Adolescent Learners in Adult ESL Classes

This resource addresses and describes the growing trend of adolescents (16-18 year olds) enrolling in adult education programs, including ESL classes.

S. Young
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

This resource addresses and describes the growing trend of adolescents (16-18 year olds) enrolling in adult education programs, including ESL classes. The author covers who these learners are, why they are enrolling in adult classes, and how they differ from the traditional adult education ESL student. The differences are addressed from developmental and life experience perspectives. The brief moves on to specific needs of adolescent learners and how teachers and administrators might support these “young adult ELLs” to be successful in adult education classes. Young incorporates suggestions for classroom instruction and literacy strategies that have been found to be effective with this population. The brief finishes off with a short discussion of assisting adolescent ELLs transition to other educational opportunities (e.g., GED classes).

Required Training


What the experts say

The brief, Adolescent Learners in Adult ESL Classes, is a coherent overview of issues related to a growing subset of learners in adult ESL programs.  For teachers and administrators who are facing the challenge of increased adolescent learners (some newcomers and some Generation 1.5 and beyond) in adult ESL programs within already multifaceted classes, this article clearly identifies issues and possible responses.  Furthermore, the author offers a strong rationale, backed by statistics, for strengthening programs for this group of young people.

This brief poses key questions about this topic and, in answering them, offers guidelines to plan programs for adolescent learners to improve their chance of academic success.Because the general topic of adolescent education is complex in itself (let alone language learning and other issues), the question and answer format is particularly useful. Questions progress from “Who are the adolescent ELLs in adult ESL classes?” and “Why are adolescent ELLs in adult ESL classes?” to hefty topics such as “How are adolescents developmentally different from adults?” and “What literacy instruction strategies work well with adolescent ELLs?” The responses are reasoned, practical, and well-researched.  In addition, the extensive selection of references offers many opportunities for further investigation on the many specific aspects of this challenging topic.

Adolescent Learners in Adult ESL Classes gives adult ESL teachers and administrators useful information and advice on how to best serve the young learners in their classes and programs.

Useful Features:

  • The Q and A format focuses on very specific major topics ranging from literacy instruction strategies to how programs can support learners to how adult learners are different from adolescent learners. In all, it provides a comprehensive view of the background and issues of this group.
  • The brief argues for career exploration options in programs, something that is often not included in adult ESL programs but is an important component for students who must think ahead to work options.
  • The section on training for teachers working with adolescent ELL’s is strong in suggesting concrete areas for training. It would be useful in setting a professional development agenda because it offers so many ideas on this subject.
  • There are several forward-looking and reflective suggestions for designing appropriate programming for this population of learners that might be used in conjunction with NCLB data
  • The Reference List is extensive but highlights how little literature there is on the topic of older ELL adolescent learners.  This reviewer notes that much of the literature cited in the brief is about native speaker adolescents.


  • There is a lack of research on effective teaching ESL adolescent learners, so the authors are forced to draw heavily on research on adolescent psychology, which they maintain can be generalized across cultures.
  • Their recommendation that teacher training include adolescent development, which may be useful, is not really practical given the part-time nature of the field.  While, there is research on effective teaching with secondary school students many of these recommendations, although solid, are difficult to implement in ABE/ESL classes.
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