The Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County

Dan Carpino, Introducing Challenging Topics to Adult English as an Additional Language (EAL) Learners


Short Interview

Dan teaches advanced English classes at The Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County. He promotes oral discussion in his English as an Additional Language (EAL) classroom by introducing topics that relate to current and pertinent social events, new laws and government decisions. He encourages his adult learners to explore and expand their views as well as others’ opinions on a variety of topics. While some topics may be controversial, opening such conversations in class allows Dan to communicate classroom and social rules of mutual respect among his students in the class and the broader community.

Díaz-Rico (2012) writes, “It is imperative that teachers encourage the language that is needed and desired by the students, and if that desire does not exist, to evoke those emotions and motivations as an integral part of instruction” (p. 37). Díaz-Rico continues, “Instruction – particularly in a second language – that is not meaningful and motivating to the learner becomes empty” (2012, p. 37). By allowing his students to discuss a variety of topics, Dan encourages the use of language that is relevant to students’ daily lives and interactions within their community. As Díaz-Rico writes, “Language learning occurs within social and cultural contexts” (2012, p. 78). Thus, language instruction becomes a task that supports students in gaining both the proper conventions of written and oral language as well as perspective and an opportunity to discuss social issues that affect their daily lives. Díaz-Rico (2012) states, “Proficiency in a second language also means becoming a member of the community that uses this language to interact, learn, conduct business, and love and hate, among other social activities” (p. 78). Listen below as Dan shares his approach to engaging his EAL adult learners in discussing controversial topics.

Karin Falconer, Language Learning Enriched by Technology

Short Interview

Karin is adult educator for English as an Additional Language (EAL) adult learners who are learning the target language English at the The Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County. She explains how she uses technology in the classroom to expand on traditional practices of word definition.

Cope and Kalantzis (2009) explain, “The logic of multiliteracies is one which recognizes that meaning-making is an active, transformative process, and pedagogy based on that recognition is more likely to open up viable life courses for a world of change and diversity” (p. 10). Accordingly, Karin uses technology to save time and help her adult learners gain a visual understanding, rather than abstract understanding, of concepts. For example, in the video below, Karin talks about teaching the word “salmon” and the concept of this type of fishing. Díaz-Rico (2012) states, “The instant communication available through the Internet connects students with other parts of the world, with speakers of English, and with rich sources in information” (p. 187). By using technology, Karin brought these concepts closer to her students, for instance, making the word “salmon” more immediate, real, and tangible.

Moreover, Karin specifies the importance of adult educators’ adaptability and flexibility to their classroom and adult learners’ academic, social, and personal needs. Díaz-Rico (2012) reminds teachers and adult educators that collaboration is also vital for “achieving social justice: equal access to, and opportunity for, equal education for all students” (p. 5). Listen below to Karin describe how she incorporates technology in innovative ways to teach her adult EAL learners.

Document Analysis

Lesson: Giving and Receiving Directions

Karin starts her class by projecting the worksheet on the whiteboard in front of the classroom. To review before the lesson, Karin goes through a few keywords and phrases relevant to the days’ lesson. When teaching a lesson on following and giving directions, Karin models various sentences pertaining to the lesson, using keywords and phrases from the lesson. For the lesson on giving and receiving directions, Karin starts with “South/East,” “South/West,” “North/East,” and “North/West.” Along with words and phrases, Karin focuses on reviewing prepositions and their purpose in writing.

When teaching about directions, one strategy Karin has found helpful is to allow students to navigate a map physically. Combining spatial, auditory, and oral literacy, adult learners give and receive directions, while other students navigate a map with a toy car. Kolb and Kolb (2005) outline six defining points of experiential learning. These points focus on student engagement and learning as a holistic experience. Kolb and Kolb state, “Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world. Not just the result of cognition, learning involves the integrated functioning of the total person – thinking, feeling, perceiving, and behaving” (2005, p. 194). The following pictures come from Karin’s lesson on giving and receiving directions. The following classroom worksheets allow students to advance their listening and speaking skills by engaging in various activities involving students to test their knowledge of the compass and directions. They also engage students in following directions to answer some true and false and fill in the blanks questions, ask directions in various situations and settings, and finally, apply their knowledge to a real-life situation where they have to read and navigate a fire escape plan.

