[Hot Topic]: New Adult English Language Learner Resources in LINCS Resource Collection


The LINCS Resource Collection team has recently added a batch of Adult English Language Learners resources to the LINCS Resource Collection. Please find the linked publications below.

Many thanks for your participation as we continue working to provide adult education professionals with a Resource Collection containing high-quality, vetted, and free resources in 16 topic areas. We encourage you to share these resources with your state partners and highlight them whenever possible in your discussion groups and/or regional newsletters.

Thank you in advance!


The LINCS Community Team

Featured Resources:

  • The Transitions Integration Framework (TIF) was designed to provide adult basic education (ABE) programs and instructors with guidance on the effective integration of transitions skills into instruction at all levels of ABE, including ESL levels. Developed in Minnesota via a research-based, rigorous, collaborative, multi-year process, the TIF is the collection of essential skills adult educators need to integrate into their instruction for their learners to reach their long-term goals. These include academic, career, and employability skills needed to transition successfully to postsecondary education, career training, and the workplace, and to enrich community involvement. Furthermore, the TIF is intended to help meet the needs of stakeholders in postsecondary education, the workplace, and community-based organizations.
  • The Study-Circle Guide for Teachers of Low-Literacy Adult ESL Students provides all the materials and instructions a facilitator needs to conduct a professional learning activity for teachers of low-literate adult ESL students. With a special focus on reading development, this guide aids participants in exploring relevant research and its implications for best practices in the classroom. In addition, detailed plans for each of the three meetings, links to all readings, sample communications to participants, as well as handouts, discussion questions, and tips for conducting a successful study circle are all included.

Additional Resources:


I have an adult literacy student who comes to class regularly, does her homework well, participates in class...  When I ask her a simple and direct question, she is only able to repeat my words.  If I ask her HOW ARE YOU, she responds with HOW ARE YOU.  If I ask her to tell me her name, she repeats exactly what I have said.  The only things she responds to correctly are those specifically related to classwork.  Any suggestions?

Hi, Iris -

Thanks for sharing your concerns about this learner.  I am wondering if she is an English Language Learner?  That may have an impact on her ability to respond to you orally.  Are the homework responses, and other class participation, based on written text that she is reading?  If so, she may be completing work with help, or on her own with a dictionary, and not really answering in the way that you're asking her to answer your "in-the-moment" questions. 

As for these questions, what happens if you provide written scaffold to go with your oral question?  For example, "My name is Iris.  What is your name?"  You could give her a piece of paper with these same words written, but a blank line where your name is written, "My name is _______.  What is your name?"  I'd be curious to see what her response may be to this type of scaffolded questioning.


Mike Cruse

Disabilities in Adult Education Moderator



Too little to go on, Iris-- tell us more about this student.  What do you know of her background?  History in education?   How old is she?  Why did she come to your program?  What kind of work is she doing that she responds about?   

Is yours an ESL program?   

Robin Lovrien (Schwarz)

Thanks, Dr. Robin for your response.  I'll call my student MH.  She is 67 years old; born in Vietnam; came to the U.S. in 2007; seems to have only completed 5 grades in her native country...  She is enrolled in my Literacy ELL class for the reason of wanting to learn more English.  I believe her daughter filled out all of her paperwork in July of 2016. 

We use TABE Class E for testing.  Forgive me for having an opinion about this (I have been told from administrators that my opinions don't matter on this topic), but the TABE Class E tests for "Literacy" students do not seem to make any marks that provide "gains" for the program.  Once in a while, there are significant improvements which amount to a gain, but most of the time, there are small gains in the number of questions answered correctly.  For myself and my fantastic aide, these gains show marked improvement.  We wish they could be acknowledged!

In July of 2016, MH answered correctly 1 Reading question and 2 Listening questions in the 1A book.  On 9/19/16, she answered correctly 10 Reading and 6 Listening in the 1B book.  On 11/11/16, she answered correctly 11 Reading and 7 Listening in the 1A book.  Yes, she has improved, but not enough to make a GAIN. 

