TCF Project Funding Award 2017 Recipient: TALK—Beginner Literacy Tutoring Program


by Tara Stewart

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

TALK is a two-part beginner literacy initiative. It provides basic literacy tutor training workshops and also supports the tutors and students at the community based ESL program. TALK is carried out by Tara Stewart, Maureen Stephens, and our dedicated tutors. Talk is sponsored by The Parkinson Recreation Centre, Okanagan Regional Library, ORCA and the TEAL Charitable Foundation.

Basic Literacy ESL Initiative

The initiative to start the TALK (Tutors of Adult ESL Literacy Kelowna) Special Language Project began in September 2016 in response to the increased need for the most basic literacy skills amongst many our new Syrian refugees. As a teacher working within our community ESL program, and also in a summer refugee language program in Kelowna, I saw many of our new refugees seeking alternative language services for a variety of reason. It was evident that we needed to come up with a different kind of service that would meet the unique needs of our new and most vulnerable community members.

Identifying The Needs

What was notable in our community was that most men/husbands were able to take advantage of our fabulous LINC services during the day, as they were the priority to learn first so they could seek employment. However, this left many of the young women/mothers home with their children and not able to access language services.

Many of the young women needed to spend more time developing basic literacy skills to function day to day and before they could feel confident moving into any classroom setting. Lack of childcare was often the reason they could not access a classroom. Many had tried home based learning but the distractions of the household were impeding the learning process. It was obvious we needed to combine out of home one to one learning with child minding to our young women as they were quickly feeling isolated and left behind in language learning when compared to their husbands and children.

Getting Started

With amazing community support here in Kelowna, I knew we had the interest and the resources to get this project operating quickly. The workshop series was supported by several local community agencies such as Okanagan Regional Library, ORCA (Okanagan Refugee Coalition for Advocacy), LINC, Project Literacy and Kelowna Community Resources. Okanagan Regional Library provided the training space was provided by and the donation of the TEAL Charitable Foundation covered operating costs. The TEAL Charitable Foundation’s Project Funding award was invaluable and instrumental in getting the project off the ground.

The key to getting the project up and running was having Maureen Stephens, past Adult Basic Ed. and literacy coordinator at Okanagan College, come on board to help develop the TALK Tutor Training program. With Maureen’s long-time experience in the literacy field and her willingness to volunteer her time and expertise, she was instrumental in putting together a thorough 20-hour literacy tutor training workshop series for our volunteer tutors.

Tutor Training Participants

TALK Special Language Project was launched in March 2017. Seventeen tutors received invaluable training in the most effective and efficient strategies using authentic materials and resources to best reach non-literate ESL students. Many of the volunteer tutors, who attended our workshops, were already part of refugee sponsor groups, or involved in the field of ESL education. The training was a wonderful way of bringing many language providers together to share and to learn how to initiate more effective methods to reach our non-literate students and give them the confidence to excel in a classroom environment.

Community Centre Support

In addition to supporting the launch of TALK, the Project Funding award from the TCF provided us with much needed basic teaching resources for the new community centre beginner literacy ESL tutoring program. This program began at the Parkinson Recreation Centre in April of 2017. With the Recreation Centre providing access to their child minding service, the Beginner Literacy Program now pairs one of our tutors with a refugee mom for English lessons one or two mornings a week. The young women in the program receive 1.5-3 hours a week of private one to one literacy tutoring while their children are safely looked after at the community centre.

Building more than language skills

Initially, the tutoring program was intended to break through some barriers so the young women could learn some basic language skills, but what we are actually seeing is that there are other benefits well beyond that. Many of the young women are certainly becoming more confident with their language skills and are curious to explore what is available to them and their families within their new community. They are trying new activities and finding new interests that they didn’t know existed. For example, one of our TALK tutor students has faced a life-long fear and is now learning to swim at the community centre, and others have explored music lessons and sports programs for their family.

Continued Success

TALK has been a great success and will continue to flourish thanks to our dedicated volunteers and of course the determination of our young moms. We hope to continue this program as long as there continues to be a need. This fall, the TALK special project will continue to support the tutors with the Tutor Toolbox Workshops, where lessons and tips and experiences are shared amongst the tutors. The funding provided to TALK through the TEAL Charitable Foundation has served not only in helping to implement language learning, but also to open doors to better community involvement for its newest members.

Biographical Information (From the Fall 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)

Tara Stewart is the founder of the TALK Tutor Team which provided literacy based workshops for tutors and continues with community tutoring to low level literacy based learners. Tara became a certified ESL teacher in 2014. She has a background in tutoring in adult basic literacy for 25 years.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Stewart, T.  (2017, Fall). TALK—Beginner Literacy Tutoring Program. TEAL News. Retrieved from

Online Tools for the Language Classroom


by Liza Navarro

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Assessing and integrating digital technologies has been an ongoing challenge for educators around the world. Although recently curricula have begun requiring instructors to incorporate technology in the classroom, instructors face many challenges in meeting these requirements including time constraints, lack of knowledge and lack of resources. As a PhD student and language educator, I have been interested in the ways language instructors approach technology and integrate it into their classroom. My interest has led me to several research opportunities involving technology with educators and teacher candidates. For example, this past summer, I had an opportunity to work with groups of language teachers, who were interested in enhancing their practice with technology. Indeed, there are many exciting technological resources available for teachers today. In our workshop we specifically focused on free tools readily available online and easily accessible.

Among the various online tools available, Google Street View, Google Expeditions and Kahoot! were favored the most by language teachers participating in my workshops. Each resource offered a different aspect and opportunity for instructors to tie technology, language and culture into the classroom. In this article, I would like to share some of these tools with the readers of TEAL News.

Virtual Reality with Google Recently, virtual reality (VR) has become a trending phenomenon in North America, and Google—being a major trendsetter —has honed VR possibilities within the classroom. With Google Street View and Google Expeditions language instructors can take their students on virtual field trips to different places around the world for free.

Google Street View allows users such as instructors and students to input a location and then select from any 360 image they wish to explore. For example, if a language instructor wished to take her students to the Louvre, she could do so with the click of a button. In addition, instructors and students can take their own 360 images of specific locations they wish to discuss and share with the class. This visual exchange of places can open the door to discussions on language, community and much more in the language classroom.

Google Expeditions on the other hand provides instructors with more control allowing them to select specific destinations such as a famous museum, an ancient library or historical ruins. The possibilities are endless. Some teachers might even take their students on an expedition to far away planets in space or to explore the wonderous world of the Atlantic Ocean. Google Expeditions works the following way: once the instructor sets the location, students can tag along and follow their instructor on a virtually guided tour as a group. Instructors also have the option of adding questions or prompts in their language of choice within the tour that students can answer or follow respectively. For example, a language instructor can conduct an entire tour in the target language by devising clues and questions in the language of their choice. Students are thus engaged in a virtual experience within their language of study.

VR apps such as Google Street View and Google Expeditions can thus provide language instructors and their students the opportunity to immerse themselves in another country and culture at a low cost while remaining in the classroom. While these apps are free and can be downloaded by anyone to their mobile devices, there is one catch. In order to use Google Street View and Google Expeditions, teachers and/or students must have VR goggles. These goggles can be purchased online or they can be handmade with the purchase of 3D lenses.

Assessment with Kahoot!

While VR applications can provide language students with the opportunity to venture to different parts of the world exposing them to different cultural elements of the target language, other tools can be used to enhance learning practices in the classroom such as assessment. Among them, Kahoot! allows instructors to track their students’ progress by providing them with free, fun and interactive online games in real time. Kahoot! was created in 2013 in an effort to enhance game based learning and gained ground in the classroom and beyond. When using Kahoot! instructors can begin by inputting multiple-choice questions in the language of their choice. They can then decide how much time students will be given for each response. Once the questions and time have been selected, instructors can share a link with their students to access the game. Instructors can also create Kahoot! activities to be completed at home, thus finding ways to engage students outside the classroom. Another exciting feature of Kahoot! is that it allows participants from around the world to play with one another. For example, language instructors located in different parts of the world could collaborate to create a Kahoot! activity for their students to interact with one another. Kahoot! is extremely user friendly and engaging, and in my experience, it works best in classrooms of adolescents and university students who have access to smart phones, tablets or laptops.

