Health Literacy Initiative is Under Way!

The Literacy Department has undertaken a new initiative to help promote Health Literacy, while of course promoting Reading and English Literacy at the same time! You may already be aware that we released a lesson plan earlier in March to coordinate with National Nutrition Month. We plan to release a second lesson for March, and more throughout the year. We hope that tutors will enjoy taking a break from the traditional teaching materials to explore some new ideas and boost language competence among our students when it comes to having the ability to discuss their healthcare and nutrition needs.

Low skill in Health Literacy is believed to be a significant factor that prevents people in the demographic that we serve from accessing healthcare. According to, “For many individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP), the inability to communicate in English is the primary barrier to accessing health information and services.” And, limited literacy skills overall are considered to be an indicator that a person is less likely to seek and obtain healthcare.

For these reasons, we are trying to make a bridge between the services we already offer, and Health Literacy. We will be creating lessons and storing them in our shared drive where you can access, download, and print them whenever you would like to use them. They don’t necessarily have to be used in the month for which we create them, so feel free to try them out whenever you want a change of pace from Lifeprints, Laubach, etc.

What about Conversation Corners? They can use these materials as well. I recommend dividing up your groups into smaller groups and have them work through the activities together. The Corner host can circulate around to check on their progress and support students as they go along.

You’ll notice that we have included (Thanks, Laura!) the perennial favorite: word searches and crossword puzzles. These are great partner activities as well as at home follow-ups to the lesson. After students complete a crossword, I recommend that you ask more questions using the targeted vocabulary. These lessons are also a great opportunity for a doctor’s office role play, a grocery store role play, or any scenario where students can practice a speaking situation they may face when making health decisions.

According to national directive, any public service, including health care, receiving funding from the federal government must provide information about their services in various languages pertinent to the demographics of the area. They must also provide “plain language” information (i.e. jargon free) about their services. We can make sure we are at least providing some exposure to such “plain language” about health care and health issues. Please feel free to express any recommendations or questions in the comments, and please enjoy the lessons!

Also, FYI, the fact sheet I cited (linked below) is great lesson material.

A very special thank you to Laura for all her hard work on this month’s lessons!

Find lessons here.


Citations “Quick Guide to Health Literacy.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Eric’s Top Eight Online Resources List

I have been thinking for a while about great ways to help the HLC volunteer community in their efforts to teach literacy and English skills. I wanted to start out by sharing a list of what I believe to be the internet’s greatest gems that relate directly to our efforts. And, I mean directly, too. Many of these web resources I’m going to tell you about are the actual supporting materials for our textbooks, while others give a lot of the extra resources that tutors ask for, such as more supplemental materials. And finally, some of these websites give bunches of great aids to any language learner’s effort, no matter who you are.

This isn’t a ranked list, but I am willing to bet that you will find something really great in all of them.

And now, without further ado…..the list!

  1. New Readers Press

First, all of our tutoring books (published by New Readers Press) have online supplemental materials in PDF available through their website. You can download and print them as much as you like. For almost every book you can find teacher’s resources and manuals; flashcards, games and activities; and for each series except Grammar Wise there is an initial diagnostic test to help determine the reading and speaking level of your student. Some even include an online training course for tutors.

Laubach Way to Reading, Level 1 (this link goes to level one, but you can click to other levels and related books at the bottom of the screen.)

English – No Problem! (Great flashcards and games in this one)

Lifeprints (This one includes the audio that goes with the book, among all the other items)

Grammar Wise (The important document here is the instructor’s manual)

  1. Oxford Bookworm Series

The Literacy Department likes to order books from a series called Oxford Bookworms. These are a line of books known as “hi-lo,” which means, “high interest, low level.” These are great books for literacy and ESL students to practice their reading skills. They come in many different levels of readers, and in both fiction and non-fiction. To find them, you can search the catalog at for “Oxford Bookworms.”

The Oxford Bookworms website has available 7 levels of reading tests to help determine the reading level of the student. It also provides reading guides and tests for many of the books, although you have to make a free account to access them. The aim of the materials is reading comprehension, but many of the activities could be adapted to ESL purposes and could be great ways to learn vocabulary and promote discussion.

3: Orca Rapid reads

Like the Oxford Bookworms, this is a hi-lo series. All of the titles are original fiction, and they are also available at different reading levels. They can be found by searching the catalog for “rapid reads.” When the results pop up, do a search again at the top of the screen. This time change the option in the “Search By” field to series. This will get you the whole list.

Most books in this series have online reading guides with summaries and discussion questions. These would be for more advanced learners in our program.

