Project Second Chance Tutors

Who are PSC Tutors?

PSC tutors are 21 years of age or older and are comfortable with their reading, writing and spelling skills. No degrees or diplomas are necessary, and there are no tests required. Good tutors are empathetic, patient, able to give clear directions, and willing to learn new skills themselves.

Tutors work with PSC students in communities served by the Contra Costa County Library, with special materials collections and computer learning labs in our Pleasant Hill and Antioch PSC offices.

In addition to working one-on-one, tutors and students can participate in small group classes, practice their skills in the Computer Learning Center, and attend Families for Literacy (FFL) events with any pre-school children.

Become a Tutor

Thank you for your interest in becoming a literacy tutor!

Tutor training is offered three times a year at the PSC office in Pleasant Hill. Each training series consists of one Wednesday evening and the following two Saturdays. Training typically starts in late January, late April, and late September. Next training session dates will be posted below.

Registration for training opens 6 weeks prior to the first night of training, and early registrations will not be accepted. We want this to be a satisfying volunteer experience for you, so please review the background information and expectations in the Tutor Application Form. Then if you decide this is something you'd enjoy AND you can commit the time that is needed to help an adult learn to read, write and spell better, we invite you to submit the Tutor Application Form when registration opens. Thank you!

Next Training Session:            See all programs and events

Tutor F.A.Q.'s

  • Are all 3 training days necessary to become a PSC tutor?

    Yes. You will not be matched with a student until you have completed all three sessions.
     
  • I have teaching experience. Do I still need to take the training?

    Yes. We train you to work specifically with adults in the area of reading, writing and spelling. You may have worked with children, which is very different from working with adults. You may have taught other subject areas, but have little experience teaching reading, particularly beginning reading. You will be introduced to the adult materials and programs we have available, as well as to our philosophies and procedures. Also, it is during the training that we have a chance to get to know you. This is important when we match you with a student.
     
  • How long is the training and what will it cover?

    It is a 14-hour training: a two-hour session on a weeknight and 6 hours on each of the following two Saturdays. The training includes information about the students and their goals, about learning styles and learning disabilities, about instructional strategies, decoding skills, comprehension, writing, spelling, adult materials, and program procedures. You will also meet students and tutors who are currently in the program.
     
  • My financial means are limited or I choose to not make the $15 donation for the training. Is that a problem?

    No. The greatest donation you can give is your time and interest. As a non-profit group, our funds are limited and the $15 donations help to cover our refreshments and the training binder you will receive.
     
  • I can't work with a student immediately after completing training. Should I take the training anyway?

    If you are available to be matched with a student within three weeks after the completion of a training, go ahead and register. Otherwise it is often best to wait and take a training offered at a later date. If you are still not sure, call and talk to a staff member about your individual situation.
     
  • I take vacations or travel every few months. Can I still be a tutor?

    Yes. Vacations are accommodated and even encouraged. Everyone needs a break occasionally. And you are a volunteer, after all. If you will be gone frequently or for long periods of time, it's best to speak with staff about your individual situation.
     
  • I have someone in mind, a family member or friend, whom I'd like to tutor. Will this training prepare me to do that?

    Yes, you can attend the training and work with someone you know, if they are over 16 and not enrolled in high school. The person you plan to tutor will need to call the closest office (Pleasant Hill or Antioch) to schedule an appointment to come in for an interview. We need do a brief evaluation to help the two of you choose materials and provide assistance during your tutoring.
     
  • I have a family member, friend, co-worker or client, whom I suspect struggles to read. How do I bring the subject up or approach the topic?

    That's a tough one. It depends on how close you are to that person and the relationship you have. Sometimes a direct question might work in a very close relationship. Some tutors have reported that someone they know has confided they struggle to read, after finding out that the tutor volunteers with our program. Other times the struggle becomes apparent during an activity that requires reading or writing, and this might be an opportunity for discussion. In any event, a discussion will only occur in a climate of trust, compassion and understanding.
     