Final Thoughts

During my time with various language instructors, they thoroughly enjoyed learning about Google Street View, Google Expeditions and Kahoot!. In addition, they all agreed that they were excellent examples of free online resources that can truly engage their students in the classroom. With the increased presence of technology, it is important that instructors are provided with opportunities to learn about the resources available and how they can integrate them into their teaching practice. From my own experience, the moments students and language teachers remember the most are those that struck them, those that engaged them and those that provided them with a one of a kind experience. Google Street View, Google Expeditions and Kahoot! do just that by tapping into the possibilities of technology and its important and practical role in the classroom.

Biographical Information (From the Fall 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)

Liza Navarro is a PhD student in Language and Literacy Education at UBC Columbia. Liza’s interests include developing language teacher resources, intercultural competence, and French language learning. She also collaborates on a range of research projects with teacher candidates and French immersion schools.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Navarro, L.  (2017, Fall). Online Tools for the Language Classroom. TEAL News. Retrieved from

Storybooks Canada: A Digital Resource for Multilingual Education


by Espen Stranger-Johannessen and Bonny Norton

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

According to the 2016 Census, more than 7 million Canadians speak a language other than English or French as a mother tongue. To help children learn English (or French) as well as maintain the home language, a UBC team in the Department of Language and Literacy Education has developed Storybooks Canada ( This website has been designed specifically for teachers and parents, making 40 stories from the African Storybook ( freely available in the major immigrant and refugee languages of Canada, as well as English and French. What is unique about Storybooks Canada is that it not only offers children’s stories in many languages, but interlinks these stories so that the user can easily switch between English and one of the 13 other available languages. In this way, a class can read a story in English, and individual students can check the translation of the story in their first language, page by page.

Furthermore, since many ESL students, particularly children, do not fully master the written form of their mother tongue, Storybooks Canada provides recordings of most languages (others are coming). This feature allows users to comprehend the meaning of the story, page by page, even if they can’t read the text in their own language. Users can therefore read or listen to a story in English, and then refer to the text or audio recording in a familiar language to understand individual words or the meaning of a given passage. This is particularly helpful for students with limited understanding of English, since teachers often struggle to explain words and expressions and are seldom able to draw on the students’ home languages as a resource. By bringing students’ own languages into the classroom, Storybooks Canada also helps teachers value and acknowledge the languages that students speak at home.


The stories come from the African Storybook initiative (, which was created by the South African organization Saide to address the shortage of literacy materials in African languages. Since their stories are released under Creative Commons licences, the Storybooks Canada team started translating the stories into other languages, using the tools developed by team member Liam Doherty in the Global African Storybook ( We invited volunteers to translate stories into Mandarin, Persian, Norwegian, and other languages, and also recorded some of these stories. We soon realized the potential of these translated stories, and with funding from UBC’s Language Sciences Initiative ( and a UBC Research Cluster Grant, we could pay honoraria for additional translations and recordings, which are still ongoing. Darshan Soni, a computer engineer and team member, has primary responsibility for website development.

We selected the 40 stories out of several hundred from the African Storybook, and sought to create a collection of stories of different lengths that balance the African origin of the stories with internationally relevant themes. There are traditional animal fables as well as contemporary stories about city life. Some stories cover serious topics like responsibility and gender equality. Others are just written to make you laugh. Our hope is that the universal values reflected in the stories will resonate with children across Canada.

The selection of languages is representative of the most widely spoken languages in Canada according to Statistics Canada. We have also included the main African languages spoken in Canada, in part because the stories are of African origin, and in part because Canadians who speak African languages have fewer resources available to them than speakers of many other languages.

While Storybooks Canada focuses on immigrant and refugee languages, it is important to acknowledge and support the many Indigenous languages of Canada as well. There are several websites that offer Indigenous stories. Little Cree Books ( contains books in Cree, while the South Slave Divisional Education Council ( has stories and other resources in Chipewyan, Cree, and Slavey. Math Catcher ( has mathematics stories in in English and several Indigenous languages. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada ( has several stories in English, some with audio recordings.

Experience so far and the way forward

The Storybooks Canada website recently went live, and we are eagerly looking forward to reports from teachers and others on the use of these stories in Canadian classrooms and homes. Preliminary responses have been very positive. The mobile and tablet friendly website is popular with young children, who can swipe and click on the buttons themselves.

Identifying connections between the stories and the new BC Curriculum is central to the next stage of the project, and we will seek additional funding to promote collaboration with teachers, parents, and policymakers interested in using the Storybooks Canada website. Revisions and updates to the website will be made in response to findings from our research. Storybooks Canada provides much needed resources for migrants and new refugees, including those from Syria. More broadly, it encourages gradual change in the direction of global communication (e.g., from North-South to South-North), while supporting both English/French literacy and mother tongue maintenance in Canadian communities. We are excited to provide teachers and parents with a resource that promotes English language learning while at the same time supporting heritage language maintenance. We hope Storybooks Canada will be of interest to BC TEAL’s members, and that you will share your thoughts and experiences with us.

Biographical Information (From the Fall 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)

Espen Stranger-Johannessen is a PhD candidate in the Department of Language and Literacy Education, UBC, under the supervision of Prof. Bonny Norton. He is the project manager for Storybooks Canada. His research interests include teacher identity, open educational resources, and the African Storybook.

Bonny Norton, FRSC, is a Professor and Distinguished University Scholar in the Department of Language and Literacy Education, UBC. She is the research lead for Storybooks Canada and advisor for the African Storybook. Her research focuses on identity and language learning, critical literacy, and international development.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Stranger-Johannessen, E., & Norton, B.  (2017, Fall). Storybooks Canada: A Digital Resource for Multilingual Education. TEAL News. Retrieved from

A Conversation with Dr. Bonny Norton


by Natalia Balyasnikova

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

BC TEAL sat down with Dr. Bonny Norton, one of BC TEAL’s 50 at 50, to discuss current issues in language teaching and learning. Dr. Norton is a Professor and Distinguished University Scholar in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at UBC, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Her extensive publications and research focus on identity and language learning, critical literacy, and international development. More information about Dr. Norton’s research can be found at

Thank you for agreeing to talk with us today. The first question we have is what brought you and inspired you to do the work in the field of language education?

I was born in South Africa, which is a multilingual country, but I was aware at a young age that some languages were considered more powerful than others. Because of this, I became interested in learning how language can be used to promote democracy, rather than perpetuate inequality.

I started my profession as a high school teacher, and then proceeded to more advanced degrees in applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. I was very interested in language as a social practice, and the ways in which identities get constructed through different language practices.

I’ve been very privileged to be an academic, because I have been able to pursue the questions I am passionate about. The connection between theory and practice is very important to me, and the link between them is often research. How does practice inform theory and how does theory inform practice?

And speaking more locally, how did you start your journey with BC TEAL?

Wherever I go, I like to connect locally, because this is where I live and these are the people I see on a day-to-day basis. It also provides another research site for my work. When I did my PhD degree in Toronto and lived in the Toronto area, I did research in that context. It was very interesting and rewarding. When I came to BC, I thought: “What are the local issues I need to address and in what ways is British Columbia different from Ontario?” I immediately got involved in the BC TEAL organization, because this is where ideas are debated, where work gets done, where research findings are shared. I’ve been an active member of BC TEAL ever since I arrived in British Columbia, which was over twenty years ago.

This year you were named among BC TEAL’s 50 at 50. What does it mean for you to have this distinction?