Lesson: Medication

Learning to navigate the new world in a new language is an important skill Canadian newcomers must work to develop for a smooth transition into their new life. Karin recognizes this need and teaches in a way that enhances language learning and acquisition and enhances life skills learners may use in various daily life encounters. Scarino and Liddicoat (2009) cite Gee (2008) who wrote, “A sociocultural approach places a premium on learners’ experiences, social participation, use of mediating devices (tools and technologies), and position within various activity systems and communities of practice” (p. 28). Karin places such a premium on her adult learners’ in-class experience to make them comfortable in their out of class life experiences. The following document analysis pieces come from a lesson Karin taught on medication. She focused her lesson on showcasing where warning signs and side effects are located on medicine bottles. Within the lesson activities, students learned how to read medicine bottles and worked with subject-specific vocabulary such as “vomiting,” “headache,” “chills,” and “dizziness,” as seen in the illustrated section of the first worksheet. Moreover, class activities continue to expand on reading prescription details and instructions. The following worksheets combine visual and written literacies. Note adult learners are provided with a graphic organizer which allows them some independence in identifying clearly what they understand from reading the labels without necessarily writing out full sentence responses in the target language.

Classroom Excerpts

Distinguishing Modal Verbs to Communicate about Medicine: Advice, Instruction, and Warning

In the following video, Karin helps her learners delve into and utilize their funds of knowledge by asking them questions to elicit answers. According to Suzuki (2004), out of various types of corrective feedback practices, which include clarification, repetition, and explicit correction, “the most successful type of feedback leading to students’ repair [is] elicitation” (p. 5). Karin uses elicitation as a means of correction and to check learners’ knowledge and include them in a whole-class discussion about the lesson. She begins by questioning her adult learners about medicine and why sometimes medication may be needed. She also elicits words and phrases categorized under advice, instructions, warnings, and modal verbs and simple verbs related to administering and taking medicine. Karin also questions her adult learners about the difference between advice, instructions, and warnings. While eliciting learners’ answers, Karin reminds them to assess what kind of information they need and how to arrive at their answers. Karin explicitly tells these adult learners to think about what information they might find on a pill bottle and what information they already know. By explicitly asking adult learners about information and where they might find it, Karin is asking learners to practice the question-answer relationship (QAR) strategy, which allows learners to answer questions by having them think about where they might find the answers to their questions.

Throughout her introduction to the lesson, Karin makes a note to structure the conversation and the lesson activities per common adult concerns such as medical care for children, taking and administering medication based on the instructions found on pill bottles and various scenarios. Karin demonstrates that she is aware of her learners’ dynamic roles as adult learners, caregivers, and parents.

Realia for English-as-an-Additional-Language Adult Learners: Medicine Bottles

In writing about improving students’ vocabulary, Sukrina (2010) writes in disfavour of the arbitrary nature of vocabulary lists and memorization and advocates utilizing realia to improve students’ language understanding and retention. Sukrina defines realia as “a term used in library science and education to refer to certain real-life objects” (2010, p. 15). Sukrina continues, “A teacher of a foreign language often employs realia to strengthen students’ associations between words for everyday object and the object themselves” (2010, p. 20). By using realia in the form of medicine bottles, Karin engages adult learners in authentic learning.

To improve student understanding of the lesson’s instructions and activities, Karin models answering lesson worksheets and performing required tasks on the whiteboard while also eliciting information and vocabulary from learners. As a result, adult learners receive oral and visual instructions while engaged in an interactive discussion. In the following video, Karin scaffolds the language of Advice, Instruction, and Warning Labels on pill bottles.

The following is the “How to Read A Prescription Label” worksheet completed by adult learners in the above video.

Instructions on Pill Bottles

In the following video, Karin engages learners in active participation by asking them questions to elicit answers that showcase their understanding of medicine bottles’ instructions and dosages. Before setting learners on their lesson activity, Karin models how to use the graphic organizer to categorize information presented on medicine bottles. In discussing the importance and effectiveness of graphic organizers, Egan (1999) advocates for graphic organizers “as one of the “things” that can be used to make learning more meaningful” (p. 641) because they can “make information more apparent, distinct, and articulate for the learner” (p. 641).

