weeks. Seeing some of our students return and meeting new students are some of the most satisfying and exciting parts of starting a new session. It is hard to believe that the fall session has come and gone. I personally learned a lot about teaching, and I will do things a little differently for this upcoming session. I teach two level one classes, and I will try to practice more dialogues with them. Not only will I do more dialogues with my students, but I will also try to slow the pace of my classes. There were certain units which I could have, and probably I should have, spent more time explaining to my students. Of course, the one thing that we teachers always want is more time with our students so maybe this is why I feel that there were certain units I could have done more with. What are you going to do differently this session?

I hope that this winter session we have few interruptions and that we maintain or increase the number of students we had in the fall. It would be great to see a good number of students come back so they can continue to progress. It has been a long break and so those students that do come back are going to need a good review. At the same time, we need to look for some good ice breakers to make the new students feel comfortable in our classrooms. If you have good ice breaker ideas, feel free to share!

-Jose Flores, Lead Teacher and AmeriCorps Member

New Stories of Thanksgiving

November 24, 2010 at 1:50 PM | Posted in Class, Family Learning, Favorite, Lesson Plans, Staff, Teaching, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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Now that Halloween candy and costumes have disappeared from the shelves, ourthoughts turn to the next holiday on the calendar, Thanksgiving. As we plan our holiday meals,decorations, and travel plans, we might also reflect on the many Thanksgiving traditions in ourcommunities and schools. How will we share the diverse stories of Thanksgiving this year?

Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Kathryn Mitter Jacqueline Jules , a local children’s book author, has written awonderful book titled Duck for Turkey Day. She says she was inspired by ESOL students whotold her that on Thanksgiving they ate food from their birth countries rather than the turkey,stuffing and cranberry sauce often associated with the holiday. That reminded her of her ownchildhood, growing up with an immigrant father. “Turkey and pumpkin were American foods that were unfamiliar to my Swiss father,” Jules recalls. “He thought turkey tasted too dry, and we often ate duck on Thanksgiving. This memorymotivated me to write a story about a little girl who is concerned because her family is planninga nontraditional meal for Thanksgiving. Since I had so many students from Vietnam at the time, Idecided to make my main character Vietnamese. My students were thrilled. They gave me advice on names for the characters and other details I used in the story.” “My students at this Fairfax County School came from over sixty different countries. Many of them did not speak English at home. But Thanksgiving is a holiday for Americans of all faithsand births. After all, it recalls the landing of the pilgrims on Plymouth Rock. In many ways, mystudents were pilgrims—people who came to America for religious freedom or to find a betterlife. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the diversity in America and that’s what I set out to do inDuck for Turkey Day.” According to the book’s synopsis, “It’s almost Thanksgiving, and Tuyet is excited about the holiday and the vacation from school. There’s just one problem: her Vietnamese American family is having duck for Thanksgiving dinner — not turkey! Nobody has duck for Thanksgiving– what will her teacher and the other kids think?” The message of this story—that there aremany “right” ways to celebrate Thanksgiving, but they all have family in common—is a fresh, heartwarming take on the Thanksgiving story. Duck for Turkey Day isn’t the only children’s book offering diverse perspectives on the Thanksgiving tradition. Here are a few more to share with family and friends this year:

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message

By Chief Jake Swamp, illustrated by Erwin Printup, Jr.

Written by a chief of the Mohawk nation and adorned with vibrant acrylic paintings, this story adapts the Iroquois message of thanksgiving for children.



1621, A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill

A great choice for older children (ages 8-12), 1621, A New Look at Thanksgiving was written in collaboration with the living history museum Plimoth Plantation. The book provides the perspectives of both the English colonists and the Wampanoag people and features photos of museum reenactments.

Ankle Soup by Maureen Sullivan, illustrated by Alison Josephs.

Pets enjoy Thanksgiving, too! This delightful picture book gives “a dog’s ankle-high view of Thanksgiving Day in New York City” through the story of Carlos the French Bulldog’s cab ride past the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.


Gracias, The Thanksgiving Turkey by Joe Cowley, illustrated by Joe Cepeda.

Gracias, The Thanksgiving Turkey features colorful oil paintings and tells the story of a Hispanic boy, Miguel, whose father sends him a live turkey to “fatten up” for the holiday. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next!

Monster Mash!

November 3, 2010 at 1:11 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Class, ESOL, Family Learning, Lesson Plans, Media, Student Stories, Teaching | Comments Off on Monster Mash!

In light of Halloween coming up this weekend, my fellow Americorps members and I decided to take the opportunity to introduce our students to some of the holiday’s vocabulary and traditions in our classes.  I gave my students an article to read discussing the roots of the holiday and some of the ways people celebrate it in America.  We talked about all of the different kinds of costumes children wear on Halloween as they go door-to-door demanding candy from their neighbors–quite the concept if you consider that Halloween is an uniquely American holiday, so most of our students are unfamiliar with such practices.

I played the Halloween classic, “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett as part of a listening exercise in which students had to fill in the missing Halloween vocabulary words on lyrics print-outs. 

Purely for fun, I brought in several rolls of toilet paper and divided my class into two teams who had a couple minutes to turn one of their team members into a toilet paper mummy!  To end the night I read the class a spooky ghost story and rewarded Halloween Bingo winners with candy “treats.”

I loved watching my students let loss and have fun with all of the silly activities I planned because I know that the students really value the sense of community they develop in their classes, and a lot of bonding certainly went on during our Halloween parties.  Additionally, I find that when students are interacting with each other during activities that have them speaking on less artificial terms than say a pre-fabricated dialogue,  they are much more relaxed and the English just flows.

Alicia Nieves, AmeriCorps Teacher and Lead Teacher

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