Using YouTube in a Tutoring Session

I have some good news! The HLC has been awarded an American Dream Grant from the American Library Association and Dollar General Stores. With this grant we plan to purchase tablet computers to use for a series of citizenship classes and for use in our daily HLC tutoring sessions! We are very excited.

With that in mind, I thought I would take this opportunity to think about ways we can use the tablets in our tutoring sessions. They will come pre-loaded with some applications, and I am sure I will talk more about most of them in the future. What I would like to start out talking about is using YouTube in a tutoring session.

There are a variety of ways and reasons for using video in your lesson. The first is that adult learners appreciate and excel with visual learning materials. Video is an excellent, multi-sensory resource that can activate learning in the brain. Many of our students are almost certainly using YouTube to learn many things, so we can use our new tablets to augment those activities.

There are multiple features on the YouTube platform, and many ways to approach a learning situation with YouTube that I would like to discuss. Perhaps some of you have some favorite videos and approaches that you are already using. If so, tell us about them in the comments!


Closed Captioning
One good use of the videos is to have spoken words, and visual stimulus at the same time. Most ESL students may already know this, but YouTube has closed captioning for each video. In the YouTube App, which works slightly differently than on your computer, you select the menu in the top right corner (three vertical dots). There you will find the option to turn on the Closed Captioning.

One word of warning, the captions are computer generated most of the time, and they can contain various errors. Also, although literacy students can see words as they are being spoken, you’ll probably need to find a video that has words at their level. This can be a challenge.

Finally, you don’t need to use closed captioning all the time. After all, we want people to learn how to hear the words and know what they are, so try watching a video without the captioning, talk about what the learner understood and what they didn’t (ask them comprehension questions), then watch a final time or two with the captions on.

Speed control
Another feature of YouTube is that is has the ability to slow (or speed up) the video. Of course, this is very handy for language learners. The option to change the playback speed is located in the same menu in the top right of the video.

List save
One other option that you may find handy, especially if you look at videos beforehand, is to make a list. To do this, at the top of the video you will see an icon with three lines and a plus sign. Press on this, and you will see a line pop up saying “Saved to Favorites.” There will also be the word “Change” in that pop up. Press “Change” and you will get more options, including to make a new list instead of saving to your favorites. You will have a few options, like “Watch Later,” but you can go ahead and make a list called “Tutoring” if you want, and then save videos there.


Of course, there are myriad videos about ESL. They will range from lessons about grammar, speech, pronunciation, to going to the store. You can look at videos of language lessons if you want to, but these aren’t really a priority unless you are trying to answer a learner’s specific question about a grammar form, per se.

Pop culture or topic specific videos
Take a look at some of these from time to time to add spice to your tutoring sessions. These will be fun and entertaining for both the student and tutor. You can really watch any video you want so long as you have a technique for incorporating the video content or language input into your session. One of the best ways to do this is to have a pre-discussion session where you talk about some ideas or information you may get from the video based on its title, or an image from the video. You may want to discuss any vocabulary that is important to understanding the video. Then watch the video (numerous times, with closed captioning, slowed down if you want). Afterwards, discuss what you saw. Discuss what was learned from the video. Interpret the video. Just describe the video. You be the judge, based on the level of your learner.

Many learners love music. You can use YouTube to find all kinds of music videos, music games, and karaoke. One popular activity is to make a fill in the blank form for the song where you give the learner some of the words, but leave out keywords that you want them to listen for. Often times, you can find these pre-made on the internet.

Some final Advice
Try to watch videos in advance. You probably want to know what you’re facing before you get into it. Be especially aware of certain music videos, which may be a bit racy or have language you may not appreciate. You be the judge. And, all you have to do is practice the approach of talking before watching, watching, and talking after watching, and you have a lesson!

Year End Round Up

This past October marked the full one year anniversary of Eric’s time as the Literacy Coordinator for the Hillsborough Literacy Council and the Hillsborough County Public Library. We are also coming up on the anniversary of Laura’s start date as well in just over a week, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you a bit about what has happened in this past year, and share with you some of the statistics this year compared to last.