I am greatly honoured to be recognized that way. I was at the ceremony when we were all recognized, and it was wonderful to be part of a group of colleagues that I respect so much. It was a privilege to see that my work has had some impact locally, as one of my goals is to work both globally and locally.

You have been in the profession for many years. How have you seen the field change over this time?

It has certainly grown enormously. Applied linguistics as a field is 30-40 years old, and I was in the second generation, learning from those who had established the field. The field of applied linguistics and language learning has multiple dimensions, which can be seen partly though the increasing diversity of academic journals, and the growth of impact of these journals.

Because English is a very important part of our world, it raises many questions for educators: What does it mean for practice, for policy, for local languages?

The theme of this issue is Reaching Out with Technology. How do you see the connect ion between technology and language learning?

As technology became more powerful, one of my first tasks as a professor was to develop my own website, which has many resources. Having my work on a website makes access much easier for many students, particularly in poorly resourced communities. Thus technology can be very powerful in democratizing information flows. In 2006 I also helped set up the Africa Research Network on Applied Linguistics and Literacy, to ensure that people in more remote parts of the word are part of our global professional conversation.

Through technology we can make language more accessible, and we can use digital systems so that people can learn languages by reading, by listening, and through other multimodal means. At the same time—if you look at the work of Ron Darvin—we have to ask who is not part of this conversation? We need to be cautious about embracing technology unthinkingly. We need to understand what innovations works best, what some of the downsides are, and how we can use technology for democratic purposes.

Speaking of that, what are some of the challenges and opportunities in using technology for language learning or with language learners?

Well, this is where research comes in. You go into classrooms and schools, you go into families and community centres, and you see how people are using technology. You need resources in many parts of Africa that many people take for granted in wealthy regions of the world. However, even in poorly resourced parts of the world, the cellphone is ubiquitous. As a result, many of our projects are geared towards the use of the cellphone, such as our Storybooks Canada project. That’s the beauty of technology: we can promote multilingualism and mother tongue maintenance by having open access stories in English, French, and home languages. We are only limited by our imagination.

How do you think the practice of language teaching is going to change with the increase of technology?

One exciting feature of technology is that computers are very patient; you can repeat the same exercise until you are confident of your understanding. For example, with Storybooks Canada, if children don’t understand the story the first time, they can listen to it again, reflect on the illustrations, and discuss it with friends. This process is very learner-centred, and can help children pace themselves. Teachers have limited time, so they can refer students to websites and materials for self-directed learning.

At the same time, the human connection is always important and language is central to this connection. Even though we have technology, we still want to have human interaction as well. People want to be able to feel comfortable in the classroom, to go to a store and use the language. While the human element will always be there, technology is entering those conversations in multiple and diverse ways. In fact, people are saying that knowing how to use technology is now a human right. We help our learners by teaching them language through technology. As the world changes, we must keep up with that changing world.

In your opinion, what is the most important thing to remember, while working with language learners?

At some level it depends on what age you are working with; you can have one type of conversation with a child and another with an adult. Sometimes adults feel infantilized in our language classrooms. We must always remember that while a language learner’s English might be limited, they have a wealth of knowledge in their mother tongues. We need to value our learners as people who have complex identities, histories, and talents that go beyond the identity of the language learner.

In many ways, children have different needs. I try to encourage teachers to consider the talents of children beyond language proficiency, and to help other children recognize the multiple talents that language learners have. Children need to see that their peers are not just language learners; they are also musicians, artists, swimmers, and soccer players, with extensive knowledge of their mother tongue. This will help language learners connect with others, build relationships, and improve their language learning.

We would like to conclude with your advice to those just starting their teaching journeys. What would to say to them?

Good language teachers are also good teachers. Language learners need to learn language as a linguistic system—the formal structures of the language—but they also need to understand language as a social practice – how to connect with the wider community. How can teachers expand possibilities for learners to engage more broadly, while learning the language? Teachers can help students develop a wide range of identities inside and outside the classroom. I often talk about language learners being ethnographers of their communities who can bring their observations and questions back to the classroom. If students see themselves as ethnographers and not just language learners, they have more powerful identity positions in the wider community. In a way, teachers are cultural brokers between their students and the social world, and are ideally placed to help students make connections between the classroom, the home, and the community.

At the same time, there are many unexpected events in the classroom, and teachers must navigate the unexpected. Flexibility helps teachers find the best fit between pedagogy, curriculum, and the needs of individual students. I’ve been a teacher for 30 years and I am always learning, trying out new ideas, and continually reassessing my practice. This is what makes teaching such an exciting and rewarding profession. If I have a bad day, I can start again tomorrow!

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Natalia Balyasnikova is a PhD Candidate in TESL and a sessional instructor at the University of British Columbia. (Editor’s Note:  Dr. Balyasnikova has now completed her PhD program, and she is an assistant professor at York University.)

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Balyasnikova, N. (2017, Fall). A Conversation with Dr. Bonny Norton. TEAL News. Retrieved from

Celebrating 50 Years: BC TEAL 2017 Conference and Anniversary Carnival!


by Shawna Williams

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

FIFTY years is quite the feat, and so BC TEAL took the opportunity of its golden anniversary to celebrate that milestone with aplomb. In recent years, the annual conference has had a celebratory feel, but this year in particular we decided that it would be our main goal, opting for the theme of “Celebration”.

To keep with the festive theme of the year, the conference kicked off with the Anniversary Carnival. Jill Hadfield, a prolific author and scholar, was our Main Attraction. Having come all the way from New Zealand, Dr. Hadfield challenged Carnival attendees to think differently about motivation, imagination, and L2 identity. Following her keynote presentation, attendees were paraded from one end of VCC to the other by the aptly named Carnival Band.

Under the ‘Big Top’, attendees could try their hand at the fishing game, the balloon darts, and the TCF’s ring toss. A multitude of silly photos were taken at the Carnivalizer (a selection accompanies this article). Giggles and guffaws were heard during laughter yoga. Fortunes were proffered by Will Shall. The ‘butcheries of the English language’ were displayed in the Castle of Horrors. Many memories were rekindled in the Retro Room (OHPs! Sound Masters! Cassette Tapes!). Meanwhile, the craft beer kegs were drained dry, and appetites were sated with carnival fare, including cotton candy and popcorn. While there were many sentiments along the lines of “We should have a carnival every year!” perhaps we will wait for another milestone before recreating the magic of our first ever carnival. Many thanks goes out to everyone who made the Carnival possible and especially to our ‘carnie’ volunteers for keeping the festive spirits high and festivities on track!

While the main conference itself had a necessary tone of professionalism, the celebration theme carried over into the following days. Attendance on Friday was well over 500, and rooms were packed full. Penny Ur of Cambridge University Press, in a wonderful display of her generosity, gave a repeat session of her workshop when the room was filled beyond capacity. The workshop focused on applied teaching tips. Participants shared ideas about organizing group work, teaching a text, giving and correcting homework. On Friday, Andy Curtis inspired—and entertained—the attendees with his plenary talk 50/50: Looking Forward—To an Uncertain Future, not to mention the wayward red ball rolling to his feet. Saturday’s keynote was the aforementioned Penny Ur. What a delight to celebrate our 50th with big names from the EAL world.

We were delighted to partner with Vancouver Community College as our host institution. VCC itself has had a long history of offering EAL programming and has been a strong supporter of BC TEAL over the decades. The event space and new B-building housed most of the conference sessions, while keynotes were held in the auditorium in the older A-building, adding to the retro vibe.

Sessions were well attended, colleagues from across the province met and mingled and got caught up. The celebration dinner was catered by Tayybeh—‘a celebration of Syrian cuisine’ is their tagline, and a fitting one at that—a group of Syrian woman whose amazing food and stories were the perfect fit for a crowd of language teachers. The PechaKucha was again a major highlight. The meeting of many of our 50 at 50 was inspiring. And there were two recipients of the BC TEAL lifetime contributor award: I was humbled to be presented this award alongside Michael Galli. The celebration wrapped up with scrumptious anniversary cake and a performance by a group of LINC students from VCC, reminding us why EAL teachers do the work we do.