The following is the “How to take Medicines” activity worksheet completed by adult learners in the above video.

Warnings on Pill Bottles

In the following video, Karin and her adult learners discuss pertinent vocabulary when speaking about medicine and the possible side effects of taking medication. It is important to note that Karin teaches lessons that empower learners to live well within a large English-speaking society. As Kress writes, “Learning is the result of a semiotic/conceptual/meaning-making engagement with an aspect of the world; as a result of the learner’s semiotic/conceptual resources for making meaning and, therefore, for acting in the world, are changed – they are augmented” (2010, p. 174). Thus, to Karin’s adult learners, language, rather than arbitrary and abstract, is instantly transferable between the classroom and their communities. Moreover, by modelling the lesson activity on the board, Karin engages her learners in visual, oral, and linguistic modes to reinforce new knowledge. Adult learners in Karin’s class work with the medicine bottles (realia) to identify written instructions and warnings and engage in oral discussion with their classmates to solve the lesson worksheet.

Situational Approach to Learning about Warning Labels

The following video presents another approach to teaching about warning labels on medicine bottles through situational problem-solving. Unlike the structural approach, the situational approach to language learning involves presenting information and language that engages adult learners meaningfully, without strong concern for linguistic difficulty (Celce-Murcia, 2001).

While projecting the worksheet on the whiteboard, Karin elicits information, definitions, and synonyms from adult learners as they look at the first warning label presented on their lesson worksheet. In a discussion about the principles and the importance of teaching problem-solving skills, Foshay and Kirkley (2003) state, “Problem-solving has become the means to rejoin content and application in a learning environment for basic skills as well as their application in various contexts” (p. 1). By studying warning labels situationally, adult learners can apply their newfound knowledge to other aspects of their lives and other situations they may experience regarding taking medication. Adult learners also come to understand that language is always socially situated and negotiated depending on the context that they are in. The way one might discuss medicine varies depending on if you are asking a pharmacist about a drug; explaining symptoms to a doctor; or coaxing a young child to take awful tasting medicine.

Realia for English-as-an-Additional-Language Adult Learners: Continuing the Exploration

In the following video, adult learners continue to use realia (medicine bottles) to read written instructions and warnings found on the bottles. Students explore various medicine bottles and collect several pieces of information such as prescription number, where to find it, name of medication, dosage instructions, and warnings on labels. According to Herrell and Jordan (2016), “Realia are used to provide students with opportunities to build on their learning using all their senses” (p. 42) by allowing students to use new vocabulary meaningfully and contextually. Accordingly, rather than having adult learners memorize vocabulary lists related to medicine, Karin allows learners to explore medicine bottles to gather important information they need to know how to read and instructions they need to follow. Such activity can teach new vocabulary and help learners gain the critical skill of assessing, reading, and following the directions found on prescription bottle labels.

Adult learners in Karin’s class can consult their peers, their educator, or their cellphones for assistance during the activity. During a study on cooperative learning strategies and methods, Holland and Muilenburg (2011) found that cooperative learning improved problem-solving skills, promoted self-esteem, and helped students develop “interpersonal and small group skills” (p. 2). While the adult learners are conversing and working together to fill in their worksheets, Karin moves between groups to monitor student progress, provide encouragement, check understanding, and provide feedback in a personable manner. Clearly, there is a positive, animated mood amongst the learners and a high level of comfort in asking Karin questions.

Visual Clues in Reading Warning Labels

Jewitt (2006) (as cited by Serafini, 2014), writes, “Learning increasingly involves students in working across different sites of expression, negotiating and creating new flexible spaces for planning, thinking, hypothesizing, designing, and realizing ideas” (p. 91). Karin allows her adult learners to enhance their reading abilities of the target language, English, with specific vocabulary and concepts (i.e. prescription number, warning label, dosage) by working with medicine bottles (realia), which allows learners to gain an understanding of the language by reading visual clues such as the shape and colour of the warning labels.