First of all, I am happy to say that we managed to organize and execute the typical four New Tutor Training Sessions in the past year. They were held in various locations around the county, and we even had banner attendance at one of them, 38 attendees! Laura was able to match most new tutors within a few weeks, as long as they were willing to tutor in a location with students currently available. Don’t forget, if you are a waiting tutor, you can always check the list of available students right here on our web page.


Secondly, we got to meet many of you through our Tutor Meet and Greets, which were held every two months at different locations around the county as well. We look forward to hosting more Meet and Greets in 2019, and we hope to meet more tutors to share ideas and concerns. This past year we got many great tips on how to improve communication, how to use the website, materials to offer, and much more. So please, don’t stay away! We love to hear from you and we think you will enjoy meeting other volunteers like you.

Speaking of tutors, do you know that we currently have 119 tutors? Perhaps there’s more of you out there than you think (or maybe less!). We certainly didn’t get a chance to see all of you at the Meet and Greets, but we also get to meet many of you at the trainings. If you have been around for a while, some of these new tutors would love to get to know you! So please, don’t hesitate to use any of the communication channels that we offer. Those are: our phone number, our email, our Facebook page, our Instagram account (search for Hillsborough Literacy Council), commenting on this blog by clicking the title of the article, and our texting service. There are a lot of ways to stay in touch and also many ways to share your wisdom.

By the way, if you haven’t liked our Facebook page or started following us on Instagram, please do so. By linking with us on social media, you help to build a network of connections that can help us reach more and more potential students and tutors. The HLC has had a Facebook account for some time now, but we have tried to increase our activity there, and, of course, the Instagram account is new this year.

We had a wonderful Student and Tutor Appreciation Assembly in September. We would love to see more of you attend because it is for you! We served a breakfast in the beautiful Italian club, and we were wonderfully entertained by our guest speaker, Mellissa Alonso Teston. As always, we gave out awards for students and tutors of the year, as well as the Sylvia Miller achievement award to Lark Underwood. Put it on your calendars for next year! September 21, 2019.


This year has also seen the come and go of a few board members. First of all, Laquinda Brewington and Aldina Dzebo moved on to their next projects, and we were fortunate to bring on Karla Guzman-Mims, Dr. Jenifer Schneider, and Brandi Meredith as new board members. They have been very influential and helpful this past year!

Finally, our stats show an overall increase in calls received this year by the Literacy Department from students, tutors, and the general public. We’re very happy to see that rise in traffic. Our numbers of students and tutors overall have held relatively steady in number, as was mentioned earlier, roughly 150 active students, and about 100 active tutors. However, our list of waiting ESL students has increased to over 100. We hope that in the coming months, we see that number fall.

This has been an active year for the Hillsborough Literacy Council! We are looking forward to another year on the horizon. It is only possible because of the great work by so many volunteers. So, Thank You! And we’ll see you again in 2019!

Finish Off the Year with a Language Learning Bang!

Summer is wrapping up for this year and we are rounding the corner of 2018, and already heading to 2019. The kids are back in school, and all of us at the HLC are preparing to ride the flow of time right through the Annual Student and Tutor Appreciation event, the busy month of October, the Holidays, and then bam! It’s the end of the year! So, you know what I recommend we all do for the next few months to destress and finish this year with a bang? I suggest we all learn a language on Mango Languages!

I’m trying German.

If you haven’t tried it, you really should. It’s free for any library-card holding resident of Hillsborough County. It’s a great way to charge up your mind. And if you teach ESOL, then don’t forget to tell your students to check out Mango as well. It has English as a Second Language courses offered in a variety of first-language options.

But, I’m not advertising for Mango. Trust me, I’m not getting any kick back! There are many great reasons why learning a second language is a great thing to do at any age. I’ll tell you about a few but first, let’s talk about something called, “The Critical Period Hypothesis.”