  • I'd like to help, but don't think I can make the commitment to tutoring. Is there any other way of being involved?

    Perhaps you could invite us to speak at your worksite, church or community group, or post a flyer to recruit tutors and students. We are a 501 (c) (3) non-profit group and welcome donations of any size. We also have a nonprofit board, PSC, Inc. whose members work to publicize and fund our work. If you would like to consider joining the Board go to the PSC, Inc. link on our home page for more information.
     
  • What are the requirements to be a student in your program?

    Our students must be over 16 years of age, not currently enrolled in school (K-12), generally read or write below a 6th grade level, and speak English. They must be able to converse with a tutor in English without a translator if English is not their native language. Our students need to be able to make progress using our methods and materials.
     
  • How do students enroll in Project Second Chance?

    Students call the PSC office closest to them, either Pleasant Hill (925-927-3250) or Antioch (925-754-8317), and schedule an appointment with the Tutor/student Coordinator at that site. The student must make the call; no one else can schedule the appointment.
     
  • What's the student interview like?

    A staff member talks with the potential student. We discuss their educational history, their needs and goals, and the time they have available for tutoring. We ask the student to read and write a little bit so we can assess their current skills. We informally assess their phonemic awareness skills (ability to manipulate the sounds in words) and general ability to learn. We do no formal, standardized testing. We make the environment as comfortable as possible for the student. If the evaluator feels that there are special needs or learning obstacles that are beyond the ability of a volunteer tutor, the student will be referred to a more appropriate setting.

Tutor Tips

  • Are You Still Assigning Homework?

    Doug and his tutor Sarah have agreed that Doug will no longer do homework. Instead, he will practice his new skills every day doing the activities that he used to think of as homework. But it's not homework anymore. It's exercise. As you think about this, you'll see that they've done more than switch some words.

    When you had homework in school, didn't it always have a due date? Your job was to complete the assignment by that date. If it was due in two weeks, you could do nothing for thirteen days, work furiously for one day, and with a little luck, you met the deadline. Of course when most of us were in school we had classes in each subject five times a week and perhaps homework assignments four nights a week. So we were in fact getting a steady dose of the subject matter.

    But what if you only meet twice a week? Doug and Sarah realized that Doug had been thinking about his Project Second Chance assignments as homework. As long as he finished his workbook pages before he met with Sarah, he had kept up his part of the bargain. But sometimes he was doing those pages thirty minutes before the lesson.

    One day as they talked about it they realized that Doug would make more progress if he thought of his workbook pages as practice or exercise. No one would expect to lose weight or lower their blood pressure by fasting on the morning of the doctor's appointment, or by having a single marathon exercise session right before they met with the personal trainer. Instead, the muscles need to be worked every day so that fat gets burned off. The cardiovascular system needs to be exercised every day so that the whole system gets strong and stays strong. In the same way, reading skills improve much faster with regular exercise and practice than with occasional cram sessions.

    We talk a lot at Project Second Chance about studying smarter instead of harder or longer. This is one more example of that kind of thinking. Thank you to Doug and Sarah for sharing this idea!
  • Will he still need me . . . ?

    One way to help your student practice spelling long words is presented in the Wilson Instructor's Manual (p. 61). Prepare cards ahead of time, writing each syllable of each word on a single card. During the lesson, put the syllable cards for one word face down in order in front of your student. Now tell him the word he must spell. He must point to the first blank card and say which letters are in that syllable as he visualizes them. He checks himself by turning over the card; then he writes that syllable. He repeats this for each syllable until he has spelled the word.

    A tutor who did this during her lesson emailed PSC afterwards, “I tried to keep a poker face while he was spelling, as his happiness was greater when seeing the overturned card than when just I approved.”

    Why was seeing the cards more satisfying than having a tutor tell him he was right? Was it because the confirmation came in meaningful chunks– this syllable, and then this one, and then this one? Maybe he enjoyed the independence of checking his own work. Maybe he would rather please himself than please his tutor. If so, did he arrive at PSC with that orientation, or has he grown into it?

    Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is for your student not to need you! Of course, the skills that you're teaching lesson after lesson are tools she can use. Other tools are more subtle. They have to do with helping your student see herself in a new way. Point out that she can figure out this word if she remembers this rule. Remind her that five sentences were perfect and only one needs some correction. If she is an ESL student, point out that six months ago the two of you had a hard time communicating and now you almost always understand each other.

    Every time you praise your student for something done well, every time you congratulate her on remembering something from a previous lesson, every time you look back at her portfolio to celebrate successes, you may undo a bit of hesitancy or fear.

    And when your student can get along without you, call PSC and ask about our wait list!
  • NOT FOR ESL ONLY

    For several years, PSC has subscribed to Hands On English (HOE), a magazine that supports teachers of English as a Second Language. It has two regular features that work well for many PSC students, even if English is not their second language.

    There is a controlled dictation in each edition. You and your student work first with the printed text, finding out if there are any words or ideas that need explanation. Then, there is a form with a few of the words omitted -- a “cloze” exercise for those of you who recognize that term. As you read the full paragraph, the student has to fill in the missing words. The next form omits different words, and more of them. So again, as you dictate the full paragraph, the student is filling in blanks. Eventually, the student must write the entire paragraph from dictation -- but she has been prepared to do a good job by the easier versions she has already worked with.

    There are also crossword puzzles in each edition. Four features make HOE crossword puzzles really effective in language, vocabulary and spelling instruction. First, each crossword is teaching language related to a particular kind of information: banking, or driving, or medicine. Second, the words are listed with the puzzle itself. Studying the list to find a five-letter word with an “E” in the second place could certainly help a student focus on the particular letters and arrangement of letters in the target word. Third, the clues are given not as definitions but as sentences with blanks to be filled in. These fill-in-the-blank clues seem to make more sense to most of our students than do definitions or synonyms. And reading the words in normal usage patterns helps a student know how to use this vocabulary. Finally, the crosswords for each issue are at two levels -- easier and harder. You can use them sequentially with the same student, or choose the one that will work best for your student.

    If you'd like to try out these HOE dictations and puzzles, call the Pleasant Hill office at 925-927-3250.

    If you choose to make your own crossword puzzles with words your student is working on, you might try listing the words AND creating sentences instead of definitions. Wilson tutors, you might create crosswords (or any teaching aids) to practice words from a particular Wilson substep. All tutors, if you create practice exercises that works well for your student, please consider sending them to the office to be shared with other PSC tutors.
  • Share Your Thoughts

    Many poor readers don't know that good reading is a very active process. They think that if the words have been decoded, or pronounced, reading has happened.

    You can show your student some of what is going on in your mind by if you share your thinking. Try reading a story to your student, with your thinking spoken out loud. When you pause from the reading, comment on what you've just read AND what you expect to read next. You might point to the text while you read, and to your head while you're “thinking out loud.”

    Here is an example, based on a story in Challenger 2. The story is printed in plain text; the thinking is printed in italics:

    GOLD

    { This could be about jewelry or money. Or mining. It could take place in South Africa.}

    In January, 1848, gold was found in California .

    { Oh, California Gold. I know the 49-er's team was named for the miners who came West the next year.}

    The gold was found on land owned by John A. Sutter .

    { I remember going with my son's 4 th grade class to Sutter's Fort in Sacramento.}

    He tried very hard to keep the good news hushed up ,

    { Gee, hushing it up – that's like doing insider trading before the public knows!}

    but by May miners were streaming in.

    { January to May in 1848 – travel was hard in those days. I wonder how the word spread. By ship? Overland? It sure wasn't on the Web!}

    A few men found between 300 and 500 dollars worth of gold dust a day.

    { I wonder how much that would be worth today?}

    However, most of the miners panned one ounce of gold dust each day, which was worth about twenty dollars.