Preparations are now underway for the 50th Annual Conference (while 2017 marks our 50th anniversary, it was the 49th annual conference), and I suspect that some of the celebration will carry over to this event, which will be co-hosted by UBC’s Vantage College and will feature a day-long symposium from TESOL International Association.

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Shawna Williams was recently awarded the BC TEAL Lifetime Contributor Award. She has served on the BC TEAL board for many years, and was conference co-chair for BC TEAL’s 50th Anniversary Conference and Carnival.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Williams, S. (2017, Fall). BC TEAL 2017 Conference and Anniversary Carnival! TEAL News. Retrieved from

Classroom Corner: Word Share Vocab Review


by Edward Pye

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Tag Words: vocabulary, speaking, writing, peer-review

Time: 60+ minutes

Age/Level: Intermediate+

Numbers: Any number

Requirements: Multimedia, Gmail, Students’ laptops

WORD SHARE is a technology-infused task-based activity that runs through a number of skills all while focusing on the set vocabulary.


  • Learn new vocabulary
  • Write accurate sentences using vocabulary
  • Teach other students and peer-review their work


  • Create a shared Google Document for all the students in the class including the vocab you want to teach and a table for students to write sentences.
  • Have students create Gmail accounts; they will need them to edit the document.
  • Have students bring their laptops to class.


1. Assign the Vocab (15 minutes)—Bring up your Google Doc on the multimedia screen so that all the students can see the vocab. Assign 1 word to each student and tell them they must find the meaning of that word, the different forms and some common collocations. Give students 10 minutes to do this.

2. Share the Vocab (20 minutes)—Once students are confident they have all the information, have them stand up and go around the room. They must partner with another student and teach them their word and all the information that goes with it. Partners must take note of the info they learn. Give them about 3 minutes to explain their words and then have them rotate around to another partner. Repeat this another 4 or 5 times.

3. Write (15 minutes)—Once students have been taught about 5 words, stop the activity and have students go back to their computers. In the table on the shared google document, have students come up with and type in a sentence that includes all the words they have learned. Alternately, this can be done on the whiteboard.

4. Peer-Review (20 minutes)—Have students read another student’s sentence and write a revised sentence next to the original. This can be done several times, so that there are multiple revisions of each sentence. Once done, revise the sentences yourself with the class on the multimedia giving feedback as you go. Once this is all done, students will have an easily accessible, lasting document with examples of feedback and accurate use of the vocabulary.

5. Homework—Have students find images online to illustrate their vocab or sentences and have them paste them into the document.

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Edward Pye is a New Zealander with an English literature degree from Otago University. Before moving to British Columbia, he taught in South Korea for eight years. Since then, he has worked as an Educational Programmer and EAP instructor on UBC’s Okanagan campus and as an EAL instructor at Okanagan College.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Pye, E. (2017, Fall). Word Share Vocab Review. TEAL News. Retrieved from

Interview: A Conversation with Michael Galli


by Joe Dobson

[This article was first printed in the Summer 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Q: Ten years is a long time to serve in any volunteer capacity. How and why did you become involved with BC TEAL?

I moved to Vancouver in November 2005 and joined BC TEAL soon after. Having been a member of TESL Ontario since the early 1990s, and because of some truly fantastic professionals who mentored me about the value and importance of professional development, I had developed a firm commitment to lifelong professional development.

It was actually at a TESL Canada Conference in Ottawa, a year or so before I came to BC, where I met Sarah Ter Keurs, then president of BC TEAL. We spoke of my impending move to BC and I sought her advice. After moving here, it was only natural that I join BC TEAL, and in 2006 I became a BC TEAL Board Member.

Sarah soon stepped down, having twins on the way, and Liet Hellwig and Catherine Evashuk stepped in as Co-Presidents to fill the gap year. I was serving as Membership Chair and I still recall receiving the call from Jennifer Pearson Terrel, asking if I’d step in as President at the following AGM. I was, to coin a favorite phrase of Brian Wilson’s (our BC TEAL Honorary Member, not the Beach Boy), gobsmacked. I accepted the challenge though, and never looked back.

Q: Who were some of your greatest inspirations with regard to your roles with BC TEAL?

Absolutely my greatest mentor and role model is Jennifer Pearson Terell. She is truly one of the most special people I have had the privilege to serve with and I am honoured to be considered her friend. Through her work with BC TEAL, Jennifer has continued to serve the broader community and has been an inspiration to so many of us. She does all of it with such a wonderful smile and with such dignity. She is truly a remarkable woman and truly a woman of extraordinary distinction.

There are many others who have inspired my admiration as well. Shawna Williams for carrying the torch after my term and taking BC TEAL to even greater heights. She accomplished a lot in those four years! Nick Collins, who has been a long-time supporter of BC TEAL. To listen to his stories of how the association started and grew through thick and thin, makes me feel like I have been a part of something very special.

BC TEAL has had its ups and downs, and its share of drama (or so it seems), but I think every family goes through that and in the end, we find our way back to our common ground, as they should when good people are united in good deeds. The TEAL Charitable Foundation is probably the best example of that. When I step back and think of the goodness that comes out of the TCF, the first of its kind in the world (according to N. Collins), I feel so fortunate to have been able to add my name to its ranks.

There are so many people to mention here though so let it suffice to say that I am inspired by the collective goodness that is comprised of the thousands of members who have been a part of this very special professional association.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as BC TEAL President?

There were a number, but now they seem not so significant. To name a few, raising the membership numbers, increasing the value-proposition of the conferences, and bringing in the public and private institutions and companies to support our efforts, and also maintaining and expanding our role as a professional association.

I was a Settlement ESL/LINC teacher in Toronto, worked for the University of Toronto in a special program for international pharmacists, and did a fair bit of private consultant work, so I have worn a number of hats in our field. However, as president of BC TEAL, I had to keep my biases off the table and consider what was best for our association and our members.

There is a constant tension between management and unions in EAL schools and organizations, and this could have become an issue for BC TEAL. Even today I hear grumblings that BC TEAL is pro-union, but that seems to just be political posturing. We have had good relations with the local unions and allowed them to have a voice, but we have always striven to ensure that BC TEAL did not promote labour related issues. Those issues are why unions exist but not part of the purpose of a professional association. We made an effort not to alienate those who feel threatened by the union presence and reached out to the private sector. Lately I see that coming to fruition and I am very glad for it. The private sector is starting to come around and it seems to me that this sector is developing in very positive ways. The EAL sector goes through changes, like most industries, and it is important to go with these, rather than try to hang on to old ways. I can easily imagine the private sector leading the way for the profession in the coming years.

On a separate note, I would also call attention to the academic EAL sector, particularly the research areas. One challenge that I do not feel we have made much progress is in getting our professors to engage in sharing local PD. There are some, like Dr. Li-Shih Huang, who engage regularly and help raise the bar to higher levels, but I’d like to see more of the local academics take an interest in the professional development of our BC professionals.

Q: What did you enjoy the most about working with BC TEAL?

I enjoyed it all really. The monthly board meetings, overcoming the challenges we faced, bringing people together at conferences and other events, seeing so many people engaged in an effort to improve their knowledge and skills in order to serve others… this is what moved me most.

Q: What advice do you give to those new to the profession?

Stick with it and don’t be discouraged about the current job market or if you find yourself in a position you are unhappy with. The market changes and positions open up all the time, but you can’t wait for the positions to find you. You need to network and keep yourself in the game. Continue to develop your teaching skills and NEVER become complacent or think you can’t learn something new. There is a reason we say that we practice a profession. Simply put, it is because it is not something you ever master. Even seasoned pros need to refresh their ways and learn new strategies and techniques. Plus, our learners and their needs are always changing and so is technology. Twenty-five years ago, technology was minimally used. Now it is ubiquitous, and I can’t imagine anyone not using it to some degree.