Most people know that children seem to learn languages much easier than adults. For some reason, the ability to learn a language with a minimum of effort turns off at a certain point, after which we really have to study hard just to awkwardly converse in a new language. This time in life before our abilities change is called the Critical Period. There is a lot of debate about it. It’s believed that perhaps something about puberty flips a language-learning switch, but not everyone really agrees about just what the phenomenon is. There does seem to be some evolutionary benefit to having a time in your youth when you learn the language of your people without any explicit instruction, then shut down to all other languages. Thought and language become so entwined, maybe it’s just best for the brain to close the valve of language learning once it has figured out the rules of your language. But, if a child is exposed to many languages in a reliable way before this happens, they’ll capture them as well, and I consider them to be very lucky indeed.

It’s interesting to think about because many people lament at the difficulty of learning a new language as an adult, thinking about how much easier it would be as a child. To this I say, don’t forget that a lot second language learners are adults. In other words, adults accomplish this feat all the time, and you can too! But hey! You don’t even have to worry about mastering a language. Just the act of learning what portion of a language you can will open up your mind in many pleasant ways.

Another aspect about the struggle we should keep in mind is that, of course, all of our learners are coping with the challenges of learning a language skill. The Critical Period Hypothesis relates to literacy as well. Learning to read is a lot harder as an adult. I think it does all of us who are interested in teaching literacy and languages a little good to experience what our students are going through. It can give us insights and common ground to both commiserate and inspire each other.

On a final note, there is a lot of research out there that seems to indicate that being bilingual provides cognitive benefits, like delaying dementia. Lifelong learning in general has many great effects, so really, there’s no reason not to try it. And, do you know, there are plenty of people out there who think there may yet exist a way to circumvent the Critical Period? I would encourage everyone to give it their best shot, and since you can use Mango for free, that’s a great place to start.

New games, flashcards and more!

Good news everyone! The HLC has some new games, flash cards, and other great resources to bring some fun and diversity to your lessons!  I’m excited that we can offer these new items and hope that you tutors find them helpful in delivering fun and powerful educational opportunities to your students or Conversation Corner sessions.

First of all, every item comes with directions on how to use them, and most have a variety of games and uses for you to try. We have flashcards, conversation starting dice, and board games. You may find that, depending on the level of your students, you may need to alter the rules of some of the games, or to help them out with the game. You may wish to request the item in advance of wanting to use it so that you can have a look and consider what adjustments you want to make to fit your needs.

Another piece of advice that I would give you is to consider every game as also being an opportunity for students to talk. Maybe a game or activity will veer off track, but as long as some good discussion is going on, then you are still “winning the game.” For example, you can use flash cards to build memory of vocabulary, but then you can go forward and ask questions about things related to the vocabulary. One of the sets of flashcards matches a bike and a helmet. After that, you could ask students if they ever learned to ride a bike, or if they remember when they learned. Then have them tell you a story about it. These activities will help expand horizons and teach you a lot about your student. Feel free to employ any creative, alternative use you can think of with any of these items. And, if you come up with something fun, let us know so we can share it with everyone!

I also want to point out that the circulation time for the games is three weeks instead of the six months that tutors get for other items. This is because we only have about three copies of each item, and we don’t want them all in use by the same three people for six months. If you would like to check out items again every so often, that is fine. We will have a holds list for items as well. Please be courteous to your fellow tutors and return the games (with all their pieces) promptly. We would really appreciate it.

I hope that you enjoy using the games, and if you have any suggestions for more resources like these, please feel free to let us now, and we will try to purchase them in the future! Of course, we will always be on the lookout for new ways to bring fun and educational experiences to our tutors and students…so keep an eye out!

Having Learners Help Each Other

In this blog post, I would like to talk about something that came up in a call from a tutor about a mixed-level group she has. It’s kind of related to the last past, but we can also go to another level of thinking about how we integrate students in a small group tutoring session, even if the students are at slightly different levels.

I’ll explain the situation the tutor found herself in, but first, let me tell you a little bit about how we determine the level of a learner and how we decide whether or not to group a learner with someone else or find them their own tutor.

