Read Reid Archives

August 2015

Dear Steven,

I’ve been working with my student on “th” sounds and we’re getting pretty tired of teeth, thieves, and thin therapists. Any suggestions beyond repeating words over and over?

—Thankful for your Thoughts

Dear Thankful,

Those “th” combinations are everywhere, aren’t they? I’d say your instinct to go beyond thousands of “th” words is on the money. Pronunciation mistakes often occur because the student doesn’t hear the word correctly or doesn’t hear the difference between what you said and what he/she said. I’d focus on discussion and understanding what the exact mispronunciation is: what sound is the problem? Are all the sounds there but in the wrong order? Is there an extra sound? Is there a missing sound? Is one sound being replaced by another? Once it’s clear what the problem is, then you can go about correcting it.

Once you have a better handle on what’s making “th” so hard for your student, you may need to focus on the shape of your mouth when creating the sound. Use a mirror so the student can see what is different from their mouth shape to yours.

You might also try recording yourself saying the word, then record the student saying the word. Discuss what is different between the two. If you can record yourself saying the word correctly on your student’s phone, she can use it as a model when practicing at home.

If you need more thoughts on “th,” feel free to stop by for a chat sometime!


Dear Steven,

It never ceases to amaze me that my student will come in each week and report that the last time he spoke English was the last time we met together! I’m happy my student is surrounded by friends and family who speak his language, but how can I get him to try out his English more?

—More English

Dear More English,

When I was teaching English in Slovakia, I had the opposite problem of your student: everywhere I went people wanted to practice speaking English with me. People would hear me speaking English, and they’d often come over with a beer as a gift so they could sit and talk too (This must be how pretty girls feel in American bars. Lol). While getting free beer was great, it meant I didn’t get to practice Slovak as much as I would have liked. So why was I surrounded by people who wanted to practice their English? Partially, I think, it was because I was on their home turf. They felt safe.

This means you need to make sure your student is aware of safe ways to practice English. One of the most convenient options is our Conversation Groups at Literacy Volunteers. Students can drop-in and practice conversation with each other in a safe and fun environment.

Conversation Groups are offered:

  • Monday, 2:00-3:00pm (Levels 3-6)
  • Thursday, 10:00-11:00am (Levels 1-2)
  • Thursday, 11:30am-12:30pm (Levels 1-2)
  • Thursday, 6:00-7:30pm (Levels 3-6)
  • Saturday, 10:30-11:30am (Levels 1-2)

Dialogue Café is another option and is open to English learners at all levels. It meets Fridays, 12:00-3:00pm in room 211 at the Jefferson School. I hope your student takes advantage of one of these opportunities!


September 2015

Dear Steven,

My student is interested in learning more about Virginia and the other states, e.g., geography, history and culture. I thought it would be a good idea to tie our tutoring sessions into the same subjects her children are learning in the Charlottesville public schools. That way, my student may be more eager to talk to her children (hopefully in English!) about what they are both learning and stimulate learning on both the parent’s and child’s part. However, I do not have children in the city’s schools, so I do not know what is taught in each grade. Would it be possible for LVCA staff to acquire and maintain such information, perhaps as a library resource notebook?

—Linking Learning

Dear Linking,

Thanks for your question! I think this is a great idea for helping connect your tutoring sessions to your student’s life. However, tracking what all the teachers in the city are doing would be a full-time job in it of itself. Fortunately, the state of Virginia has a website with general guidelines for each grade level. This should help you align your content with that of your student’s children.


Dear Steven,

What’s the story with this Student Celebration? I see the fliers up around the office and have heard something about it in the emails, but still have some questions. Will my student be there? Can I bring my wife?

—Celebration Curiosity

Dear Celebration,

So glad you asked! We are very excited about our Student Achievement Celebration next week (Thursday, Sept. 24, 6:30pm in the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center Auditorium). We will be celebrating students in three categories:

  • Students who completed our program,
  • Students who studied 100 hours or more over the last year,
  • Students who obtained citizenship.

We’ll be honoring of our 49 students this year. You should have received an email from Maureen with the names of the students being recognized. If you missed it, you can check with her or another staff member to see if your student’s on the list. If your student is on the list, please encourage him or her to attend.
Family and friends are also welcome. Local entrepreneur Toan Nguyen will be our guest speaker, and we’ll have cake and snacks. Mark your calendar today and see you next week!