Reinforcing Concepts with an Individual Learner

In the following video, Karin offers adult learners one-on-one student feedback by checking in with students to offer personalized engagement during the lesson activity. Karin’s personalized feedback to learners working individually or in pairs reinforces strategies and skills to attain knowledge and retain information and language. Engaging in quick stops to check in with students during lesson activities allows for meaningful learning and encouragement. Grasha (2002) concurs and states that meaningful feedback and checking in with learners during activities promotes learners’ engagement, communication, and rapport between the educator and the learners.

Meaning-Making Process: Peer Assessment Combines Reading, Writing, Viewing, Listening, and Talking

Scarino and Liddicoat (2009) write, “Learning involves a process of making connections – reorganizing unrelated bits of knowledge and experience into new patterns, integrated wholes” (p. 26). Similarly, the following video showcases a whole-class conversation about various types of medications and warnings on medications. Such classroom discussions inspire peers to assess one another’s understanding of the lesson and the accompanying task. This type of conversation allows learners to draw upon their multimodal lesson activities where they used visual, oral, linguistic, and auditory literacies to engage in a whole-class discussion that contributes to the meaning-making process. Moreover, when Antoine, an adult learner, comments that he takes the same form of medication that Karin’s mother takes, a class discussion emerges that enhances the immediate relevancy of the conversation. This adult learner-initiated conversation allows learners to orally share their experiences and thoughts on the topic, which leads to a more in-depth conversation about medicine-sharing problems and encourages learners to share their personal experiences.

Important Functional Literacy Skills about Medicine

According to Kagitcibasi, Goksen, Gulgoz (2005), “functional literacy is an emancipatory practice that requires people to read, speak, and understand a language” (p. 472) for everyday purposes. Functional literacy moves beyond the ability to read and write and maintain grammatical precision to include “semantics rooted in everyday exchanges” (Kagitcibasi, Goksen, Gulgoz, 2005, p. 473). Similarly, in Karin’s class, adult learners receive engaging and interactive lessons and activities that allow them to practise language contextually and meaningfully. Kagitcibasi, Goksen, Gulgoz (2005) argue that when language is taught to extend beyond the passive focus on grammar and vocabulary, learners become empowered and confident in their ability to use new language practises in everyday life, across various situations. Adult learners often hold various responsibilities in their daily lives, and functional literacy can help them prepare for these very real, important, and immediate responsibilities accordingly.

Adult learners in Karin’s class gain functional literacy skills about medicine to help them fulfill their roles as caregivers.

Building Rapport with Adult Learners

Adult language learners enrolled in the Language Training Program are treated as adults. Karin begins class by addressing adult learners’ pertinent issues such as children staying home due to an ongoing strike. Karin is well aware of the learners’ roles as parents and caregivers. After careful reflection, Starcher (2011) found that intentionally building rapport with learners by relating to them, their lives, and interests improved classroom discussion and overall student engagement. Moreover, during the lesson’s introduction about advice, warnings, and instructions about medicine, Karin does not presume that one of her adult learners is not already a doctor and teaches her lessons in a way that empowers students by delving into their funds of knowledge. Karin reviews some essential facts and information they learned in previous classes with her learners and extends to preview upcoming topics and lessons.

In the following video, Karin builds rapport with her adult learners by asking them about their plans for the weekend and sharing hers. By taking interest in her students’ lives and letting them into hers in such a manner, Karin nurtures a friendly classroom environment that encourages oral communication skills.

Visit Karin’s blog:

Karolina Gombos, The Importance of Functional Literacy for English Language Learners through Key Vocabulary Development

Karolina teaches lower intermediate adult learners at The Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County. When understanding language learning, the levels of language proficiency are dynamic, which means that they change as students grow and learn. These levels are reflected in the Council’s usage of the Canadian Language Benchmarks. TESOL also provides descriptors of the levels of language proficiency that accounts for the changes that take place are organized into five levels: starting, emerging, developing, expanding, and bridging (Herrell & Jordan, 2019). Karolina teaches students who are typically in the emerging stages of learning. When Karolina has students that are more fluent than others, or moving through the stages of learning more quickly, she will ask them more questions than others in order to differentiate or tailor the teaching to their current level of their learning.

