Quick Tips for Teaching Literacy – Part Two of Three

Literacy concept, male hand holding letter A
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Guest Contributor: Zainab Almutawali

In Part One, I talked about the background of literacy students and issues regarding their attendance. In this post, I’ll be listing some of the best teaching practices that I find useful from my personal experience teaching literacy students.

Understand and accommodate students’ individual needs.

Literacy learners may seem to have similar language needs, however like all learners, they come with various individual needs that should be considered when teaching a lesson. For example, one student can have good writing skills but poor pronunciation skills. Another student can have decent oral skills but poor reading skills.  A third can have issues with short-term memory and need a lot of repetition to retain the newly-learned language. Some students may have joined the class later than others and are still getting oriented to the group. As a result, it is almost impossible to successfully teach everyone the same material at the same pace. Trying to do so means that only a small percentage of the class will benefit from the lessons, and the rest of the class will feel lost and discouraged and may eventually drop out.

On the other hand, if each student is given the attention and instruction needed, and if he/she gets one-on-one support, then I believe learners will make remarkable progress in both their language skills and learning strategies. Literacy learners should work at their own pace and shouldn’t be rushed through activities or lessons. Literacy classes are there to equip learners with language skills that will prepare them to successfully join mainstream English classes. Keep students’ needs in mind when deciding on the amount of vocabulary and load of information introduced, language of instruction used, and layout of handouts provided.

Get help in the classroom when you can

To ensure that each student’s needs are met, it is highly recommended that the teacher get help in the class from teaching assistants or volunteers whenever possible. Here are some of the advantages to this approach:

  • Gives the teacher a chance to teach and assess students one at a time.
  • Students are better able to practice reading since other students in the class are busy doing other work, and will therefore not take the turn of slower readers.
  • Students feel confident when the teacher is watching them complete a task. If the teacher is not available, then learners will often resort to copying answers from a partner, which will not help them improve their English skills in any way. One-on-one support is essential at this level until learners become confident and more certain of their capabilities.
  • Working at their own pace allows the students to improve certain skills they may lack.
  • By providing close supervision, the teacher can see how much each student has learned from a lesson, whether or not the material is level-appropriate and interesting for the learner, and what gaps the learner needs to fill in his/her language skills.
  • It is important to get constant feedback from learners at this level to make sure that topics are relevant to their daily lives and that vocabulary is not rushed.

In the next post, I will include my remaining best teaching practices to use in a literacy class. Let me know which practices you find useful.


Zainab Almutawali has been working in the field of ESL teaching since 2010. After working with students with a wide range of skills in English, Zainab fell in love with teaching literacy learners. Its unpredictability and challenges intrigue her and bring out her creativity. Zainab hopes readers find her posts useful and practical.

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