Volunteer-based programs and Teaching Adults to Read course

Hello, all! I am curious to hear from others who have no paid instructors. All of our tutors are volunteers, and while the new course looks amazing, is easy to use, and has a plethora of great resources attached, most of our volunteers wouldn't go through it. Some think our one-day training is too much. When we offer continuing ed's around subjects they ask for, they don't attend those. (and we even do them at breweries:) ! ) We have some that are more than amazing and keep up with new strategies, learn more and keep in touch with us. And of course, some of this is expected and just fine when working with volunteers. 

What's great about the course is that it doesn't focus on using a workbook. We do not use them, instead, we focus on interests and motivations and use reading strategies so the tutors can use whatever materials the learners would like. 

So I think questions for volunteer-based programs:

Do your volunteer tutors attend continuing ed? If so, what has been successful in getting them there? 

Do you use longer, in-depth courses like Teaching Adults to Read? If so, what is the response from volunteers?

What materials do your volunteers use in sessions? 

Thank you! 


Hi Stacy,

Many thanks for posting this very honest question about the Teaching Adults to Read course and volunteer professional development (PD). I appreciate your candor in broaching this challenging topic. 

Stacy's question surrounds the two newly updated LINCS Teaching Adults to Read courses, Teaching Beginning and Intermediate Readers and Teaching Advanced Readers. The Teaching Beginning and Intermediate Readers course may take up to 6 hours to complete and the Teaching Advanced Readers may take 4 hours. In part, Stacy is wondering whether volunteers would commit to doing these courses because of the time it might take to do them.

One of the most common frustrations I hear when I talk with instructors is that their adult students are struggling with reading, and this holds them back from achieving their goals. Using research-based principles as outlined in these courses can make and will make a huge difference in our students' success. Volunteers are busy, and we don't want to lose them, especially with the fall off in volunteering because of COVID.

So what do we do? Community, let's help Stacy out. I'll begin with one thought and look forward to hearing others:

Who says one would have to go through these courses at one sitting? Would it be possible to divide the courses into smaller-sized chucks and discuss them with your volunteers at monthly one-hour or so PD sessions? How could you bring your volunteers together safely to show them how these courses would help give them additional tools to work with their struggling readers?

I'll re-write Stacy's excellent questions again:

So I think questions for volunteer-based programs:

Do your volunteer tutors attend continuing ed? If so, what has been successful in getting them there? 

Do you use longer, in-depth courses like Teaching Adults to Read? If so, what is the response from volunteers?

What materials do your volunteers use in sessions? 

Thanks in advance for your help community,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group 

Hello Stacy, and others,

Things may have changed, but before the pandemic it was common practice for volunteer tutoring programs to require an initial training, usually18 in-person hours. People who could not finish the training were usually not matched with an adult learner. I don't know if that has changed, other than to enable a volunteer tutor to take the training remotely, especially when the tutoring is also offered remotely.

Stacy, can you tell us how you are recruiting your volunteer tutors, and if you offer a short orientation and then an initial training? Are your volunteers mostly people who have taught reading to children, and consider themselves reading experts? Are they people with other kinds of teaching experience, or with no teaching or tutoring experience? Is it possible to address these differences in the orientation and to customize the training for the kind of experience the individual tutor has? Could you then review the LINCS courses to see if they -- or parts of them -- can help you meet your need for this customized training? Besides the volunteers' experience teaching reading,what is their motivation for volunteering to tutor adults? Do you include in your recruitment and orientation your expectations for volunteers, including for attending training.

It's possible that you are already doing these things. There may be other causes, such as "Zoom fatigue" or general online fatigue in volunteers' lives. Like for many of us now, the abrupt changes in our lives because of the pandemic, the changing economy and jobs, and other life challenges may be accelerating now and make itr difficult or impossible to be good volunteer reading tutors. .

I am  interested to hear from others who manage volunteer literacy programs, and from volunteer tutors. Do Stacy's experiences resonate with you? Has volunteer tutoring dramatically changed during the pandemic? If so, in what ways? How have you addressed these challenges?

Also, it would be great to hear from others who have taken these new courses; how might you use them?

David J. Rosen


Hi David! Thank you for that. A few answers:

We're starting to make some bigger changes, to serve learners better and hold volunteers more accountable. But, it's been a slow process. Since I began, we have only done a one-day training. More people used to come to continuing eds, but since we decentralized and moved everyone out to libraries, there has been less and less attendance. We try to ask what subjects people would be interested in, check-in with them and learners regularly and do all the typical volunteer management things. And some things not normally done, we're a creative team of 2 with around 100 learners and volunteers. So time is always an issue. Like for everyone. 

I am hoping to use these trainings that are already done, splitting them up would be great, and then not matching folks till they complete it all. My worry for 'firing' tutors who do not do check-in reports, or attend continuing eds/keep in touch with us, etc. is that their learner may be happy with them. I know other orgs do this (great response from on in the Program Management thread) so that is encouraging as a direction we can go. And, the learner may not have a specific goal, just improve in general so their casual, once a week tutor is enough for them. So more intentionally matching volunteers with learners goals would be good and these trainings can be used more specifically for those volunteers tutoring someone with a more ambitious goal. 

When covid began, we still had a decent amount of people attending training on zoom, and doing remote tutoring. People are definitely ready to get back to in-person. As for who we get as volunteers, it's all over. There are some that are experienced adult tutors, traditional teachers, those who are writers, avid readers, and those that just want to help a person, or the community and see the value in literacy from the small daily things low literacy affects to larger goals. We've also tried engaging the experienced volunteers to conduct the continuing eds, haven't had much success in that either. 

I really like this idea - "address these differences in the orientation and to customize the training for the kind of experience the individual tutor has". Once we start orientations, I think this would be easy enough to do, especially if we are only getting 5-10 new volunteers a month. 

That's a lot! I hope it's not all negative! Also would like to hear from others, I don't mind throwing out some things we may not be doing well either, I know I'm a bit tired of consistent change these last couple of years. So our energy is down too, not just volunteers we're asking a lot of. :)


Hello Stacy and others,

The key to effective professional development for volunteer tutors, I believe, is catching each tutor at a time when they discover a need or challenge in tutoring that they are highly motivated to meet, but for which they lack the skills or experience. General initial training that addresses the basics of literacy tutoring -- for example, the differences between teaching children and teaching adults to read, the curriculum that your program uses, etc. -- is essential to get tutors started, but tutoring success and improvement happens when tutors discover that to meet a learner’s specific needs they need to know more or to be able to do something better.

This is a different way of thinking about professional development for tutors from recommending a course, even very well-designed courses. It’s just-in-time professional development (J-I-TPD). To make this work a volunteer program manager needs:

  1. A good list of common challenges that you are already aware that tutors may face
  2. Re-visiting that list regularly to add new challenges that you become aware of, based on what you are learning from your tutors about what challenges they face
  3. A way to share your list with other volunteer reading tutoring program managers who have developed volunteer tutor needs, and to see their common challenge lists. (Steve and Susan, could the LINCS groups you moderate help with that? If there’s sufficient interest, could there be a LINCS Reading and Writing sub-group whose focus would be a well-developed list of common challenges that reading, or reading and writing, tutors of adults face?
  4. A list of professional development resources that are especially useful to tutors in addressing their challenges (i.e. 1. above). Ideally these would not be primarily long courses, but they could be a parts of a course that address the tutor’s challenges. They could also be links to articles, PD videos for tutors of adults, carefully chosen LINCS discussions or particular posts, and more.
  5. Under each tutoring challenge from your list, links to specific PD resources (i.e. 4. above)
  6. With a large and well-organized PD resource list like this in hand a volunteer program manager can encourage their tutors to reach out privately to them with their tutoring challenge(s) – as their challenges emerge, The managers know that they may have an easy way to respond with an article, short video, part of a course, etc.  They can also get back to the tutor, perhaps a week later, asking the tutor to complete a short (e.g. Google form) evaluation and rating of the resource that will help the manager know if a particular resource is valuable to their tutors.
  7. If there is a LINCS sub-group of reading tutor managers, members of that group might wish to share their tutor challenges lists as well as their PD resource lists, and possibly discuss what resources they find particularly useful for which tutoring challenges.

If there already exist some of the lists I have suggested that can be shared, or if there are volunteer program managers who already do some or all of of the things I have suggested, please let us know here.

Meanwhile, below is a partial list of Reading, or Reading and Writing, PD resources to consider for identifying reading and writing tutor challenges and zeroing in on particular resources to meet those challenges.  They are listed in two categories: Professional Development Resources for Tutors, and Reading and Writing Learning Resources for adult learners.  Most were gleaned from the LINCS Resource collection. Some appear on The Literacy List a multi-page document of mostly free adult foundational education resources.

David J. Rosen


Professional Development Resources for Tutors

Partners in Reading – San Jose Public Library (short videos)

This large collection of authentic adult reading tutoring videos includes over 50 short videos in the following categories: Phonemic Awareness, Alphabetics, Fluency, Vocabulary, Comprehension and First Meeting. The videos were created by consultants Amy Prevedel and Kathy St. John working with the San Jose California Public Library’s Partners in Reading adult literacy program, and the Santa Clara California Library’s Read Santa Clara adult literacy program. The project was funded by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act administered in California by the State Librarian. This is an excellent collection of short professional Development (PD) videos for adult literacy tutors.