Basically, our only opportunity to assess the level of an ESL student occurs when they call for the first time and we (mainly Laura) talks to them personally. We have a series of questions on our intake form that asks them if they can or can’t do certain things in English, like count, read a newspaper, etc. And of course, we try to speak to them a little bit in English and see how they do. Then, we compare them to a chart, which you also have in the training manual on page thirty seven of the current edition (May 2018 edition. Available on the shared drive) and frankly, we guess their level. That is to say, we don’t have any assessment test or instrument to use to calculate their level more scientifically. But…it works out pretty well for our program, for the most part. And in any case, tutors can always adjust materials and levels as they see fit.

Once we have determined a student’s level, we match them with a tutor. If the student is close to the level of another student who meets at a time and library that works out for all parties, we will put them together. So, if students have an exact level match, great! If they are just one level apart, say, a level two and a level three, we’ll go for it there, too. But we won’t match a level one with a level three, for example.

If you find yourself with slightly different levels in your group, first, let me say thank you for your effort! Keeping this system is one way we can deal with student-tutor matching, and our general lack of tutors. On the other hand, I know there are some issues that can arise in this situation, such as the issue I was called about last week. A tutor called saying one of her students was beginning level 1, and a newer student recently placed with her was ready to start the level two book. She wondered how she would work with them together…would she have to do two separate lessons from two books in one session? It seemed like a complicated situation. Let me relate the advice I gave her, and we’ll see what you think.

My first piece of advice was not to be concerned or stressed. Having one student that is at a somewhat higher level than other students is considered a pretty good dynamic by many educators, and is based on ideas by Lev Vygotsy, a social psychologist whose ideas are very influential in the field of education. His view is that learning is assisted when a more knowledgeable member of a social group helps a less knowledgeable member move from one level of skill to the next level, one that the learner couldn’t reach without a little help. So, if there are different levels, then you have the tutor AND the higher level student in a position to help the lower level student. The only thing to watch out for is when the learners are too far apart in skill, which is why I wouldn’t pair a level one with a level three.

So, hopefully that takes some pressure off! The next thing to do is to think about how best to design interactions during the session where we are addressing the lowest level learner by applying the skills of the higher learner, then finishing by having the tutor, as the most-skilled member of the group, helping the more advanced student get to the next level that he or she couldn’t reach alone. This is when artistry, creativity, and a little experimentation comes into play.

My advice was to divide the session time into three equal parts. In the first part, focus on a lesson of the lowest level student. While doing this, get the other student to take the lead and try and guide the lower student through a lesson while the tutor steps back and is there mainly to help out and guide the situation. Then switch gears and work on a lesson with the other student while the lower-level student helps out as best they can. Then, use the final third of the session to discuss topics from from both lessons as a group. This should boost everyone. The lower level will get good exposure to a lot of language, the higher level will get some good review and lots of opportunity to practice. Since the Lifeprints books have lessons based on different themes, it shouldn’t be too difficult to switch between lessons. In other words, they don’t necessarily build on the previous lesson, so you can jump in here and there and talk about counting, going to the bank, etc. The final discussion time is where the real learning will happen.

This may seem awkward at times, but I think you will see a rapid leveling out of both students because they will be using that language with each other. Using language is the most important part of language education. That’s when mastery happens.

Another thing that I find to be true is that more advanced students aren’t always as advanced as we might think at first. Unless you have been working with a student a long time, it could be easy to overestimate their skills based only on how well they seem to know something in the book. In other words, it’s easy for learners to recognize something they see in a book, but it’s harder for them to use language from recall. Again, mastery comes from discussion. When a student is able to talk about something fairly consistently, then you know they know it.

So, in sum, if you plan your session time to take advantage of the social dynamic, and you are sure to include some good discussion time, I think you will find a lot of fun and improvement in your groups, even if they aren’t at the exact same level. It’s ok to be open and honest about using this approach with your students. They’ll understand. Heck, I recently used this method in a college ESL program that had two different levels of students in it, and I got some positive feedback. It wasn’t always great, but the students appreciated it overall. Yours will, too.