I wish I could tell you what work, if any, she is doing outside of the classroom to help herself with English.  I must admit, though, she is now calling me herself on my cell to let me know if she is not able to come to class.  In the past, her daughter (who speaks English well) used to make these calls.  I'm happy about this - it's progress to me!

For all of you who have responded to my original message, many thanks!  You have made me more aware of the things I need to do to help MH with oral/verbal communication.  My aide and I are very open to suggestions, and we are beginning to implement them in the classroom.

In closing, this ELL Literacy class is the first of such classes.  As our population of immigrants grows, we have many more people being tested, and many more actually showing up for classes.  Many students in this class bring friends and family members to our class without having been tested.  I suppose this is a good sign for us - they like the class enough to encourage others to attend.  Yes, we do the testing in class so the newcomers do not have to wait for another orientation time to actually begin.

Again, thank for very much for every response.  You have no idea how helpful all of these are.

Iris Barton


HI Iris-- thank you so much for the information about your adult English learner.   At age 67 with relatively little education, the notion of "learning disability' is, frankly, irrelevant.   Mostly I, personally, would attribute her slow progress-- and there IS progress, which is GREAT-- to the challenges of attempting a language so different from Vietnamese at a late age.  My own studies into adult second/other language acquisition taught me that the older the brain, the more difficult it is for the brain to correctly hear, retain and convert incoming sound into speech gestures.  Also, examiners of older language learners point out that the older the learner, the more likely the brain is focusing on the most salient features of language-- which essentially amount to subject-verb-object and maybe a few things added on.     Birdsong's review of literature on adult language acquisition (2006) indicated that if we want learners to pick up some feature of language that is normally NOT salient-- such as the final S on the third person singular ( eatS), it is necessary to MAKE that feature salient-- focus on it and give tons of input.  Virginia Kuhl, whose work on human language acquisition I cite often, asserts that for adults to learn a new language they must have MASSIVE input of the new language.   I find that working with learners to help them bring auditory attention to things in the language I would like them to learn (word order of questions, for example) is very helpful. ( I am a firm proponent of the noticing theory, which posits that if the learner has not consciously noticed a feature, he or she will not notice its function or even existence and therefore will not use it in speech or writing.)   

All that said, I find that activities that provide a) predictability and not too much new challenge and b) LOTS of repetition in a safe atmosphere are very appealing for the older learners and helpful in developing basic English skills.  I use a LOT of games, which provide a very unthreatening atmosphere-- no having to perform in front of the class, and mistakes are not important to playing the game (unless you build that feature in, as in having a student give a correct response to be able to take a turn in a board game).  (If you want to learn more about the games and activities I teach about, you could visit my blog at robinlovrienschwarz.wordpresss.com ).   I also LOVE the book "Making it Real"-- which came out of a program in Tacoma, WA a few years ago; it has excellent activities for stimulating verbal communication from beginning English learners (though to my mind many activities require a small group and a cultural understanding that some find puzzling.)   

I have found with the severely language-acquisition challenged that identifying some small, attainable goals-- knowing the letters in one's own name;  saying basic greetings; giving the names of family members (and therefore knowing the relationship names in English)-- are extremely helpful.  I try ALWAYS to have kinesthetic and visual support for learning-- pictures of family members' heads glued onto little circles to add to a family tree as the learner grasps the names of family relationships;  alphabet letters (tiles, or magnetic ones,-- great wooden ones from craft stores, etc.)  for the learner to spell names, dollhouse furniture to learn the names of the items, real items such as kitchen utensils or clothing to learn the names of them.     

I learned over the years that often it is I who gets bored with repeating activities or focusing on the same thing time after time, but IF it is something the learner WANTS and NEEDS to master and has not yet, it is not boring to him or her to repeat.  But, as I say, the joy of games and hands-on activities is that they provide that repetition for the learner without boring you to death.  Also, to amplify the part about predictability, when I think of the classrooms for the very low literate that I have observed, it was the simplicity and predictability of the routine that stood out as being very helpful to the older, English-challenged learners.  There is so much to process, so the more you can provide the opportunity to focus JUST on what the learner needs to hear or say, the easier it will be, in my experience, for him or her to retain things.    

