The Best Way to Help Pre-Literate Adult ESL Students

Do you have a few pre-literate adult ESL Students in your classroom (or adult ESL program)? Fantastic! This is your chance to change the world—making a huge difference in someone’s life. How? 

By teaching your pre-literate adult ESL Students to read. But that’s hard to do, you might say. You don’t think I know that. 

Before you get stressed out, let me share something with you. See, I have done it many times and I am sure you can do it, too. So, relax.

All you need is the right tools and strategies and some patience and perseverance, of course. Where can I find them, you may ask?

Sorry I can’t help with patience and perseverance. That’s on you. However, I can support you with some teaching resources and strategies.  

Let’s cut to the chase.

3 strategies for helping your pre-literate adult ESL Students

Strategy 1- Forget about teaching ESL. Rather, focus on doing literacy work. What’s that supposed to mean? Keep on reading...

Strategy 2- Use two proven methods. Mix phonics instruction with some whole-language strategies. In other words, teach your learners all 42 or 44 sounds of the English language in a systematic way. Why? Because more than one-hundred research studies confirm that doing it that way works.  

And give your learners lots of opportunities to read or give them practices so they connect their phonics instruction with authentic reading (whole-language strategies). This is what I call learning to read by reading.  

Strategy  3- Make reading progress visible and help adult students track it themselves. You can do so by using a portfolio or binder (whatever you like) of evidence. For example, your learners can record their reading and use the audio file as evidence. 

Literacy Teaching Resources

A- Materials that can help you teach phonics in systematic way:  

  1. Fast Track Phonics (Student Book) Student Edition

  2. Phonics Pathways: Clear Steps to Easy Reading and Perfect Spelling, 10th Edition

  3. Reading Horizons, Student Workbook, Third Edition (this one is a workbook for classroom practice)

B- Materials to help your pre-literate adult ESL Students practice reading: 

  1. Laubach Way to Reading 1

  2. Laubach Way to Reading 2

  3. Laubach Way to Reading 3

  4. Laubach Way to Reading 4

By the way, you should also explore online resources and phonics Youtube channels for pre-literate adult ESL students.

Well, as always, I did my part. The application is now up to you!

Go change your pre-literate adult ESL students for the best!

Do me a favor. Could you share this post with your favorite adult ESL teachers. And subscribe to our adult ed blog to be the first to get our new teaching insights.

3 Must-Have Tools for Teachers of Absolute Adult ESL Beginners

Where should we start? Ok, let assume your adult ESL beginners are literate. Since they can read print, let’s cut to the chase.  

The thing is, your adult ESL beginners should know between 1000 to 1500 base words so they can express their needs and carry out a basic conversation. But how do you teach 1500 words in one semester? Challenging, right?

Before you start pulling out your hair, let me tell you a secret: you can do it!  How ? Yes, you can if you utilize the right teaching strategies and resources. What kind of strategies and materials, you may ask? I am happy to elaborate.

Here are some strategies:

  • Use YouTube videos to introduce new words in context
  • Expose adult ESL beginners to new words at least 4 times
  • Practice everyday dialogues and conversations with the class on regular basis
  • Play songs/music (use lyrics, of course) as often as possible
  • Use short reading passages, on regular basis, to reinforce and review vocabulary
  • Connect new vocabulary to previously learned lexis
  • Encourage adult ESL beginners to think and response in English
  • Use images/visuals to introduce and practice new words in context. And that leads us to the 3 resources that will help you get the job done.  

Let’s dive in.  

1-  The Oxford Picture Dictionary Third Edition: Monolingual Dictionary

  • This ESL resource presents 12 every-day themes and 4,000 English words and phrases (more than what you need). The images make it easy to introduce the new words and their meaning.

2- The Oxford Picture Dictionary Third Edition: Low-Beginning Workbook

  • This workbook presents activities that include everyday vocabulary. You can modify and adapt the activities as you wish. This tool works well with low-beginner adult ESL students.

