Roberta Reiss: Five important tips for a great conversation club

Roberta Reiss

1.  Research grammatical structures that are challenging for English learners.  Chose only one or two per session for participants to focus on, practice and perfect.

2.  Always model an activity first, i.e. show by example what you expect the participants to do or achieve.

3.  More true conversation occurs if your activity is designed around “closed tasks.”  For example, ask a participant to reproduce a drawing based on the directions offered by his or her partner.

4.  Design “two-way tasks” for your activities so that an exchange of information is required.  For example, asking one learner to tell a story to another learner requires only that the second learner listens.  The “two-way” version of this activity would be to ask a learner to interview a partner and report the information back to the whole class.  This activity requires listening, questioning, answering and clarification.

5.  Try to include new vocabulary, a few idioms and a few verb phrases in every session.

Gail Rice: Language Experience Approach

Since writing is one of the last skills to develop, native speakers of English who are not proficient in reading are less likely to be proficient in writing. Students that have been shamed in the past for their failures in writing, may dislike writing and write as little as possible.  ESL (English as a Second Language) learners may also experience the same problems because they are aware of their mistakes speaking English.  Thus, ESL and native speaking students are less likely to write because they do not want to see a paper loaded with red marks and corrections.

The language experience approach (LEA) is a powerful tool for tutors to use with any learner who has enough conversational ability to carry on simple conversations, even if that person has no reading skills at all.  It uses the language of the learner, dictated to and written down by the tutor, as the basis of the reading material.  The material is then familiar and understandable since it is based on the learner’s experience, making it easier to read.

But what if learners make grammatical or other mistakes when dictating to the tutor?  What about mistakes that native speakers and ESL learners make in their own writing?

Some tutors feel that they should correct all mistakes and if not they are reinforcing those mistakes.  But such an approach defeats the purpose of the LEA and ensures that struggling writers will become more discouraged and less likely to write.

These issues and others will be discussed at the Tutor Celebration of Learning Seminar offered by the Florida Literacy Council and the Adult Literacy League on the morning of September 17, 2011.

Literacy Ambassador Program Benefits Learners & Programs

FLC’s annual Literacy Ambassador Program is a beneficial professional development opportunity for both adult learners and literacy programs.  Scheduled for Oct. 15-16, 2010, this is an opportunity for adult learners to become more comfortable speaking in public, to the media and about the success s/he has achieved since enrolling in a literacy program.

During the 2-day event, adult learners will be coached by Monica Baxley and Nelson Pino.  Both instructors are experienced Literacy Ambassadors, have successfully completed adult literacy programs, and are well versed in what it means to be a Literacy Ambassador.

In the past, Monica has been featured on ABC News and currently holds a position on the Florida Literacy Coalition Board of Directors.  Nelson is currently an ESL tutor, and the volunteer and marketing coordinator for DePorres P.L.A.C.E., Inc. – an adult literacy center in Riviera Beach, Fla.

The adult learner sessions will include instruction and tips on:

  • Introduction to Effective Public Speaking
  • Developing and Making Presentations
  • Adult Learner Involvement and Leadership
  • Conducting Interviews with the Media
  • Adult Learner Advocacy

A special session will also be held for literacy program representatives on Friday, Oct. 15.  Greg Smith, executive director of FLC, will highlight effective public relations and marketing strategies programs can use for publicity.  Promotional initiatives that Greg will discuss are important to incorporate in order to let people know your program exists, what it does and how people can become involved in your mission.

Don’t hesitate to register as seats are limited.  The training is free of charge to both adult learners and program representatives.  The training will take place Oct. 15-16, at the Holiday Inn Harbourside in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.  (Pinellas County; Clearwater area).  Attendees will be eligible to be reimbursed for mileage, meals and lodging according to state guidelines.  Pre-approval is required for travel expenses exceeding $300.  Lodging will be reimbursed if traveling over 50 miles to the event. Registration and travel funds are limited, so apply today.  Contact Yari Payne via email,, with any questions.

Are you a Literacy Ambassador?  Have you attended a previous Literacy Ambassador training?  Let us know your thoughts about the training by commenting below.

This training is sponsored by Florida’s Adult and Family Literacy Resource Center.  This event is made possible through the support of the Florida Department of Education, Division of Career and Adult Education.