    { I wonder how many days they panned no gold dust at all?}

    # # #

    You can see that we've done as much “thinking” as “reading” – and the thinking is what makes the reading meaningful and memorable. And notice that we began by reading the title – instead of skipping it – and that we reacted to it.

    Try doing this with your student for a few minutes during each lesson. Gradually, have her try to imitate you by keeping up her own running commentary. Hopefully, she'll understand better and remember longer!

    Based on “I Think That . . . ,” LitStart , 2nd Edition, revised, p. 49
  • Monthly Calendars

    Please don't forget to turn in your monthly calendars. They are important for a variety of reasons. Not only are they relevant for funding, but they are also a record of what you have done together in the event the student is matched with another tutor in the future. Also, the staff knows you are still working together, especially if we don't see you in the PSC office on a regular basis. And most importantly, they can be useful to you in your tutoring!

    Tutor Tip : You and your student can fill out the monthly calendar together. Does your student need practice in filling out forms? Are there attendance issues that need addressing? Doing the monthly calendar together helps you see how successful you have been (or not) in attending regularly, how attendance is impacting progress, and what you have accomplished for the month. Involving students in goal setting and monitoring their progress helps improve motivation, allows them to take responsibility for their own learning, and moves them toward being independent students.

    Note : The Monthly Calendar is now also available electronically on the PSC website. It`s located under PSC Tutors/Useful Links/Tutor Aids. Open the Monthly Tutor Calendar and fill out, save and/or print.
  • Moving Ahead From What We Know

    There is a general principle in teaching that instruction should move from the known to the unknown. Sometimes that seems like a no-brainer. Sometimes we take a second look at our teaching and realize that we could have made much better use of what our students already knew before we tried to teach something new.

    Marilyn Mills commented on this in her work with her football-loving student. She gave the example of teaching the “soft sound” of C (/s/) after months of drilling its more common “hard sound” (/k/). She said her student would have shut down if she had simply taught the rule: C says /s/ when it is followed by E, I or Y. Instead, she read some football phrases to him and let him see that he was already familiar with words in which C said /s/.

    Two football stories from The Contra Costa Times had these “soft C” words:

    Bru(ce)Allen
    San Fran(ci)sco
    Jerry Ri(ce)
    re(ce)ption
    offi(ci)al
    practi(ce)
    agen(cy)
    experien(ce)
    conferen(ce)

    After working with words like these, Marilyn's student was open to learning about the alternate sound of C. It didn't feel like such a new idea.

    Good luck finding the example words that you need from your student's hobbies and interests! You will probably find “known” words that will help you teach “unknown” words.
  • Focus on Spelling Goals

    This Tutor Tip focuses on spelling goals – by helping you to focus when you teach spelling. Students won't ever learn how to spell everything. Neither will their tutors! So it's good to think about what words are important and why.

    First, there are the words that are so common that we simply need to have them at hand, instantly. We can't stop to figure out THE and DOES and WAS and YOU. Because these words are so common, it would take too long to have to look them up every time we needed them. See the Word Pyramid in your Tutor Manual, or ask in either office for a list of common sight words. Surprisingly, these small, common words are often harder for our students than the longer words.

    When you practice long words, practice them in chunks. Spelling syllable by syllable is much more useful than trying to remember a sequence of seemingly unrelated letters.

    Don't let spelling interfere with the writing process. Write to be understood, using “temporary” spelling to be corrected later.

    A thesaurus is easier than a dictionary for some students, because it gives simpler definitions. Or use a simple dictionary, such as Longman's ESL Dictionary. [It is available both in the Antioch office and in the Pleasant Hill office.]

    Study compound words, word patterns, prefixes and suffixes. Lit Start has some great word study ideas.

    Keep a “cheat sheet” of words needed on the job or for specific tasks. The cheat sheet for the gardener will have very different words than the cheat sheet for the car repairman – and neither list will look like that for the day care worker or the Little League Coach.