  1. American English

Another online resource that I like is managed by the US Department of State. Everything on is free and printable. The purpose of this site is to provide teacher resources overseas, so there are a few items that are not available online or in the US, but most items are downloadable. You will notice that the site has three sections: a general news/about us section, a resources section, and a section for English Teaching Forum. The latter is a professional journal for ESL teachers, but it often contains lesson ideas and interesting thoughts about teaching. The most interesting part to HLC tutors will be the resources section. Here you will find all the publications put out by the Department of State for classroom use. It is searchable by skill and level. I particularly like Activate Games for Learning American English. Each lesson comes with a teacher’s guide and a board game, which you could download and print. Audio lessons also include downloadable MP3s. And for gamers, there is a first-person video game called, Trace Effects, which is very fun, but not for absolute beginners in English.

  1. VOA Learning English  

Like the above resources, the government also produces an international news source called Voice of America. This service provides basic English learning resources through its “Learning English” website. Here you will find an excellent video series for level 1 and 2 learners. The rest of the site delivers current news in articles ranked for readability into levels 1 to 3. All articles provide slow audio and vocabulary in context with definitions at the end.


  1. BBC English

Similar to VOA, the BBC also offers a news-based English learning site called, “BBC-Learning English.” However, this site is more comprehensive in offering lessons for a wider range of skill levels. It has a wider variety of activities, including adapted scripts and dramatization for popular stories, and grammar lessons and pronunciation…albeit British. There is so much on this site I would dehydrate trying to tell you about it all. This site is almost overwhelmingly stocked with great resources! And there is even a lot of English lessons in other languages, such as Mandarin and Thai!


Memrise is a pet site of mine. I recommend it to literally everyone. It is basically great for learning vocabulary, and I have used it myself for years. Vocabulary lists and other lessons are made by the community, not the company, so there is wide variance in what you come across, but users can add their own mnemonic devices to each vocabulary word in order to better help them remember. An example is adding a meme that relates to your target word, and makes you laugh so much you will always remember the word: thus MEMrise. On top of that, the software takes you through several stages of learning, beginning with an introduction to the word and its meaning, then you do a quick multiple choice quiz, eventually moving on to a fill in the blank quiz….each way building your memory. It is nice and repetitive, so you get lots of exposure to your vocabulary. It has a downloadable app that you could use, for example, while waiting in line at the grocery store. Use it!

  1. Mango Languages

Finally, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention Mango Languages, which the library system subscribes to. All users in Hillsborough county should access Mango Languages through our website. You can use Mango as a guest, but it won’t save your progress if you do so. Making a profile is free and easy; just remember, you will need a library card number to make the profile. Once you have made the profile, you can learn any number of languages. For our purposes there are courses in English for speakers from a variety of language backgrounds. They choose English as the language they want to learn, then select their native language, and away they go! The English course has many different lessons, all of which are very vibrant and high quality. The program approaches the language learning process from many angles, including grammar matching between the mother tongue and English. There is also an app that allows users to listen to lessons while doing other things, like working. Very convenient!

And there you have it! These resources alone could keep us busy well stocked in activities and inspiration for the foreseeable future.  If, after looking through these resources, you find something you feel merits special recognition, please leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of us! Thank you again for all you do!

Starting the conversation: the Shared Literacies Blog

Hello, everyone! I have been hearing from some of you about your experiences with tutoring and Conversation Corner sessions, and I have detected a few themes. So, I have decided to start this blog as a way of providing a vehicle where we can share our experiences, our knowledge, and our resources in order to keep tutoring sessions and Conversation Corners fresh and fun for all involved. If there is something you want to talk about, all you have to do is post a comment below any blog entry, and the conversation starts from there. sounds fun, doesn’t it?

I’m no stranger to our teaching formats: both small group, discussion group, and one-on-one. Like you I have experienced the same feelings of pride and fun from working with people who are trying to improve themselves, and I also know about the challenges that come with finding new things to do with your group, new approaches to old material, dealing with people who don’t really speak English, more advanced learners becoming bored, and more. And I am happy to share what I know about these issues and look forward to hearing from you as well.

I started working on a document that I thought I would dispense to Conversation Corner organizers, but I thought that a blog might be a better engine of engagement with you. In this way we can explore issues as they come and we can perhaps go more in-depth, yet have more digestible portions of information than one super-document would be. And of course, everything here will continue to exist in an easily searchable way as we move into the future.

So, with that said, welcome to the Shared Literacies Blog!


Welcome to the Hillsborough Literacy Website

The Hillsborough Literacy Council, Inc. (HLC) is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization committed to helping adults achieve basic reading and writing skills as well as English comprehension and communication skills. The Hillsborough Literacy Council is governed by a Board of Directors. It is affiliated with the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.

The Hillsborough Literacy Council began as a library program in 1986, and incorporated as a 501 (c)(3) in 1992. The Library System provides meeting space in more than 20 libraries throughout Hillsborough County, as well as staff support and office space.