Classroom Excerpts

Modelling the Expectations for Presentations

Karolina Gombos engages adult English Language Learners (ELLs) in formal presentation techniques. Although at a low-intermediate Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) level, learners in Karolina’s class are able to prepare and deliver a full presentation. Starting by allowing her learners to speak about a personal topic, like their families, eases anxiety and showcases learners’ knowledge of the English language and presentation techniques. Burgess draws upon a study conducted by Greif, Meyer, and Burgess (2007), who found that learners “valued confidence with writing and enhanced confidence and self-esteem more generally as outcomes of their courses” (2012, p. 91). Similarly, Karolina’s learners combined written and oral communication to present about their families, a topic that simultaneously enhances their confidence in written and verbal communication and celebrates their social identities. Serafini states, “Written language and visual images work individually (within modes) and in concert (across modes) to convey meaning, share information, order our worlds, and develop our identities, together as individuals and as a culture” (2014, p. 30).

First, Karolina models proper presentation techniques to her adult learners. She begins by displaying a family photo on the white screen and uses interrogative words such as who, what, where, when, and why to provide learners with the presentation structure. Note that Karolina has interrogative words displayed at the front of the classroom for learners’ convenience and continued review. Through her demonstration, Karolina also reviews using past tense when answering interrogative words. This particular presentation structure provides learners with a chance to practice asking and answering interrogative questions and using proper tenses in a real-life context. Karolina combines various modalities to enforce literacy skills. Alongside visual and oral modes of communication, Karolina’s allowed her adult learners to gain written skills by having them write out their responses to interrogative questions before their presentations.

Kudra’s Presentation about his Family Photo

Burgess (2012) notes that language and literacy learners are often placed in “subordinate roles” (p. 95) in that they lack particular language skills and abilities that must be gained through explicit instructions. Burgess (2012) argues against passive educational strategies and emphasizes learner engagement with language to actively advance language acquisition and promote learner autonomy (Cope & Kalantzis, 2002; Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009). In the following video, Kudra shares a photo of his children and follows a formal presentation structure modelled by Karolina to speak about the photograph. It is important to note that Karolina’s notes and interrogative words are listed clearly and serve as a reference point for the presenter.

Aneeta’s Presentation about her Family Photo

Aneeta was in Karin Falconer’s class before moving to Karolina’s class, a CLB level higher. In the following video, Aneeta presents her family photo. While Aneeta exhibits a few nervous emotions before her presentation, Karolina is quick to comfort, encourage, and reassure Aneeta about her presentation abilities. In conversation about the power of literacy and the role of literacy education, Crowther and Tett (2012) state that literacy education must “encourage [learners] to develop the skill, analysis and confidence to make their own voice heard and, where necessary, take action to assert it” (p. 119). Offering learners such an interactive activity, Karolina instils confidence in her learners to tell their own stories. At the end of the presentation, Karolina challenges Aneeta to answer impromptu questions that help Aneeta realize her full potential and capabilities.

Brikha’s Presentation about his Family Photo

During Brikha’s family photo presentation, Karolina corrects only his usage of “niece” and “nephew” when identifying his family members. According to Burgess (2012), literacy education should focus on the exploration of learners’ use of language in exploring identities and power “rather than focusing solely on surface features of language and judgements about ‘correctness’” (p. 94). Moreover, by engaging in conversation with her adult learners, Karolina knows Brikha and the backstory of his family’s connection to Australia. Using this knowledge, Karolina can further engage with Brikha during his presentation and help him articulate his story.

Guman’s Presentation about his Family Photo

Guman’s family photo presentation begins with laughter among the class. Humour emerging from a comment about the size of Guman’s family photo eases the nervous atmosphere that is usually brought on by the formality of presentations. Aboudan (2009) writes, “The use of “humour” in [English as a Second Language] ESL classrooms reduces tension, improves classroom climate, increases student-teacher rapport, and even facilitates learning” (p. 91). Humour eased the tension and anxiety associated with presentations and put Guman and his peers at ease.

Ahmad’s Presentation about his Family Photo

In the following video, Ahmad presents about this family photo. During the presentation, Karolina assists Ahmad in using the correct tense and guides him through answering interrogative questions. Ahmad reveals that his family photo was taken on his day of arrival to Canada. To Ahmad, like many of his peers, coming to Canada is a significant event.

