New LINCS Course on Increasing Rigor in ESL Instruction

There is now an online course available in the LINCS Learning PortalMeeting the Language Needs of Today’s Adult English Language Learner, an interactive, self-paced online module that offers teachers and administrators an appreciation for the complex language demands faced by adult learners in today’s world. It provides tools and skills for advancing the rigor of instruction in adult English language acquisition. The course was developed through the ESL Pro project and is listed now under ESL Pro in the LINCS Learning Portal.

Marian Thacher, American Institutes for Research


Use this thread to share your comments from Meeting the Language Needs of Today's Adult English Language Learner, Unit 1.

Instructors: With your own learners in mind, describe what academic language, listening, reading, or critical thinking skills would benefit your learners and describe how you could incorporate practice in a lesson. (Unit 1, Part 3)

Administrators: share your elevator pitch about the need for increasing the rigor of instruction in adult ESL. If you've tried it out, what kind of response did you get?  (Unit 1, Part 3)

For every lesson, we use a  reading text with audio option. First, students listen to the audio and   respond to questions in a discussion type question answer format and sharing personal opinion with supporting details. students are encouraged to take notes during discussion Then students are to inference about the text by answering questions like what do you think happened after, why do you think it happened, what will you change?  Then they read the text ; first skimming through, then in details, high lighting the key vocabulary, characters, events, places etc.  using highlighters. For example: For lesson on Labor Day, we studied the history of this holiday. How it came about? What it accomplished? We informed students beforehand that Labor Day and May day are pretty much the same. Many are familiar with May Day, and they used their knowledge of May Day  to comprehend , infer and predict facts about Labor Day. Follow up: research Labor Day activities, speeches on this holiday and write a summary and share it with class. Emaling the writing as a document is encouraged.

Hi Anitha, Thanks for sharing your practices that engage students deeply in critical thinking and using academic language. The Labor Day lesson, which you helped students connect to their prior knowledge about May Day, sounds excellent. Taking notes from an audio recording is important preparation for both workplace and academic settings.Your  examples exemplify those recommended in the LINCS ESL Pro course on enhancing the rigor of instruction, i.e. "Meeting the Needs of Today's English Language Learners."

Members, this LINCS ESL Pro course is excellent. If you haven't checked out the ESL Pro suite of free, self-paced online courses, you may want to consider adding one or more of these courses to your professional development calendar this year.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

All academic language, listening, reading, or critical thinking skills would benefit learners the most; so incorporating all skills into a lesson would be ideal.

I like the idea of identify the difference of formal/academic and informal language…I would incorporate this practice in a lesson by having students write two types of emails (formal vs. informal) in response to a “problematic” scenario that they would have to (help) resolve. The scenario would be written/created by teacher. Students would listen, read, think/pair/share and then write.

Hi Diane, I love the idea of having students write emails in both a formal and informal style. They can then discuss which would be most appropriate depending on the context. Thanks for sharing this idea!

I would recommend that every ESL teacher take the free ESL Pro course on enhancing the rigor of instruction. This online course is extremely practical and offers many examples of how to add layers of complexity to a typical ESL lesson -- for learners at all levels -- including beginners. Check our all three ESL Pro online courses at the LINCS Learning Portal!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP



I am working with Anitha Thomas, and learning what it takes to teach ESOL students.  This is all new to me and our classes will be starting soon.  My answers are more based on what I will plan to do as well as, based on the knowledge I acquire from Anitha. In speaking with Anitha, all students must read and speak in English. They are to first listen to audio and  answer questions in a discussion type question/answer format and discuss supporting details. Note taking is encouraged during discussion, and students are to give a brief conclusion about the text. they are to answer questions such as what they think will happen after, why they think it would happened, or what needs changed. they are to highlight the key words to support their conclusions and thoughts about the key vocabulary, characters,events and other main supporting details that answer our questions.  they are to look at the reading and study it for understanding so they can answer all the what, who, where, why, and when questions. Anitha has said before that  she does  Follow up research activities, etc. In her class she has them summarize the reading and share it with the class. Anitha requires reading out loud when this is done. she encourages emailing the writing as a document, which is good practice for anyone, most of all for ESOL Students. 

Reply to this comment to share your thoughts from unit 2 of Meeting the Needs of Today's Adult English Language Learner.

Instructors: Share your completed Academic Language Analysis (Unit 2, Part 2).  In your discussion post, mention what text you chose.  Provide a link if possible and describe how this process can be helpful in your teaching.

Administrators: share an action item any of the following (Unit 2, Part 4):

o    How will you give teachers the time and space for embedding more practice in academic language into curricula in your program (e.g., study circles, peer observations)?

o    Choose appropriate tools: Which tools or materials in this unit will you use or direct teachers to in your program?

o    Provide feedback: As you observe or mentor teachers, how might you provide feedback in the area of academic language?

Read nonfictional article from “Wonderopolis” website. Preview “Wonder of the Day” (Guided Question). Discuss prior knowledge (conversation starters) and use “Reading Analysis Tool (RAT)” which includes three techniques: (1) Analyze textual language to construct meaning, (2)Use appropriate comprehension strategies to construct meaning and (3) Determine and describe central idea(s) and theme(s) of a text. Using the RAT tool helps as a graphic organizer to scaffold the leaning of new vocabulary and context.


Academic Language Analysis -Provide a link if possible and describe how this process can be helpful in your teaching.