Teaching is a great profession to be in, and EAL is a unique specialization that is often misunderstood and underestimated. The only way to remedy that is to continue developing ourselves and the profession we work in.

Q: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments as President of BC TEAL?

I think the best thing I was able to do for BC TEAL was to breathe some life into it at a time when it seemed to be slowing down a bit. As I said above, the EAL sector goes through phases, and so too does BC TEAL. I stepped in a bit as an outsider and with few biases, alliances, or local influences. I also applied more of a business approach because I was no longer in the classroom, but was a Manager of an EAL program at BCIT.

Q: What do you see as some of the biggest misunderstandings and challenges facing the EAL profession?

I think the greatest misunderstanding is still the old arrogance that because someone can speak English, they are able to teach it. Of course those of us who teach or have taught EAL, have a much deeper understanding of the many complexities involved, but the average person lacks the experience of bringing a class of non-native speakers together and providing learning experiences that allow them to de-construct a new language code and develop the skills to read, write, listen, and speak with that new code. It is no easy feat to acquire a new language and to plan, structure, and teach lessons that facilitate language acquisition is equally challenging. Kudos to all our BC TEAL Members who do so and who continue to hone their skills to improve their methods and make the experience better and better year after year.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself, your career, or your work with BC TEAL?

My 25 year career in education has taken a few twists and turns, and currently I am working more in international education. However, I still have peripheral involvement with EAL issues at my organization. I am glad for this on-going connection because EAL will always be the career I chose and came to love. I have enjoyed every part of my career, and there were a few ups and downs, but I feel that the work we do in EAL is good work. We truly help people and like the ripples in a pond, we never know where our good work will land. Our students don’t generally come to us to learn English just for the sake of it. The acquisition of this language is usually to achieve a more primary purpose, like finding a job, attending school, etc. Learning English is an absolutely necessity for our students and by assisting them the way we do, we give them an invaluable gift.

I hope everyone who reads this understands the value and significance of BC TEAL. While we professionals may function well in our individual classrooms, without the association to bring us together to share and learn from one another, we would have no “profession”, just a lot of people doing their own thing. I would encourage everyone who reads this message to help spread the word on why BC TEAL is of such importance and why all EAL professionals should join and maintain membership. I found a professional home in BC TEAL, and I hope you all do too.

Biographical Information

From the Summer 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  At the time of this article, Joe Dobson was the president of BC TEAL. He is a senior lecturer at Thompson Rivers University. His research interests include educational technology, teacher education, and intercultural communication.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Dobson, J. (2017, Summer). A conversation with Michael Galli. TEAL News. Retrieved from

A Reflection of Curriculum Development for EAL: The Creation of a Canadian Socials Studies 10 Curriculum for a BC Offshore School


by Tom Bone

[This article was first printed in the Summer 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Since I began teaching in China almost 10 years ago, I have been fascinated and amazed how Chinese students can learn enough English to become successful in western universities. Having failed my French classes so many years ago in high school, and having experienced a few unsuccessful attempts of learning languages on my own, I believed learning additional languages to be enormously challenging. Or, I just did not have the predisposition for additional language learning. In my second year of teaching Canadian Social Studies in a British Columbia off-shore school in China, I had started to learn Chinese despite my “disadvantages”, in hopes of better understanding the challenges that my students faced and overcame. From there, I became fascinated by language acquisition. A few years back I was approached to produce a Social Studies curriculum for a BC offshore school in China that would fulfil the requirements of the BC Ministry’s Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs) and meet the needs of English as an additional language (EAL learners). I would like to share part of the process and strategies I used in this process.

When creating the new Social Studies Curriculum the first task that had to be addressed was an investigation into theories and practices around curriculum development for English language learners. A comprehensive analysis of the leading theorists was in order before the program could be implemented. I would like to discuss two of the design strategies I employed in this process: Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and Backwards Design. But first it is necessary to define some terminology which I have adopted in my practice.


BICS and CALP are terms used to describe two distinct levels of language acquisition based on the research by Jim Cummins (Cummins 1979). BICS, an acronym for Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, can loosely be defined as basic everyday language. Conversely, CALP—Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency—can be described as having more complexity and delves into a deeper understanding of a particular subject matter’s language by employing a more complex and abstract vocabulary. Understanding these distinctions is crucial in the development of any additional language curriculum. By knowing what level students are at as far as language development, teachers can adopt particular strategies that best suit their learning.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)

CLIL is a term coined by David Marsh in 1994 that generalizes the idea of learning content and language at the same time, similar to that of the immersion model (Marsh, 1994), but with distinct differences. CLIL is more flexible in its approach and there is an equal amount of emphasis put into both content and language (Harrop, 2012). To meet both the needs of students and fulfill BC Ministry requirements, students enroll in provincially recognized subjects taught exclusively in English. CLIL meets both of these necessities as it concerns itself with both acquiring a new language while at the same time learning the content of the subject. As such, “language is the medium for achieving content objectives with language objectives being matched to content objectives” (Douglas, 2015, p. 8). English teaching strategies are incorporated in the learning of the content.

The selection of this strategy is a necessity for students in BC off-shore schools as most have very little background in English and developing English language skills. A regular EAL program can be five years in length (Coelho, 2004); however, many students are accepted into high school programs with a mere 500-word vocabulary; equivalent to that of a first year EAL student. With CLIL, students are able to learn English while still learning the vocabulary they need to succeed academically. EAL students, like students from native English speaking backgrounds, are expected to think, reflect, discuss, and debate issues using appropriate vocabulary for their grade level. This cannot be accomplished without CLIL.

As Coelho (2004) points out in when considering how to integrate language and content instruction, content-based instruction with added language support can overcome English language challenges in students who do not have the desired 5-year EAL development. Coelho also recommends language teaching strategies such as Key Visuals, Guided Reading, Response Journaling, Cloze activities, Scaffolding in writing, Frequent checks for Understanding, and Vocabulary Enhancement.

Because CLIL is content driven, it offers relevant issues for exploration. Students at the high school age scrutinize their lessons closely and easily recognize the value of what they are being taught. Content, therefore, is very important for fostering motivation. Harrop (2008) concludes that “there is increasing evidence that, as its proposers claim, [CLIL] leads to a higher level of linguistic proficiency and heightened motivation, it can suit learners of different abilities and it affords a unique opportunity to prepare learners for global citizenship” (p. 60). However, even teacher motivation can be affected by CLIL since “one of the most powerful findings of CLIL groups centres on increased motivation in both learners and teachers” (Coyle, 2008, p. 11).

However, CLIL does not present a simple solution as it still has its complications. The CLIL model does not always make accommodations for language families, age, or cultural differences. As opposed to the parallel approach which would focus on the differences and similarities in languages, CLIL does not typically distinguish between languages. A person learning English whose native language is French may have an easier time than a person whose native language is Japanese.  These families of languages must be considered when considering the progress of an additional language learner. CLIL typically also has no provisions for age specific language acquisition. Since the content matches the grade level, the learner must simultaneously acquire the target language while still learning the content. This can leave a gap between proper composition as well as form in grammar and the subject related material which students are learning (Harrop, 2012). Students may also graduate from CLIL making no connection with the rich culture from which the language has evolved. “Chi le ma?” is a common expression in Chinese which literally translates to, “Have you eaten?” This has the same meaning in English as “How’s it going?” These linguistic nuances might potentially be forgotten with the CLIL model. As a result, the acculturalization model may better explore many of these unique characteristics enriching learners’ experience with the target language. Similar languages share similar cultural references often expressed in idioms not taught with the CLIL approach. China and Korea share references to classics like San Guo Yan Yi as does England and France with the Iliad. In a practical sense, students who wish to study abroad are not exposed to the cultural differences found in other models of language acquisition, and often fall short of language proficiencies in tests like the IELTS or TOEFL where language literacy is more the focus than content. Even the grade 12 English BC provincial examination, for which universities often require a high mark, does not require subject based content knowledge. It often does, however, require cultural knowledge (the 2015 English 12 provincial contained many references to Wayne Gretzky—students taking the test overseas did not perform well on this exam due their lack of exposure to this Canadian icon). So as we have seen, while adopting the CLIL strategy, teachers must recognize its limitations and accept the shortcomings.