Sabitra’s Presentation about her Family Photo

In the following video, Sabitra presents about her family photo. During Sabitra’s presentation, Karolina reinforces proper usage of sentence structure and conjugations. Learning and teaching grammar can sometimes feel rather mechanical; however, through the presentations, Karolina allows learners to engage with the language and the grammatical rules and mechanisms to help convey their ideas with greater clarity. Thus, “Grammar in this sense is more than a system of rules, it is also a set of possibilities and an active engagement with meaning in which every language user participates” (Street, 2012, p. 25).

Mayra’s Presentation about her Family Photo

Presentations such as these allow learners to test their language skills by using the target language (English) to communicate about parts of their social and personal identities. Karolina recognizes the importance of teaching language and grammar to incorporate the learners’ identities, personal writing, and speech production. Once language skills have been taught, it is essential for learners to “[decide] for themselves what is ‘really useful literacy’ and using it to act, individually and collectively” (Hamilton, Tett, & Crowther, 2012, p. 6). In the following video, Mayra presents about her family photo.

Khadija’s Presentation about her Family Photo

During her presentation, Khadija mentions that her family photo was taken during Eid. Such presentations not only allow learners to express themselves through multimodalities and use the language skills they have gained concretely, but they also allow learners to speak about their cultural values. Moreover, it enforces the importance and value of multiculturalism while also enforcing mutual cultural respect among learners. When it comes to meaning-making and self-expression, these presentations and the topics discussed during these presentations, like speaking about various and divergent cultural and religious values, are “particularly significant in contexts of increased migration leading to the creation of new diversities and hybrid cultures” (Hamilton, Tett, & Crowther, 2012, p. 4).


Document Analysis

“Collecting” words (Herrell & Jordan, 2001) is a strategy for helping learners develop better speaking and writing vocabularies. The development of an extensive vocabulary, and an understanding of word meanings, is ­essential to successful verbal interaction. The following documents showcase language learning with adult learners where they are connecting to the topic of “family” by learning and understanding new vocabulary using very simple sentences in the forms of writing, listening, and speaking. The first document has adult learners listen to a question to comprehend each family relationship with a prompt to choose an answer from three possible options.

The next document has adult learners write the correct family relationship for each expression, increasing the difficulty by forcing learners to use the memory of their newly learned vocabulary.

The final document has adult learners share information about their own family by responding orally to the following prompts. Later, these adult learners will bring in artifacts that represent aspects of their families that they will talk about with their peers. Karolina every day will ask them impromptu questions about their families to encourage practicing dialogue on this chosen topic. If there is a key vocabulary word the adult learners are unlikely to be familiar with, Karolina will quickly use Google Translate to translate the word into the 6-8 native tongue languages of the learners in her class to ensure everyone is understanding. 

These three documents show the progression of learners gradually increasing their language learning abilities on a certain topic by purposefully intersecting all dimensions of literacy through reading, writing, speaking, viewing, and representing. Each mode works in tandem with one another. Combining modes of literacy helps contribute to these adult learners building greater skill competencies and their own sense of confidence in expressing themselves in the target language, which in this case is English.

This type of language learning progression can be seen in different teaching unit examples. For instance, Karolina teaches her adult language learners about reading store receipts. After learners acquire new vocabulary, these three documents below, along with their instructions, show the progression of learning new words, and then applying these new words to comprehend information. The first document has learners follow various prompts when reading a receipt. Learners are given straightforward questions as well as multiple choice and true and false. Thus, even though learners still may not be strong in writing in English, through the variety of types of responses, the learners can share their comprehension nevertheless. The second and third document are much more challenging, requiring learners to reproduce and comprehend instructions. Moreover, the choice of focusing on how to read and understand a receipt is an important aspect of functional literacy that will serve adult learners in managing their everyday lives.


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Ninia Sotto,Ways of Representing Language Learners’ Cultural Diversity

Ninia was an immigrant herself from the Philippines, and although English was one of her best subjects back home, when she moved to Canada, she found conversations to be very difficult. During university, she began attending and then volunteering at conversation classes for Canadian newcomers. Later, she was asked to supply teach these classes, eventually becoming a teacher. She has been teaching English Language Learners  (ELLs) ever since. She currently teaches at The Multicultural Centre of Windsor and Essex County acting as a resource person for all of the adult educators to support learning.