November 2015

Dear Steven,

I hate to admit it, but I saw the Tutor Checklist in my study room yesterday and realized that I’m not doing so hot at the “75% rule.” My student is so shy! I don’t know how to get her to talk more. It feels like pulling teeth. Help!


Dear Rule-breaker,

First, I’m so glad you noticed the Tutor Checklist and that it encouraged you to reflect on your tutoring habits. For all my readers, I encourage you to fill out a copy of the checklist for a chance to win a $10 gift certificate to The Spice Diva—turn them in at the front desk by Friday, November 20.

As for your concern: you are certainly not alone on this one. It’s incredibly hard to resist filling a silence, especially when it’s just you and the student in a room and not even a cricket is chirping.
Keep in mind everything that’s happening during that silence: your student might be translating your question into her home language, composing an answer in that language, then trying to translate it back into English. That’s a lot of work!

Ask open-ended questions and wait. Don’t reword the question (a common temptation). Count to ten. Then count to ten again. Hopefully, after a good long wait, your student will respond.
However, it’s also possible your student doesn’t understand the question and isn’t sure how to tell you. Teach your student (especially if she’s low-level) these key phrases:

  • I don’t understand.
  • Please repeat.
  • Please slow down.

This empowers your student to acknowledge what she needs to get the conversation going. Good luck!


Dear Steven,

It’s November and all I can think about is fleeing these gray days and seeing my brand new grandbaby in Florida for Thanksgiving. I’ll be gone a little over a week and I’m not sure how to make up the time with my student. What are your thoughts?

—Florida Dreamin’

Dear Florida,

Florida, eh? Any chance your grandbaby needs some help with literacy? I think I know a guy who could do some tutoring in exchange for airfare…:)

Kidding aside, I’m glad you’re planning ahead. However, it’s a bit too early to talk about schedule plans with your student. Instead, I say wait until the week before you leave town. I also suggest using a calendar with the student to show him when you’re leaving and to keep as a reminder. By using the calendar and waiting until the date is closer, you’ll prevent confusion. You can encourage him to study on computer or attend conversation group to make up the hours (again, noting these appointments on the calendar). You can also schedule an extra session when you return to make up the time.

Once you have the plan in place, make sure your student repeats it back to you so you know he understands and that your first session after you return is also marked on his calendar. Then, I’d suggest texting or calling your student after you return from your travels to confirm your next meeting. Have a great trip!


December 2015

Dear Steven,

I missed one two-hour session with my student. I told her that it was my birthday and I had friends coming in from out of town. She was fine with that, gave me a big hug, and wished me happy birthday. However, she can only attend tutoring on her one day off per week, so it’s hard for us to make up the time. She was fine with it, but now I wonder if I could just add some time to our weekly session and take her to the new Northside Library. I have discovered that they have a few books in her native language and also some books on tape that I could get for her. What do you think?

—Making-up Time

Dear Making-up Time,

I think doing a longer session and exploring the library is a great way to make up those missed hours. That would probably make a 3 hour session feel a lot less painful. Also, use it as a chance for some “supervised practice” with your student asking the librarian questions (but with you close at hand for moral support). Add in a break at a coffee shop (where your student does the ordering), and you’ve turned a 2-hour session into an enjoyable 3-hour field trip.


January 2016

Dear Steven,

I’m glad this form is anonymous because I have a confession to make: I’m really inconsistent about filling out the monthly Tutor Reports. Is this horrible of me? Am I on some sort of Bad Tutor Watch List?

—Report Failure

Dear Report Failure,

Ah, the anonymous confession! I am glad you shared, though I’m not sure what a tutoring penance would be—sharpen five pencils? Read about prepositions for an hour?
In lieu of assigning penance, I’ll let you know why reports are important—they are essential to tracking student progress and reporting that progress to all the wonderful folks who give us money to run Literacy Volunteers. Without detailed reporting from tutors, we can’t prove how awesome our students are doing. Nor can we help you if you’re feeling stuck on a tutoring issue.
I strongly encourage you to fill out the entire form, including any anecdotal information you see fit. What may seem like a small success to you—like reading to a child or talking with a co-worker—is a big step for many of our students and something we can report to granting agencies.