3- The Oxford Picture Dictionary Third Edition: High-Beginning Workbook

  • Like the previous one, this workbook presents a variety everyday tasks that you can adapt to your adult ESL beginners’ needs. And It’s a good match for high-functioning students. 

To increase adult ESL beginners’ vocabulary is to build their background knowledge in English. And doing so is the best way to set them up for success at this stage. So, make sure you add some ESL picture dictionaries to your teaching repertoire. You won’t regret it!

Please share this post with other Adult ESL teachers in your network. And subscribe to our adult ed blog to be the first to get our new insights

Guidelines for Productive Classroom Practice in Adult-Ed

Practice is what exercise is for your body. As psychologist Daniel Willingham puts it, “It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practice.”

In other words, productive practice in adult-ed (or guided learning) is helpful in numerous ways. For instance, it  

  • Helps develop and reinforce new skills
  • Prevents us from forgetting recently learned information and skills
  • Facilitates knowledge transfer for the long run
  • Makes thinking processes automatic
  • Reinforces memory
  • Transforms surface knowledge into deep-structure learning

But all practice sessions are not created equal and won’t produce the same result. That's why you need clear guidelines for productive classroom practice. This takes us into the main point of this post. 

Guidelines for productive classroom practice in adult-ed


1- Teach how to learn or the best ways to access and practice your content (act like a mentor or a coach)

2- Build learners' background knowledge in your content area (analyzing, synthesizing, and critiquing skills depend on it)

3-Promote effective and consistent practice (with intent and free of distraction) 

4- Teach effective study skills (discuss study skills and best ways to learn and master target content)

5- Use activities that make learners think deeply about new content and skills

6- Welcome mistakes and celebrate efforts and hard work

7- Distribute practice sessions over several weeks (avoid massed practices or cramming)

8- Promote collaboration, peer-learning, and  value social interactions (teamwork, group discussions)

9- Avoid idle time and promote healthy breaks

Let me ask: What will you do with these guidelines for productive classroom practice in adult-ed? Now, go change your learners for the best!

Please share this post with other adult-ed teachers in your network. And subscribe to our adult ed blog to be the first to get our new insights

The Best Way to Help Adult Students Remember Content

You and I have been there. We’ve taught a great lesson then started the next lesson only to realize our learners barely remember what we talked about in the previous lesson. Frustrating, isn’t it?

Before you start pulling out your hair, let me tell you a secret: It’s normal. What—normal?! Yes, you got that right. You forget things, too, don’t you?

What I’m saying is research shows the brain forgets due to interference. For example, brain memories and information sometimes interfere with each other and cause learners to forget. OK, so instead of dwelling on interference and forgetting, why don’t we focus on how to prevent it? On how we can help learners remember content?

What you can do to help adult students

So, here’s what can we do. We can create regular practice and review opportunities for learners since these are critical to reinforcing students’ learning. And we need to focus on creating effective and consistent practice even after learners show an understanding of the content.

Repeated practice is by far the best remedy against forgetfulness. To quote educational psychologist Dr. Daniel Willingham, “Anticipating the effect of forgetting dictates that we continue our practice beyond the mastery we desire.” What that means is that because we know we are going to forget things, we need to...  

Similarly, learners need to practice and connect new material with old ones. Doing so regularly will help adult students create long-lasting knowledge and memory. Isn’t that what we all want? As Dr. Willingham says, “As teachers, we want long-lasting knowledge, not just knowledge for a few days.”

Let me ask: What will you do to help your adult students remember class content? Now, go change your learners for the best!

Please share this post with other adult-ed teachers in your network. And subscribe to our adult ed blog to be the first to get our new insights

The Secret to Promoting Deeper Learning in the Adult-Ed Classroom

Why do you plan and teach your lessons?

