English Language Learners in ABE Classes Discussion Wednesday January 6th with Kristine Kelly!

Hi Everyone,

On Wednesday January 6th, our community and the English Language Acquisition Community will host a day-long  discussion with ATLAS's Kristine Kelly about English Language Learners (ELL) who have moved to Adult Basic Education (ABE) classes.  

Just because an ELL post-tests out of Advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) does not mean they leave their language needs at the door! For those instructors with no formal ESL teacher training, it can be tough to serve these students, especially in ways that help them to feel as "at home" in ABE classes as they often felt in their ESL classes. Through participating in this discussion, adult educators will gain valuable insight on how to better serve ELLs who are increasingly a part of our ABE classrooms.  

Please come with your questions and comments this Wednesday!

See you soon,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Community



Hi Everyone,

Welcome to today’s discussion with Kristine Kelly!  The topic, How Can Adult Educators Help English Language Learners (ELLs) Who Have Transitioned to ABE Classes, is a timely one.

Kristine holds an MA Ed from Hamline University with concentrations in reading and alternative education.  Over her more than 22 years of teaching in Minnesota Adult Basic Education (ABE), she has worked extensively in the areas of pre-GED and GED, diploma, and postsecondary transitions. She is also the ELA content expert for the Minnesota Standard Adult High School Diploma. Her recent consulting work has been focused on the development of online curricula, partnering with numerous software and publishing companies to align ELA/ESL instructional material to the CCRS (College and Career Readiness Standards) and coaching teacher teams to develop internal peer-mentoring structures. She continues to serve as a STAR (STudent Achievement in Reading) trainer for Minnesota ABE programs.

As the ATLAS Literacy & ELA (English Language Arts) Coordinator, Kristine coordinates the Minnesota CCRS Implementation Cohort and serves as the lead for implementation of the CCR ELA standards specifically. She also presents workshops locally and nationally, researches and identifies resources for adult writing instruction, provides ELA instructional coaching, and co-leads the MN Language & Literacy Advisory Team (LLATe).

Kristine, many thanks for sharing your expertise with us today!  I’ll start our discussion with two questions:

  • What are some essential academic and/or soft/professional skills to target in instruction for ELLs moving into the ABE/ASE classroom?
  • What can teachers in the ABE/ASE classroom do to make the transition less jarring for ELLs (students may be asked to write and read much more about topics unrelated to them; there may be less intentional speaking & listening activities; instruction is very content-focused with quick coverage of content; there may be a different feeling of "community," etc.)?

Community members, please ask questions and share your insights throughout today’s discussion.  Thanks in advance for your participation!

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Community

Thank you so much for having me here today! I do want to say right away that much of what I'll share today is based on my teaching experience and a lot of self-study. When I began my ABE teaching career, my classroom was filled with native English speakers, and I used my background in teaching high school Language Arts, along with what I was learning about adult learning theory, to teach GED-prep classes. So much has changed! I think about the Academic Literacy class I taught on Zoom yesterday with 13 students, and only two were native English speakers. There has been a huge influx of ELLs into my classes in the past ten years, and I have scrambled to learn how to best support their learning as they work toward earning a GED and (for most) moving into some kind of post-secondary education or training. These are students who no longer qualify as ESL students by assessment but have definite language needs and content needs. I could never adequately express how thankful I am for my ESL teaching colleagues who have tirelessly talked with me, shared resources and strategies, and helped to fill in some of my gaps. I used to see myself as separate from my ESL colleagues down the hall. Now, up until I couldn't physically be at school anymore last year, I spent a lot of time down the hall with an open mind and a million questions!

All that is to say that I'm happy to be here to share, but equally happy to learn from the community as we consider the questions. So please contribute and ask more questions! In my mind, experiences like the one today end up being so beneficial for the heart of what I do: the students. Accept my thanks in advance for continuing to help me be a better teacher for all of my students.

I'm going to split into two posts for the first questions so that we can get the discussion going.

  • What are some essential academic and/or soft/professional skills to target in instruction for ELLs moving into the ABE/ASE classroom?