I am still new at this. Working with Anitha, I have learned that she takes some historic day or holiday, such as, Labor Day. She is instructing me as I go and I am shadowing her in her classroom for all this feedback and planning. Anitha has students study the history of a topic and how it came to be, etc. She uses something they are familiar with such as May Day, to use  knowledge they have of May Day  to help comprehend Labor Day. She will then follow up with research on the topic, have them write a summary and read it with class. I am learning a lot from her and these courses. I have a long way to go with more training that will also help.

Reply to this comment to share your thoughts from unit 3 of Meeting the Needs of Today's Adult English Language Learner.

What do you think are the most compelling arguments for increasing the rigor of instruction? What are some practices that you could readily include in your classes or program? (Unit 3, Part 1)

What reading strategies do learners practice in your classes? From what you have explored so far in this module, what types of texts or strategies have you perhaps overlooked? (Unit 3, Part 2)

Reply to this comment to share your thoughts from unit 4 of Meeting the Needs of Today's Adult English Language Learner on teaching critical thinking.

What stood out for you in the definitions of critical thinking that you hadn't considered? What, if anything, do you want to add? If you viewed any others, what, if anything, was missing in others' definitions? (Unit 4, Part 1)

Depth of Knowledge Reflection (Unit 4, Part 2)

  • What activities do you often use that are at Level 1: Recall and Reproduction?
  • What activities do you often use that are at Level 2: Skills and Concepts?
  • What activities do you often use that are at Level 3: Strategic Thinking?
  • What activities do you often use that are at Level 4: Extended Thinking?

What will you do differently in your instruction as a result of what you worked on in this module? How will those changes benefit the learners you serve? (Final Reflection)

 With your own learners in mind, describe what academic language, listening, reading, or critical thinking skills would benefit them and describe how you could incorporate practice with at least 2 of those skills in a lesson with that learner. Draw on examples from the Sample Lesson Enhancement 

We had a few learners who wanted to get their Driver's License so I created lessons for that real life skill they wanted.  First I found vocabulary to go with the drivers test.  We said them aloud, wrote them, and I had the students look up the meanings, to increase their knowledge of how to use a computer.  Another reason for looking the meanings up is that there is an audio so they can hear the word again and the definition.  We then came back together and talked about the words and their meanings and how they are used in the driver's test.  There are great sites that allow people to take practice tests so we worked on those.  Many of the questions have critical thinking involved so there was discussion on those questions.  I made up flashcards.  We went to the DVM so they could become familiar with the location of the test sight.  While we were there we found out the the test questions are on a computer screen and also on audio. We also took a walk to town noticing and talking about the signs along the way and watching the cars pass through various intersections.  Some of the learners needed accommodations at the test sight so we made sure we completed the appropriate paper work for that.  We also had to send in for an appointment to take the test.  We read the form over together making sure that everyone understood the form and how to fill it out.  

  • Complete the Academic Language Analysis Task for a lesson you teach.
  • Make two enhancements using one of the ideas from the unit.
  • Share the lesson enhancements with colleagues and in the discussion forum created for this module in the LINCS Adult English Language Learners Community.
  • Try the lesson out in your class!
  • I have a class of students who are working on the HiSET while working on their CNA certificate.  Our vocabulary lists are driven by what they may be hearing and saying while working in a retirement home or Hospital.  What I have changed is that I added the Conversation starters: Phrases for constructive Conversation.  I identified a focus, determined potential difficulties, and created word phrases.  I will use a one-question interview with my students.  I am going to be the patient and they are all going to take turns asking me a question, then they will discuss what they learned about me and how they will proceed with my care.  This may include asking a doctor a question or a nurse, etc.  I am trying to create a real life situation in a work environment they will all be working in shortly.  I am really looking forward to trying this with my students.  

What three things would I do differently in my instruction as a result of what I worked on in this unit?  How will these changes benefit the learners I serve?

Looking back at the two lessons I have previously shared I believe that I will add:  Asking more questions that go beyond my students' recall.  I can ask them why they think slowing down when they see a yellow light is a good idea, for example.  I can ask them how they would explain good driving techniques to their children.  Or maybe how they would explain why they think the job in the health field is a good job.  2.  I am going to try to model the language needed to express ideas, questions, and concerns during class time.  I don't think I have been aware of my language, enough.  And after this class I have come to realize that the teaching and learning starts the minute my students walk in the door.  I need to be more cognizant of the words I choose in conversation and in teaching.  3.  I am definitely going to use more graphic organizers.  I used them so much when I taught in elementary school, but haven't used them enough since then.  I forgot what a great resource for organizing thoughts graphic organizers are.  I have all ready used the KWL organizer with my adult learners.   


Hello Nancy, You have learned so much from this ESL Pro online course on increasing the rigor of instruction, and you have identified some impressive goals for moving forward. Since you are so familiar with the power of graphic organizers, it will be second nature for you to incorporate these into your adult ESL classes. You mentioned that you want to be more aware of the language you use in class. This is such an important area that many of us could focus on more! Best of luck to you! 

Members, for anyone who may not know, the ESL Pro suite of materials features an online module, an issue brief and a digital magazine in three focus areas:

1) increasing the rigor of instruction

2) integrating digital literacy into instruction 

3) preparing learners for work and career pathways 

These professional development materials are of the highest quality and they are free! Please let me know if you have any questions.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP