Reading Textbooks for University ESL Programs

Gwendolyn G. DeRosa

In the last post, I discussed online resources for new instructors to teach reading and writing to adults. Now, I want to give some suggestions for quality textbooks that I’ve used in my reading courses at Otterbein University’s ESL program.

“Get Ready to Read” by Karen Blanchard & Christine Root

This textbook is for high beginner or low intermediate students.  Students should already have extensive beginner vocabulary to be able to discuss topics such as days of the week, animals, countries, seasons, hobbies, professions, and traveling.  The textbook begins with topics, continues with reading skills such as previewing and predicting, and ends with making inferences. Vocabulary skills are also a focus of the textbook. What I appreciate is that the instructor does not have to create a lot of supplemental materials. There are many—very useful—activities and exercises. There are seven chapters, but I would recommend using this textbook over an entire semester (14-16 weeks).

“Longman Academic Reading Series 2” by Kim Sanabria

For intermediate readers, I recommend the Longman Academic Reading Series.  Book 2 in the series has 10 chapters which contain three readings in each chapter. This textbook can be used without creating a lot of supplemental materials. I have been able to do about two readings per week. Many of the chapters’ topics fit together. For example, I was able to pair Chapters 9 “ Peace Studies” & 10 “Urban Studies” with the Penguin Reader “Gandhi”  by Jane Rollason (as extensive reading). Having themes that built on each other created a foundation for vocabulary building and authentic discussions. One drawback of the textbook is that the vocabulary activities come after the reading. I suggest introducing vocabulary as part of a pre-reading activity.

“Discovering Fiction: A Reader of North American Short Stories” by Judith Kay & Rosemary Gelshenen

This collection of short stories has pre-reading and post-reading activities and discussions. It’s easy for instructors to choose stories that connect with the course topics. Some students may not have experience reading fiction in English and this collection is an excellent introduction for international students. “Discovering Fiction” is an effective supplement for intermediate students in reading courses.

Penguin Readers

Penguin Readers are adapted texts for readers in various levels of comprehension. Some are adaptations of literary works (Sherlock Holmes), some are biographies of famous people (Gandhi), and some are based on films (Forest Gump). Check out a future blog post about using Penguin Readers in EAP (English for Academic Purposes) reading courses.

Readers Theater by Aaron Shepard

Readers Theater is a wonderful way to interest vocal, energetic students in reading courses. Reading aloud is a fantastic way to connect with a story. Students can read from their seats, but kinesthetic learners can move around and act out the story. Instructors can print the scripts for free from the website or support the author by purchasing a book. I recommend “Folktales on Stage.”

reading textbooks

Please comment below on  reading textbooks that you have used in your classes.

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Online Resources for Teaching Reading & Writing to Adult English Language Learners

Gwendolyn G. DeRosa

At the end of my graduate studies in TESOL, I realized that I wasn’t fully prepared to teach reading and writing to adult ELLs. During my three years of teaching adult students in a non-profit environment, an English language center, and a university’s ESL program, I’ve accumulated online resources that I use on a regular basis. I believe this list of websites can help other new professionals.


This website is unique because it uploads current news articles continually. You can sign up for a free account, which allows you to choose a reading level, print the article, and use comprehension questions. I recommend doing pre-reading activities such as learning new or academic vocabulary and discussing the general topic before giving the article to read. I found that I didn’t like using the website’s comprehension questions, so I created my own.

Newsela can be used with high beginner students to advanced students. I recommend using it in reading and writing courses, speaking and listening courses, and any course that discusses current events and news.

Breaking News English

This website is similar to Newsela. It posts current news articles which can be accessed for free. The news articles have been adapted to meet the needs of various levels of readers. The component that I recommend to my students is the listening component. Reading and listening at the same time is an effective way for students to practice both skills and to work on pronunciation. The website includes games and activities for each article, which makes it ideal for independent learners to practice at home.

One drawback is that the website may be difficult to navigate because it’s not as well-designed as Newsela. It’s not an attractive website and it contains ads because it’s free.

VOA (Voice of American) Learning English

This is another news website. It’s well-designed and user-friendly. This website is not ideal for beginner or even low-intermediate students. I would recommend it for advanced students who are interested in learning about world events.