Let me guess: You want to facilitate effective learning. In other words, you want students to master content and skills. Right? But the truth is, your desire to do this is not enough. Why not? Allow me to explain. 

Mastering content and skills involves information processing and complex mental tasks, such as reading, thinking, and analyzing, to name a few.  

The major challenge is that learners who do not master basic skills and basic information in the adult-ed classroom tend to struggle to do higher order thinking and mental tasks . Really? Yes, really. 

My point is, for learners to think critically and complete mental tasks successfully, they must first reach “automaticity” in their use of basic skills, information, and procedures that relate to your content. What is automaticity?

Automaticity is… To quote educational psychologist Dr. Daniel Willingham, “Automaticity is vital in education because it allows us to become more skillful in mental tasks.” 

So, what can we do to create automaticity in our students? We can plan regular, consistent, distributed practice sessions that enable students to work on foundational skills and procedures until they reach automaticity. Reaching automaticity will ensure their success when dealing with more complex mental activities in the adult-ed classroom.  

Adult-ed classroom examples

​​​For example, your learners will do better in

  • Dealing with math problems if they’ve reached automaticity in doing basic operations, the order of operations, and key mathematical concepts
  • Accessing scientific texts if they have basic factual knowledge and understand key concepts or terminology
  • Reading different types of texts if they already know how to read for comprehension (identifying the main idea, details, author’s intent, and context clues)
  • Reading English if they have factual knowledge and understand the ESL lexis that relates to the content at hand

Allow me borrow the words of Dr. Willingham to cement my point: “Those procedures must be learned to the point of automaticity so that they no longer consume working memory space.” In order words, your students will be able to think better and faster if they master basic skills to the point that they can recall them automatically.

Now, let me to ask you: What are you going to do with this information? I urge you to use it to go change your adult students for the best!  

Please share this post with other adult-ed teachers in your network. And subscribe to our adult ed blog to be the first to get our new insights

Top Books for Improving Adult Students Reading Skills

You want to improve your adult students’ reading skills and vocabulary. But finding the right materials can be time consuming. Isn’t it?  Well, today is your lucky day. Really?

Yes indeed. I have a recommendation for you.  

I recommend the series below because they:

  • Teach explicit reading skills and vocabulary in context
  • Provide lots of practice opportunities and help recycle key content
  • Exist in print and in electronic version and show the lexile level of the reading texts
  • Come with embedded assessments (pre- and post-test)
  • Are more rigorous than the average adult ed reading materials
  • Can help prepare learners for college and therefore reinforce reading skills students need to perform well on the TABE, CASAS, GED, TASC, HiSET and the Accuplacer test.  

Improve adult students reading skills and vocabulary


  1. Groundwork for College Reading, reading level: 5-8
  2. College reading essentials, reading level  8 to 12.
  3. Ten Steps to Mastering College Reading Skills, reading level 10 to 14.
  4. Ten Steps to Advanced Reading, reading level 10 to 14.


  1. Vocabulary Basics, reading level 5-6
  2. Groundwork for a Better Vocabulary, reading level 7-8
  3. Building Vocabulary Skills, reading level 9- 10
  4. Improving Vocabulary Skills, reading level 10-11
  5. Advancing Vocabulary Skills, reading level 11-12
  6. Advanced Word Power, reading level 12-13

You might be able to get free copies/samples at:

I did my part. Now, do yours.  Go change your adult students for the best!

Please share this post with your fellow adult educators. And subscribe to our adult ed blog to be the first to get our new insights

PS: A few blog posts that you might have missed:

  1. How to Hit an 80% Adult Student Retention and Completion Rate
  2. Top Interview Questions to Help You Identify and Select Excellent Adult Ed Instructors from a Pool of Candidates
  3. One Thing Adult Ed and Workforce Teachers Don’t Do that Makes Learners Quit
  4. Simple Action Steps that Make Adult Ed and Workforce Teachers Standout (Looking Like Experts on Adult Learning)

Top 15 Adult Education Blog Posts in 2018 for Busy Teachers

Coaching for Better Learning runs the # 1 adult education blog of its kind. Why? To translate adult learning theories and other research into ready-to-use classroom teaching tips and strategies for your benefits — and for those of your adult learners. 