    You may also want a cheat sheet with commonly confused words. One student wrote “gold,” when thinking of “goal.” She needs to sort those two words out – and probably many other pairs like them – so she can use them effectively. Your student may want to buy a “Quick Word” list from either office. They cost $1.25 – and serve as a longer cheat sheet – or a shorter dictionary!

    Thanks to the Marin Literacy Program for some of these ideas!
  • A Tale of Two Tutors...

    Two of our tutors reported quite different things in their tutor calendars one month. Both of these tutors are using the Wilson Reading System, but their comments are of interest to all our tutors – no matter what textbooks are being used.

    The first tutor wrote, “We continued to work slowly this month, and the strategy is really paying off for my student. We decided to keep working on Step 2.2 until reading a word with blends wasn't a guessing game. This time was necessary for him to build confidence and familiarity with blending sounds. The past few lessons have truly shown the strides he has made . . . as he is reading much more smoothly. We eased into Step 2.3. . . . This seems to be working well.”

    The second tutor wrote, “I'm concerned that we're going too fast since the Instructor Manual suggests that it might take three months to go through a book.” That student came to PSC as quite a capable reader who only wanted to learn to spell.

    Both of these tutors are giving their students exactly what they need. That's the joy of one-on-one tutoring. Whether your student needs to learn how to find the main idea in a news story, to record a phone message at work, to read the note from her child's school teacher, or to write checks, you can focus on that specific need. As you fill out your Goals Met form with your student, you will get a glimpse into the many different kinds of things our students are going forward with. We are a very diverse program!

    Tutors, the time you spend tailoring each lesson to the needs of your particular student is a truly wonderful gift.
  • Monster Sentences

    Joan Flaherty shared a great idea for working with long sentences. She and her student were reading a James Herriot book, and the sentences were often very long with many qualifying phrases and clauses. Since they were hard for her student to follow, Joan decided that she and her student would try making up their own long sentences. They call them Monster Sentences.

    Want to try it? Begin with a short sentence. We’ll use, “The woman was waiting for the bus.”

    Now we’ll add something to tell which woman was waiting. “The woman with the long red hair was waiting for the bus.” (But it could have been “The old woman ” or “The tall woman with the guitar.”)

    Which bus was she waiting for? “The woman with the long red hair was waiting for the express bus to DVC.”

    When was she waiting? “Last Sunday the woman with the long red hair was waiting for the express bus to DVC.”

    Had she waited for long? “Last Sunday the woman with the long red hair was waiting for the express bus to DVC for over an hour.”

    Why did she have to wait so long? “Last Sunday the woman with the long red hair was waiting for the express bus to DVC for over an hour before she realized the buses don’t run on Sundays.”

    After making up Monster Sentences during several lessons, the student found it easier to read the James Herriot book with natural phrasing – because she recognized the structures that held the sentences together. Try it! It’s fun! Thanks, Joan!
  • Sharing Ideas

    These ideas are all from PSC tutors. Most of them were shared in monthly calendars.
     
    1. Do you spend time chatting with your student before the lesson starts? Try writing your greetings and your questions and answers on a white board. It makes good teaching use of those first minutes of lesson time. The writing is non-threatening, since all mistakes get erased right away! Vincent Wong
    2. Is your student reading independently? Does she have trouble focusing, either in speech or in writing? For each chapter she reads, have her write two main ideas – or three at most – on a single index card. The index cards should allow you to follow the progress of the story without reading the book. Nancy Hugman
    3. Have your student bring in the lyrics to a favorite song. Help him read them. Put any hard, new, or interesting words in his notebook. He’ll remember them better because of the association with the song! Shayna Olesiuk
    4. When you’re working with a language experience story (or any other text), try looking for words that fit in certain categories. You might look for compound words (fullback, floodlight, cupcake); for words with a silent E (like, cupcake, hopeless); for words with an ING (things, driving, running); for words with a suffix (driving, running, hopeless). Notice that several words will be listed under more than one category. Each time we identify one more thing about a word, we get one more “handle” on it to help us remember it. Donna McCarter
    5. After your student decodes a word, have him use it in a sentence. He may be confusing it with another word (PLANT /PLANET). Not being able to hear the difference between two words that sound almost alike is at the root of many language problems. Nancy Hugman
  • Using Questions to Focus on Text