Purdue Owl

This is my go-to website for all styles of academic writing. This online writing lab has been created by Purdue University for their students. It includes a section for English language learners. I use it when I teach academic essays, research papers, and how to use citations. But the website also contains articles on grammar and sentence structure. It’s a wonderful and useful resource for writing instructors.

Please add links to your favorite online resources in the comments below!

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The First Annual New American Festival

The First Annual New American Festival was held on September 13, 2014 at the North YMCA off of Karl Road in Columbus, OH. The festival was organized by Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services (ETSS), as well as other community partners that help new immigrants and refugees in the area. This festival was put together to celebrate the newest arrivals to the Columbus area. Over the past decade Columbus, OH has received many refugees and immigrants who are Somali, Ethiopian, and Nepali-Bhutanese. This festival celebrates the contributions and families of the people from these countries. The New American Festival highlighted the cuisine and art of each country while also providing fun activities for children such as face painting and balloon animals. There was also live entertainment exhibiting music and dance from each culture. With the very first New American Festival being well-attended, the organizers plan on holding this celebration yearly.

The tents

The tents

The stage

The stage

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Letter from the Editor: Onward and Upward

Gwendolyn G. DeRosa

As I prepare to step down and move on, I’m been thinking about the last three years since I began ODU’s MA in TESOL program.  I have been writing for this blog since the beginning and I feel lucky to have been the editor for the last year.  Since this blog’s inception, we have striven to post insightful reflections, intelligent interviews, practical suggestions, and innovative ideas.

My first day of graduate school!

My first day of graduate school!

I am indebted to H. A. Rehm for her enthusiasm and leadership skills, which have been felt long after she graduated last year.  I want to thank Amy Faeth for being a spectacular president of the TESOL GSO and a driving force behind this blog. Without her passion and energy, the GSO and this blog would not be what it is today.  I also want to thank Dr. Micek for his constant support of our endeavors.

I want to show my gratitude to the many contributors that have made this blog a vital resource for ODU students and for the larger TESOL community. Thank you!

I’m also grateful for you, the reader.  Without you, this blog would have no meaning.  You cross borders and boundaries to make connections, support others, and find help.  Thank you!



What lies ahead?

Ohio TESOL is now accepting proposals for November’s conference.  This is a fantastic opportunity for professional development. I hope that all of you submit a proposal. The deadline is Friday, June 20th.

The deadline has passed to submit a proposal for TESOL International 2015. But you should mark your calendars!  The conference will be held in Toronto from March 25-28.  Plan a road trip with your colleagues and travel up north to connect with TESOLers from around the world!

The GSO is pleased to announce that the 2014 Graduation Recognition Reception will take place on August 2nd, from 3-5pm. The exact place will be announced soon.

Please continue to check this blog for insights and reflections from the 2014 graduating students’ research experiences.



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Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services’s After-School ESL Tutoring Program

Emily Dixon

For the past academic year I have been volunteering once a week at Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services’ (ETSS) After-School Tutor program. ETSS is a non-profit in Columbus that provides a variety of services for the refugee and immigrant communities around the city. The After-School Program that I volunteered with is one of the services ETSS provides for their families. The site that I worked at was on the northeast side off of Morse Road. The students I worked with were between the ages 5-18 and were primarily Nepali. The site director at the program is Timothy Murphy and I asked him some questions about ETSS and the goals he has for his program’s site.

What is ETSS’s mission and goals to the community it serves?

The mission of ETSS is to assist immigrant and refugee families and low income individuals in Central Ohio to improve the quality of their lives. We aim to facilitate integration through education, training, supportive services, and self-development opportunities as well as increase awareness of culture and heritage of Central Ohio’s immigrant and refugee population.

Our vision is to be the vocal point of integration for the immigrant families and to assist in developing a healthy, wealthy, and self-reliant New American community.

What kind of services does ETSS offer besides the after-school program?

ETSS offers a variety of programs for both adults and youth in the community. ESOL classes and Basic Job Skills Training are offered to refugees and asylum seekers who have lived in America for less than five years. Citizenship classes and technology lessons are also offered.

