Guest Discussion: Staying Healthy for Beginners Curriculum

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to our guest discussion about an exciting new curriculum, created for beginner ESOL students:

Staying Healthy for Beginners: An English Learner’s Guide to Health Care and Healthy Living

In my years of collecting, training and writing about heath literacy curricula and materials for adult education, one of the biggest barriers I have always heard was a need for more materials for beginners. This new curriculum from LINCS and the Florida Literacy Coalition is both an authentic material (a colorful, picture-filled stand-alone booklet for beginning English learners) and a curriculum (an accompanying teachers guide). Together they allow you to teach literacy and language acquisition skills in the context of health topics like talking with doctors, taking medicine and eating healthy food.

This week we will talk with Greg Smith and Jennifer Young, from the Florida Literacy Coalition, who created the student and teacher’s guides. They will discuss how the guides were developed, how they work, and how they can be used in ESOL programs.

We will have a chance to hear from teachers who have used this curriculum, and would like to talk with teachers who may want to use it in the future.

Please take a look at the curriculum and post your questions and comments here! You can also look at these other threads from this group that addressed this new resource:

This resource had a predecessor, which was a slightly higher level version of Staying Healthy. Many more people have used that version, since it has been out for longer. I would love it if those of you who have used it will post your impressions here to get us started!

We will hear soon from Greg and Jennifer, but in the meantime, please share your thoughts and questions!

All the best,



Thanks Julie for the kind introduction.  Let me start by providing a little background on our efforts in this area.  With a grant from the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Literacy Coalition (FLC) published Staying Healthy: An English Learner’s Guide to Health Care and Healthy Living (student and teacher’s guide) in 2008.  At the time, there was growing interest among adult and family literacy programs in Florida on how to best integrate heath information into their instruction. In 2007, we worked with GROWS Literacy Council in Apopka Fl to develop a pilot project to try a variety of health education materials with adult ESOL students.   While we found a wide assortment of stand-alone lesson plans and activities, there wasn’t much available in terms of developed curriculum in this area. We were fortunate to receive a grant to create our curriculum with the support of a talented development committee including Sabrina Kurtz-Rossi and this list’s very own Julie McKinney. The Staying Healthy student resource book and corresponding teacher’s guide reinforce and enhance English grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary development in the context of sharing information on a range of health related topics such as visiting a doctor, understanding chronic diseases, and taking medicines.

This curriculum was field tested and published in 2008 and well received by programs in Florida and across the country. I believe we were fortunate in the timing, as the subject of health literacy was starting to gain national attention.   Staying Healthy continues to be FLC’s most popular resource by far, downloaded over 165,000 times in the last year.  I’m sure it helps that it’s free and included as part of the LINCS Resource Collection.   In 2010, FLC published corresponding materials (also freely available) on the subjects of Coping with Stress and Women’s Health, two topics of particular interest to our students.

The development of Staying Healthy led to a great opportunity in 2009 to partner with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida (now Florida Blue) which generously supports a statewide grants initiative to fund health literacy programs throughout our state.  I plan to share more about this later in the week.

Staying Healthy for Beginners

In FLC’s instructor surveys over the years we regularly received comments from teachers frustrated with the lack of health literacy materials for beginning level ESOL students.  While we tried to make it clear that Staying Health is meant for students at the low-intermediate level and above, we inevitably received feedback from teachers and tutors who used it with lower level students and found the experience to be challenging.   

It was our good fortune that the US Department of Education, OVAE, was interested in supporting the development of health literacy resources and receptive to the idea of a teacher’s guide and primer to Staying Healthy for lower level learners.  This, along with support from the Florida Department of Education and guidance from Kratos Learning, enabled us to develop Staying Healthy for Beginners

This supplement is aimed at high beginning level ESOL students and is designed to provide learners with an introduction to important health information and related vocabulary, while enhancing their knowledge, language and literacy skills. As with the original guide, the teacher’s guide includes ideas for lessons and activities to be used in the ESOL classroom.  Field tested by three Florida ESOL programs, the curriculum was released last August and is a featured resource on LINCS.  The initial feedback and reviews have been very encouraging.

Jennifer will share more tomorrow about Staying Healthy for Beginners.  In the mean time, we encourage your questions and comments. 



Thanks, Greg, for sharing the above information and the links. I know from experience in developing curricula for intermediate level and above that there is a real need for those at the beginning levels to have access to the content and language. I applaud FLC for developing materials to address that need.

Visually the curriculum is beautiful. I like the use of photographs. That should make vocabulary clear to students with emerging literacy skills.

I am curious about the pronunciation guide. Do students access that by themselves, or is that for teachers to do with students?

 It would be great to hear from teachers or administrators of programs who used the materials on what works especially well, what was more challenging. Thanks again, Greg and Julie (how are you doing with all the snow in Boston, Julie?) 

