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News & Updates for July 2017

newsThis month:

Moving to Semesters for ESL at Wilcrest

Efficiency, best practices, and helping more people

new and improvedIf you've been around Literacy Advance for any length of time, you know we're all about quality. We want to provide a high-quality product and experience for all our students (and our volunteers, too!) and so we're always monitoring where we can do better, what other literacy programs are doing that's working, and other best practices.

Over the last year, that's led us to the conclusion that we need to be more standardized in how we set up our ESL classes at our main site on Wilcrest. Standardized days and times for classes will not only help us use our limited classroom space more efficiently, they will also make our available class options easier for new ESL students to understand.

Our Bay Area team tried out a semester-based schedule over 2016, and the results were very positive, so now it's happening at Wilcrest too. ESL classes will have concentrated start times in the fall and the spring, with a wider variety of options over the summer and less disruption over the holidays and new year. We're confident you'll see better attendance, more students finishing class, and a better use of classroom space.

And the bottom line is - we'll be helping more students. NO ONE likes our waitlist (see more below) and we spend a lot of our planning time working on how to get more people into class, more quickly. This new schedule will make a lot of difference.

We're starting with our semester schedule this fall! See the current ESL class options here and see what specific schedule will work best for you. Your most recent schedule may have to shift slightly, but we know that you're with us in trying to do the best we can for all our students.

ABE class schedules will remain largely as they are now. Check out ABE tutor needs for the fall here.

Got questions about the semester schedule? Please talk to Heather, the Wilcrest Program Manager, or Kathryn, the Program Director: 713.266.8777.

Student waitlist

Waiting, waiting, waiting...

people waitingWe mentioned the waitlist, above, but do you know how urgent the need really is?

Some years ago, we realized that we were adding people to our waitlist at a faster rate than we could place them in class. So, we came up with two solutions:

1. We expanded our Outreach activities. Through our Outreach partnerships, we provide classes for students in local neighborhoods, without requiring everyone to come to our Wilcrest, Bay Area, or Waller locations. Last year, around 20% of our class activity took place at Outreach sites, so it's working!

2. We limited the sign-up for New Student Registration. New dates for New Student Registration open on one day per month, and they fill up on the same day, usually within 2 - 3 hours. That's been the case for over a year.

So, what else can be done?

There's a lot of demand - about a million adults across Houston need help with either English or with their basic reading. But people WANT to learn - the hundreds of phone calls we receive every month testify to that! - and every volunteer tutor we can start with a class helps more people move off the waitlist and into a beautiful learning community of their own. And as we noted above, the latest update we're making to our Wilcrest classes is to maximize class space and time by moving to a semester schedule for ESL, for great efficiency.

Can you help? Become a volunteer tutor, or, if you already are one, invite a friend! You can see how great the need is. We'd love to race into the fall with record numbers of students in class and YOU can be a part of the solution. Contact Maxine, our Volunteer Manager, for more information or to get started: 713.266.8777 or

OR, become a class supporter! Volunteering isn't for everyone, for all sorts of reasons. You can still support the hundreds of eager students who call us every month by making a donation. You're investing in the families and future of Houston, and we are all very grateful for your support!

Facebook support group

JUST for Literacy Advance tutors!

volunteer supportIf only there was an easy way to talk to other tutors about questions, ideas for using materials or introducing a new topic, or some other issue...

Well, now there is one! We recently started a Tutor Support Group on Facebook. It's JUST for Literacy Advance tutors, and you can share ideas, answer other tutors' questions, get access to others' favorite resources and tutoring methods (along with sharing your own!), and much more.

First time you visit, you'll need to ask to join; after that you can come and go as you like and (depending on your Facebook settings) the group's posts will show up in your newsfeed.

Please take a moment to explore the page - there's a search box, so you can see if someone's already asked the very thing you're wondering about, and a place for files to be stored (which means lesson plan sharing just got easier; yippee!). Both of these can be found in the menu on the left.

Anyone can ask a question or start a discussion, and we encourage you to do that! We want this to be a supportive community space, and you're a big part of helping it be successful.

Questions about the Facebook support group? Talk to Maxine: or 713.266.8777

Bad weather? Not sure if class is on?

Step One: Check Facebook

We know that weather in Houston can be unpredictable. Sometimes we don't have a lot of notice that we'll need to close the office and cancel classes, and we don't always have time to call everyone. 

Facebook is a quick and easy way to update lots of people at once, so the Literacy Advance Facebook page always has the most up-to-date information about closings in cases of bad weather.

If you think there's a chance we might be closed, please check the page rather than calling the office. Look for this image and click on it for the latest update:

weather information

You can check the Facebook page even if you don't have a Facebook account, so please bookmark the link above. And remind your students to do the same!

Of course, if the bad weather is local to your neighborhood, and you're the one who needs to cancel class because you're concerned about driving, please do call us and let us know.

Hurricane Season Has Begun

Help your students be prepared!

hurricane seasonSpeaking of bad weather... we spend almost half the year in Hurricane Season. And there hasn't been a big hit on Houston since Ike, in 2008 - so it's easy to get complacent about the dangers.

But in addition to your own preparations, please think about your students. Many Literacy Advance students are new to Houston, so they may not know what Hurricane Season even means, let alone how to properly prepare for it. Plus, if English isn't their first language, or if you're working with an ABE student who's still improving his or her reading, available materials may be hard to understand.

Please plan to spend some time talking with your student(s) about Hurricane Season, and ways to prepare. is a good starting point, and much of the information is already in plain language - though you'll probably still want to spend time discussing in class to make sure everyone understands.