In the summer, children ages 5-13 can participate in the Youth Summer Enrichment Camp, during which they continue their language arts and math studies, take part in cultural enrichment exercises, engage in physical fitness and nutrition activities, grow through leadership challenges, and participate in field trips throughout central Ohio.
Also available in the summer is the Youth Employment Program for teens ages 14-17. Participants of the employment program work on projects within the community, such as neighborhood safety, nutrition awareness, leadership development, and the upkeep of a community garden. Some participants also give back by working with the ETSS Adults ESOL classes and summer camp programs. During the program they also explore career opportunities and participate in financial literacy lessons.

What are some good ways to get involved in those services?

In order to get involved with any of the adult programs, those interested should contact Adult Program Director, Dr. Leroy Boikai at
For any of our youth programs, those interested should contact the Director of Youth Programs, Amanual Merdassa at
Volunteer applications and more information can be found on the ETSS website which is

What are the goals of the after-school program?

We aim to provide a safe, educational, and engaging environment for our K-8 students. We want to ensure that all of our students have an opportunity to receive tutoring, cultural enrichment, and fitness/nutrition education. We take pride in the family-like atmosphere the tutors, and more importantly, the students help create.

What are you most proud of with your involvement in the after-school program?

It gives me great pride that day after day our students come in with big smiles on their faces, ready to learn and ready to work. Even after a long school day, our students find the energy and the motivation to continue on through their homework and projects and onto our enrichment activities. They care for each other and they help each other through daily struggles and challenges we all encounter. It feels like a giant family, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it!

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2nd Annual Learning Symposium – The World in Words: Teaching and Learning Academic Vocabulary

Stephanie Wilker

Once again, Michigan State University and National Geographic Learning collaborated and produced a brilliant learning experience for ESOL educators. Their second annual Learning Symposium was held Saturday, April 12, 2014, on MSU’s main campus in Lansing. Teachers, teacher trainers, graduate students, and others in the field of ESOL gathered under one roof to hear a knowledgeable group of presenters speak about a variety of interesting topics related to academic vocabulary.


During the first keynote presentation of the day, we heard from Sarah Parcak, a National Geographic Fellow & Emerging Explorer. Parcak is an Egyptologist/archaeologist who specializes in using satellite pictures and infrared images to find new archaeological excavation sites. Not only has she uncovered countless hidden towns and burial sites from ancient civilizations, but she has also brought awareness to the alarming increase in illegal looting of excavation sites by comparing maps of these areas over time. Sites that have been looted can be identified by a decrease in size and by a large number of looters’ holes dug into the surrounding landscape. Parcak held the audience captive with her interesting anecdotes and eye-catching photos. If you missed out on this year’s Symposium, don’t fret–This speaker’s work will be featured in upcoming issues of National Geographic!

In the afternoon, a number of concurrent sessions were available for attendees. Participants selected from presentations such as “Identifying and Teaching Multiword Vocabulary Units,” “Vocabulary Dialogue Quizzes,” “Pronouncing Academic Vocabulary: A System that Works,” and “Pushing Students Beyond Translation.” Last year, the Symposium’s presenters were all from Michigan; whereas this year, presenters also came from a few different states in the Great Lakes region. It was a great networking and idea-sharing opportunity for all involved, presenters and attendees.

The final keynote speaker was Pamela Hartmann, of National Geographic Learning, who has extensive experience in ESL/EFL/ELT teaching and materials development. Hartmann discussed the importance of teaching our students learning strategies in addition to the language that we teach them. She pointed out that we can do so practically, without eating up too much of our valuable class time (or our even more cherished free time).

Many handouts, PowerPoints, and videos from the 2014 Symposium are provided on the event’s website: for your perusal. I strongly recommend that you attend next year if you are able (even if it is just for the free, delicious food which is so generously included in the event’s free registration).


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Interview with Dr. Dan Fleck

Ruqiyo Musa

The MA in TESOL program at Ohio Dominican University recently recruited Dan Fleck, a distinguished member of the TESOL community in Ohio, as an adjunct professor.

Dan Fleck

We would like to know a little about your background: Are you an Ohio native? Where did you go to school?

Yes, I am an Ohio native. My hometown is Tiffin. I did my undergraduate studies at St. Meinrad College of Liberal Arts in Indiana, where I got my B.A. in Philosophy.

How did you get involved in TESOL?

After I completed my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to teach English part-time in a school run by Benedictine monks in Huaraz, Peru, a small town in the Andes. After doing this for about a year, I went to Lima, Peru where I found a full-time job as an EFL teacher in an institute called Brown’s Academy of Languages and Commerce, which focused on teaching English to adults and providing bilingual secretarial classes. I really enjoyed teaching at Brown’s Academy, and I stayed there for ten years both as a teacher and as director of one of the academy branches.

In 1978, my wife, three children and I came to Ohio, and I got a job teaching in an adult education program for settled-out migrant farm workers in Defiance. The goal of the program was to provide ESL and basic education classes to help participants prepare to take the GED, and also to provide the participants with job readiness skills. I taught in this program for four years. By this time, because I enjoyed teaching ESL so much, and because of my practical experience, I knew that this was the field in which I wanted to be involved on a long-term basis. Also, I knew that I would need to get more formal training if I wanted to continue in this profession. So, in 1982 I applied for a fellowship offered by The Ohio State University in a graduate program focusing on ESL, bilingual and multicultural education. Fortunately, I was accepted in the program. I enjoyed and benefited from the courses so much that I decided to continue in the Ph.D. program at OSU after getting my M.A.

Then, in 1986, I had the opportunity to be hired at the Ohio Department of Education as a consultant in the Lau Resource Center, where I worked until my retirement this past January. As a consultant at ODE, I provided technical assistance, training and resources to teachers who teach English Language Learners in PreK-12 schools in Ohio. Also, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as adjunct professor at ODU, The University of Findlay and OSU, where I’ve taught a variety of graduate-level courses relating to ESL, bilingual and multicultural education. I’m really glad (and fortunate) to have had the opportunity to work many years in this great profession.

What values or theories of education inform your teaching?

In general, I “buy into” the constructivist theory of education (Jean Piaget John Dewey, Maria Montessori.) Based on this theory, learners actively engage in constructing new knowledge by taking part in authentic learning activities in meaningful contexts. In the constructivist view, learning is a collaborative process and involves social negotiation with fellow learners. The teacher is considered a guide and mentor rather than the sole source of information. Consequently, the teacher’s role is to provide opportunities for learners to take part in real-life problem solving activities that allow for reflection on prior experiences and exploration of new ideas. Cooperative learning and task-based learning coincide with the constructivist theory of education.

What can ODU TESOL students expect from you as a teacher?

In my classes, I try to model and demonstrate what I consider to be important principles of education. For example, I believe that the students and teacher should have a shared understanding of the learning objectives for each class session. Also, I believe that it is helpful for students to have a preview of the learning activities planned to help achieve the objectives. For that reason, at the beginning of each class I provide an agenda which lists the content objectives and planned activities for the day. I do my best to make sure that students clearly understand expectations regarding assignments and grading criteria. Since I believe that the teacher is not the only source of information to help students construct new knowledge, I provide a variety of resources during my classes including videos, samples of educational materials and assessments, samples of ELL students’ work, and web-based resources. I provide opportunities for students to participate in small-group activities during which they can share prior experiences and information, and then cooperatively construct new knowledge and ideas. During my classes I encourage questions and comments, and I give value to students’ contributions to the learning process.

Do you have any advice for new teachers in this field?

Establish and maintain connections with fellow professionals in the field. I see that TESOL program participants at ODU already have made a good start on this practice by establishing the TESOL Graduate Student Organization at ODU, and by sharing ideas, information and resources via The TESOL Compass, an ODU student online publication. In addition, ODU students attend and present at conferences such as the Ohio TESOL Conference. So, I would say to be sure to continue these kinds of professional connections after graduating from ODU.

Do you have a favorite place in Columbus?

My wife and I like to spend time at a local Barnes and Noble’s store at least a couple times a month, where we look over newly published books (that we might like to read later on) while enjoying a cup of coffee and a snack.

What is one quirky aspect of your personality?

I like to kid with my children and grandchildren while pretending to be serious (kind of a dry humor). But my children say that they can always tell when I am kidding because of the way my chin looks when I’m talking. They call it Dad’s “round chinning.”


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More from TESOL International 2014 in Portland!

