Guest-Led Discussion Oct.16-20: ESL Classroom Videos for Teachers & Volunteers

We are excited to have Andrea Echelberger from the Minnesota Literacy Council in St. Paul, MN with us next week to lead a discussion of classroom videos each of which features a different ESL teaching strategy. Welcome, Andrea!

Are you curious about what happens in other English language classes and wish you had the time to observe teaching colleagues? This online discussion is for any English language teachers, tutors, or volunteers who would like to develop their teaching skills through observing and discussing the teaching practices of five different English language teachers working in St. Paul, MN. These videos were created by the Minnesota Literacy Council to support teachers and volunteers who have limited time and access to professional development opportunities, but who are interested in continuing to grow their skills.

Each day our discussion will focus on a video of a different teacher leading their class through an English language activity. In our online discussion, we can talk through the successes and challenges of the activity, teaching techniques demonstrated by the teacher, and potential activity modifications for other levels of classes.

To participate fully in the discussion:

1) Read the day’s featured activity instructions

2) Watch the video (links are below).

Some of the teachers featured in the videos will be joining the discussion, so you’ll be able to ask them questions about the learners in their class and their teaching practices.


Level: Pre-Beginning 

Activity: Walk, Talk, Trade

Activity Instructions         Activity Video


Level: Beginning

Activity: Number of the Day

Activity Instructions         Activity Video


Level: Low Intermediate

Activity: Walking Dictation

Activity Instructions         Activity Video


Level: High Intermediate

Activity: Post-It Chart

Activity Instructions         Activity Video


Level: Beginning

Activity: Tap the Syllables, Rubber Bands for Word Stress, Show the Word Stress, Group the Word Stress

Activity Instructions         Activity Video

To see the entire list of the Classroom Activity Videos, visit the Minnesota Literacy Council’s website at


I"ve only watched the first one -- looking forward to chatting about it Monday.   

I'm looking forward to discussing this video with you on Monday- thanks for joining the discussion!

Is there a good website or method you can recommend for finding free, non copy-right images, quickly to create materials/power points to introduce vocabulary for class?



Hi Lynnmarie and all, I often get photos from Google images. On the "advanced search," I set the "usage rights"  to retrieve only images that are "free to use or share."  I noticed that in this video, Meghan uses photos and not line drawings or stylized pictures. Since photographs are less abstract than line drawings or stylized pictures, they are more effective -- especially with learners who have limited formal schooling.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Great question, Lynnmarie! When leading vocabulary activities, it's important to have quality pictures that you can show the learners, since, as Susan pointed out, learners with limited former schooling, like learners featured in the video, tend to comprehend photos more easily than line drawings or clipart. I also frequently search google images using the advanced search settings. I've also found really quality images on , and that are free to use.

Thank you for all the suggestions on sites /methods for locating images. that will help me tremendously in preparing for my classes.  I am thrilled that I was invited and am devouring as much as I can as time allows.  This was absolutely the most awesome sharing I have ever experienced!  Thank you Everyone!!

Lynnmarie Blackman

Thanks for joining in the discussion and bringing in a great question! I also learned some new resources from the replies, so I really appreciated you asking the question.

Best, Andrea

Hello, all! Thank you for the welcome, Susan. I'm very excited to have the opportunity to watch and discuss several of our new Classroom Activity Videos with you throughout the upcoming week. It should be a fun and engaging opportunity to delve into teaching practices and formulate some ideas for classroom activities. This discussion has a couple of different purposes: to give teachers and tutors the opportunity to observe classroom teachers to inform their own teaching, and to think about how we can develop creative professional development for staff and volunteers when there is limited time for in-person training.