    A tutor reported a conversation she had had with her student. It was something like this. “I asked Bob to read the paragraph and he read it out loud just fine. Then I asked him to explain it to me. He was a little annoyed, because in his mind I had changed the task – kind of like ‘Bait And Switch’ at a used car lot. ‘You asked me to read it,’ he said, “not to understand it!’ ” For him, the two activities were quite separate.

    If your student has trouble understanding and remembering what he has read, teach him to ask (and answer) questions while he reads.
    Try this activity. List the basic six questions:
    1. Who?  2. What?  3. When?   4. Where?   5. Why?   6. How?

    After you read a paragraph or two, take turns rolling a die, and see if you can ask whatever type of question came up. If the tutor rolls a 1, she asks the student a “who” question. If the student rolls a 5, he asks the tutor a “why” question.

    If you can’t ask a Who? question – maybe there are no people in the story at all – just roll the die again. The idea isn’t to be rigid about which questions will be asked. The idea is to have a fun way to pay attention to, and make sense of, and interact with, the text.

    By the way, looking back in the text to find the answers is fine. That’s what good readers do all the time to find information. You can model that process for your student.

    Asking good questions often requires greater understanding than answering them. Good readers ask and answer questions almost unconsciously. Poor readers don’t, and it’s important for them to learn this skill. Asking the questions consciously and out loud should help students internalize the process. We hope they will come to understand that when they read, they are getting information – answers to questions. Comprehending isn’t a separate skill that should remain isolated from “regular” reading.
  • Encouraging Sharing and Writing

    Our students have unique, warm, wonderful, scary, heart-wrenching, fabulous stories to tell! They need your help to do it.

    When you talk with a student about a possible writing topic, the conversation may veer off in another direction. Suddenly you've found the perfect topic for your student, something she cares about, something unique to her. That's so exciting!

    As the student talks, she's brainstorming. She probably needs a tutor to point that out, validate the worth of her ideas, and encourage her to put them on paper before she forgets them. It's fine to switch gears mid-lesson and let the student take time to write her ideas. Take a break from the routine; spend time talking and writing.

    If the act of writing is too hard or too slow, do a Language Experience, with you writing down the student's exact words. Is spelling a stumbling block? Spell problem words as they come up. That way your student can keep on writing. If you see a pattern to his spelling questions, you have material for another lesson on another day. Hand-held "spell checks" come in handy for spelling help too.

    When your student's story, poem, essay, letter, or book report is ready for publication, please pick up a Release Form from the office. Turn in both the release form and the writing to either PSC office. We'll try to publish the story on the Web or in our next collection of student writings.

    Tutor-student teams are coming up with some wonderful, intriguing, heart-warming stories. All of us love reading them and are proud to share them.
  • Got Cards? Don't Spell HOME Without Them!

    Many tutors don't realize that when we spell, putting the letters down on paper is only one step in a process. Before we write, we figure out which letters we need, and what their correct sequence is. Forming the shapes of the letters with a pencil comes last.

    Of course, knowing that words are made up of sounds, and that particular letters are used to record particular sounds is some of the basic knowledge needed before we can begin to spell phonetically. Once that knowledge is in place, using cards with letters printed on them gives us a way to do the work of spelling one step at a time: choose the letters, sequence them correctly, check them, THEN write them.

    Kinesthetic students especially benefit from manipulating the letter cards. Making a choice, physically picking up this letter-card instead of that letter-card, makes spelling concrete and definite. Putting the cards down in the correct sequence helps students whose spatial sense is stronger than their spelling sense. These preliminary steps help students realize that they are in control of the words that they're spelling.*

    As tutor Jo Butler reported, "It seems to be less intimidating to Jerry to spell with the cards." Yup!