Amy Faeth, Gwendolyn DeRosa, and Stephanie Wilker

Portland Convention Center

Portland Convention Center

The TESOL International Conference radiates with energy and innovative ideas.  One of the main difficulties is deciding which sessions to attend.  We want to share a just a few sessions that we have attended.  Hopefully, you will find something that will peak your curiosity and inspire you to read about some of these fascinating topics.

Flipped Classrooms are a hot topic in the TESOL Community. Flipping the classroom means switching what normally happens in the classroom and what normally happens at home.  For example, teachers are making videos of their lectures and having students watch the lectures as homework.  Ideally, when the students come to the classroom, they can spend the class time doing activities, group work, and having discussions.  One of the main objections to flipping the classroom is it is difficult  to motivate students to watch the lectures at home.  Check out the information at .

The Dragon Boat sculpture

The Dragon Boat sculpture

Scaffolding reading is an important topic in community colleges and intensive English language programs.  One of the sources discussed in a session was using authentic reading materials found on .  Students worked in groups to build background knowledge, interact with the text, and present ideas.  All students participated.  After the classwork, students posted comments on the blog, which further drew the students into an authentic communicative situation.

Discussing religion and politics in the classroom is usually taboo according to common sense.  Christian Chun argued that maybe we need to challenge our common sense notions of what topics should be discussed in the classroom.  He gave a compelling argument based on library research and classroom observations.  Stay tuned for an upcoming book about his research.

floral sculptures

floral sculptures

Using poetry in the classroom is a popular and attractive idea.  That’s what I learned when I attended a session on the topic and I expected to be one of a few attendees.  Despite numerous concurrent sessions to choose from, the room was packed.  Educators were very interested in how to use poetry to teach pronunciation, vocabulary, diction, reading skills, etc.  Comments after the session were regarding how to incorporate writing poetry into the English to Speakers of Other Languages classroom.  For more information, please send an inquiry to .

Critical Incident Exercises are story scenarios about cultural interactions and interpretations.  Using these exercises can enable students to think beyond the scope of their cultural experiences and imagine what other people are thinking.  In addition to building conversation skills, these exercises prepare our students to succeed in a global community.  Check out Don Snow’s “Encounters with Westerners” which is currently being updated and will be released soon.

Waiting for the Max rail line.

Waiting for the Max rail line.

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages is an extremely diverse field. In addition to session addressing concerns in Intensive English Programs and teaching adults in the Higher Education setting, there were many sessions for professionals in the K-12 sector. The Common Core State Standards are another hot topic at TESOL International. Many sessions addressed how to create standards-based lessons and make content accessible to English Language Learners.

I attended a session entitled “Standards Based Reading and Writing for Long-term ELLs.” This session provided great ways to scaffold instruction and make content accessible for long term ELL students. In the session, they introduced a “new” term to replace long-term ELL- emergent bilinguals (EBL). Stay tuned for more information on this session in a later post!

Another area of interest at TESOL International is sociolinguistics and sociocultural issues. When teaching students about culture, it is important to avoid generalizing and perpetuating stereotypes.  This can be more difficult than you think.  ESOL instructors need to pay attention to how textbooks and other materials perpetuate these stereotypes and adapt the materials.

Other Resources:

The Human Library

Teachers and Writers Collaborative

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Live from TESOL International in Portland!

Amy Faeth, Gwendolyn DeRosa, and Stephanie Wilker

Hello, Fellow TESOLers!


Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

Representatives of ODU’s MA in TESOL program are in Portland, Oregon this week, attending the annual TESOL International Conference.  TESOLers from every continent are in attendance and the result is a kaleidoscope of accents, fashion, color, and personality.  The Conference was kicked off with a stirring speech by Dr. Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand.

Here are a few photos to highlight the first two days of our Portland adventure.


Portland Convention Center

Portland Convention Center



2014-03-25 16.02.17

Despite the persistent rainy weather, we are still enjoying the unique atmosphere of the city.

Amy and Steph

More about the sessions and speakers coming soon!