I wanted to start by giving a brief overview of how these videos came to be created. In Minnesota, we're fortunate to have a fairly robust volunteer tutor training program. The MN Department of Education provides a supplemental services grant that contracts several ABE providers to provide support services to ABE programming throughout the state. The MN Literacy Council, where I work, provides volunteer training, recruitment, and placement services to ABE programs all over Minnesota. MN Literacy delivers 12-hour ESL Pre-Service Trainings to volunteers within the metro area, and by request in-services to programs all over MN. Of course, it can be difficult for smaller programs in rural MN to gather together enough volunteers to justify offering an in-service, and even volunteers who have been through the 12-hour training often ask for more opportunities to develop as teachers. The classroom activity videos were created to broaden the professional development options for volunteer tutors, coordinators, and teachers. They can be used by current volunteers who would want to see examples of professional teachers leading learners through an activity, including delivering instructions, modeling, and checking comprehension. The videos and their accompanying Classroom Video Observation form can be used by volunteer coordinators who are looking for ways to facilitate discussions and professional development among their volunteers and teachers, and they can also be used by classroom teachers who are looking to develop their own teaching skills by observing and learning from other teachers. And in the spirit of using volunteers, the videos were created for free with the help of a volunteer video intern!

The first four videos that we'll watch this week were filmed at the Open Door Learning Center Arlington Hills. On Monday, we're going to watch the Walk, Talk, Trade video which features a class of low beginning adult learners. Most of the learners in the class are newly arrived refugees, and many of them are pre-literate in their first languages, as well as at the very beginning stages of acquiring English. 

To get the discussion started, I'd like to pose a few questions about the video. 1) How does the teacher prepare the students to participate in the activity? 2) What best practices for teaching low-literacy adult ESL learners do you see her utilize during the instruction portion of the activity? 3) What skills are the learners developing as they participate in the activity?


Thanks Andrea for this great start. I am looking forward to the discussions. I would like to add a couple more trainings for state trainers, PD providers, and tutor trainers.

1. As you work through these videos, how can you model this idea in your experiences? 
​2. What are the tech skills required of your audience to participate in this type of training? 

​I'm looking forward to our discussions.

Kathy Tracey





Thanks for bringing in the PD and tutor trainer angle into the discussion, Kathy. I deliver a lot of in-services to ESL tutors, and I've appreciated having the videos demonstrate real life examples of the skills that we're talking about in the training, or to provide a springboard for a discussion about teaching techniques. Before we created the videos, I would spend hours looking through Youtube to find videos, so I've enjoyed having a ready-made video repository that I can access at any time. 

There are so many good things about the activity. I used it today after viewing the video. Here are a few: using flashcards; teacher modeling; teacher participating in the activity; movement to help stimulate the brain; repetition, repetition, repetition as students read, hear, and say the words.

My students really like any activity that gives them a feeling of success. This activity builds in success. Some make it almost a competition with themselves seeing how fast they can say the word when they are shown the picture. The vocabulary words we worked on were classroom words. As an exit activity they have to formulate and tell me an "I can" statement.  All of them formulated a statement with one or two of the words we worked on. Example: I can say backpack and teacher. Smiles all around.

Thanks for sharing your students' response to the activity! You bring up an excellent point; how important it is for learners to experience success and feel like they've really mastered the language taught in the class. The steep learning curve can be frustrating,especially for learners with limited literacy skills, and incorporating activities that learners can succeed at is critical to keeping engagement levels up.

I love how the exit activity that you added gives them a chance to reflect on and talk about their success. Wonderful!

I really like the "I Can" statement. There are two additional benefits of ending a class with this type of activity. First, students exit the class with the understanding they learned something in class. It's the 'last' thing they remember. We know that in order to improve student retention, students need to both apply what they learned to their daily life and recognize progress. This simple exit activity accomplishes both. 

Secondly, it allows you an opportunitiy to assess what the student learned and if that is connected to your instructional objective. If the "I Can" statements are a bit off target, you can adjust instruction for the next period. 

Excellent ideas!!


Hello all, Sometimes I think we forget how much repetition is needed when learning another language. The learners in this video were totally engaged in the 4-minute activity -- even though they were learning only a few words-- as Rosemary notes above-- they clearly benefited from repeating the words over and over. So the trick for us teachers is to find various ways to actively engage students in using the new words in meaningful exchanges. The Walk-Talk-Trade activity is an excellent one to incorporate into vocabulary instruction.

Cheers, Susan

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Students didn't have to understand the language to do the activity.   Everything was modeled clearly, more than once.   If I were in the class and not sure of myself, I could watch first... and then the teacher would probably be over with a card to model it for me :)   

The learners are developing the language skills as well as the "walking up to people and interacting" skills.   