Ninia approaches teaching and learning in a very active and interactive way. She loves to create activities that culminate into something larger, building on skills that they are learning in class, or talents that these adult learners can bring into the classroom. Making meaning is defined by Ajayi (2008) as “a process by which learners gain critical consciousness of the interpretation of events in their lives in relation to the world around them” (p. 211). According to this concept, learners are able to construct meaning when it is influenced by their own social, cultural, and historical experiences. In Ninia’s classroom, this is typically done with community connections or activities that are connected to events and celebrations happening in the area. Examples of this include a community event, The Carousel of Nations, which is a signature event of the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex that happens each year. Over the span of two weekends in the summer, the public are able to explore the diverse cultures, music, dance and cuisine of over 20 villages, with each village representing a different nation. These villages are located around the city of Windsor and the counties of Essex. Ninia brings this cultural experience to her classroom by having her adult learners put on their own carousel, by creating and showcasing a dish from their culture.

Another example of Ninia’s interactive teaching can be seen in her “Pumpkin Face Off.” This activity is a contest where students carve images that are meaningful to them. These images may symbolize their life, their home country, or how they feel about Canada. According to Herrell and Jordan (2019), “appreciation of the values, customs, and unique contributions of the different cultures is heightened through the process of investigating multiple cultures through firsthand accounts of personal experiences” (p. 235). Along with the pumpkin, students have to write a paragraph describing that image. Finally on the event day, these language learners showcase their pumpkin, and other staff and students at the Centre come to this event to talk to the students about their pumpkins and meaningful images. Listen below as Ninia explains this activity and event in detail.


Images of the Pumpkin Face Off can be seen below.

Jenny Harris, The Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County


Short Interview

Jenny Harris is an Adult Educator at the Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County where she has taught for 11 years. Jenny teaches English at the lowest level, a position she finds extremely rewarding due to the nature of the class, typically being New Canadians. When describing the students’ Jenny typically sees in her classroom, many of the students are extremely low-level language learners, some unable to read and write in their native language, although they all have certain multimodal literacy capacities (for example, they can verbally communicate in the native tongue). This low literacy challenge is sometimes also coupled with varying ages, learning disabilities, and mental health challenges, which makes for an extremely diverse learning environment with varying needs. Jenny explains how some students enter her classroom unable to hold a pencil due to their limited schooling experiences. Some of the students Jenny teaches fall under the term Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE), a term used to describe a very diverse group of English Language Learners who share unifying characteristics (Montero et al., 2014). These students are usually new to the Canadian school system and have limited or interrupted school opportunities in their native country. They may be refugees or migrant students, or they may have experienced limited or interrupted schooling due to poverty, isolated geographic locations, persecution, natural disasters, or war (Montero et al., 2014). Many academic challenges such as a gap in language development can be due to prior traumatic experiences (Montero et al., 2014).

Classroom Excerpts

Teachers may face various challenges when teaching SLIFE students, such as aligning curriculum to meet the needs of these diverse learners, providing appropriate materials, and offering opportunities for adult learners to learn about a new culture while educating others about their own (DeCapua, 2016). Jenny’s method of teaching showcases many unique teaching practices when working with a low literacy level class. In the following video, Jenny is contextualizing the weather by using a real weather network station. Students are learning to interpret a weather forecast, read temperature, and learn purposeful temperature and time vocabulary by repetitively listening to Jenny’s use of words like “tomorrow” and “yesterday” in context. Students are able to provide one-word answers to questions she is proposing. 

Through a series of videos, you will see the process of various modes being utilized to help students through reading and writing. Students begin by each writing simple sentences on the board, and it is very evident that writing is not an isolated skill. All modes are combined to make meaning for these adult learners. During this process of sentence writing students write, speak, and use gestures to work through this writing process collaboratively. According to Decapua et al. (2020), “combining the oral with the written integrates the four language skills – listening, speaking, reading, and writing – and encourages students to develop their ability to navigate freely among these modes of communication” (p. 64). Jenny also utilizes anchor charts to help students visually when spelling difficult to write words.