Also, keep an eye out for brochures and leaflets on this topic in the Literacy Advance Information Centers at our different sites.

Fun times ahead

Special days through the end of the year...

calendarWe're in the second half of the year! And you know what that means - turn around once and you're planning your Thanksgiving meal...

Here are some noteworthy dates and activities through the end of the year:

National Literacy Month

September 15 - 24
National Welcoming Week

Gulf Coast Reads: This year's book is News of the World

Thursday, October 12
Opening Opportunities Breakfast, Junior League of Houston

Friday, November 10
Around the World: 9th annual student and tutor celebration

Saturday, December 16
Last day of classes for 2017

Remember to check the calendar or our Facebook events tab for ongoing information about Literacy Advance events.

Top Tutor Tips

A monthly focus on best practices

abe & eslDid you know? Research shows that students need to encounter a new word 10 to 16 times to effectively "learn" it.

There are four stages of vocabulary acquisition: First, students must recognize the word (stage 1), then notice and understand it (stage 2), then accurately produce it (stage 3), and finally spontaneously recall it (stage 4). So be sure you don’t just introduce new vocabulary by writing it on the board and talking about it yourself!

Use activities that target each of the 4 stages, and give students the opportunity to put these new words to use.

To do this, explore and mix it up by using real life objects, music and songs, or puzzles. It’s even more meaningful and effective if you ask students to bring items in so you can plan activities around them. (It’s easier and less work for you, too!)

To start, many tutors use flashcards to help with word recognition, which is a great first step! We can create an even richer experience if we try to use real objects, and incorporate sounds, smells, and tastes.

Use visual, matching games to work with opposites; use photos to demonstrate related adjectives; and use simple examples to help learners understand abstracts. For example, synonyms, substitutions, or context clues.

To recognize new words, go-to games like bingo, matching, and fill-in-the blank with options are good choices. Only then do students start to produce the language, and begin to work with descriptions. Newspapers or online articles, and personal stories are great tools for this phase. If your students (not you!) prefer worksheets, this is the time to use fill-in-the-blank exercises without options.

Finally, have fun with brainstorming and using mind maps - there are many samples in most levels of the Voyager and English No Problem curriculum. Games like 20 Questions or Guess What I’m Thinking are effective for recall, too. You can even break your class into teams or triads to give more people practice at the same time.

Contact Maxine, our Volunteer Manager, at or 713.266.8777 if you have questions or want to find out more!

For more on this very important topic:

38 language experts answer the question: "If there was one method for learning vocabulary that you’d recommend to the world, which one would it be?"

The different parts of learning vocabulary

10 Fun & Effective Ways to Learn English Vocabulary

7 Infallible Tricks to Help your ESL Students Learn New Vocab


Don't forget - we have regular workshops, training, and roundtable sessions to help tutors continue learning best practices and sharing ideas with one another. Find upcoming sessions here.

Theme of the Month: immigration/citizenship

Waiting Class lesson plans, and more

immgrants NYBased on direct and consistent student feedback, we've created a Theme of the Month calendar, tied to the life skills students say they want to learn. There's a different theme each month, complete with a list of materials and activities that tutors can use to help get students talking and interacting more.

JUly = Immigration/citizenship

Many students want to learn more about American culture, customs, and holidays, whether they're on the path to U.S. citizenship or not.

Students guided us to develop lesson plans that can help them learn about and discuss cultural differences and challenges when moving to the United States, the Bill of Rights, equality and basic rights, and the U.S. naturalization process in an opinion-free, politically neutral, and sensitive way. Ask if you want to see them!

Some of the most popular resources we have on this topic include:

American Manners & Customs

ESL Teacher's Holiday Activities Kit

New Land, New Language

There's a lot more available though, including a variety of resources (books, flashcards, CDs) designed to help adults prepare for the citizenship test.

Come to your site's Resource Room if you want to incorporate some of these topics in other waiting classes or your regular classes.

If you want help with resources, please contact Maxine, our Volunteer Manager, at or 713.266.8777 to make an appointment.

Looking ahead... August's theme is Education.

ProLiteracy Notebook

Tutoring resources for you...

learnProLiteracy is an international nonprofit that supports the people and programs that help adults learn to read and write. They believe that a safer, stronger, and more sustainable society starts with an educated adult population. For more than 50 years, they've been working with passionate people and organizations across the globe to build that society - and to create a world where every person can read and write.

Literacy Advance is a member of ProLiteracy USA, and we receive accreditation through them. As a member, we're able to share tutoring resources with our volunteers, like those below, from the latest edition of ProLiteracy Notebook.

In the latest issue:

  • Helping students save money (financial literacy lessons and a blank budget outline to use in class)
  • Encourage presentation skills and learning with PowerPoint
  • Incorporating romance into instruction (not what it sounds like!)

Explore the Spring 2017 issue of Notebook online, or ask Maxine for the hard copy (please return; we only have one!)

Literacy Advance History Book

Celebrating 50+ Years of Literacy...

history bookLiteracy Advance celebrated its 50th birthday in 2014 and we're still celebrating! We hope you've already read some of the 50+ years of stories that got us to where we are today; if not, find the book here or click on the image to the left.

Current Volunteer Needs


There's more to do than tutoring! We have ongoing needs for Family Literacy volunteers, front desk helpers, and other assistance...

Current volunteer needs are here.

Volunteer Events

Tutor Enrichment, Volunteer Socials, and more!

Find out all information on our Volunteer Events page! For changes and updates throughout the month, remember to check our Calendar, or our Facebook Events tab.

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