Miriam Burt



Hi Miriam,

Thanks for commenting! When you refer to the pronunciation guide, do you mean the Word List glossary from each chapter, which has a "How do I say it?" column? If so, that's for the student to access, learn the vocabulary and be able to refer back to it while they go through the chapter. Basically, everything in the Student Guide is meant to be able to act as a stand-alone reference booklet for students to take home, refer to as needed, and show family and friends.

If you look in the original Staying Healthy Teacher's Guide, you'll see that there are "clap-the-stress" activities in many of the chapters, which help with pronunciation of many of the new words.

And thanks for asking--the snow is insane! Drifts as tall as me while walking along the street! I'm envious of the folks in Florida! Image removed.


Thank you, Julie and Greg, for starting off the conversation! I wanted to follow-up on the previous comments with a bit more detail on the actual Staying Healthy for Beginners Student and Teacher's Guides.

As Greg mentioned, Staying Healthy for Beginners was released this past August and is very similar to the original Staying Healthy but written at a lower reading level to make it more accessible to high beginning level learners. Like its predecessor, the focus is on enhancing ESOL and adult literacy learners’ understanding of health information, while at the same time improving their English language and literacy skills.

As with all FLC health literacy publications, Staying Healthy for Beginners has two accompanying publications- the Student Guide and the Teachers Guide. The Student Guide has two main goals in relation to processing the health information in the booklet.

1. To help students understand how important it is to connect with the healthcare system and to give them the necessary tools to find and access affordable primary care.

2. To encourage students to ask questions so that they get the answers they need regarding their health and the health care they receive.

Both of these are aimed at prevention – preventing the misunderstandings, misdiagnosis, and mismanagement that so often prevail amongst low health literacy populations in the U.S.

The Beginners Guide follows the same core health topics as the original. It also uses the same principles of simple, concrete and practical lessons, lots of pictures, and contextual learning throughout the booklet. Each chapter in the student guide includes:

  • Theme Picture:  Introduction to the chapter with pictures and questions related to the health topic to use as a discussion starter
  • Word List:  A “picture dictionary” presentation of key health words and phrases for the chapter
  • Reading:  Health information reading providing the core concepts for the topic
  • Story:  Individual account of a real health situation to encourage comprehension of the core concepts through a clear and relatable story
  • Speaking:  Practicing a scripted dialogue with a partner to reinforce learning of the health topic
  • Practice:  :  Reviewing key words through participatory activities (i.e. word search, crossword puzzle, matching question and answer)
  • Action:  Performing an action step related to the health topic that students can take to improve their health literacy
  • Websites:  Resources for further information on the health topic

All sections relate back to the beginning Word List and each section builds on the previous section, increasing competencies on the subject matter and literacy. To view the booklet and see how the chapter sections work together, click here.

To support the Student Guide, there is an accompanying Teacher’s Guide that provides ideas for the lessons and activities, as well as suggestions for presenting the health information in the booklet to facilitate learning and discussion. It is very similar to the original for Staying Healthy but provides a few unique extras, such as Language Focus, Cultural Notes and Good to Know sections.

The curriculum has been designed so that instructors do not need to be health experts or educators in order to effectively teach the subject. The teacher’s role is to use the curriculum to help students develop the skills they need to find information about their health and connect with local health resources. Both booklets, the Student Guide and the Teacher Guide, support this by providing the information students need on critical health topics and helping to guide teachers in creating a forum for discussion about what their students already know about their health, their cultural practices around health, and what they think they need to do in order to take care of their own health and that of their family.

If you have not, yet, checked out Staying Healthy for Beginners, please visit our Curriculum and Resources webpage. Here you will find both versions of Staying Healthy, as well as FLC's other health literacy publications, freely available for download.

Thank you Julie and Greg, for sharing information about your project. I've had the privilege of following the project since it began, and I want to affirm to those who are just now becoming aware of it that the materials are first-class and well grounded in the latest knowledge in both the medical and the adult ESOL education aspects.

There are many venues by which English language learners hear about health-related topics, such as health fairs put on by local clinics and hospitals, TV, the internet, the local pharmacy, and, of course, doctor visits. But out of all the sources that provide health-related information to immigrants, the adult ESOL classroom is probably the most effective vehicle for adult English language learners. Most health-related information conveyed via one-way communication, but the ESOL classroom changes it into a two-way communication. The adult ESOL classroom provides English language learners with two things: the basic language skills needed to communicate in English , but also social support that helps them retain and put their knowledge to use. ESOL teachers use strategies that bolster the knowledge they impart: they connect their teaching to students’ everyday life, they teach using modalities by which their students learn best, and they encourage peer-to-peer and group interaction.  There is also the aspect of Project-Based Learning that is used in the ESOL classroom, giving students the opportunity to practice in a safe place so they are able to communicate effectively in a real-life situation (

Thanks again for sharing the news about your project!