  • Alphabetics: Phonemic Awareness (6 videos)
  • Alphabetics: Decoding/Phonics (10 videos)
  • Fluency: (7 videos)
  • Vocabulary (12 videos)
  • Comprehension (12 videos)
  • First Meeting (4 videos)
  • Featured Channels: California Library Literacy, ProLiteracy

Summarizing: Activating Prior Knowledge (short videos)
These videos are part of KET’s Reading Instructional Strategies collection.          They include these 14 topics:

  • Summarizing: Pre-teaching
  • Summarizing: Activating Prior Knowledge
  • Summarizing
  • Summarizing: Lesson Description
  • Choosing Texts
  • Check for Understanding
  • Prediction and Inference: Pre-teaching
  • Prediction and Inference: Modeling
  • Prediction and Inference: Guided Practice
  • Prediction and Inference: Lesson Description
  • Fluency: Decoding
  • Fluency: Questioning
  • Fluency: Repeated Reading
  • Fluency: Entire Lesson (long video of whole lesson)

Comprehension Monitoring: Coding Text
Reading comprehension monitoring strategy: using a code (e.g. !, ? or ?) for marking texts, or underlining or highlighting text (4:46 mins)

Modeling the Strategy
http://vimeo.com/17156598 (5:55 mins)

Coding – Think Aloud Example
http://vimeo.com/8438323 (5:11 mins)

Coding – Guided Practice
http://vimeo.com/17156948 (6:33 mins)

Coding – Independent Practice and Discussion
http://vimeo.com/17158319 (1:32 mins)

QAR – Question, Answer, Relationship
QAR – Introduction (2:35 mins)

QAR – Modeling (Right There) (1:07 mins)

QAR – Modeling (Think and Search) (1:10 mins)

QAR – Modeling (Writer and Me) (1:27 mins)

QAR – Guided Practice (Right There) (1:30 mins)

QAR – Guided Practice (Think and Search) (2:01 mins)

QAR – Guided Practice (Writer and Me) (1:18 mins)

QAR – Independent Practice and Discussion (3:47 mins)


Webcasts From Assessment to Practice Part I: Research-Based Approaches to Teaching Reading to Adults Q & A

LINCS for Educators of Individuals with Learning Disabilities

LINCS Resources for Teaching Adults to Read

Teaching learners what reading is all about

Dialogue Journals: Interactive Writing to Develop Language and Literacy

Evidence-based Reading Instruction: Alphabetics: Research and Teaching Strategies

Evidence-based Reading Instruction: Comprehension: Research and Teaching Strategies

Evidence-based Reading Instruction: Fluency: Research and Teaching Strategies

Evidence-based Reading Instruction: Vocabulary: Research and Teaching Strategies

The Role of Vocabulary Instruction in Adult Basic Education

From Assessment to Practice: Research-Based Approaches to Teaching Reading to Adults, Part 1

Assessment Strategies and Reading Profiles (ASRP)

Assistive Technology and Learning Disabilities

Resources for Adult Educators Working with Learners with Disabilities

Beginning Alphabetics Tests and Tools

Teaching Analogy Phonics

Improving Adult Literacy: Developing Reading and Writing

Intermediate Word Study  This resource includes “mini-lessons” for teaching intermediate alphabetics skills: compounds, syllable types and rules, common suffixes, prefixes, and roots.

Screening for Learning Disabilities in Adult Basic Education Students

Metacognition, Cognitive Strategy Instruction, and Reading in Adult Literacy

Research in Spelling: Implications for Adult Learners

What Is Dysgraphia? This article is about writing disabilities also known as dysgraphia. It indicates that learners having trouble with written expression will benefit from instructional accommodations and remediation to improve their writing skills.

How should adult ESL reading instruction differ from ABE reading instruction?

“MAESTRA! The Letters Speak.” Adult ESL Students Learning to Read for the First Time


Reading and Writing Learning Resources for adult learners

Reading Skills for Today's Adults Marshall, MN Adult literacy curriculum. Leveled reading selections.  “These materials, combined with the research-proven strategies of repeated reading and guided oral reading, aid in building learners' fluency and comprehension skills.  The materials correspond to Casas 200 - 235. 


ReadTheory uses an adaptive approach automatically meeting learners at their individual ability levels. Progress is shown on what they describe as “an intuitive report, replete with actionable, meaningful insights.” It is free.


