Project SHINE ESL Health Units

This is a series of health literacy units for ESL students. Please see abstract for links to all five units. 

Project SHINE Team
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
The Intergenerational Center at Temple University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Target Audience

The following five units are designed to improve the ESL student’s capacity to interact in different health-related environments. The units employ role-playing, speaking practice, and written exercises along with real-world examples.”

Part 1 introduces language that may be used during a trip to the doctor's office. Students will learn how to schedule appointments, describe pain and symptons, and understand a voicemail message.

Part 2 covers vocabulary that a student might encounter when discussing surgery or a trip to the emergency room. Students will learn how to interact and speak assertively in an emergency room environment, and use the present perfect tense to describe their health history.

Part 3 specifically covers the vocabulary that accompanies high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Students will learn how to speak about the risk factors and symptoms surrounding these conditions.  

Part 4 explores nutrition, exercise, and stress management as they related to the aging process. Students will learn how to improve their diet, increase their activity level, and manage stress

Part 5 covers medication and alternative medicine. Students will learn how to ask their doctor important questions about medication, prevent dangerous drug interactions, and discuss the pros and cons of alternative treatments. 


In order to help ESL learners communicate with healthcare providers and learn more about staying healthy, SHINE created ESL health units which can be used by tutors and teachers. The content includes health topics such as dealing with emergencies and managing health problems, along with listening, discussion, reading, and writing activities.

Designed for older immigrants and refugees learning ESL, these units can be used by learners of all ages who want to improve their English and communicate more effectively in healthcare settings. There are five units with three lessons each, addressing a variety of topics related to health and wellness. Each unit offers activities to improve listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, along with a Real Practice section, which encourages learners to apply what they have learned to their own lives.

What the experts say

This comprehensive curriculum is a GREAT resource for all who are working in adult literacy centers with immigrants, as well as others who work with immigrant adults. In particular, it offers ESOL instructors and tutors a collection of lessons on diverse health and health care topics important to adult immigrants to the US. The lessons include literacy and communication activities that prepare adult learners for ”real life” encounters with the health care system, such as making an appointment and an emergency hospital visit.

The lessons are solid with objectives set out at the start of each section/lesson/unit. Communication with health care providers and information on specific conditions are covered. The lessons incorporate reading, writing, speaking, listening, and grammar practice.

The curriculum is sound and appears to be based on the work that has come before, not only in adult learning, but also in the field of health literacy. Project SHINE was honored with the E Pluribus Unum 2011 award by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). The E Pluribus Unum Prizes are a national awards program that provides awards annually to exceptional initiatives that promote immigrant integration.

Most useful features include:

  • practice dialogues for communication with health care providers
  • presentation of health care vocabulary
  • tips geared to older adults
  • lessons build upon each other
  • learners are asked to express how they feel based on their experiences.

Reviewers noted that that the level of difficulty is inconsistent between some of the lessons, and that some lessons rated “advanced beginner” may be a bit optimistic. Some areas were also in need of editing.

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