    You don't need to be a Wilson tutor to use Wilson sound cards. Try our new magnetic letters: they are so easy to handle! The magnetic letters can be used only at the PSC offices, but the paper cards can be checked out.

    *See Teaching Adults Who Learn Differently, pages 120-124, for more about how to use the cards. See Mel Levine's A Mind at a Time, p. 99, for more about why.
  • Making Sounds

    Some tutors report their students have difficulty making some of the sounds we use in English, especially if English is not their first language. There are 4 vowel sounds that we use which begin as one vowel and "slide" into another. Try this with your student if they have trouble making these sounds.

    To make long /i/ as in "ice," begin by saying the short /o/ sound and move smoothly to the /ee/ sound. Notice that your lips begin in an open position and end up in more of a smile.

    Try to make these sounds:

    To make a long /u/ sound as in "use," begin saying /ee/ and slide in to the /oo/, (as in moon) moving your lips from a smile to a round shape.

    To make the ou/ow sound as in "out," begin by saying short /o/ and slide smoothly into a /oo/ (as in "moon").

    To make the oi/oy sound as in "boy," begin with the /au/ sound (as in "auto") and slide into the /ee/ sound.

    You can use a mirror to see how the shape of your lips changes as you make these sounds.

    (from the L.I.P.S. program, formerly The A.D.D.program, by Charles and Patricia Lindamood)
  • What's in the Library?

    Have you and your student been to the library lately? Lots of PSC students feel strange in libraries. All those books mean "school" - and school wasn't fun. . . But there's so much there!

    Cooking? Old movies? Gardening? Fishing? Poetry? Quilting? Biographies? Lighthouses? Music? Find out what the basic call number is, then browse, in both adult and children's books.

    Informational videos are shelved with books about the same subject. Nova programs are with the science books; Ken Burns's videos on baseball are with the sports books . . .

    Is it time to watch Rear Window again? Dr. Zhivago? Raiders of the Lost Ark? Goldfinger? They're in the library!
  • ESL Support

    Hands-On English - PSC now subscribes to this periodical for teachers of English as a Second Language. If English is your student's second (or third?) language, you will probably find some good tips in Hands-On English.

    It is written primarily for classroom ESL teachers, but many of the ideas can be adapted for one-on-one instruction. Each issue gives different suggestions for beginning or advanced students. For example, there may be two crossword puzzles with the same theme, but one will have shorter words and easier clues while the second has longer words and harder clues.

    Teachers from all over the country submit ideas for publication. Reading each issue is like going into a faculty room to chat with enthusiastic teachers with years and years of varied experiences in the ESL field. Check it out!

    If English is not your student's native language, he or she can practice every day using hundreds of exercises online. Go in together the first time and select the ones that would be most useful. One good site is the ESL Journal. Quizzes at http://iteslj.org/quizzes/. Another site is at http://www.quia.com.
  • Writing Answers to Life's Questions

    Sometimes it is fun to respond to some of life's questions in writing. The questions below, taken from Gregory Stock's The Book of Questions should stimulate some great discussions, brainstorming and writing.
    1. If you could spend one year in perfect happiness but afterward would remember nothing of the experience, would you do so? If not, why not? Which is more important: actual experiences, or the memories that remain when the experiences are over?
    2. Do you think it is easier to be a man or a woman in our culture? Why?
    If your thoughts take you to other topics, explore them.

    If you get stuck, ask questions that start with "why?" or "what if?"

    You can check out The Book of Questions from the Project Second Chance office.

    Encourage your student to share his or her writing. One way is to send a copy of the writing with a signed release form to the Project Second Chance office. With the student's permission, the writing could be posted to the PSC Web site.
  • Writing Notes

    Recently, several PSC tutors have helped their students write "simple" thank you notes. This kind of task is often difficult for our students. Many of them want to be able to write a hostess note or to include a personal message on a greeting card.