In my experience, most students who come into my classroom (ABE Functioning Levels Low-Intermediate-High Adult Secondary) need to work on the same skills and strategies. What is different is how I support my ELLs in learning these skills and strategies. Based on my experience through changing NRS assessments, changing GED tests, the CCR Standards (among so many other changes in 20+ years), here is what I've learned to target for all of my students, but especially my ELLs:

  • Academic
    • Reading complex text (strategies for comprehending text that may be above instructional level, content-area texts, passive voice in text, texts with multiple text structures, persistence with longer texts, comprehension of text features based on language clues (bias, POV, denotation, tone), pronoun reference, tracking a subject through a paragraph or text, understanding how to break down lengthy sentences into chunks for comprehension)
    • Writing (sentences with multiple clauses, sentence combining and rewriting, expository writing, academic paragraph structure, paraphrasing and summarizing, responding to text using text evidence instead of personal opinion)
    • Vocabulary (academic vocabulary, words with multiple meanings, forms of words, figurative language, domain-specific vocabulary, idiomatic language)
    • Speaking & listening (academic discourse, evaluating a speaker/analyzing an oral argument, speaking about content-area text, comprehending oral presentations on academic content)
  • Soft skills 
    • Learning Strategies (monitoring comprehension, academic note taking, organizing information)
    • Critical thinking (categorizing information, recognizing denotation/connotation, evaluating validity of information, recognizing bias, purpose, point of view when connected to language clues, synthesizing from multiple texts)
    • Self-Management (organizing materials, managing time and deadlines, evaluating progress & adjusting, identifying and asking for specific help)

As I said earlier, these are certainly skills that most of my non-ELLs need as well, so what I will address in my next post (and next question response) gets more to HOW I've had to change my instruction over time to better meet the needs of my ELLs in developing many of these academic skills and strategies. Turns out, the changes I've been making to support my ELLs has been a huge support to my non-ELLs as well, and I can honestly say that strengthening my knowledge about how to ease the transition from ESL classes into my class and providing stronger language support (and other scaffolds) has made me a better, more effective teacher for all of my students.

Thanks, Kristine. As an ESL instructor and program coordinator, it's really critical that my colleagues and I think through how we can best support our students who are going to be continuing with ABE.

In some ways, the academic skills are easier to teach, as they're integrated into our classes. We're working on pushing our instructors and students to add those vital soft skills, though. 

Looking forward to seeing how you've changed your instruction and hearing any suggestions for ways to prepare students!

Thanks for your comment, Katie!

I can give a great example of how I was missing a meaningful opportunity to teach the soft skill of organizing class materials. I would give students 3-ring bingers with dividers and take them through step-by-step in organizing their binders, complete with telling them the sections they should have. Then a colleague posed this question to me: What are you doing that your students could be doing? I realized that what would be a more effective activity (and a way to develop more student independence) was to distribute the binders and provide the dividers. Students could then determine how to best organize their own materials in a way that made sense to them. Then I could ask them to articulate the thinking process behind their organization. A small tweak that made a major difference.

Throughout this time of school closures, one thing has been abundantly clear to me: the soft skills are as important as the academic skills, and I must pay them equal attention.

Hello Kristine and all, First of all, thank you, Kristine, for sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience about ways to address the needs of English learners. As we all know, there are more and more English learners joining ABE/ASE classes, and it is essential that teachers understand how to design instruction to support their learning. The good news, as you point out, is that all learners, including those who are native English speakers, benefit from attention to language. All learners benefit from collaborative learning activities that require critical thinking and that focus on building academic language and  engage learners in constructive conversations. 

Even though I strongly agree that all learners benefit from the types of activities you've shared with us, I also know that it can be quite challenging to address the needs of a diverse, multi-level class. I wonder if you can discuss this concern and offer any tips for managing the needs of a diverse group of learners.

Also, I know that members of our community would love to hear how you are adapting some of these instructional strategies for teaching remotely.

Thanks so much!

Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition and Teaching & Learning CoPs

Hello Susan and Kristine,

Thanks Susan for asking this question. I am sure you are speaking for many or most adult ESOL/ESL teachers when you point out the difficulties of the multi-level classroom. Kristine, I also wonder if you have found ways that the use of technology has helped you or other ESOL/ESL teachers in addressing multi-level classroom teaching and learning challenges.

David J. Rosen

Even when I didn't have a mix of ELLs and native English speakers, I had classes where the reading levels would span 6 grades or more. I wish I had some great wisdom to share! I can share some of the things that I do to address different literacy needs in my classroom.