Aside from the aforementioned critiques, the CLIL model is best suited for the design of an EAL curriculum. CLIL leads to greater language proficiency, increases motivation in both students and teachers, and also offers a many strategies best suited for EAL learners. More importantly, it directly addresses the needs of EAL students in offshore schools regarding the learning objectives prescribed by the BC Ministry of Education. While CLIL on its own lacks the necessary tools to suit the requirements of offshore schools, CLIL augmented with extra learning support best suits the needs of students in these schools.

Backwards Design

Backwards Design was introduced in 1998 by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins and can be loosely described as a design with the goal in mind. In this model, there are three stages of development: 1) Identifying the desired result, 2) Determining acceptable evidence, and 3) Planning learning experiences and instruction (Wiggins & McTighe, 2001). For the sake of this type of curriculum design, assessments are created that incorporate all the learning outcomes prescribed by the BC Ministry first, and then unit plans and lesson plans that align themselves with those goals are created.

At first inspection, this model presents itself dangerously as an assessment based method to learning, and I will address some of these criticisms here. The Backwards design model appears to well suit students in BC offshore schools, who may be culturally adapted to the “teaching-to-the-test” approach that puts an emphasis on the assessment, rather than a holistic approach to learning (Culatta, 2013). While the utterance of such a phrase insights angst in many teachers, the reality of its implications resides in mandatory provincial examinations prescribed by the Ministry of Education (Clark, 2014) (Note: the ministry is now in the process of removing provincial examinations and replacing them with Math and English Literacy exams). Teachers have a right to complain, as many observe such a stratagem removes creative and critical thinking and replaces it with memorization. Also, there is an inherent danger that the course instructor might perceive or confuse the outcomes to be knowledge-based and assess by only a single criterion. For example; the question might be, “What are the causes of World War I?” The answer is simply, “Militarism, Imperialism, Nationalism, and Alliances.” This can be easily memorized without having a deeper understanding of the roles each played in society, which is more closely aligned with the PLOs than the superficial straight-up answer provided in the test. For example, a question often appearing on the Social Studies 11 provincial examination is “In what battle was gas first used?” This is especially true for additional language learners who are already struggling with basic language and look for simple answers to content based questions. I have experienced this first hand while teaching Social Studies that students typically wish to memorize all the possible answers rather than learn the deeper meaning behind the questions. Again, in practice, this approach to curriculum design appears not to meet the requirements of EAL learners in offshore schools.

To quickly condemn Backwards design, however, would be to ignore its benefits.  Backwards design provides an instructional framework from which educators and students may meet learning outcomes more effectively with educational tools and a hierarchy of organization. The Backwards Design approach allows for better organization and planning, and assessments can be created to avoid the pitfalls of superficial learning. Clark’s (2014) guide to framing a curriculum breaks down the structure into three levels: the Curriculum level which includes benchmarks, summative assessments, and scope and sequence; the Macro level which discusses the prerequisites, elaborative and thematic; and finally, the Micro-Design level which includes the craft of teaching, strategies, and formative assessments. These can easily be translated to be the Course Overviews, Unit Plans, and Lesson plans. The organizational approach to Backwards Design is a crucial element that focuses the curriculum writer’s energies into a clear path of understanding that can be shared within the system and easily adapted to the needs of each subject. It reminds us to start with a learning outcome or question and helps us keep focused.

With CLIL integrated into Backward Design, a curriculum can be tailored to best suit the needs of EAL learners in offshore schools using the BC curriculum. While there are still challenges to overcome in creating the perfect EAL curriculum, this approach surely meets most of the pressing issues. Teachers can be organized and plan better, they can assess and provide feedback better, they can motivate and inspire better, and mostly, they can prepare students for college or university better.


Clark, B. (2014). Thoughts on Framing a Curriculum & Teaching Review. University of Calgary. p. 6.

Coelho, E. (2004) Adding English : A Guide to Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Coyle, D. (2008). Content and Language Integrated Learning Motivating Learners and Teachers. Retrieved from

Culatta, R. (2013) Instructional Design. Retrieved from

Cummins, J (1979), Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Linguistic Interdependence the Optimum Age Question and Some Other Matters. Working Papers on Bilingualism No. 19.

Douglas, S. (2015) Multilingual Classrooms and Higher Education: Leveraging Content to Support Academic English Language Acquisition. BC TEAL News. (p. 8). Retrieved from

Harrop, E. (2012). Content and language integrated learning (CLIL): Limitations and possibilities. Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Alcaláp. p. 60

Marsh, D. (2012). Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). A Development Trajectory. University of Córdoba.

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2001). What is Backward Design? in Understanding by Design (1st ed). Alexandra, VA: Pearson.

Biographical Information

From the Summer 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Tom Bone has taught in China for over nine years. At the time of this article, he had been the Vice Principal for Maple Leaf International School Systems in Tianjin and taught Social Studies and Psychology in Wuhan for five years. He has a passion for language acquisition and has been a major contributor in curriculum development for BC offshore schools.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Bone, T. (2017, Summer). A Reflection of Curriculum Development for EAL: The Creation of a Canadian Socials Studies 10 Curriculum for a BC Offshore School. TEAL News. Retrieved from



Refugee Rights Day—EAL Act!on


by Taslim Damji

[This article was first printed in the Summer 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

On April 4th, 2017 BC TEAL launched a nationwide campaign in celebration of Refugee Rights Day. On this day in 1985, the Canadian Charter of Rights recognized refugees as having the same fundamental human rights as Canadians—the right to life, liberty and security of person.

This campaign connected the relationship between security of person to a sense of belonging and inclusion in our diverse communities—not just for refugees, but for all individuals. It included webinars and an activity package for teachers and was intended to highlight our commonalities and the importance of feeling safe and accepted for who we are. By applying an intercultural lens, activity participants were invited to explore and further cultivate these feelings.

Intercultural is a word we hear often these days, as are diversity, community, and inclusion. As increasing numbers of people arrive in Canada, our understanding of culture and identity shifts and evolves in noticeable ways. Sometimes we embrace the changes that greater diversity brings, but often discomforts and questions arise for both Canadians and newcomers.

How then do you apply an intercultural lens to Refugee Rights Day? It starts with how people identify themselves and how they identify others. Do we focus on how we are different or do we focus on how we are similar? Do we anticipate that we may have something in common with another person though, on the surface, they may seem very different to ourselves? How do we respond to that difference? Do we embrace, reject, or feel uncertain about it? How does difference shape our behavior towards others? How does this affect who we include in our communities? How do our thoughts and feelings about “others” impact our own ability to belong? All big questions!

The EAL classroom provides a primary community, and a good place to start strengthening that sense of community is by getting to know each other. We often don’t know much about each other’s cultural background, ways of doing things, or personal histories. Through lack of contact, media representation, or unsuccessful interactions, we may be unaware of stereotypes that exist in our classrooms. There can also be an underlying assumption that others have the same codes of interaction as we do. It can be challenging to interpret behaviors except by our own standards and norms. In a classroom context, teachers making time and space for the group to be curious about and open to each other is key to modelling and growing intercultural sensitivity as well as preparing learners to find greater acceptance in the community at large. This ability is as important as language if our goal is to promote healthy, inclusive, and diverse communities.