Finally, it might be helpful to you and your learner to ask for a conversation with her AND her daughter to find out how the mother is feeling about class, what she likes or feels challenged or fearful of (if anything) and what specifically she would like to learn.   

I hope these ideas are helpful.   I can recommend other things to read or look at for more ideas, but you seem to have gotten a lot of input!   Keep us posted on what works and what does not work so well.  

Sincerely,  Robin Lovrien  




Hello Robin, Thanks for your comments and valuable insights on this discussion. I would love it if you could provide the references for the research studies you cite here. Thank you kindly!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

(Susan and all-- in reviewing my entries, I see only a couple references to studies about adult foreign/other language acquisition that might be of interest. However, I will share some I have alluded to earlier.  


Here are references I learned a great deal from when studying what causes difficulties for adult English learners in language acquisition:  

**Birdsong, D. (2006). Age and second language acquisition and processing: A selective  overview. Language Learning, 56, 9-49.**Brown, H.D. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching. White Plains, NY: Pearson Education. (This is a textbook and an excellent guide to the subject)

**DeKeyser, R. (2005). What makes learning second-language grammar difficult? A review of issues. Language Learning, 55 (Supplement 1), 1-25.

And of course all the work of Keiko Koda about second language reading, an issue so often overlooked in the adult EL programs I visit: 

Koda, K. (1988). Cognitive process in second language reading: Transfer of L1 reading skills and strategies. Second Language Research, 4(2), 133–156.

Koda, K. (2004). Insights into second language reading. A cross-linguistic approach. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

And much, much more by her.   

These  publications describe the research of Patricia Kuhl (I may have mistakenly referred to her as Virginia Kuhl), who studies how humans-- starting as newborns-- learn language. She extended her research to include foreign language learning as a brain issue.   

**Knowles, M. S. (1980). Kuhl, P. (2000). A new view of language acquisition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 97(11), 11850–11857.

**Kuhl, P. (2000). A new view of language acquisition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 97(11), 11850–11857.

**Kuhl, P. (2004, November). Early language acquisition: cracking the speech code. Neuroscience, 5, 831-843.

I cited one study about adult immigrants' attitudes toward learning and teaching (Hubenthal)  that confirmed many observations and experiences.  Other cultural information I found extremely useful in understanding why some of our adult learners are uncomfortable or unable to engage in our classes came from these sources:  

**Fox, H. (1994). Listening to the world: Cultural issues in academic writing. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 373 331)    [this is one of the most informative resources I know of----but remember, this is about EDUCATED adult ELs-- however, the influence of the culture is informative about students at all levels of literacy).  

Lim, H.Y. (2002). Successful classroom discussions with adult Korean ESL/EFL learners.  International TESL Journal 9(5). Retrieved October 1, 2009 at http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Lim-AdultKoreanshtml

These are some of the resources I found about using games for adult language learning:  

** Huyen, N. & Nga, K. (2003-December) Learning vocabulary through games. Asian EFL Journal 5(4).. Retrieved March 12, 2011 from http://www.asian.efl.journal.com/dec_03_sub_Vn.phpteflgames.com/why.html

**Tuan, L. T. & Doan, N. T.M. (2010). Teaching English grammar through games. Studies in Literature and Language, 1(7).  Retrieved online on 3/13/2011 at http://cscanada.net/index.php/sll/article/view/1553

**Vonoukova, D. (2009). The application of games in the pedagogical process. In A. Klein & V. Thoreson (Eds.) Making a difference: putting consumer citizenship into action.   Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference of  The Consumer Citizenship Network, Berlin, Germany. (pp. 234-237).

**Kim, L. S. (1995, March). Creative games for the language class.  Forum, 33 at http://exchanges.state.gove/forum/vols/vol33/no1/p35.htm.


References about non-literate adults are found in the paper I co-authored with Martha Bigelow, which was listed here a few days ago.   It is still available online.  Also, more references on many topics I have touched on are in the Learning To Achieve book, published by the now defunct National Institute for Literacy --and preserved somewhere online.. Maybe Susan, you can please give the url for that.  

Please feel free to contact me offline if you would like further references or would like to discuss something here.   