Set a reminder on your phone or calendar and try to make reporting part of your monthly routine. In addition to filling it out online, you can pick up a hard copy when you’re in the office (on the table in the waiting area of the office).

Here’s to a 2016 of consistent, detailed reporting!


Dear Steven,

I am so happy to see all the great things Literacy Volunteers offers in terms of workshops each month. I was sad my student didn’t go to the healthcare workshop in December. Any suggestions on how I can try to encourage my student to take advantage of these extra offerings?

—Workshop Fan

Dear Workshop Fan,

I’m so glad you wrote today. We also wish more students took advantage of workshops when we offer them. Aside from scheduling, which is always a factor (it’s nearly impossible to find a time that’s convenient to all, or even most, of our 350 plus students), the biggest hindrance to students attending is that they simply are unaware of these opportunities. Even though we post fliers and publish a Student E-Newsletter weekly, many of our students do not have email addresses or the English skills to fully understand the fliers.

That’s where you come in: if you can talk with your student about these opportunities, it’s much more likely your student will be interested in attending a workshop. Even better, you can attend with her! Attending a workshop together can replace a tutoring session and add variety to your schedule, in addition to being a great learning experience


March 2016

Dear Steven,

I just got an email indicating that my student needs to schedule her test sometime soon. I told her not to be nervous, but the truth is I am nervous! I feel like I’m being tested too. It’s been almost a year since I went through the training, but I seem to recall that if a student doesn’t improve they aren’t part of the program anymore? Is that true? Any calming guidance you can provide is greatly appreciated.

—Anxiety for Two

Dear Anxiety for Two,

First, take a deep breath. Second, take another one. Okay, now I have some calming news for you that basically comes down to this: there’s nothing to worry about. As we mention in the training, you are not responsible for your student’s success OR her lack of success. The tests simply give us a sense of how students are doing, rather than a judgement on you or the student. We are required to test students regularly as part of reporting for our grants and other funding sources, so while the tests are important in that sense, for what you and your student do on a regular basis, please try to see them as routine check-ups rather than nerve-wracking exams.

As for what happens if a student doesn’t show improvement—that’s really decided on a case by case basis. For many students, practice outside of tutoring sessions is hard to fit in, so progress is slow. For others, it may be that it’s time for both the student and tutor to work with someone new. However, if you and your student are happy together, and you haven’t studied together for more than two years, you can plan on staying paired up. The only reason we split up matches after two years is to add variety and challenge to both the student and the tutor.

So, when test day comes for your student, assure her that all she needs to do is her best. No matter how she does, cheer her on and help her see the test as an opportunity to practice and learn—which is exactly what it is.


Dear Steven,

I am curious to know when my student should start thinking in English—and is there a way to encourage that? I can tell he is still translating and that it slows down fluency and confidence. Pronunciation also remains an issue that I could use some guidance on. Thanks for your input.

—English Thinking

Dear English Thinking,

I once heard that once you start dreaming in another language, you’re fluent. However, I think your concerns point to the heart of the matter—thinking in a language is critical to becoming fluent. Processing time from English to Spanish and back definitely slows down responses. Your student is getting to the level where he’s going to want to start thinking in English a lot more. First, have him work on vocabulary in phrases, not single words. By learning common collocations (words that always go together, i.e. “get in the car” vs “get on the bus” & “take a picture” not “make a picture”) and practicing them as phrases, it will increase his ability to think in English. Also, as he gets better, stop using a bilingual dictionary. Using an English only dictionary will require him to think in whole terms, not just translations. And have him “talk to himself.” Have him spend a little time, maybe on his drive home, describing his day out loud to himself. No one else needs to hear it. Just talk about what happened in English for a short time.

Pronunciation can be a bit of a challenge, particularly if he’s not really hearing what he’s doing wrong. Often the biggest problem is the end of words. Have him focus on the final consonant sound, to the point where he’s over-emphasizing it. When working on pronunciation have him force the final sound much harder than would normally be used. What will happen is when he starts using it in regular speech, it will relax down to the proper pronunciation. Another thing to try is use a mirror. Have him carefully watch how you pronounce the word, then have him look in the mirror as he’s saying it. Does his mouth shapes look just like yours? That can help.

Give these a try and let me know how it goes. If you have other questions, let me know.


May 2016

Dear Steven,

As a person untrained as a teacher, I wonder if I am making mistakes with my student, though both of us enjoy our sessions and it seems to us that she is improving. One thing I wonder is if it is a mistake to have her reading a so-called “children’s book” (a book of fairy tales), which she loves to work on. Is it better to work on reading something she is really interested in trying to comprehend, or on something “useful” like newspapers, signs, etc? My biggest fear is that I will hinder her efforts to become a good reader and writer because of my lack of training.

Fun Over Function

Dear Fun Over Function,

I’d rather have a student voraciously reading something she enjoys (which will lead to picking up another book when she is done with that one) than trudging through something less fun. If you value function over fun, you risk turning her off of reading. Any book will show good examples of sentence structure and will have new vocabulary. Basically, my advice is get her hooked on stuff she enjoys, then you can add in harder material later. (Just look at what JK Rowling did with Harry Potter: the first one was a quick read for an 11-year-old. Book Six was 900 pages – and not for 11-year-olds.)


Dear Steven,

My student recently expressed interest in getting U.S. Citizenship and I honestly have no idea how to advise him—or if he’s even eligible. How should I advise him? Can you tell him if he can apply for citizenship or not?

—Clueless about Citizenship

Dear Clueless,

We can totally help your student figure out if he’s eligible for applying for citizenship, and if so, get you two hooked up with some materials to study for the test. The International Rescue Committee offers citizenship screening and support services. Your student can call the IRC at (434) 979-7772, ext. 110 to talk with someone about his eligibility.

If your student is eligible, we are offering citizenship tutoring and classes through the end of the year, through our United States Citizenship and Immigration Services grant. We have a variety of resources available—check out the shelf behind the computers (with the globe on top), or talk to one of our staff members.


July 2016

Dear Steven,

My beginning literacy ESL student wants to work on getting her driver's license. Is there a website or book that can help us? The book provided by the DMV is very complex for an ESL student—and her tutor. Any other advice on how to help her achieve this goal?

—Road Worriers

Dear Road Worriers,

There are few things I miss from being a teenager and studying for the driving exam is definitely NOT one of them. Fortunately, the Virginia DMV offers the license exam in a variety of languages—you can access the full list here.

However, if your student’s language is not on this list, we do have some simplified materials available in our library, on the shelving unit behind the computers. You’ll find pictures of common road signs and some workbooks there for your reference.

Good luck to you and your student!


Dear Steven,

Both my student and I are taking vacations in the next coming weeks, but our time off doesn’t overlap. That means my student will definitely be short on July hours. Any advice on how we can make up the time?

—Summer Vacation

Dear Summer Vacation,

I hope you both have fun during your time off! There are a few options you might consider:

  1. While you’re gone, your student might add some computer hours or attend conversation group to make up the missed time. Our conversation group hours are available on handouts by the front door. Pick up the appropriate one (we have some sections for lower level students and some for more advanced students) and help your student pick out a time to attend.
  2. Encourage your student to schedule some computer study time with the front desk. This is an easy way to keep your student engaged while you’re out of town.
  3. You might also brainstorm some ways for your student to make his vacation a learning opportunity. Maybe challenge him to keep a travel log in English or to talk to X number of people in English on the trip. If it makes sense, your student might text you a trip update to practice writing in English. Small things like this can help your student keep up with his studies without making his vacation feel like work.

Safe travels to you both!


December 2016

Dear Steven,

I’m having a hard time explaining to my student the sounds –ed makes. It’s a little confusing, even for me. Are there rules that can make it easier to explain?

—Problems with Pronunciation

Dear Problems with Pronunciation,

The –ed sound can be a bit tricky for English learners but there are a few rules to make it a little easier:

If the final consonant sound (sound – it doesn’t matter what the letter is) is /k/, /p/, /f/, /s/, /sh/, or /ch/, -ed will make a /t/ sound.
     Examples: laughed, locked, wished

If the final consonant sound is /t/ or /d/, it will make a new syllable.
     Examples: wanted, exited, handed

If the final consonant sound is anything else, it will make a /d/ sound.
     Examples: called, phased, glued

Here’s the nice thing: if you remember the /t/ and /d/ rule, the others basically take care of themselves because making a /d/ sound after a /k/ etc sound is VERY difficult. 
(You just tried it, didn’t you?)