I teach 2 days a week, 3 hours each time. The first 45 minutes is my STAR reading class, where we study academic vocabulary, reading strategies and work on fluency. Over the past two years, I've been using my STAR class as a scaffold for the class that comes after: Academic Literacy. I generally choose a topic or essential question that both classes will focus on. Then I use STAR time to explicitly teach some of the key academic vocabulary that will appear in the text in Academic Literacy. We also do some comprehension work with short passages and build background knowledge for the next class. When more advanced students join for Academic Literacy, my less advanced students have some familiarity with the vocabulary and content that will help reduce the complexity of texts we read and tasks we complete in the more advanced class. 

Now that my students are more used to learning online, they are accessing more of the platforms available with free text and activities. Before school closures, getting students to engage with online platforms like Newsela or CommonLit, for example, was difficult. Now I can use synchronous class time for collaborative activities, modeling of strategies, discussion of text dependent questions, extension activities, additional support, brainstorming together for writing tasks, etc. Asynchronously, I can assign my students a range of text levels in my CommonLit and Newsela classes online. In my Google Classroom, I can assign lessons to individual students or groups of students, tweak what I'm assigning to include some more or less challenging activities, and can link students to appropriate activities based on their levels. It's a lot of work, but I'm finding that having time together as a group and then having the ability to personalize more assignments for students for asychronous learning is working fairly well. In addition, I've also built in time to meet with students (I use signup.com) and have 9 15-minute slots a week that students can sign up for (they can sign up for up to 2 in a row at a time). This is time solely devoted to their questions and progress without interruption. 

I do have an educational assistant who helps me with breakout groups in my STAR class, but I've been trying to decide how to work breakout groups in my Academic Literacy class for some differentiation. I have a handful of more advanced students that I think would make good breakout leaders in the near future and am going to try to group students to complete very specific tasks. In addition, I'd like to give less advanced students a chance to lead as well, and I'm considering homogenous and heterogenous groupings. I think the key will be to be very specific in what student roles are in the groups and what needs to be accomplished and choose a few routines that we can develop. Also, routines help when new students enter the class because other students can help new students settle into the routine. Something I think about a lot is that I tend to spent a lot of time working on how to support students who are at the lower end of a group of learners, but learners at the higher end of the group also need differentiation so they can keep moving forward as well.

Finally, in my synchronous classes, I like to use Mentimeter, Flippity (thanks for the recommendation, Susan), EdPuzzle and Padlet. I find that we can do many meaningful and fun activities that are appropriate for all levels to do together. My advanced students love moving manipulatives around on a Flippity board just as much as my less-advanced students do. Everyone likes the Menti activities and real-time data produced. When I include a video in a Google Classroom assignment, there is a wealth of already made videos on EdPuzzle to choose from, and those videos have different numbers of questions at different levels of complexity. Padlet is a great tool where we can do activities, and students can respond to each other and like each other's posts just like on social media, building community among all the levels in my class.

My colleague John Trerotola (his post is below called "What students have told me") also offers some great ideas for resources to use to help support ELLs in the classroom and differentiate instruction. Please be sure to check his ideas out. They are always inspiring to me!

Personally, though this time of remote learning has been a stressful time, it has also been a time of great creativity and growth for me as I become better at designing my instruction with the technology in mind, rather than trying to force the technology to help me do what I've always done. I also appreciate what I have available at my fingertips for differentation that I find easier than paging through resources and spending time at the copy machine!

I hope I answered a bit of your question, Susan, and a bit of yours, David.  Thanks for participating in this discussion!

Hi Kristine, Thanks for responding regarding the many ways you are working to address the needs of all learners in your diverse classroom. We know that every adult basic education class is multilevel. Some are just more so than others. In addition, I know members greatly appreciate hearing about the tools you have found useful in your remote classroom.

Flippity has definiltely become my best friend during these days of remote instruction. My experience has been similar to yours, Kristine, in that all learners -- regardless of level -- enjoy the manipulative activities that can be created on Flippity.  There are so many ways to use Flippity, and activities can definitely be differentiated.

I routinely use anticipation guides of various kinds before learners view a video, listen to a podcast, study an infographic or read a text. I teach an Integrated English Literacy and Civics Education (IELCE) class with learners who have tested out of ESL levels. Some of these learners plan to study for a high school equivalency test; others are preparing to enter training or college. For a recent lesson, we viewed Jarrell Daniel's TED Talk on what prosecutors and incarcerated people can learn from one another. Here's the Anticipation Guide on Flippity that learners completed before viewing this TED Talk.

As you have pointed out, Kristine, it's also essential to provide learners with sentence starters to support their conversations. For example, here are some sentence starters learners use during their anticipation guide conversations:

Conversation Starters: 

  • TO INFER OR PREDICT We can hypothesize that … is true/false because … 
  • TO AFFIRM and BUILD ON YOUR PARTNER’S IDEA Your idea resonates with me because …
  • TO DISAGREE POLITELY – That’s a valid point, but I think …

This has been a fantastic discussion. Thanks to all who have contributed and especially to you, Kristine, for sharing your professional wisdom here on LINCS!

Take care, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition and Teaching & Learning CoPs

Hello Kristine,

Thanks for sharing your experience. In just one post you have packed in a lot of professional wisdom that you have acquired of your years of teaching.

I am especially interested in your inclusion of "Speaking & listening (academic discourse, evaluating a speaker/analyzing an oral argument, speaking about content-area text, comprehending oral presentations on academic content)" As you know, most NRS standardized assessments test reading and writing skills and foundational skills content, but adult basic skills learners, including those for whom English is a second or other language, also need to learn specific listening and speaking skills to survive and thrive in a post-secondary academic environment.  Can you tell us more about what and how you teach and assess these oral skills? 

David J. Rosen


Right into the fire with a BIG question! Thanks so much for your question, David. I'm interested to hear what others have to say in response to your question as well.

What might be most effective is for me to share some details about actual activities I've incorporated. The biggest change I've made is to make speaking & listening activities INTENTIONAL. When asked, I would always say, "Sure! We talk a lot in class!" But those activities weren't necessarily well-structured, time-bound, or well-supported with "talk moves" and other academic language supports.

Self-Guided Conversation Groups (a stellar idea from Jessica Jones at Literacy MN). This is a low-prep routine that works well for even my highest learners. 

Student Role #1: Choose a question and read it out loud.

Student Role #2: Answer the question.

Student Role #3: Summarize the answer you just heard.

Student Role #4: Ask a follow-up question.

  1. Form a group of 4.
  2. Each person sits at one of 4 student role positions.
  3. Student #1 asks a question from the handout provided (tons of free questions at The Internet TESOL Journal at http://iteslj.org/questions/).
  4. The group rotates through Students #2, #3, #4, using the “Talk Moves” cards.
  5. Rotate to another role to start another round. Repeat process as needed.

What I added to Jessica's activity was "Talk Moves" laminated cards for Student Roles #2, #3, #4 to help scaffold language structures I wanted students to use. You are welcome to use them here.  

What I love about this activity is that it can be a routine that students can run themselves, and I can rotate among groups and listen for how students are using the language and engaging in the conversations. An added benefit is that when a new student comes to class, he/she can easily jump into the activity because it's so well defined.

TED Talks

1. Students receive a teacher-created study guide (scaffolded with sentence stems and frames) and we read through it together to clarify any vocabulary.

2. Students put the study guide to the side to listen to the Ted Talk (this drives them crazy at first, but I want them to focus on listening).

Students then follow these directions after the TED Talk:

a. Fill in as much of the study guide as you can.

b. Compare your answers with a partner. Record any additional information you discuss to more fully complete your study guide.

c. Consult another pair if you and your partner still need some information.

d. Come back to the larger group to share your answers.


I attended a great workshop at the University of MN two years ago that introduced me to the idea of adding a third person to a pair activity to do some intentional listening for the pair. This is not an easy task, but it does help to build synthesis skills.

1. Form a group of 3. 

2. One person is Student A, one is Student B, and one is an observer/listener. 

3. Take 1 minute to think about the quote on the Smartboard (a quote that has to do with the topic of learning at the time). 

4. Student A speaks for 1 minute about the quote. 

5. Student B speaks for 1 minute about the quote. 

6. Observer/listener summarizes main points of both: What I heard was ____.

Chat Stations

1. Form a group of 4.

2. Go to a chat station (a photo or other visual - New York Times "What's Going on in This Picture" works great for a source!).

3. Choose a notetaker for that station. Notetaker records ideas of the group on the handout.

4. Discuss what you think is going on in the picture for 3 minutes. Use your talk moves (Here.)

5. Rotate to another station. Choose a new notetaker. Repeat the process.

As far as how I have done some big thinking about incorporation of intentional speaking & listening activities in my instruction, I continually ask myself some hard, but honest, questions (I've gotten some amazing ideas from Project Zero's "Thinking Routines Toolbox" here.)

  • How are speaking & listening activities purposeful, not simply "talk"?
  • How is engagement not only social but intellectual?
  • How do speaking & listening activities push students into re-thinking or new thinking?
  • How do the activities develop academic language?
  • What percentage of my instruction is teacher talk vs. student talk?
  • Where are opportunities to make thinking visible to each other as well as to me?
  • How do activities develop skills for collaborative discussion including asking for clarification, building on the ideas of others, inviting others into the conversation, summarizing information, justifying views, disagreeing respectfully?

I've found fairly simple formative assessment for students very powerful for their own self-reflection on their speaking & listening progress. Here is an example. I don't currently use any formal tool for assessing student speaking & listening in the classroom and would welcome any suggestions or tools for doing so.

Yikes! I hope I was able to answer some of what you asked, David. ;-) Thank you for being part of today's discussion and getting me to think deeply about my own practice!




Hello all, and thank you for this important discussion!  

Kristine, thanks so much for the concrete strategies you list above.  I want to point folks to a webinar from Jessica Jones (mentioned above) and Liddy Rich that outlines ways to build speaking and listening skills in an online learning setting.  That's housed on our Minnesota Professional Development YouTube channel, and here's the direct link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smI-jfGtrRM , and here's a related article from our newsletter as well, from April 2020: https://atlasabe.org/news/abe-voices-across-the-distance-snapshot-of-the-new-normal-from-a-pre-ged-high-intermediate-esl-teacher/.


Patsy Egan

ATLAS Director, Hamline University, St. Paul MN

Thanks Kristine for your detailed answer to my question. These look like great listening and speaking activities for many reasons: they are engaging, challenging, highly interactive, structured, and some of them incorporate relevant reading and writing too. Speaking of writing, can you share with us some of your favorite articles or books that have helped you become so effective, including perhaps some of your own writings? 

I wish I could suggest some good assessments of listening and speaking skills for use in an academic environment. Perhaps others in the Reading and Writing group, or in the English Language Acquisition group, have some recommendations.  This could be an area where we need to develop new assessments.

David J. Rosen

Stephanie Sommers (Minneapolis Community Education & ATLAS ACES Coordinator) and I developed and presented several workshops last year on the topic of increasing writing in the ESL/ABE classroom. In these workshops, we presented the following reasons to incorporate as much writing as possible into instruction:

  • to demonstrate and deepen understanding of content
  • to synthesize ideas and show how what they have read, heard, or seen has filtered through their own thoughts to create new understanding
  • to feel empowered to share their own voice and experiences to be their own best advocates
  • as formative and summative assessment
  • to develop skills that are needed to be successful in the workplace and higher education or training
  • enhances students’ ability to read a text accurately, fluently, and with comprehension

Writing instruction remains a challenging ELA strand to teach and to learn! I read the research article “A Survey of Writing Instruction in Adult ESL Programs: Are Teaching Practices Meeting Adult Learner Needs?” (available here on LINCS), and it was both eye-opener and validation for me. I get it: many adult basic education teachers do not have a writing instruction background, writing is a hard skill for students who may want to work on other areas of ELA, and we don’t test it generally on NRS level-gain tests. I’m fortunate enough to have had writing be a huge focus of my undergraduate English degree, and I draw from that knowledge base constantly. My Achilles’ heel was that I had zero preparation in how to teach reading, and my confidence was very low for a long time until I did graduate work in reading and went through STAR certification several years ago. I still find reading and writing challenging to teach even with my preparation and experience.

Some resources I’ve found helpful that come to mind are the following:

  • from LINCS, the “Discussion on Teaching Writing with Dr. Mary Ann Corley” from this past summer here
  • Writing resources and publications from TEAL here 
  • Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading here
  • from LINCS “Writing Instruction for Adult Literacy Learners: What Can We Learn from Research with Adolescents?” online discussion with Charles A. MacArther here
  • the text Preparing Adult English Learners to Write for College and the Workplace (University of Michigan Press)
  • Jeff Zwiers and Kate Kinsella for developing oral academic language structures to scaffold writing (what I’ve discovered is KEY in helping students to learn to write academically). Also Kylene Beers and Lucy Calkins (I glean so much from K-12 researchers that I can adapt for my adult learners).