Robin Lovrien  

Iris-- I hope this doesn't sound bad, but CONGRATULATIONS on being brave enough to express your IMPORTANT opinion on the TABE..... and other things.   It is pretty disheartening to hear that have been told by administrators that you can't have an opinion.  It is teachers' opinons that are needed in our field for publishers and learning experts and others to know if the things they produce or recommend are actually user-friendly and useful in achieving the overall goal: learning outcomes for our learners....!!!    ALL presenters, coaches and trainers, such as myself, live and die by feedback-- evaluations-- OPINIONS-- of the persons we train/coach/mentor or present to.   If we did not have that feedback, we would be a pretty boring lot.....!

Don't EVER NOT have an opinion of materials you are OBLIGED or choose to use....!!!   

Robin Lovrien  


Iris-- You say that you think your learner may have completed 5 grades or so in Viet Nam.  It occurs to me that she likely went to school when Viet Nam was still under French control, and she may have not only learned French, but learned in the French way. I taught in a former French colony in W. Africa and was astounded to learn that I had to have students memorize paragraphs that they would then write letter for letter, being graded on the neatness and accuracy with no responsibility for the content.  The students expected to memorize stuff and learn through drills and were NEVER allowed to respond spontaneously.  In other words, communicative language was NOT the goal.....

I have OFTEN found in my research on why adult English learners fail to thrive that many adults are quite put off by the style of teaching and learning they encounter in our classrooms.  If it is different enough, some adults will be unable to continue or will be very confused for a very long time or resentful of what they think is NOT happening in the classroom.   I coached a teacher once who had a group of learners whose cultural expectation was to critique the teacher after EVERY lesson, and they were VERY unhappy with the way she was teaching a VERY mixed class (mixed cultural backgrounds, among other things).    (Here is a reference to a study that a teacher did with another group who balked at the teaching methods :   Hubenthal, W. (2004).  Older Russian immigrants’ experiences in learning English: motivation, methods and barriers.  Adult Basic Education, 14(2), 104-126.)

 If you CAN have that conversation with the daughter present, see if you can ask through the daughter what the mother's learning experience was in Viet Nam. She may be reluctant to criticize you, but she may also be willing to describe how she learned and what it was like in school for her.   This may give you some insight as to why she repeats what you say to her instead of answering....

And don't forget to ask the daughter if the mother has had her hearing checked very recently.......another often ignored factor in our older learners.    

Robin Lovrien   

Ohhhhh, I feel so validated by posts from both Iris and Dr. Robin!! For 13+ years now, I have been teaching ESL to adult immigrants and did not realize that other teachers felt the same as me regarding the TABE tests. As part of this conversation on TABE, I want to include the BEST tests also because they are just as unfair for our immigrant students learning ESL. Over the years, my frustration continues to build over the notion of GAINS when administrating these tests because as Iris puts it so perfectly, we teachers observe “marked improvement” in our students, but these so-called administered GAINS do not acknowledge the often superb progress of our students.

Let’s face it, these tests are cultivated & developed for English-born students, not immigrants learning English as a Second Language. The questions are filled with idioms & idiomatic expressions, unreasonable vocabulary, English-focused-first-names, contractions and complicated phrases & sentences unlikely to show a fair assessment of student progress. For example, the BEST Locator & Level 1D tests are targeted for the lowest level beginner students and we expect them to understand: “What about you?” or “most likely” or “usually” or “rarely” or sentences such as, “Some people in the U.S. move frequently for many reasons. In other countries, people move less frequently. What are some advantages & disadvantages of moving?” Really? We expect our beginners to be able to answer such a sophisticated question? And then their progress is often measured on whether or not they use full sentences, the conjunction “because” or the adverb “sometimes.” Similarly, they are expected to lose their accent.

Then, when our students finally advance to the TABE Levels L or E, we impose on them the same unreasonable expectations as stated above. Even worse, there is no accommodation for the fact that our students struggle with 2 languages in their minds as the test requires them to read & answer 25 questions within 25 minutes. Honestly, the first time I read some of those lengthy “passages” I had to reread them a second time in order to correctly answer the questions, which means I did not finish the test in 25 minutes…and I have two college degrees.