Thanks for bringing up soft skills, Susan! The learners are developing their comfort with interacting with one another and initiating interactions as well as practicing their vocabulary. For beginning level learners, initiating a verbal interaction can be extremely intimidating, so it's important that they get the chance to practice in a safe and supportive environment. 

Hi, Susan.  What I'm paying attention to depends on the student. For some, I'm just checking to see if they know the word and can say it in a comprehensible way.  For others, it may be fine tuning their pronunciation of the word.  I may also just be checking to see how very new, timid students are doing in a somewhat less controlled activity like this where they decide how much interacting they do.

Thanks for joining us, Meghan! Meghan is the teacher that is featured in the video that we watched for today. Meghan- I noticed that some of the learners in your class were asking each other "What do you see?" while they were mingling during the activity. Did you teach that phrase to higher level learners to make this activity more advanced for them? Also, the learners seemed to be very comfortable with the activity. They all jumped in and began interacting with one another the moment that you asked them to stand up. Is this activity part of a regular routine that you use in your class? 

Best, Andrea Echelberger

I was wondering that, too.   

I was also agreeing that this is such an excellent way to get students interacting with each other in comfortable, safe ways -- instead of trying to engage with oh, notes or a screen.   

Hi, Andrea.  Yes!  This is an activity we do alllll the time!  In the beginning of a unit, we focus on understanding the word with the picture and being able to say it, so we do this activity almost every day at first, and it becomes easier and easier.  Later in the unit, the picture cards are replaced by word cards.  Since we do it so often, many of the students already know exactly what to do, so they feel confident to dive right in.

To your other question about "What do you see?"  I did not explicitly teach this to students, but I do say it, so one or two picked it up, and then it spread to those who could handle it in this activity.  I try to make the class as friendly to new-comers and those with little prior schooling as possible, so I don't model this question.  It's a lot of new information and new ways of doing things for many of the students, especially if they enter the class in the middle of a unit. 

I often work with tutors that will be tutoring beginning level classes, and are concerned with how they will be able to give activity instructions when the learners will have very limited English skills. In this video, Meghan uses very little language when giving the activity instructions, yet the learners clearly understand the instructions and what they are supposed to do. 

What techniques does Meghan use when delivering the instructions so that her beginning level learners understand? And if trainers use this video to demonstrate limited teacher talk, what follow-up activities could trainees do to practice giving instructions using limited amounts of English?

Looking forward to reading what people have to say!

Best, Andrea

Hello all, As we all know, explaining an activity so that learners understand what we expect them to do is often the most difficult thing in an ESL class. As Andrea points out, Meghan uses few words to explain what she expects the students to do. Instead she models.

Teacher talk is something we all need to be aware of-- at all levels of ESL. We want to create safe spaces for students to take the risks necessary with the English they are learning. Meghan does a great job of creating that safe space. She provides just the right amount of scaffolding (i.e., structure and support) for this group of learners. She uses minimal language and carefully models the activity. In addition, she doesn't overwhelm the learners with too much new vocabulary or with a task that is too challenging. Figuring these details out is not that easy when we first start out as teachers or volunteers. Comments welcome!

Cheers, Susan


Good morning! Today we're going to watch and discuss the Number of the Day activity from Barb's beginning level class. This activity develops learners' numeracy skills along with their English, and is part of Barb's regular weekly routine. 

Just a quick note: The version of the video that we are watching was edited down to 15 minutes. The full activity is about 35 minutes long; the edited version doesn't show most of the learners' independent work time. When putting together the video project, the Number of the Day activity was included because it frequently appears in our beginning level ESL volunteer curriculum, and learning center coordinators report that volunteer teachers often have questions about how to lead it.

Here are some questions to get the discussion started this morning:

1. After reading the instructions for the activity, which parts do you think will be the most challenging for the teacher to explain to the learners?

2. How does the teacher support the learners throughout each of the stages of the activity?

3. If you wanted to use this activity with your learners, what adaptations would you need to make to the activity for your class level, size, or set-up? (additional modeling, technology, grouping, etc.)

At least somebody already knew from "sixty minutes in an hour" for when they see sixty -- is that because you repeat 'important' numbers like that? 