ESL Literacy Readers

BC Reads: Adult Literacy Fundamental English - Reader 1

BC Reads: Adult Literacy Fundamental English - Reader 2

BC Reads: Adult Literacy Fundamental English – Reader 3

BC Reads: Adult Literacy Fundamental English – Reader 4

Story by Story Phonics Lessons

TV411, a free “video magazine for adult learners”

TV411 Reading

TV411 Writing

TV411 Vocabulary

Easy Reading for Adult Learners (from The Literacy List )

American Stories for English Learners

56 American stories in Voice of America Special English. Includes the text and an audio file of the story being read in a human voice

Best of the Reader

" A series of (Canadian) e-books for adult literacy and English as a second language learners. The site has 15 e-books and a teacher’s guide. Each e-book has 8 to 10 stories. Each story has exercises and activities to go with it. There is also an answer key in each e-book. You have permission to download, print, and distribute all the material on this site. To view and print the e-books, you may need to download and install the most recent version of Adobe Acrobat Reader."

Center for the Study of Adult Literacy's free online library for adult learners

The Center for the Study of Adult Literacy (CSAL) offers a great free library of adult literacy readings. The readings have three levels: Easier, Medium and Harder, and include these topics:

health; food; babies; children ages 2-12; teenagers; families; advice; non-fiction (real life) stories; fiction (made-up stories); jobs and work; money; history; science; and other.

Elizabeth Claire's Easy English News (a commercial site)

The site has a guide to using it in the classroom. Each month there are quizzes, cloze activities and other resources available online for teachers to use, adapt and combine with the reading material. There is a crossword puzzle in each issue and a glossary of terms of bold-faced words in the back of each paper. There are current events, but also topics related to American culture. (This description was posted by Nan Frydland to the LINCS Adult English Language Users Community on October 13, 2016)


Hundreds of very short stories and easier stories for ESL beginners. Audio -- an actual human voice reading the story --is an option at the top of each story.

Fannie Lou Hamer by Stephon Gray and Phil Shapiro

Free Rice

Vocabulary learning at all levels from easy to post-post grad. A simple game that's fun and apparently helps to feed hungry people in poor areas of the world.

GCF Learn Free

Registration, with an email address, required.

News For You (a commercial site)

“Interactive site uses real news articles to help you learn to read, write, speak, and understand English. Seven new stories are posted each Wednesday, along with audio, exercises, vocabulary, a crossword puzzle, and a poll. Listen to each article in full, or sentence-by-sentence.”


Includes articles at various levels that can be read online or printed out.

"Newsela is a site that lists very popular news articles for readers. The power of the site is that you get to choose the reading levels of the recent news. A beginning reader can start at very low levels and as you click to increase each level you can see the depth, complexity, vocabulary and sentence structure change with each setting. It might be nice to have readers of all levels read the same article and then have them discuss what they understood from the article. Another usage might be for someone to read at their comfort level then try the next level up so they can start to experience some of the differences. As they get more comfortable with what that "next level" looks like, the student can then start a new article at that next level and revert back to the old level to verify understanding." Ed Latham, in a post on June 19, 2015 to the LINCS Disabilities in Adult Education Community of Practice,

News in Levels

Each news article is provided in three levels. There are eight topic categories for articles: News, Sport, Nature, History, Interesting, Funny, Information, Exercises


Hello Stacy, David, Steve and all, You've raised such an important question, Stacy. A similar question came up a few days ago in the English Language Acquisition Community. Several members including Kathy Houghton, who is the executive director of Literacy New York which trains volunteers across the state, posted some useful suggestions related to supporting volunteers with standards-based teaching.

I think we sometimes don't pay enough attention to the wonderful volunteers who play such a critical role in our programs, so thank you for starting this discussion.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

My experience working with volunteers in adult literacy programs has taught me valuable lessons, many of which have already been addressed here, and others which follow:

  • Treat volunteers as staff with the same commitment expectations, which are shared with them from Day 1.
  • Include volunteers in activities that help them feel part of a program family. Community is important.
  • Provide volunteers with regular feedback and reinforcement based on their performance.
  • Instead of longer f-2-f trainings, offer short online segments of 15-20 minutes each, which they can complete on their own time. Make such ongoing trainings a required part of the initial contract. 
  • Have volunteers meet through ZOOM, as mentioned here, especially during COVID realities, to discuss training segments with others, hopefully with at least 3-5 other people. Meeting asynchronously through online discussions can also deepen connections and increase learning.  Moodle's CMS  is free, but it does take some administration and training to set up and maintain. 
  • Maintain an online Help and Suggestions site where everyone can pose questions or provide helpful tips to enrich the lives of students and those who serve them.


Hi Everyone,

Many thanks to all who contributed their thoughts to this outstanding discussion!

The exchanges in these posts demonstrate a best use of our community of practice. Someone asked a question, and the community responded with their input. Everyone benefitted from the exchange of ideas. 

I have talked with some community members who are reluctant to post because they think it is for "experts" only. They are intimidated and fear being judged. Please don't feel that way!

The LINCS community exists for all adult basic skills educators, regardless of their position, to learn from one other. 

Many thanks for your continued contributions! Please keep your questions, comments, and ideas coming so we can all learn, grow, and shine.

Best wishes,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group