Whew! I apologize for rambling but I could go on and on and on! After every test, I make it a point to support and maintain the self-esteem of my students, so I express that they should be proud that they answered so many questions correctly and we will practice the ones that confused them.

Hi Victoria, Thanks for weighing in on this important topic. You know what? I would say that there will never be a standardized test that teachers love! As you and several others have noted in this thread, there are many aspects of the tests we use that are not ideal for language learners, particularly those who have  a limited educational background. Even tests that were designed for and normed on English language learners, such as BEST Literacy, BEST Plus, CASAS and TABE CLAS-E, are not well suited for those who have had minimal formal schooling.  Members here have made the important point that just understanding how to take a test can be a new experience and quite daunting for many learners.

That being said, since those of us who rely on federal funding are required to administer standardized tests, it is essential that we do so in a standardized way.

Of course, all teachers want students to succeed, and --as you note--we see their success in myriad ways in the classroom. However, does this mean they will show gains on the tests we use? For many of the reasons you and others have pointed out, some students do not always show gains. We can be frank about that reality while also acknowledging that many learners do show learning gains on these assessments.

What to do? We can certainly advocate for testing policies that address these issues. Plus, we can look forward to the next iteration of assessment tools and practices-- that we may not necessarily love either-- and hope that the new approaches may better reflect the learning we know is happening.

Thanks again for sharing your experiences, Victoria.

There's much more to say on this topic, friends; please tell us about your experiences.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Assessment & AELL CoP



HI all- I know Susan is right when she reminds all that standardized testing is a reality when funding from outside sources is at stake. These strictures were instigated because adult ESOL programs so often could not document progress in learners and funders were frustrated in trying to know if their money was being well spent. (there may be other reasons, but that is the primary one that I know of....).  That said, as we have discussed here, the lowest level learners are VERY poorly served by the existing standardized tests.   I am very frustrated that the field has not been able to come up with evaluations that reflect what is needing to be taught and learned among these learners.  Meantime, I want to remind all again that the games and activities I plug are designed for both practice and measuring learning/mastery, one point at a time.   Using games for measurement is now a very popular approach in all areas of learning and levels of education.   It works well for ESL, too--   It is pretty easy for the learner-- and his/her teacher-- to know that something has been mastered in these activities.  If the learner can match and use a whole slew of past tense forms of irregular verbs very confidently in games and activities, we can be pretty certain that set of past tense forms has been learned.  If the learner can regularly use the correct word order in WH- questions in a variety of games and activities, it is a GREAT start on that particular language skill. If a learner can answer yes/no questions correctly---(Yes, I do, No I can't, Yes, I have, No, I didn't, etc.) the right answer for the form and tense, that is HUGE.....!!!  And all this can be tracked easily on learning records.   Whether or not it fits the TABE or CASAS, this progress is ESSENTIAL for the learner to know and feel in an otherwise often formless and limitless ocean of learning English.      I have so often compared adult ESOL instruction unfavorably to foreign language instruction, where concrete goals are laid out, a strict timeline is known to all, and measurements of progress are part of the process.  ESL in community college settings comes closest to that structure.   There is much to be learned and adapted from foreign language instruction or structured ESL and their approaches to measurement of learning goals.  Exit tests once a semester on the TABE or CASAS or even the BEST do NOT cut it---except to satisfy funders.   

Robin Lovrien 

Hello Robin and all,  This is wonderful. Thank you, Robin, so much for sharing all these references!

There really is no controversy that the assessment instruments we are using are inadequate to measure the progress of many of the learners we serve, particularly those with limited formal schooling. Thank you, Robin, for reiterating the many teaching strategies that support learning and allow students to demonstrate their learning.

For members who have additional questions about these issues, Robin's chapter in the Learning To Achieve literature review-- See Chapter 3-- is well worth reading. These issues are also covered in the LINCS Learning to Achieve (L2A) self-paced and free online course, which you can find at the LINCS Learning Portal. In addition, I wanted to point interested members to a previous incredibly rich LINCS discussion, "Helping Adult English Language Learners with Learning Challenges" that Robin led with two ESL teacher colleagues, Lauren Osowski and Alicia Broggio. Many of the issues we've been discussing here are explored in depth in this discussion.