My advice is to ask myself “Where can I take that extra step into writing to capture all that my students have been reading and discussing?” and “How can I leverage the oral language activities we’ve just practiced into some writing?” I see so many opportunities in textbooks to take that additional step, be it writing for formative assessment, writing out the academic language structures just practiced, adding brief writing practice to a language conventions lesson, after a “think-pair-share” activity, writing a quick one- or two-sentence written reflection about a video we just watched or a text we just read (often kick-started with a sentence frame on the Smartboard). 

I’ve learned to teach my students that sometimes we write for comprehension and reflection and sometimes to demonstrate form and structure. We do a lot of low stakes writing that doesn’t need to be corrected or edited. Not everything has to be a formal piece of writing. I read this once, and it has stuck with me ever since: "If you can read everything your students write, you're not assigning enough writing." (Doug Fisher). Frequent, low-stakes writing opportunities have made a huge difference in my students’ confidence and desire to write.  

On to the second question: What can teachers in the ABE/ASE classroom do to make the transition less jarring for ELLs? (Students may be asked to write and read much more about topics unrelated to them; there may be less intentional speaking & listening activities; instruction is very content-focused with quick coverage of content; there may be a different feeling of "community," etc.)?

Though I've always worked hard to create a warm, respectful, joyful community in my classroom, the stark truth at one times was that the transition for many ELLs from ESL classes into my ABE Basic Skills classroom was...abrupt. The experience of ELLs will differ depending on how they come to my classroom:

  • Some have moved up through our ESL classes and have had some academic content and soft skills built in to their instruction before they transition.
  • Some come from other programs where they achieve a CASAS GOALS READING cut score during orientation that places them in my class, though they had little academic preparation in their ESL instruction up to that point.
  • Some haven't taken any ESL classes in the U.S. but test into my class because of prior English instruction. These students may or may not have graduated high school or college in their home countries. 

What they do have in common is that they still have needs for English language support, particularly with academic language (both speaking and listening). For a long time, I was driven by content in my classroom. How much content could I possibly jam into my students heads so they would be ready for the GED test and how fast? I was basically teaching a survey class or preparing my students for potential success on a game show with bits and pieces of information. That's absolutely honest. A lot has changed in my classroom, though the reality is that I always have students who are time-crunched to get a GED, often because of employment reasons. In those cases, I have to balance what I know is good for the student with the reality of what the student needs to accomplish and when. But for most of my students, they will spend some time with me in class, and I've learned to go deeper with fewer topics and focus on teaching my students how to comprehend whatever they have to read or how to write or speak effectively for a purpose and an audience.

Here are three areas that have gone through big changes in my instruction with examples:

  • Integrating soft and academic skills (including social/emotional topics combined with academic thinking and tasks) and expanding topics and activities around an essential question over several class periods
    • Current essential question in my class: What is the relationship between self-control and achievement of goals? 
    • a Menti survey about resolutions and discussion of perspectives on New Year's resolutions from student cultural backgrounds
    • work with the academic words resolve/resolution (plus collocation conflict resolution)
    • read a short text for background knowledge and additional related vocabulary 
    • close read a lengthier text about the relationship between self-control and keeping resolutions with a set of text-dependent questions
    • view a TED Talk (such as "Self control: Dan Ariely at TEDxDuke" - beware one very brief reference to sex) with scaffolded study guide and speaking & listening pair and quad work
    • speak about the texts using sentence stems and frames and gather information and evidence in a chart like a KLEWS chart 
    • continue work with run-on sentences using content from the longer self-control text 
    • respond to the essential question in writing using evidence from the texts (with options for prompts due to variable attendance or new students starting mid-unit)
  • Engaging students in more intensive vocabulary work and sentence-level work; leveraging grammar knowledge to comprehend (break up the clauses, draw an arrow to what the adjective clause modifies, track the subject or pronouns, locate transitional or other connecting words); do language work which focuses on figurative language and other specific word choices in a text and build scaffolding into the question:
    • ex. In Paragraph 4, the writer says that people were “clogging streets in cities like Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.” We often think of a sink drain being clogged and water can’t move through. 
      • Why would the writer choose the word clogging to describe the streets rather than a phrase like filling up?
  • Building community with pair work, small groups, very intentional collaborative activities, intentional pairings, leveraging L1 strategically, linguistic pairings (when appropriate and possible) 

Kristine, you have given us so much to think about!  Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with the community.  Please keep the questions and comments coming community members!

Find a link HERE for the complete July 2020 discussion on the beginning stages of writing hosted by Dr. Mary Ann Corley that you referenced in your post entitled Stephanie Sommers. 

I am always looking for ways we as instructors can consider a strengths-based approach to teaching and learning.  Linking this to our discussion: 

  • How can ABE/ASE teachers capitalize on having both ELLs and native English speakers together in class?

Thanks Kristine!

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing CoP

Honestly, most of my native English speakers that attend my classes benefit from the changes I’ve made to support ELLs, including

  • explicit teaching and practice of academic language
  • close reading activities
  • breaking down of long sentences for comprehension
  • intentional speaking & listening activities
  • more collaborative learning
  • incorporation of many more visuals, read alouds, and videos 
  • drawing on knowledge of grammar and morphology to determine the meaning of unknown words
  • sharing of diverse cultural perspectives and experiences
  • backwards planning using an essential question and multiple texts/activities to build up to a summative task 

I think back to a couple years ago when I had a 19-year-old native English speaker talk to me after class. She said, “If I wasn’t in this class, I don’t think I would ever talk to and be friends with the people I am now.” Having both ELLs and native English speakers together in my classes is definitely challenging, but the benefits are considerable.

Other ways from the community that you capitalize on having both ELLs and native English speakers in your classrooms?

Hi Kristine,

Thanks for sharing that touching story!

Continuing on the asset theme, we could also look at a student's L1 (native language) as a strength on which to build new skills.  

How can ABE/ASE teachers provide effective opportunities for English Language Learners to leverage L1?

We so appreciate all the time you have put into this discussion!


Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Community

This question is one I'm still learning so much about! I would love for others in the community to answer this question as well.

Two things I do know is that L1 is an asset and can be used strategically as an effective scaffold. I'm always very clear to students when it's an option and clear that the end product (writing, oral presentation, whole-class discussions, etc.) must be produced in English.

This summer I was working with a native French speaker and a native Spanish speaker. We had a few conversations about leveraging their native languages when reading certain literary texts to break through confusion and when writing to keep ideas flowing, and both students told me they felt like they were cheating when they dipped into L1. It took several discussions for me to persuade students that L1 is an asset and a tool to use, not a weakness or a cheat.

I've studied both Russian and Spanish, and I have always used my knowledge of those languages to help my Russian-speaking and Spanish-speaking students when I can. My ability to say "In your language it works like this or is this word" has cleared much confusion for those students so that we can move on to the focus of the lesson. 

Times I remind students to leverage L1:

  • When reading to gain a deeper understanding of the text (CommonLit translates into many languages)
  • When clarifying directions or routines with a newer student who speaks the same language (can save time and make a new or newer student feel connected to the class and routines more quickly)
  • When doing quickwrites to keep writing (switch between L1 and L2 to keep writing because the focus is on ideas) or when initially brainstorming for a writing task
  • When engaging in peer conversations about content (where an eventual report back or product is in English)

I see use of L1 as I see many strategies: a tool that is one of many tools. We should all have multiple tools in our toolboxes and learn how to effectively use those tools for specific purposes. The more effective tools we have, the better we will be able to persevere in our tasks and make meaning of what we hear, read and write.

Probably the most powerful experience I've had recently was inviting students during a 5-minute quickwrite to switch into L1 if necessary to keep writing the whole time instead of interrupting their flow of ideas. This idea was presented to me at the TESOL conference this past year and also supported by the book Writing Between Languages: How English Language Learners Make the Transition to Fluency (Heinemann). The idea is that when we have a mix of native English speakers and ELLs in a classroom, quickwrites can be frustrating to ELLs if they have to pause frequently because of language difficulties while seeing other students continue to furiously write. If students know in this instance that they can switch to L1 (if they have that ability and choose to), they can focus on what they want to say and feel they are able to complete the task like other students. The first time this happened, several students asked me afterward how this strategy could work because I didn't know most of their languages and couldn't read all they had written. My answer was this: This strategy isn't about me, it's about you. I want you to be able to express what's inside your heads and hearts about a particular topic. There will be time during the writing process to work on the English. Whether right or wrong, this quickwrite strategy has resulted in a classroom full of students writing furiously, instead of only a few and a greater expansion of ideas to include in more formal English writing.  

