Teaching Reading and Writing using a Cultural History Context

Reading and Writing, Diversity and Literacy, and English language teaching colleagues,

I am interested in learning about adult literacy and ESOL/ESL programs that explicitly teach reading and/or writing in a cultural history context.


Immigrants learning English, who may all be from the same country or geographical area, may share information about their home cultural practices such as schooling, friendship, love, marriage, child-rearing, cooking and eating, and death and dying practices, and their writings may serve as English reading material.

  • For example, an adult ESL teacher at Santa Ana College in Southern California, Susan Gaer, asks her immigrant students to take a digital photo of something in a closet at home that is especially meaningful to them, something they brought with them when they left their home country, and to write about the photo. These writings are then shared and read.
  • The San Francisco State University adult ESL teacher educator, Gail Weinstein, developed and for many years helped ESL teachers to use a Learners’ Lives as Curriculum approach that included learners writing and reading about their cultural practices.

I wonder if adult ESL programs continue to use the Learners’ Lives as Curriculum approach. Are there other approaches that adult ESL/ESOL programs use to teach reading and/or writing that use a cultural history, including a personal and family cultural history, approach?

Adult Literacy and ABE

There may be adult literacy programs that teach reading in the context of African American culture and history.

The context of the original 1960's Freedom Schools for adults was voting rights and voter education in the southern U.S. Are there still Freedom Schools for adults? If so, what is the context now?

Does your program address teaching reading using a cultural history context approach? If so, please share what you do here. What kinds of students do you serve? What is/are the cultural context(s)?  Why do you use a cultural context approach to teach reading and writing? What materials do you use?


David J. Rosen




David, thanks for bringing up the issue and sharing great resources. Not long ago, I posted information in our Reading and Writing, and Diversity and Literacy CoP regarding the benefit of using reading materials that reflect different learners, especially those belonging to diverse groups who don't fit the mold or models reflected in our "dominant" school and work environments.

I look forward to hearing what others might add to this important topic and to the resources to be shared.

I work with adult ed programs in the Four Corners region. Although they don't specifically use cultural history as a context for instruction, I provide extensive training and practice among teachers here on how to appeal to learners from diverse cultures - those who look at the world holistically, visually, collaboratively, and who are very respectful of authority. I will certainly suggest that programs begin to include cultural history in practice, and will share any resources posted here to promote it. Thanks! Leecy

Leecy Wise


Just got this resource in an email

• The Real Stories. Nonfictionbooklist.com is a searchable annotated bibliography of nearly 300 diverse nonfiction books.The project is led by Lauren Causey, and the site allows readers to locate the titles they want at a nearby library. The project is meant to rejuvenate interest in nonfiction literature among young readers, while at the same time serving as a resource for K-12 educators who seek nonfiction books that complement lesson plans.  

Hello David and all, This is an immensely important topic for discussion. David, you mentioned Gail Weinstein's Learners' Lives as Curriculum. We were fortunate to have had Gail work with ESL teachers in Pennsylvania on the Learners' Lives as Curriculum approach over a couple of years. As part of the initiative, teachers created units of study based on learners' lives. Some of these materials are available on the Pennsylvania adult education resources website.

What lesson materials do others have related to learners' lives and/or a cultural history context? Please share them here!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP