Authentic Text Time in Adult Ed

Adult learners, especially immigrants who have various competing priorities which may take precedence over English, need to see an immediate application for their new language. In many contexts, English can be a luxury; for adult immigrants, it cannot be. As teachers, we must approach it with an urgency and immediacy that might be unusual in, say, a business EFL program. A student-driven environmental/authentic text time is one way to add relevance, immediacy, and authenticity to your adult English classes.

The implementation is simple: Set aside a portion of each week, maybe 15 minutes, for students to bring in authentic texts. These could be anything from bills and notices that have come in the mail to student-made cell phone recordings of the announcements on the subway, to photos of billboards, to email correspondence. Anything that they’ve encountered in the world around them and felt a need or desire to understand.

You’ll probably get a lot of ideas, so encourage students to prioritize amongst themselves: Mine is just something from the back of the cereal box, but Carla has something from her son’s teacher, so she should go first.

Use these texts as starting points for teaching language points, pragmatics, and, importantly, other literacies. It’s increasingly expected that we will incorporate life skills such as financial literacy, digital literacy, and systems navigation skills into our English classes. This can be daunting for those of us who consider our area of expertise to be English, and who may be intimidated by the prospect of teaching in these other areas. But this kind of activity can help us to recognize that we really are qualified to teach many of these basic literacies, and they give us a concrete starting point.

A caveat: Teaching responsively and with authentic texts, it can be really easy for 15 minutes to turn into 45, and that’s not what we want here. Make sure you focus primarily on comprehension and pragmatics and limit the form-focused instruction to one or two of the most broadly useful language points.

About Robert Sheppard

Robert Sheppard
Over the past 10 years, Rob has explored a variety of roles and contexts in the field. These include the cram-school culture of Taiwan and Korea; IEPs in Boston focused on academic English; advanced conversation and TOEFL prep taught via Skype to students in Japan; and nonprofit, community English programs for immigrants to Greater Boston. He currently serves as sr. director of adult programs at Quincy Asian Resources, a member of the community advisory council at First Literacy, and a curriculum consultant at Boston Global Institute. He has a master’s degree in TESOL from The New School, and his areas of interest include adult ed, pronunciation and grammar instruction, curriculum development, and assessment.
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2 Responses to Authentic Text Time in Adult Ed

  1. Laura Jofre says:

    Great post, Rob! It’s a constant challenge to make classes immediately relevant to adult learners in community outreach settings. Asking students to bring in authentic texts is a great idea; this allows them to think about how they interact with English in the “real world,” while it’s happening. Asking students about what exactly they want to learn, or what English language situations they want to master, is too abstract, or broad, and usually does not produce results. Thanks also for the great links.

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