Through this language learning process, it is not just about learning to write out basic sentences. This language learning process connects to bigger ideas about their new experiences in Canada, experiences like varying seasons and driving in the snow for the first time. Students are not only learning about a new culture they are apart of, but also shows relevance and connections of the writing to their lives. According to Miller (2010), “this connectedness to peers and the multimodal world is key to purposeful learning through all the senses and modes of communication – and to drawing on lifeworlds to remake identity” (p. 268). It is obvious throughout these videos that these adult learners’ sense of confidence is in large part because they feel comfortable and animated in response to Jenny’s enthusiasm and compassionate way of listening and engaging in conversation.

Similar to the use of anchor charts, depending on each learner’s abilities and the complexity of sentences, visuals are used to help students understand. Along with speaking, Jenny is often modelling and pointing to various visuals or letters to help students work through writing. Through this sentence writing process, Jenny takes continuous breaks to ask conversational questions to the students. Even though these questions only evoke one word responses, which is all that most of these adult learners are capable of at the pre-production stages of learning English as a target language, the deceptive simplicity in this pedagogy is an extremely effective way to engage learners. According to Suh (2020, “Honoring learners’ literacy identities helps learners see their goals and experiences as connected to those assignments and their legitimate membership in the classroom’s community of practice” (p. 169). Although Jenny makes this look natural and easy, it is a very difficult task to continually encourage conversational style discourse when students have a very limited production of spoken language at this stage in their language learning.

Once all of the sentences are written on the board, each student has a turn reading every sentence written on the board. Jenny is scaffolding the read aloud in order to meet each adult learner’s needs and current abilities. No matter the level of the learner, you will notice that each student still goes up to the board to try writing or reading. According to Jenny, “you have to provide a positive atmosphere for them to come because you do not know what it has been like for them at home and what struggles they have. So, I try to make this a place where they can be happy, and they are not stressed, and they do not feel uncomfortable.” It is clear that Jenny has built relationships with each of her students, and created a space for them to feel comfortable and capable.

Jenny moves around the room, ensuring that each student has all of the sentences from the board lesson written correctly in their book. During this process, Jenny furthers everyday conversations as well as offers lots of encouragement while providing constructive feedback.

Jenny regularly learns words in Arabic, Nepali, and African languages to connect with students. While having a conversation about Leap Years, she connects the conversation to a personal story of a friend.

Jenny provides multiple opportunities for adult learners to re-read stories she has created to help them learn vocabulary in a narrative context. This can be seen as an example of guided reading, which according to Montero et al., (2014), “allows the teacher to first, model strategic and fluent reading to students; then observe students as they process new texts and, finally, provide supportive opportunities to help students develop the skills and strategies to become independent readers” (p. 62). She provides visuals, examples, as well as both personal and common questions as interjections to build off of a story to ask learners to consciously draw upon their prior knowledge. Jenny consistently tries to engage all learners in discussions by asking each student specific and personal questions that would only require simple, one word answers. For older learners, guided reading provides opportunities to take advantage of life experiences and more advanced cognitive skills (Montero et al., 2014).

In the following video, visuals are used alongside of a graphic organizer to provide clues for spelling. According to Decapua et al., (2020), “teachers should be sure that there are numerous and varied visual elements in the text to provide non-linguistic clues to meaning” (p. 44). While learning the name and spelling of each vegetable, Jenny connects to the languages of the classroom. She also starts simple conversations around each vegetable. Questions like “What do you use this to cook with?”, “Where can you buy this?”, “Do you eat this on your sandwich?”. These questions are helping students find meaning in the new words they are learning. Connecting the conversation in this way helps “motivate and engage students with situations that are representative of their lives, experiences, and interests” (Decapua et al., p. 44).

In order to reduce anxiety around tests and assessment, Jenny previews the format and goes over which skills will be emphasized. She does this by modelling a matching activity example on the board as well as each student also completing their own on a piece of paper at their desk. 

In the following video, everyone in the class participates in a discussion about what they will be doing on the weekend. Not only is this helping adult learners in the room listen and learn the language used in conversation, but it also provides diagnostic for Jenny to see the level that they are able to understand and respond.

Check out The Multicultural Centre of Windsor and Essex County’s website at