Phil Anderson, Adult ESOL Program Specialist

Florida Department of Education

Hi Phil,

Thanks for saying so beautifully why ESOL classrooms are so well suited to teaching health literacy! I love that you highlighted the fact that 2-way communication is encouraged. As you say, people need to practice and gain confidence in this in order to communicate effectively with health care providers and advocate for their needs.

One thing I like about the Staying Healthy guides is the way they address this communication aspect. There is a lot of practice speaking about the topics in each chapter. There are prompts for teachers to use when introducing the main theme picture to encourage discussion about what it means to the students and what they already know. Then, as Jennifer noted above, there is a focus throughout on encouraging communication with health care providers and systems. There are dialogues to practice asking questions and making appointments, and there are practice activities that involve engaging with the health system.

I would love to hear from anyone who has used this! How did the students respond to this focus on communication? 


Thank you to everyone for your comments thus far. I have had the great pleasure of working with the Staying Healthy curriculum for the last two years. As Miriam observed, the book is very well illustrated with photographs which are helpful for students to discuss and make connections. The chapters are well-organized and touch on many of the most important topics in health and serve as a great starting point for deeper investigation of topics. We have found that students enjoy doing hands on and interactive activities to supplement the curriculum. For example, in Chapter 1, we role played emergency situations in which students had to call 911 to get help. In addition, we hosted a health insurance workshop with an ACA Navigator to explain the enrollment process and held insurance enrollment events to help students get coverage for themselves and their families. In Chapter 4, we gathered food items with nutrition labels and learned about serving sizes and appropriate amounts of nutrients - we were shocked to learn how much sugar is in one glass of orange juice! While those are just a few examples, using materials from the students' lives and finding fun ways to help them participate has been invaluable.

The Staying Healthy curriculum also lays a good foundation to use the Women's Health curriculum. Students have shown a great deal of interest in this topic, sharing many questions about STIs, healthy relationships and communicating with their children. Their projects have reflected their diverse interests including compiling a list of STI testing locations and role playing healthy vs. abusive relationships.

While using the Staying Healthy and Women's Health curricula, we have seen great gains in students' level of  both English and health knowledge. Parents have reported that they are better able to make healthier food choices, their families are getting health insurance coverage, and they are having conversations with their children and teenagers about nutrition, safe sex and healthy relationships. Project-based-learning activities have been a great part of their learning because students are exploring topics of their choosing. For instance, one group of students decided to investigate hepatitis. Their reasoning? One woman in the group knew a person in her church with hepatitis and was afraid to invite her to her home or to let her children speak with her, especially since everyone else avoided her as well. She decided to use the project-based-learning activity as an opportunity to clarify her understanding of hepatitis. With her new knowledge, she apologized to the woman in her church and set out to educate other church members. This is just one example of the impact that this health information is having on the lives of the students and those around them. Thank you to the Florida Literacy Coalition and Florida Blue for making these resources so readily accessible and supporting so many of our literacy efforts across the state.

On a final note, I am getting ready to use the Staying Healthy for Beginners curriculum for the first time and would love any feedback or suggestions from those of you that have already used it. Thanks!


Parent Academy of St. Lucie County

Thanks for sharing Isabella.   The Parent Academy of St. Lucie is one of 17 programs that were funded this year through a health literacy grants program operated by the Florida Literacy Coalition and funded by the Florida Blue Foundation. 

Since 2009, the Florida Literacy Initiative has provided adult ESOL and family literacy programs throughout Florida with mini-grants of up to $5,000 to incorporate health literacy into their instruction.  FLC manages the program and provides professional development and technical support.  Over 11,000 students have participated so far and data supports that this approach can be quite effective.  This is measured by pre and post health literacy assessments and surveys completed by students who share how they have applied what they have learned.  One important factor contributing to the success of the program is having a common curriculum in Staying Healthy.  While we don’t require the use of this resource, we do make it available to all the programs and 95% of them choose to use it as a regular part of their instruction.  The recent addition of Staying Healthy for Beginners is making this subject accessible to even a wider audience. 

Phil mentioned project-based learning which has been an exciting component of this initiative from the beginning.  Students have done some remarkable work in this area, engaging in a process that helps them apply what they have learned, develop new skills, and often experience a sense of a accomplishment as they share their projects with fellow students and others.   Community partnership are also at the heart of the Initiative and many of our grantee partners have done amazing work in engaging the community to bring information and resources to their learners, often in a real hands-on way.    

Please visit FLC’s website if you are interested seeing examples of some the projects and learning more about the initiative, including program data.    


The mini grants sound like a great program! I'd love to hear more about them.

  • How did you find the funding?
  • Can you give us a summary of what the data shows so far?
  • What effect does having one of these grants have on a program's success at retention of students and progress towards language and literacy competencies?
  • What kinds of partnerships have been formed with health systems?