    Tutor Mike Burke suggested his student use a brief formula for a thank you note:

    (Date)

    Dear___________, (Dad; Mary; Uncle Joe…)

    Thank you for the _______________________ (sweater; tickets to the ball game; money).
    I really liked it (them) because ___________________ (the color was great; the A’s won;: I’m broke). I was so pleased that you remembered me on ______________________ (my birthday; my graduation; Father’s Day).

    (Love, Sincerely,)

    Mike’s student had never realized that The Daunting Thank-You Note could be dealt with in such a direct manner.

    Another tutor just sat down with her student and said, "What is it you want to say to this person? Let’s say it!" That student has a great fear of Spelling errors. (Insert scary music here.)

    Tell students to write their ideas on extra paper, complete with spelling errors and other mistakes, and then go through an editing process before making a clean copy.

    A Writing Book: English in Everyday Life and Writing To Others, give patterns for thank-you notes, notes to the teacher, sympathy notes, and notes to complain about poor service. Your student could copy some patterns into his notebook as a reference for future notes.
  • Pacing your Lesson

    When we set our clocks forward in the spring, it seems like we give ourselves the gift of an hour of daylight in the evening. Of course, the day isn’t really longer, but it feels that way to some of us. You can give your student a wonderful gift by treating time a little bit differently.

    Many of our students were not the ones raising their hands in school to answer questions. They may have needed a little bit more than the average length of time to process both a question and its answer. When you allow that time, your lesson may seem to have more daylight.

    Most teachers wait less than a second for an answer to a question. What happens if you wait for three seconds? Five seconds? Longer? Maybe some of these things will happen:
    1. Your student will feel less rushed, and more confident, when he gives his answer.
    2. His answers will be more thoughtful – especially as he comes to expect the "extra" time.
    3. He will make comments that you didn’t expect – and they will help you to understand how he processes information.
    With a "wrong" answer, take time to explore why the answer was given. The results may surprise you. Maybe your student’s thinking is sound, but she’s operating with a wrong premise that you won’t discover if you simply shake your head "No." Maybe she’s just plain right from a different point of view.

    Even though you feel pressed to get in as much teaching as you can during your precious hour and a half, make a conscious effort to have each lesson be calm and comfortably paced.

    Ideas for this "Tip" came from newsletters from the Woodland Literacy Council and from the Second Start Adult Literacy Program in Oakland.
  • Coaching or Teaching

    Is "teaching" the same as "coaching?" If "teaching" is presenting and explaining new material, "coaching" is helping your student practice that new material until it is mastered. PSC tutors do both.

    An athletic coach drills his players to perfect skills that will be required in the game. A baseball catcher throws to second base over and over again during practices so that he can make the move competently during a game if the runner is trying to steal second. A batter practices bunting over and over again so that he will be able to advance a runner during a game.

    What skill does your student need to practice? Perhaps she needs to read more fluently. Here are some possible practice "drills." Model reading as you move your finger smoothly under the words. Try "Paired Reading" or "Duet Reading." Go back to easier material so your student reads without having to struggle with hard words. Read the same passage three times. Take turns reading; when it’s your turn, set an even, comfortable pace.

    Maybe your student needs to practice spelling homonyms. Help him create memory crutches to straighten out TO & TOO, THERE & THEIR, PANE & PAIN, GREAT & GRATE. Good! But don’t quit there! Go on to think of ways to practice with them. Create sentences together that include both of the paired words. Make up Concentration games with the paired words, and use each word in an appropriate sentence when you turn it up. Find the words in print in a newspaper and circle them with red ink. Do quick drills (1 minute each) three times during each lesson. Then do all that again in your next lesson, and the lesson after that.

    If you’re practicing words with TIVE and SIVE, or words with NG and NK, or words with Silent E, ask your tutor coordinator for lists of these words. Then use them to make up stories or dictation sentences or simply play beat the clock: can your student read the whole list in 1 minute today? 45 seconds next time?

    Whether it’s punctuation or spelling or decoding or contractions – practice, and more practice, and more practice, will make perfect!
  • Useful Links