These themes seem weighty, but the activities provided in the activity package were intended to foster a feeling of commonality while at the same time acknowledging difference in an enjoyable way. They also aimed to raise awareness of what inclusion, community, and diversity mean to our students and to explore how we can “do” these in our daily interactions. It was great hearing from so many of you about your experiences doing the activities in the package. This article is to celebrate your class experience using the materials. I’d like to thank Augusta Avram, Jennifer Low, Debra Dahlberg, Tanya LeBar, and Leanna Inokoshi, all of whom teach a range of classes and levels, for taking time to share their experience using the materials, and here’s what they had to say.

Teachers talked about selecting activities appropriate to their groups and providing a safe space to explore…

Augusta: “Before doing the activities, in private, I asked the refugee students in my class if they were comfortable discussing the topic. My experience with refugees has taught me that I need to be careful because of possible issues around trauma. Also, I used the image of people holding hands around the globe as a starter, and not the pictures.”

Jennifer: “I gave the theme and the topic ahead of time and told the students that if anyone felt uncomfortable to let me know. I wouldn’t have done it if someone had told me they weren’t comfortable. I started with the tree visual to introduce a broader sense. Then, as I put each picture up I checked in. I like how the sequence led into more pleasant pictures, but the focus was really on community and diversity and inclusion”.

Teachers also talked about some of the conversations and activities that students had engaged in. They used different materials from the package including visuals, reflections, concept maps, value statements, and a total physical response (TPR) style activity to raise awareness and open conversations.

Debra: “Students talked about how they had come to Canada. Two had come as refugees. They were both comfortable telling their stories. One woman hadn’t been in her home country for over 10 years and had lived in so many different places with so many different people. The other man was comfortable telling his story as he’d told it so many times. Maybe he felt that he was educating people. We also looked at the photos of the camp, the boats, the people. They talked about how refugees are from all around the world and then I asked them why someone would flee from their country. But the activity that worked best was the “Walk across the room…”. That was so much fun. They really enjoyed it and the self-reflection, too. We tend to look at the obvious, the external”.

Tanya: “I did have refugees in the class and they were okay with the pictures. I felt comfortable because my parents were refugees also, so I talked about my parents living in a camp for 3 years. I thought it was nice to finish with an optimistic pictureWelcome to Canada! People in my class were absolutely sympathetic and empathetic. They knew what’s going on and were very willing to talk about it. They didn’t feel discomfort.”

I also did the Walk across the room…” activity. Things that they had in common were being afraid, worried, feeling lonely, missing home. We used the commonalities to springboard into diversity and inclusion. We then went to mind map. I used community instead of classroom –I wanted it to be as broad as possible. Diversity was easy. They talked about race, religion, sexuality. But inclusion was really hard. What does inclusion mean and how do you do that? Seeing difference is easy, but how to include is more of a challenge.”

Teachers had different reasons for choosing the activities they did. Some did a single activity and others worked their way through more of the package…

Augusta: “I like to get into culture, where they explore it on a deeper level. The refugee and newcomer experience have a lot in common, for example, identity crisis. I encourage them to explore their own biases, too.”

Jennifer: “It was an important topic and a great way to lead into the term. The idea of diversity and inclusionfeeling different/feeling the same; feeling included/feeling left out; appreciating diversity; making sure that everyone feels included so that they can participate more fully. How can we make it work?”

Debra: “I like to tie in topics like this to let students know that multiculturalism is fairly new to me too; 30 years ago it was different. We’re constantly evolving, new people come, there are changes.”

Leanna: “I used the visual photos of refugee experiences to elicit, teach, and share language around ‘inclusion’ and ‘exclusion’ with the end goal for students to create a poster board with visual images cut out from newspapers and magazines to express what they see as forms of social inclusion.”

Teachers told of student response to the materials…

Augusta: “They like to talk about what’s going on in their lives and about what makes one different from others. The cultural difference is there, and it helps if you discuss it. You celebrate the difference, yet at the same time you desperately want to belong. You end up questioning how you do things and what you believe. If you create a safe space to explore this, they like it, they enjoy the challenge. One of the students said: It doesn’t matter what our differences are, everyone has equal rights and should be treated respectfully.”

Debra: “There was lots of laughter and then sometimes surprise. It really pulled the group together and in the end everyone felt connected to everyone else in the room in some way. At some point everyone found they had at least one thing in common. You have to find a gate to open first. The package had a nice structure”.

Jennifer: “Initially, students wondered, ‘So why are we talking about this?’ Yes, it was Refugee Rights Day, but these are all broader themes. Students said ‘we’re really glad we’re learning this. It helps me think differently. It’s important to learn about’. It was neatthe next day we had a refugee student enter the class and is now part of our classroom community.”

And of their own response…

Augusta: “I like to share my own identity story as someone who came to a new country. It doesn’t matter what the reason is for you being here. You are here now and it’s a difficult time, but there are commonalities… I wanted this activity package to be about all of us.”

Tanya: “The class is really open and I try to normalize things. I see the students look to me for my response. They are watching me for how I will respond. Refugees often tell their stories and we just deal. We listen and sometimes there’s nothing to be said. We’ll have a moment of silence and then I’ll say, ‘Is it okay if we move on?’”

And overall, teachers reported…

Debra: “The whole experience was very positive… It gave a better sense of what diversity is and how we can be included because we do have things in common. It opened the door to other possibilities, to meeting new people and other Canadians. That we can see beyond what’s on the outside.”

Leanna: ‘The student’s especially liked being divided into groups to work on their poster board that reflected what they deemed as “Social Inclusion”. They liked the creativity, the visuals, the variety and freedom of choice, cutting, pasting and overall enjoyment of working together to create a positive message as a group.”

I asked instructors if they had any comments or advice for fellow teachers using the package.

Here’s what they shared:

Augusta: “It’s important how the teacher presents this because it models respect. Encourage learners to describe their own experiences.”

Tanya: “Know your class. Make sure you’re comfortable with it. And if you’re not comfortable with it, ask yourself why you are not comfortable. Be a little brave! Allow a little discomfort.”

Jennifer: “It was a great lesson and links well to every day. Creates a safe space to create more openness”.

Leanna: “This was my first time teaching a lesson on refugees, but I found it enlightening and educational. The lesson [was] easy to follow for an instructor and provided many choices/activities for different levels to accommodate multi-level classrooms.”

I hope that being able to hear about different instructors’ experience provides support and encouragement to keep using the materials in the coming months. Keep in mind that United Nations World Refugee Day is June 20th or you can apply these activities to any curriculum theme connected to growing community, celebrating diversity, and cultivating inclusion.

To access the materials discussed in this article go to:

Good luck on your intercultural journey and, if you do use the materials, we’d love to hear from you. Post on our EAL Act!on Blog or share on Twitter or Facebook using #EALaction.

Biographical Information

From the Summer 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Taslim Damji is the developer of BC TEAL’s Refugee Rights Day package. She has an MA from King’s College, London and two decades of international teaching, teacher training, and research experience. At the time of this article, Taslim was the manager of Intercultural Trainings through MOSAIC Works.


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Damji, T. (2017, Summer). Refugee Rights Day—EAL Act!on. TEAL News. Retrieved from


Promising Practices: A Peer-led English Conversation Program that Works


by Natalia Balyasnikova

[This article was first printed in the Summer 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

I came to Canada in 2013 as a PhD student at the University of British Columbia; however, my most influential and transformative learning occurred when I started volunteering as an English language facilitator at the UBC Learning Exchange, located in the Downtown Eastside. I was so enraptured by the program and the way it was set up, that in 2015 I proposed to interview other facilitators in the English Conversation program in order to find out what encourages them to volunteer. I was hired by the UBC Learning Exchange to conduct this study and single out promising practices from the perspective of the volunteers, who facilitate English language conversation groups. In this article, I would like to share some of these practices in the hope that other community-based practitioners would find them useful for their work.

