Learning for LIFE: An ESL Literacy Handbook

Designed for instructors, program coordinators, and other stakeholders in ESL literacy, this handbook from Alberta, Canada, primarily intends to be a practical handbook, outlining promising practices in program considerations, strategies for the classroom, and four different levels of ESL literacy.

Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Bow Valley College
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

Learning for LIFE: An ESL Literacy Handbook is designed for adult education instructors, program coordinators, and other stakeholders in ESL literacy who work with Learners with Interrupted Formal Education (LIFE). It is primarily intended to be a practical handbook, outlining promising practices in program considerations, strategies for the classroom, and four different levels of ESL literacy. The handbook also includes a toolbox of materials and ideas for teaching, a literature review of the field of ESL literacy, and an annotated bibliography of relevant sources in the field. 

What the experts say

Learning for LIFE is based on both experience and research; it entails a review of the literature focused on how adult immigrants and refugees with limited first language (L1) literacy best acquire English and literacy, as well as information gathered from focus groups and two conferences held in Canada, and responses from 100 practitioners surveyed worldwide. The authors are grounded in their ESL classrooms and offer a plethora of useful, concrete classroom strategies and activities.  This guide is written very clearly and is accessible by teachers at various stages in their career.  The resource is intended as a practical guide for practitioners and other program staff. Administrators can use it for program development and structure; classroom teachers can use it for developing lessons and curricula; other staff, for example program counselors, can use it as a guide for interacting with students. For professional developers, there is much information to be mined here.  The handbook can be used as a whole and made central to a professional learning community or other job-embedded professional development (PD) work that takes place over time. Certainly, it could be part of an extended study circle where parts of the resource are read and discussed. Workshops can be shaped around specific levels or literacy approaches the handbook illustrates. However, it would be important to also include more recent resources, such as those used in the ELL-U study circles and online courses. Although, the resource relies a bit heavily on some early research, and with a few exceptions cites reviews of research rather than the research itself, the philosophy/approach/theory it expounds is sound, and it provides many tools for program development. 

The inclusion of objectives at the beginning of each section is very useful. Classroom teachers will benefit highly from Section Two: Strategies for the Classroom. This section provides a discussion of the principles behind activities followed by specific examples and samples. It also has information on choosing and adapting materials (including adapting children's materials for us in adult education), guides for developing themes and projects, discussion on assessment, and application to real life. Also, the lesson plans on pages 5-148 are useful.

Section Three describes the four literacy levels in depth along with the Canadian Language Benchmarks 2000: ESL for Literacy Learners. This section is highly useful for a program as a whole, in particular administration. It provides guidance on structuring a program for ESL Literacy Learners and includes numerous sample, examples, teaching tips, and students' stories. The charts and rubrics are useful in Section Four, especially the self-reflection ones on pages 385-400.

This resource is a thorough, specific, and practical handbook that adult education staff can use readily. Although it is lengthy, the online structure of the resource is very accessible, and the text format adeptly uses repetition, graphs, overview charts, samples, examples, and students' stories that make this resource appropriate for both novice and veteran teachers and administrators. Included in the discussion are challenges faced by this population as well as the program and the challenges are addressed clearly. The appendices include a hands-on toolbox of user-ready materials divided into the four phases of ESL Literacy; this is a wonderful section for teachers. The annotated bibliography offers a wealth of additional readings and resources for professional developers to explore. A glossary of terms included would be beneficial as this is a handbook for immediate use; however, principles, terms, and approaches are thoroughly explained and exampled within the larger body of the text, making this point less crucial.


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