I noticed that yes, lots of people just traced the coins and didn't make it add up to sixty...  The other parts of the lesson seemed more explicitly explained and modeled  but it also makes sense to me that some parts of the lesson are harder than others.   

   I know many of my English-first-language students struggle with a lot of this specific math language... going over "reading" an addition problem is something worth doing with everybody :)   

Interesting that your native English speaking students struggle with reading math problems aloud. That's not an issue that I would expect to encounter, but if it's not a skill that people explicitly practiced in school, it would be challenging. Do you have some favorite numeracy activities that you do with your native English speaking students that could also work with ESL students? 

Best, Andrea

Barb, since we have you here as a part of this discussion, could you tell us a little background on the Number of the Day activity? For example, why do you incorporate this activity into your regular classroom routine? Also, I'd love to hear how your learners respond to the activity.

Best, Andrea

 It's important for learners to feel comfortable with numbers and simple problem-solving opportunities. Numeracy is a huge part of our culture, and our students need practice with various types of number/math/numeracy experiences. Not only is numeracy everywhere they go, but they typically have school-aged children who are bringing some of these same lessons home as well. How rewarding for the parents to have a sense of understanding and comfort when this happens!

I have been using the Number of the Day activity off and on for four years, and my students are always engaged and eager with the activity. Once they get familiar enough, I then give them an additional sheet with a new number to work with, and they then progress through each step independently. They feel quite a sense of accomplishment.

With adult education beginning to implement the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS), this is one way to get them moving towards those math numeracy standards.

Those are just some of my thoughts! Let me know if you have any more questions!


Hi Barb, Thanks for joining our discussion and for explaining the important rationale for focusing on numeracy in an ESL class. I was wondering if it would possible to make the handout you use available to us -- maybe as a Google doc. If this is not possible, could you spell out for us what goes into each of the boxes on the Number of the Day handout? Thanks again for being with us!

Cheers, Susan

The handout that the students are using is on the third page of the Number of the Day instructions- it's buried at the end. Here's the link to the PDF. It's a great activity that develops a variety of numeracy skills. I'd love to hear how it goes if teachers try it out in their classes!

Best, Andrea

Hi Susan,  Andrea has followed up with the location of the actual handout on our MN LIteracy Council website.  As far as what goes into each the first box, we practice making the tally count that equals the number of the day.  In the second box the students each decide the combination of coins that equals the number of the day and then actually trace around each coin as well as writing the cent amount in the center of each coin. I require them to trace the coins so they get a feel for the authentic size of each one, as opposed to simply drawing random circle shapes. There are always several ways to come up with the amount, and we discuss those variations as a class. In the third box, we look around the classroom or think of places in the community that we might see that number. This box usually requires a lot of guidance by the teacher. Then we simply write a complete sentence about that number and where we find it. The fourth box is where we write one number that is more and one number that is less than the number of the day. We talk about this as a class, then each student writes one number in each blank. The number of the day goes on the line on the right for each "sentence."  The last two boxes for addition and subtraction require the students to begin with the top number being the number of the day, then they add and subtract any desired number and then complete the math problem. (I have varied these two boxes for higher level learners by choosing multiplication and/or division in place of the easier addition and subtraction as well.)  I hope this is somewhat helpful in describing what goes into each box!  Again, let me know if you have any further questions!


Thanks for posting the link, Susan! Today we're going to watch a short video of Paul leading his class through the Walking Dictation activity (which is one of my personal favorites too!). This is a popular activity among ESL teachers since it's learner-centered, develops multiple skills, and can be used with any topic. However, because it has a lot of moving parts, it can be confusing to volunteers and teachers who are implementing it for the first time.

A couple of questions to get the discussion started this morning:

1. What teaching techniques is Paul modeling while he is giving the instructions for the activity? 

2. How are the students getting corrective feedback as they participate in the activity?

Thanks! I'm looking forward to the discussion today!

Best, Andrea

Hello Andrea and all, I love this activity because it is highly engaging and can be adapted to any level. Plus, in my experience, students love it.