There was a series of health literacy mini grants in Massachusetts years ago. They, too, were very successful in engaging students and programs in health literacy education and partnering with others. It's surprising how far a small amount of money will go!

Do any other states or programs out there offer mini grants for health literacy work?


Question responses:

  1.  How did you find the funding?  Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida (now Florida Blue) helped to fund a small pilot project that FLC received through a community health program sponsored by our local public radio station. We shared information on the results and then started a dialog with a staff person from BCBSF Foundation. This ultimately resulted in a formal proposal which was approved for a three year $360,000 grant, which has since been extended.  We are very fortunate. Florida Blue has been great to work with and very supportive!
  2. Can you give us a summary of what the data shows so far?  Check out our data summary on our website.  We need to update this with 2014 data, but this is a good snap shot of the program results. 
  3. What effect does having one of these grants have on a program's success at retention of students and progress towards language and literacy competencies?  Programs generally report that both retention and literacy/language skills acquisition rates are on par or better among participating students.
  4. What kinds of partnerships have been formed with health systems?  Lots of partnerships have been formed.  There is a partial list on our website. 

Thanks for this opportunity Julie.  Again, all the Staying Healthy student and teacher books are available for free on our website.  If you are interested in bound hard copies, we do have some  available for purchase. You may also want to check out the English for Health program developed by the Literacy Network in Wisconsin which has applied Staying Healthy in some very creative ways. 


Hello Everyone,

I am the Program Manager and Instructor for the Flagler County Schools New Beginnings Family Literacy Program.  I have had the pleasure of receiving the Florida Literacy Coalition and Florida Blue Health Literacy Grant for the past 5 years.

We have used both the original Staying Healthy and this year have incorporated the Staying Healthy for Beginners.  It has been a very valuable addition to our programs and students.  One of the ESOL instructors was thrilled with the beginners edition and has nothing but positive things to say about it.

The families at New Beginnings have thoroughly enjoyed the topics and our project-based learning activities.  Our activities include planting and maintaining box gardens which are located directly outside of our doors and creating a low cost nutritional recipe book in a scrapbook fashion.  The families take this very seriously and take pride in what they have created.  The families utilize each and every one of the  harvests from the box gardens and create healthier option recipes from an original recipe, modifying the ingredients by adding the healthier choice and eliminating the original.  The families have learned to read nutrition labels and pay attention to them when they shop. Families have used their recipe books at community events and shared their knowledge with other families, spreading the wealth of knowledge to the community.

We have also been fortunate enough to collaborate with our local extension services.  A Family Nutrition Assistant comes once per month to present a nutrition topic to our families giving visual demonstrations and hand-outs.  The class offers the information and hands-on opportunities to create healthy recipes during the class.  These recipes are then added to their recipe books for future use.

At New Beginnings we have utilized the original Staying Healthy and the Staying Healthy for Beginners in the Family Literacy Parenting class component and the ESOL classes.  Since I am also a teacher at our local high school and teach a Teenage Parenting Program there, I have also experimented with the curriculum with the 9-12 grade students that are pregnant or parenting.  I have found that many of these young adults do not have the basic knowledge and skills that the curriculum offers,  I found it to be very useful and effective since these young adults are now parents themselves it has been a huge asset to that group of students as well. 

The New Beginnings and ESOL class students continue to enjoy the curriculum and topics and find it user-friendly and "non-threatening", both of which are so important to the success of our students.  We at New Beginnings look forward to many more hours and years of classroom use of this curriculum and highly recommend it.

Susan Warner

Thanks, Susan! It sounds like your project-based learning piece has taken off and helped people make some real improvements in not just their health knowledge, but their health habits!

And it's nice to know that these materials can work for high-school-age kids. Teaching health literacy in school seems to be an important way to prepare the next generation.

I wonder if you have any advice to other teachers who are considering using this curriculum? Also, as one who has used both versions, can you tell us how to decide which version is best for which level?

And one more question for you and others: do you think these materials could be used in a setting other than an adult ed program? 

Thanks so much for weighing in!


Thanks Isabella, for telling us about using the curriculum!

You mentioned that students made gains in their English as well their health knowledge. I'd love to hear from you and others how well this curriculum was able to engage and motivate students in their language and literacy goals. How did this compare with other content-based instruction?

I also liked hearing how this had a ripple effect, with students using their new knowledge to educate their communities. Have others found this as well?

Hi Everyone,

I just want to thank Greg and Jennifer for taking the time to talk to us about this new resource! And thanks also to the teachers and other folks who shared your thoughts. It is so helpful to hear form people who have used a resource, so we will always appreciate anything you have to share.

Please feel free to keep asking questions or posting any comments you have about the Staying Healthy guides!

All the best,