English Language Learning Circles

This is a discussion topic for those interested in English language learning circles for immigrants in the U.S. It builds on what P2PU and World Education learned from an 18-month adult ESOL pilot project in three New England states,Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, in community-based organizations, a library and an adult education program sponsored by a public school district. It is also a space for others who are offering ESL.ESOL learning circles anywhere in the world.

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The English Now! 18-month pilot project, sponsored by P2PU and World Education, and funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, selected five pilot sites: in Massachusetts, three community-based adult ESOL programs: Notre Dame Education Center, Boston; Immigrant Learning Center, Malden; and YMCA International Learning Center, Boston; in Maine, Portland Adult Education, a public schools sponsored adult education program; and in Rhode Island, at the Providence Public Library.

In this learning circle model:
â—ŹFacilitated learning circles meet for 8 - 12 weeks (in 3 rounds)
â—ŹWeekly learning circle meetings ranged from 1.5 - 2 hours
â—Ź The weekly meeting included independent online learning and group discussion time
â—Ź Structure, training and continued guidance was provided by World Education and P2PU through project resources and trainings

A typical learning circle included these activities:
• Check-in (15 min.) including recap of previous week
• Online learning , for example in a computer lab (50 min.)
• Activity (15 min.)
• Wrap-up (10 min.)

Project Findings and Outcomes

Note: I was the project evaluator, working with P2PU and World Education staff who assisted in conducting interviews.

•Participants like the learning circle model, often wish learning circles were longer than 6-8 weeks
•Carefully selected and trained volunteers who are not English language teachers can facilitate learning circles effectively
•Learning circles can meet basic level ESOL/ESL needs, but also advanced ESOL/ESL needs, including to help prepare learners for citizenship
•Surprisingly, the use of computers and portable digital devices has not been a challenge, but providing computer access is very important.

The English Now! customized Learning Circles model:
•Reduced waiting lists for adult ESOL/ESL learners
•Provided a way that adult basic skills programs and prospective students can judge the fit of the student and program
•This can lead to greater learner success, including greater learner persistence
•Learners built their skills in online learning, digital learning skills, and skills needed for successful peer learning.

Your questions about the pilot project are welcome. I will next post some information about the follow-on scale-up project that began in the fall of 2018

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These notes came from a discussion held at the Boston Gathering (September 2019) about supporting language-based learning circles. The discussion was initially presented by Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) who shared their example of running an English language learning circle. @Larysa_Essex @Sherry_Lehane1 @David_Rosen

LAPL example:

  • Picked the English for Public Speaking course (Coursera)
  • Realized the course was college-level and the instructor talked too fast
  • Created vocabulary lists but it was of limited use
  • Plus/delta exercise was essential for determine what worked
    • Example: LAPL tried playing the videos slowly, but the feedback was that it did not work. Then, they printed off the transcript, then we tried reading the transcripts. Each change was made based on feedback from plus/delta.
  • LAPL used a smartboard and projector to make sure everyone is on the same page at the same time. Using smart board emphasized the community aspect
    • Example: Someone would pause the video, someone would write down the main points of videos. Then we would read transcripts, then they would read the transcript paragraph by paragraph.

Difference between conversation classes (CC) and learning circles (LC)

  • Some wanted homework in LC
  • CC participants might go to many CC throughout the week.
  • CC don’t have assignments, extra tasks or homework
  • Talking about homework is done as a check-in. It can be empowering to mention what people are learning.

Language learning strategies used outside of LAPL

  • Consider breaking apart an online language course into multiple segments.
  • Start with an idea for how the learning circle will begin but be prepared to move the conversation towards a new and different direction. For example, at Notre Dame Education Center, their learning circle began with a focus on learning basic English, but then, based on common interest and need, it switched to focus more on preparing for the immigration and citizenship test.
  • Only speak the native language when learners are really stuck and try not to do it right away.


  • How do we adapt these courses for both language learners and tech language learners? For example, people who are both learning English, but also learning to use a computer for the first time?
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Thanks for sharing, Nico!

Theblog article in the link below is about English language learning circles for immigrants who are also learning digital literacy skills. Some of the tips are useful for any learning circle. https://edtech.worlded.org/8-tips-for-implementing-learning-circles-in-any-program/