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Serving Adult Students with Disabilities in the ESOL Classroom

Stephanie Wilker

Learning a second language (or seventh, like some of our students) is undeniably a challenging task. Can you imagine having to learn another language without being able to hear your teacher’s voice, see your textbook, or even find a seat in the classroom that you can easily access? Adult ESL students with physical disabilities in “mainstream” schools/programs often encounter a lack of resources that can effectively meet their educational needs.

Before I write any more, I need to make a confession. I don’t feel like I should be writing this article. Who am I to think that I can inform others about this topic when I barely know anything about it myself? I won’t lie–I changed the name of the article three times after spending more time than I’d like to admit perusing the internet for the most acceptable terminology to use for discussing disabilities. I was a little embarrassed that I had to do a google search; but I’m glad that I did, because I learned some things that I can share with others and put to use in my own teaching. What I should be embarrassed about is that I didn’t seek this information sooner! Here are some of the main take-away points from my quick research:

  •  “Disability” and “handicap” have different meanings.
  • “Disabled” is generally preferred over such terms as “differently abled” and “handicapped.”
  • Use people-first language, i.e., “people with disabilities” instead of “disabled people,” or “the man who is deaf” instead of “the deaf man.” This emphasizes that people are not defined by their disabilities.
  • Similarly, do not lump all people with the same type of disability into one category beginning with the word “the” (like “the blind” or “the deaf”).

I found the three following webpages to be particularly helpful in my quest for inoffensive terminology. Considering that two of them were written by people with disabilities and the other one belongs to a university, I’m assuming they’re pretty reliable sources. (Yes, assuming…)




Diversity Services is a great resource at your university. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wilker

Diversity Services is a great resource at your university. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wilker

Now that my cover has been blown, let’s get back to talking about adult English language learners with physical limitations. If you are a teacher, it’s extremely likely that you’ll encounter a student with a disability sooner or later, if you have not yet. According to the United Nations, about 10% of the world’s population has a disability. If you are working with refugee students, the percentage will be even higher, because developing countries have much larger proportions of persons with disabilities. Also, there is always the chance that people from war-torn areas have suffered a debilitating injury before coming to the U.S, leaving them deaf, blind, or otherwise physically limited. For more facts from the U.N. about disabilities, please see

My own experiences teaching students with disabilities have been few–four to be exact (that I know of). I have had the pleasure of teaching a student who was blind, one who was deaf, one who was partially deaf, and another who walked with a cane. These experiences varied greatly, and they were also unexpected, which meant that I was unprepared and unsure of how to best serve each student. No one else really seemed to know either, so I just looked up my own resources and tried to think about how I could help those students succeed in the classroom. Sometimes I look back and am frustrated that I didn’t do more for those students, but I think I did the best I could have at the time. Over time, I’ll gain more experience and knowledge, and will be able to handle similar situations better in the future. Being a teacher is an ongoing learning experience. Here are some things I have learned so far from mine:

  • For students who are blind, speak slowly and clearly, which you should be doing for your ESL students anyway! Include the student as much as possible in listening and speaking activities to be sure that he/she understands the material.
  • For students who are deaf, it is especially imperative that you speak slowly and clearly. This helps the student read your lips more easily. Also, if there are American Sign Language interpreters present, this will help them follow what you’re saying without too much confusion or skipping over anything important.
  • This is an obvious one, but sometimes gets overlooked. TALK TO THE STUDENT (about what you can do to help)! He or she is probably the best judge of what accommodations are helpful or necessary.
  • See what resources/accommodations are available through your school or organization. Many schools have a special office to serve students with disabilities. Possible accommodations include large-print materials, recording devices (maybe even ones that can transcribe text), and extra time to take tests.
  • Include disability-friendly language in your syllabus to help make all students feel welcome in your class.
  • Treat the student as you would any other student during class. If you do not spend time focusing on the student’s disability, hopefully your other students will be respectful and follow your example. Also, do not treat the student like a child!

This article only covers a small amount of information, but doesn’t go into much detail. If you are working with people with disabilities, you’ll need to do more of your own research based on your students’ specific needs. Here are some links to get you started:

❏     Tip Sheet from Mobility International USA:

❏     Ideas from UC Berkeley Disabled Students’ Program:

❏     Swearer Center: (This links you to blind resources, but you can scroll up to find the center’s deaf resources.)

American Foundation for the Blind:

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