Everyone is invited to continue to raise questions and share effective practices! Your participation is what makes LINCS such a great venue!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

Thank you Susan, for the warm endorsement of my information and views and for posting links to my sessions on this site and my writings.    I am still passionate about my work and have the great good fortune to be out on the conference circuit again.  I look forward to seeing people from this LINCS discussion at COABE in Florida in April!. 

Robin Lovrien  (AKA Robin Lovrien Schwarz)  

Hello Dr. Robin,   Recently, I have posted numerous comments on using students' first language in the ESL classroom and issues with TABE & BEST but for some reason I missed this article. I did comment on your "Congratulations" to Iris for being brave about discussing TABE and standardized tests. I would like more information on the games & activities that you plug. I currently use this same method but always looking for more suggestions & advice.

Gratefully, Victoria 


Hi Victoria--- this has been a good discussion-- and I am grateful for your comments and interest.  I have mentioned a couple times here that I have a blog--- robinlovrienschwarz.wordpress.com-- at which you can find earlier postings about games and activities.  I try to post regularly--but I miss now and then.  However, if you "follow" the blog, you will get a notice when I post something.  Also, I will be giving an all-day pre-conference session at COABE in Florida about phonological skills and adult ESOL learners and how to build these skills using a variety of games and activities-- which I will be teaching at that session.   I have made feeble efforts to get a website going, but by COABE, there will be a site where video demonstrations of the games and activities will be available for viewing.   I have trained teachers all over the US in the use of these things-- perhaps there are some in your area who are using them.  Let me know where  you are and I might be able to give you some contacts.   It is really exciting to see teachers implementing the games and activities in all kinds of situations.   

I put in some proposals for ProLiteracy in MPLS in the fall, too- so maybe you can catch me at one of these conferences.  

Also, I published an article in MATSOL Currents, the newsletter of TESOL in Massachusetts, last summer about games and activities--page 44: http://www.matsol.org/assets/documents/currents_v39n1_sping-summer%202016.pdf

 Robin Lovrien  


Hi Dr. Robin,  thank you so much for the MATSOL website. I went to page 44 & love the games you discuss. As a matter of fact, I printed all 6 pages of your article, "Using Games...." and cannot wait to use them in my ESL classroom. I will probably begin with Go Fish because it brings back memories. I haven't played that card game since my childhood. I will keep you posted on my progress. Although we have played some games, I can tell you for sure that my students will definitely love to learn more games that will help them improve their English.

Have a nice evening, Victoria


Hello Susan,  thank you for your great response and for validating how so many of us feel about these standardized tests. The frustrating part is that, as far as I'm concerned anyway, this has been problematic for a very long time. As I said, I've been teaching for 13+ years and the only change I've seen is just a few months ago when we received new TABE tests. Well, a positive aspect is that they finally reduced the # of questions to 25 in reading & language which alleviates student intimidation & exhaustion BUT they still have to complete a 25-question reading test in 25 minutes. You already know my thoughts on that. In addition, I just cannot believe some of the new questions! At this point, though, I am beyond complaining and worrying about it. The system is what it is and I am in the classroom to support & assist my immigrant students. I provide instruction, sometimes as a nonconformist, to help them earn a GAIN and if they don't, we keep trying. That is the beauty of working with ESL students. They are so dedicated to their education & persistent in learning that I feel inspired by them. As long as I acknowledge their progress and they beam with delight when learning s new concept, what better way to celebrate success! 

Thanks,  Victoria



Hi Victoria and all, I wanted to let everyone know that the LINCS community discussions are all archived, and it is possible to do a search on LINCS for topics as well as for members' names. For example, if you search for "games," you'll likely find a number of posts on that topic. If you search for "Robin Lovrien," you should find all of Robin's posts on LINCS, including the wonderful discussion she led a couple of years ago that I'm linking to again here, "Helping Adult English Language Learners with Learning Challenges."

You'll find the "Search" tab at the top of the page and on the far right of your screen.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP