ESL/ESOL 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.


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:
●Facilitated learning circles meet for 8 - 12 weeks (in 3 rounds)
●Weekly learning circle meetings ranged from 1.5 - 2 hours
● The weekly meeting included independent online learning and group discussion time
● 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


The English Now! ESL/ESOL scale-up project, funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and sponsored by World Education, began in the fall of 2018 with sites in California, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Texas. As of November, 2019 there are still opportunities for other ESL/ESOL programs to participate in the scale-up. Those who may be interested should contact Priyanka Sharma at World Education < >

English Now! Scale-up Program Goals
● Expand access for learners and serve needs of learners on English class wait lists
● Increase learners’ comfort with using computers and mobile apps for learning
● Document face-to-face support for English language learners in learning circles when using online course materials and apps
● Plan and support Learning Circles’ sustainability and expansion within participating programs.

In the scale-up project, the learning circles are for immigrants who want to improve their English language skills, but participants do not have to be on a waiting list. For example, they can be enrolled in an English language class and attend the learning circle as a supplement to their classroom learning.