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VESL Workshop: Planning Meaningful Tutorial Sessions

  • Planning Meaningful Tutorial Sessions

The following blog post was written by Jennifer Acevedo, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement. Jennifer recently planned and facilitated a VESL workshop on Planning a Tutorial Session.

Since 2005, VESL (the Volunteer ESL Tutor Training Project) has supported the professional development of volunteer ELL tutors throughout the city of Calgary. The project is funded by Calgary Learns and is the collaborative effort of three Calgary ELL service providers with long-standing volunteer programs: Bow Valley College, the Calgary Public Library, and the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. 

September’s VESL workshop focused on planning a tutorial session. In particular, we looked at planning theme-based tutorial sessions and how to determine relevant themes.

Planning learning material around a particular theme or context makes learning more interesting, which is, ultimately, what we want our tutorial sessions to be – interesting to the learners. By planning your tutorial sessions around a theme, you can make connections across different learning activities and provide many opportunities for language practice. Studies have also shown that integrating context and information stimulates learning.

We brainstormed themes in the workshop and came up with many: health, money, shopping, school, weather, food, employment, transportation, and voting.

When working with adult English language learners, it is important to make learning meaningful, relevant, and practical.

When working with adult English language learners, it is important to make learning meaningful, relevant, and practical. Learners come from different backgrounds with their own knowledge and experience. Each learner also has different goals and learning needs. Engage your learners by selecting themes that relate to their current situations and goals. Connect your tutorial sessions to themes that are meaningful to your learners. Incorporate activities and language that they are likely to encounter in their daily lives.

The most effective way to determine what themes might be relevant and practical to your learners is to do a needs assessment. Though it sounds formal and complicated, it doesn’t need to be.

Here are a few ideas for needs assessments you can do at different levels
  • Use images at beginning levels. Show pictures of different places or situations in which learners might use their English. Ask the learners what is easy for them. They can point to the images on the board, stand by the respective images posted on the wall, or circle the images on a handout. Then have them do the same actions (pointing, standing or circling), for what is hard for them.
  • Have intermediate learners complete sentence stems about their knowledge and needs: “In Canada, every day I...; In my country, every day I...; In Canada, I like to...; In Canada, it is hard to...; In Canada, it is easy to...
  • Have intermediate or advanced learners complete checklists about their lives in Canada.
  • Have discussions with more advanced learners about their lives in Canada and what their responsibilities are. Use word webs to brainstorm with them what they might need English for.

Once you have determined themes that are relevant to your learners, break the themes down into topics that are manageable for individual tutorial sessions. In the topics, you can focus on specific language needs related to the themes.

Planning tutorial sessions that directly relate to your learners’ needs, responsibilities, and goals in Canada will result in more engaged learners.

Check out the workshop PowerPoint and handouts for more information, needs assessment ideas, and a basic lesson plan template:

Happy planning!