July 2017

Dear Steven,

My student was told that it's time to schedule his test. Can I see the test, or can you tell me what he'll be tested on? I don't know what LV's annual test tests, so how can I teach to the test?
—Tutor with Test Anxiety 

Dear Tutor with Test Anxiety,

Thanks for your question concerning testing. As part of our funding, we pre-test all students when they enroll in our program, and they will get a follow-up test annually after that (usually somewhere after 80 hours of instruction). Annual standardized testing is not something to stress about, and is not, by far, the most important part of tutoring.

We utilize four different tests when assessing our students: Best Plus, Best Lit, TABE, and CASAS.

Best Plus is used for the majority of our students, and it assesses a student’s speaking and listening skills. Typically it takes 5 to 15 minutes to complete, but it can be much shorter or longer, depending on the skills of the student.  Students are graded in three areas: Listening Comprehension (How well did the examinee understand the question?), Language Complexity (How did the examinee organize and elaborate the response?), and Communication (How clearly did the examinee communicate meaning?). The assessor is allowed to repeat questions one time, but we cannot elaborate or explain any vocabulary in the question.

Best Lit, TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education), and CASAS (Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems) all test reading and writing skills. (TABE will also be used to assess math skills.) These are all typical multiple choice tests, with Best Lit also having a few free response questions. They are also all timed.

All of our testing aligns with the federal National Reporting System guidelines. As these are all national standardized tests, the tests themselves must be kept secure and cannot be shown to instructors or students prior to the test. However, far more importantly, we do not want our tutors “teaching to the test.” Our system of student-centered instruction is designed to meet the needs of the student, based on their personal goals. We feel that helping students get better jobs, communicate better in the community, or pass their citizenship tests is far more important than the results of a standardized test.

After each follow-up test, I will send the tutor a summary of what the assessor noticed during the test. I will try to include as many recommendations as possible to help you fine-tune your instruction and set goals for the following year.

I hope this de-mystifies the testing process. On the whole, we see great progress among our students each year due to the hard work of the students and their tutors.


August 2017

Dear Steven,

My student does not seem to have a lot of confidence in her abilities to learn and sometimes is afraid to make a mistake during our sessions. I’d like to address this but I do not know how. Do you have a suggestion on how to help her understand that it’s okay to make mistakes?

Making Mistakes

Dear Making Mistakes,

Having a fear of failure and making mistakes is common among adult students. I’d suggest that you work with her on finding the positives in making a mistake with you. Show her that it’s the reason she’s meeting with you. Give her (and let her give herself) permission to mess something up completely, and that you’re there to work on exactly those things.


January 2018

Dear Steven,

I'm wondering if you have any good resources on teaching preposition usage - when to use which preposition in a sentence - which seems to vary often from usage in Spanish. 

Problems with Prepositions

Dear Problems with Prepositions,

Prepositions are so difficult to learn because all languages use them slightly differently. Even within English, they aren’t consistent. Do you fill in a form? Or do you fill it out? How these are used in one part of the US is different from (or is it different to?) how they are used in another part. We also use them differently in the US than they do in the UK. So you’re right to have questions. Here are a couple of resources:

Good luck.

June 2018

Dear Steven,

My student and I have finished the textbook we were given when we started and we're ready for the next book in the series. However, I heard that you are no longer carrying the English No Problem series. Why did you switch textbooks? Will my student be able to transfer easily over to the new option? 

Textbook Trepidation

Dear Textbook Trepidation,

We have decided, after an exhaustive search, to switch our main textbook series to Ventures 2nd Edition from Cambridge Press. This series contains a Student book and a workbook, both with self-study audio CDs. We’ve also purchased the Teacher’s Edition with Assessment CD/CD-ROM. The series also comes with access to the Online Teacher’s Resource room, which has thousands of free classroom extras, including worksheets and other activities.

This series aligns more closely with the state and federal government’s guidelines for standards-based instruction with integrated-skill training to help students achieve their academic and career-readiness goals. Students should be able to transition from the English No Problem series to the Ventures series without any problems. As is always been the case, students will be requested to make a $20 donation for new books. First books are always given free.

Pro Literacy Guidestar Platinum