One of the most important aspects of this activity, which is pointed out in the video, is that we use language students already know; this activity is a great way for students to practice pronouncing words and using the vocabulary and grammar structures in both speaking and writing that they have been taught. We wouldn't want them to have to struggle with language they have not yet been exposed to.

To adapt this for students who are not yet writing, we could have them sequence a set of pictures to tell a story they are already familiar with. When low level students are beginning to write, we can have them dictate letters of the alphabet or numbers, single words, and/or simple 3-4 word sentences.

What ideas do you have for adapting this activity for an advanced class?

What about professional development? As I said, students usually love this activity, and I can tell you that teachers love it, too. In our discussion with Andrea this week, we are focused not only on the teaching activities themselves, we are also engaged in thinking about how we might use these videos and/or the teaching techniques for professional development.  To demonstrate walking dictation with a group of teachers, I often use the walking dictation activity with content I want to cover in a workshop. I've even used this activity in the graduate courses I teach.

Comments and questions are welcome!

Cheers, Susan


I also love this activity and use it with my intermediate drop-in class which is multi-level and includes a few advanced students.  It tends to have 25-30+ students so I have to have the students stay in the classroom rather have the walkers go out to a hallway. That works too.  I have also discovered that being clear with the activity instructions and extra modeling is extremely important.  I once discovered a low intermediate student take her Smartphone to the wall with the vocabulary chunks and take a picture!  I corrected the behavior gently only to discover the same thing happening in another day's lesson by a different student.  Since then, I've modeled the activity instructions with and without a camera plus a little humor. 

Cheers, Ellen

Thanks for sharing your experience, Ellen. It sounds like your learners are creative problem solvers! I imagine the use of humor when you're giving instructions gets everyone to pay attention. 

I'd love to hear more about how you make the walking dictation activity work with a multi-level class. Do you have students work with a partner who is at the same level or at a different level? And does everyone in the class use the same reading for the activity?

Best, Andrea 

One of my favorite features of the Walking Dictation is how easy it is to differentiate instruction, so that a multi-level class can all be participating in the same activity, but at a level that is appropriate for their abilities.

With multi-level classes (which, let's be honest, is every adult ESL class), I would put the learners into partners based on their abilities. Then I would give each of the pairs a piece of colored paper for the partner who was listening and writing to write on. The color of the paper would correspond to the color of the paper hanging up in the hallway or around the room where the partner who was walking and reading would go to read the dictation. With this system, I could vary the complexity of the text that the pairs were working on, and have lower level learners write a list of single words, mid level learners write basic sentences, and higher level learners write complex sentences. Or all of the groups could be working on the same words or phrases, but I could vary the length of the dictation so that lower learners had less, and higher learners had more. Differentiating the dictations ensured that all of the pairs would finish at approximately the same time, and that no one would get frustrated or overwhelmed by being asked to read or write far above their abilities.

At the end of the activity, I would always take the dictations down and pass them out to the pairs, so that they could work together to check their work. The students would have a lot of fun seeing how much they got write, and laughing about where they struggled and had misunderstandings. I would hear a lot of language negotiation as the partners would talk through the parts that were confusing, and help each other practice the pronunciation or phrasing so that they would be able to have more success next time. 

I also regularly use this activity in my class. When I want to provide more challenge for higher level students, I increase the length of the sentences and combine it with a lesson on thought groups. It’s a great chance to apply work on thought groups because the dictated material makes so much more sense to the receiver if it is broken down into thought groups rather than at an arbitrary break. 

Ellen, that's pretty funny that students were taking pictures! 

As a volunteer and substitute teacher with MLC, I have done this exercise before with my Beginning ESL class.  However, I haven’t used it with sentences, which I think is a great idea.  (We’ve used primarily phrases.)  Also, I haven’t had students write their dictations on the board, which is a good extension of this exercise because then the whole class gets to contribute.   The video shows a way the class can be seated/organized for this activity, which I appreciate.  The extra-clear instruction the instructor gives ahead of the activity is also something I'll remember.  In my experience this is a very engaging activity for students!



I'd love to hear how the activity goes when you add in sentences and the whole class extension. Thanks for sharing your experience, Laurie!

Best, Andrea

I also like the writing of the sentences on the board. In addition having both statements and questions emphasized the importance of punctuation for the two.