Hello all and am grateful for the ideas presented so far as I always want to be mindful of all of my students' academic needs/goals as they enter my classroom.  My main and current teaching area is focused on GED/college preparation/adult diploma students, but I have been fortunate to have had instructional opportunities in the advanced ESL classroom in past years.  As a result, I have become much more aware of the needs of those ELLs as they move from ESL to ABE. 

As they transition, ELLs are anxious to learn the content knowledge but want to approach it in a way that still coincides with their English language learning goals.  Those students who have joined my ABE classes this year have been very forthright in their requests to have opportunities for more speaking and listening practice, continued vocabulary and pronunciation practice and, of course, more and more grammar review.  Fortunately, with the advent of so many new resources in response to the current distance learning/hybrid environment, I have been able to incorporate these skills more seamlessly into my content instruction. 

Among the many offerings, I have had success with Lingt (https://www.lingt.com/) as a way for students to orally respond to assignments and, based on my students’ reactions, Listenwise (https://listenwise.com/) is now a go-to resource.  Obviously, listening skills are the focus of this program, but the upgraded subscription has content in all subject areas, provides other ELL supports, and has a strong emphasis on vocabulary acquisition. 

While vocabulary acquisition has always been a part of my ABE instruction in some way, ELLs not only want to learn the meaning of the words, but they also want intensive pronunciation practice.  Focusing on pronunciation was always a second thought when teaching vocabulary as I focused more on definitions, word families etc.  Now, I use resources like Spelling City (https://www.spellingcity.com/) and Breaking News English (https://breakingnewsenglish.com/) to acquire and present target vocabulary and then make sure that I plan for adequate time for pronunciation practice. 

Finally, the ELLs that have transitioned into my classroom want to continue with the same intensive grammar study that they were accustomed to in their former classes.  To recognize this need and not wanting to simply supply standard grammar-related worksheets, I am thankful for resources like ESL Library (https://esllibrary.com/) and Quill (https://www.quill.org/).  These, and other similar resources, contextually incorporate many key grammar skills into various content area topics.  In the end, recognizing the needs of ELLs in my ABE classroom has greatly benefitted me in both instructional planning and delivery.  Moreover, I am anxious to hear more from others and gather additional ideas!    

Hello Colleagues,

Yesterday's events in Washington DC absorbed the nation, so Kristine Kelly and I decided to continue the discussion today to allow for more participation.  Please share your thoughts about the topic, How Can Adult Educators Help English Language Learners (ELLs) Who Have Transitioned to ABE Classes?

We so appreciate all the community members who have contributed their thoughts so far and welcome your continued participation today!

Kristine, I'll ask the question we left off on again:

How can ABE/ASE teachers provide effective opportunities for English Language Learners to leverage L1 (students' native language)?

Thanks so much for all your help,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Community

Hi Everyone,

My grateful thanks goes to Kristine Kelly for her outstanding leadership in our January 6th and 7th discussion about How Can Adult Educators Help English Language Learners (ELLs) Who Have Transitioned to ABE Classes?  Kristine, thanks so much for giving your time and expertise and continuing the discussion despite the events we witnessed in Washington DC on the afternoon of January 6th.

Colleagues, this discussion remains open.  Please share what you are doing to serve your English Language Learners who are now in your ABE classes.  Let us know how you are using the information gathered during the discussion in your classrooms.

Thanks for your participation,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Community 

Hi Everyone,

Last week’s discussion was filled with great ideas about how to serve our English Language Learners (ELLs) as they move into our Adult Basic Education classes.  Thank you so much Kristine Kelly and community members for contributing these great ideas!  Please look back over the discussion and reflect on the following questions:

What is something in these discussions that:

  • Reinforced something good that I already am doing?
  • Reminded me of something I used to do and will try again?
  • Gave me a new idea that I plan to try?

Please share your thoughts and insights, and thanks in advance for contributing your reflections!

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Community