A historical sketch

The UBC Learning Exchange is a community-engagement initiative of the University of British Columbia. Founded with a goal to find ways to link the University of British Columbia to Downtown Eastside community groups, to this day the Learning Exchange continues to bring together people from different walks of life and experiences. Over the years, building on multiple strengths of a vibrant Downtown Eastside community, the Learning Exchange has grown from a drop-in computer workshop to a well-known presence in the community, offering a range of workshops, public talks, and educational and arts-based programs.

One of the programs at the Learning Exchange is English Conversation. This program aims not only to develop the conversational proficiency of language learners but also to provide them with opportunities to gain confidence and leadership skills. The program is divided into four levels of English language proficiency and is led by community and university volunteers.

The learners are typically allowed to take one English language class per week during a 10-week session. English as an Additional Language (EAL) conversation groups meet for 75-minute sessions once a week for ten weeks to discuss a range of topics chosen by the program coordinator and student staff. These topics include cultural holidays, Canadian traditions and customs, popular culture, famous people, internationally famous places, etc. Additionally, there is free reading material that could be interesting for adult EAL learners, such as the West Coast Reader and Canadian Immigrant available for all learners of the program to read at the centre or take home. During each session, learners use various worksheets with a short text and follow-up questions that guide their conversations. The role of the facilitator in the class is to use the worksheet as a starting point for their class and to encourage learners to speak as much as they can. Facilitators are encouraged to choose topics that they think could be interesting to learners in their group; some of the more experienced facilitators bring their own worksheets or use the reading material provided by the centre in their classes.

All learners are free to use Learning Exchange resources such as free access to computers and Wi-Fi or attend free workshops for learning computer skills. They can also spend time at the centre having coffee or tea, reading, or socializing with other language learners and other patrons of the centre.

Volunteer community

The facilitator community is quite diverse; there are both native and non-native speakers of English who lead the classes. However, similar to the learners, many of the facilitators are either retired or currently not employed and are residents of the area where the Learning Exchange is located. Moreover, many of the facilitators are non-native speakers who have previously attended the program and advanced to higher levels of proficiency. One of the salient characteristics of this community is the peer-to-peer nature of interaction in and outside the classroom.

Most facilitators in the Learning Exchange do not have substantial pedagogical training. In order to make their transition into a facilitator role an easier one, the incoming volunteers are required to participate in a series of training workshops delivered by the coordinator of the English Conversation Program. (Currently the facilitator training program is being restructured to offer more holistic and diverse training for incoming facilitators.) During the course of these workshops, the incoming volunteers are presented with the goals of the EAL program, the philosophy behind the Learning Exchange, class management techniques, foundations of intercultural communication, and other topics that are relevant for the context they are entering as facilitators. The training workshops run in tandem with facilitators’ first classes. This gives the novice facilitators an opportunity to put the workshop materials into practice. Upon the completion of the workshop series, the new facilitators are assigned a group of learners and begin their volunteering with the Learning Exchange. At times, these facilitators are given an opportunity to team-teach the first sessions and to collaborate with more experienced facilitators. In addition to facilitating, some volunteers are allowed to take other classes offered by the Learning Exchange. For example, at the time of this study, some EAL facilitators were enrolled in the Spanish language classes offered by volunteers.

Promising practices

I must acknowledge that adult language and literacy programs are diverse and pursue different goals. For this reason, it is hard to give clear best practices that will undoubtedly work in any context. Nevertheless, there are promising practices that I have noticed at the English Conversation program. I believe they could be applied across various contexts. The three promising practices that I have observed in the Learning Exchange are 1) development of the English Conversation program as a community of practice 2) sustaining of an informal context of learning and interaction and 3) recognition of experiences shared by learners and facilitators and building upon them.

The English conversation program as a community of practice

The first promising practice is sustaining the English Conversation program as a community of practice. It’s a model of volunteer/learner support that can enhance many programs that rely on volunteers in their work.

A community of practice is an organizational model that was developed by Etienne Wenger. A community of practice is first and foremost a joint enterprise, whose members share a repertoire, activities, and mutually support each other. Through their participation in shared activities, the members of a community of practice move from novice to expert status simultaneously drawing upon and contributing to the strengths of the community. While communities of practice can be quite diverse, they have specific characteristics that distinguish them from formal professional groups. The main difference is that the purpose of a community of practice is to develop individual potential by encouraging knowledge exchange among members who select themselves.

The volunteers at the Learning Exchange are participating in a community of practice and thrive through doing so. First, they are engaged in a joint enterprise of facilitating English language conversational groups, and, due to a pre-established curriculum, share a repertoire, both pedagogical and conceptual. Second, they participate in shared activities, such as facilitator training workshops, and feel the necessity to continue doing so. Third, as facilitators move from the novice status to a more experienced one, they grow in confidence to add their knowledge to enrich the practices at the centre, while still relying on those who are located in the centre of the community—the core staff and student staff—for support in some cases. These changes inform the growth of the program and add to the reasons why facilitators continue to stay active with the program. As communities of practice, adult EAL programs can be maintained through the commitment of individuals and their interest in sustaining their group.

Informal context of learning and interaction

The second promising practice that I observed in the Learning Exchange is the informal context that shapes the interaction between the learners and the facilitators. Facilitators and learners are engaged in a collaborative learning practice that benefits both learners and volunteer facilitators and constructs this learning community of practice. In the Learning Exchange, facilitator/learner roles are multilayered and fluid in nature. Some of the facilitators are non-native speakers of English, others are not experienced teachers of English. Despite this, they bring strengths to the community. For example, the non-native speakers of English bring an understanding of the challenges that learners face. At the same time, they are increasing their language proficiency through leading the classes. More importantly, facilitators maintain their roles as learners, albeit more experienced ones, in their interaction with novice learners. Native English speaking facilitators bring knowledge about life in Canada and some culturally-specific aspects of language use. At the same time, they develop awareness about challenges that newcomers to Canada face in their everyday interactions with native speakers of English. The Learning Exchange has created a system of informal interactions between people, which supports both learners and facilitators and ensures their persistence in the educational setting.

Recognition of experiences shared by learners and facilitators

The third promising practice at the Learning Exchange is that the program takes individual lives into account and draws upon members’ shared life experiences. Because of this, volunteers at the Learning Exchange have deep altruistic motives for volunteering and they appreciate feeling needed and being in demand. They share the experience of trying to learn a new language, learning at a mature age, or understanding the importance of access to education. This attests to the power of altruism and community-building in adult learning contexts where learners might struggle due to their socio-economic status, level of education, or language proficiency.


In this short article, I wanted to introduce the UBC Learning Exchange that grew from one program into a multifaceted community-engagement initiative that is trusted and respected by many members of the community. Moreover, I wanted to highlight three promising practices elaborated in the English Conversation program. These practices stood out for me during a small-scale study conducted in 2015. These three practices are: 1) development of the English Conversation program as a community of practice 2) sustaining of an informal context of learning and interaction, and 3) recognition of experiences shared by learners and facilitators and building upon them. The English Conversation at the Learning Exchange is driven and sustained by volunteers, some of whom are former learners—and that is perhaps the greatest strength of this program. If you would like to learn more about UBC Learning Exchange and work done there, please visit their website.


I would like to thank Spring Gillard, UBC Learning Exchange English Conversation Coordinator, and Angela Towle, UBC Learning Exchange Academic Director, for their support and feedback on this article.

Biographical Information

From the Summer 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Natalia Balyasnikova has collaborated on a range of research and outreach projects with community-based initiatives in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Her research explores English language education in community-based settings, and through this work Natalia aims to support older adults learning English as an additional language.


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Original reference information:

Balyasnikova, N. (2017, Summer). Promising practices: A peer-led English conversation program that works. TEAL News. Retrieved from