Behind the scenes: English class at McIntyre Elementary

Aug 8, 2023Articles

McIntyre Elementary serves all English Language Learning students in grades K-5 in the North Hills School District. Last summer, the principal reached out to Literacy Pittsburgh to ask if we could work together to assist parents and caregivers who also needed English language education. In September 2022, Literacy Pittsburgh staff members visited the school and assessed a group of adults interested in improving their language skills.

A beginning-level class was established and taught on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at McIntyre Elementary throughout the school year, moving to the West View Hub for the summer months.

On a recent Tuesday evening, nearly 20 students gathered for a 90-minute class taught by instructor Shirley Robinson. Most students immigrated to the United States from Brazil; there are also students from Syria, Mexico, and Venezuela.

"I like that the class time and location make it easy to come," Edson says. "I've expanded my vocabulary, learned new pronunciations and the meaning of words. I feel a little more confident speaking English."

Lessons focus on vocabulary, listening, and speaking, along with some grammar. Shirley explained that class often starts with a warm-up lesson. The calendar is often used as part of the class routine. They will talk about how dates can be expressed: 28 vs. 28th. They will discuss the weather and when their next class will be held.

Recent lessons have focused on jobs. Shirley offered examples of different types of jobs to build vocabulary: teacher, doctor, bus driver. Students were invited to talk about their own job "duties" – a new word and definition to learn.

"My teacher has helped me pronounce words I didn't know how to say," explains Regiane. "Class has helped with conversation and understanding English."

Lessons are grounded in students' everyday lives. To practice simple past tense, Shirley asked students what they did over the weekend, giving examples such as "I cooked" or "I read a book." Students were asked to select from a list of common activities they may have done: Go to the supermarket, watch TV, ride the bus.

Students are given opportunities to practice English with each other too. One exercise prompted students to ask one another other, "Did you drink coffee this week?" Students wrote down the name of the person they were asking and the word yes or no.

As a beginning-level class, students are learning the basics of the English language. They are progressing well, building their vocabulary, pronunciation, and understanding week by week. Shirley proudly shared that when assessed this past spring, most students advanced to the next educational level.

"I enjoy how the class is taught," Heica says. "It is interactive. It has helped me improve my writing, pronunciation, and listening skills."

The class fills a clear need for high-quality English instruction in the community. Through our partnership with McIntyre Elementary, we have served around 40 students in total since the inception of the class last fall.

Literacy Pittsburgh (formerly Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council) helps create better lives through learning. Recognized as a national leader in adult and family literacy, Literacy Pittsburgh is the largest provider of adult basic education in Allegheny and Beaver Counties. Last year, Literacy Pittsburgh helped more than 4,000 individuals acquire the skills needed to reach their fullest potential in life and participate productively in their communities. Literacy Pittsburgh provides free, personalized instruction in workforce readiness, high school diploma test preparation, digital literacy, English language learning, math, reading, and family literacy through one-to-one and small class instruction. Founded in 1982, it serves local adults through numerous neighborhood locations and its Downtown Pittsburgh Learning Center.       

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