This is where you say, “ Thank you!” and we respond, “ You are welcome!”

Since I know you are busy, I've put together a list of top 15 adult education blog posts for you. I hope you find the insights useful.

Enjoy your reading!

#1-  20 Indicators your Adult Teaching Creates a Learner-Centered Classroom Setting

#2-  7 Misconceptions to Avoid When Talking about the CCR Standards Integration

#3-  Should You Worry about the College Career and Readiness Standards (CCR)?

#4-  Where To Find Free Teaching Materials for your Adult Education Classes

#5-  How to Hit an 80% Adult Student Retention and Completion Rate

#6-  Warning: 6 Ways Textbooks Weaken Your Teaching Quality and Hinder Your Adult Students’ Learning

#7-  10 Adult Teaching (or Information Retention) Sins that Hinder Student Learning in Adult Education and Career Pathways

#8-  How To Become a Constructivist Adult Ed Instructor That Teaches Like a Pro

#9-  10 Simple Steps That Make Adult Math Classes (ABE/GED) 100% More Engaging

There's more...

What Problem will you Help Adult Learners Solve in 2019?

Effective adult teaching solves problems. It improves skills, connects and changes students. In other words, effective adult teaching is the generous work of helping adult students close their learning gaps.  

To put it simply, our students might have different immediate needs but they all could use more help with the following skills:

  • Reading

  • Writing

  • Speaking

  • Mathematical thinking

  • Critical thinking

  • English

The key takeaway: effective adult teaching promotes autonomy and creation of new knowledge and real skills. Knowledge that students need to succeed in the marketplace. We both can agree, being able to get and keep a job solves lots of problems.

Now, go change your students for the best!

Please share this post with your adult-ed and workforce colleagues. And subscribe to our adult ed blog to be the first to get our new insights

The Best Promise we Can Make to Adult Students in 2019

Meeting adult students needs is critical to your success. That’s why finding a fit between the lessons you teach and what adult students need is important. Finding the fit will always bring more traction to your teaching.

But what do adult students need?  This where the challenges come in. In the same classroom different students have different needs and therefore want to go to different places.

But our promise should be to take students on a learning journey; helping them become the person they’ve dreamed of becoming or getting them closer to where they want to go (not where we want to go), one lesson and one semester at a time.

By being consistent and by keeping our promise, we can hope students will learn to do the same— being consistent on their learning journey.

The key takeaway: Our promise should be to meet adult students needs by taking them a little closer to their dreams, a little bit at a time.

Now, go change your students for the best!

One thing you can do is to share this post with your fellow adult-ed program administrators and teachers. And subscribe to our adult ed blog to be the first to get our new insights.

Adult Educators, What’s Our True Calling?

We are adult educators, but what do we really do?

Ok, what's your calling in adult education?  Let me guess. To teach and prepare adult students for standardized testing. Not quite!

See, our calling is more than that. It’s to make a difference. To make things better for the adult students we serve.

This type of calling is not about a learner–teacher relationship of testing and compliance. But it requires a learner–mentor relationship based on trust, choice and care. In other words, it’s about changing students for the better, providing services and solutions we can be proud of.

We, adult educators, have the ability to make more change than we imagined. Our responsibility is to do work that prepares learners— for the REAL world. 

The key takeaway: Adult educators are called to make change. To change our adult students into lifelong learners and to help them become the person they’ve dreamed of becoming or get them closer to where they want to go, one class at a time.

As motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia puts it, “Change is the end result of all true learning.”

Now, go change your students for the best!

Please share this post with your fellow adult educators. And subscribe to our adult ed blog to be the first to get our new insights