Learning English

English is the most commonly used language in the United States, and learning English is necessary for refugees to achieve self-sufficiency in the United States. Learning to speak and understand English helps refugees become more self-reliant, find employment with better pay, and interact with new friends and neighbors. On this page, explore a variety of activities, complete lesson plans, and additional resources that address key messages in the Learning English Objectives & Indicators.

Activity Bank

Identify Different Ways to Learn English 

This activity is ideal for identifying ways refugees can learn English and how to integrate Learning English into daily life. Use in-person or virtually.

  1.  Ask participants: Why is it important to learn English?
    • Gather suggestions from participants, such as finding a job, meeting neighbors, integrating into the new community, helping children with their education, attending doctor appointments, connecting with public organizations, etc.
    • If participants are literate, list items on the board in English or have an interpreter write on the board in the participants’ language.
  2. Guide participants: What are some ways you have learned English in the past? What are some other ways to learn English? Record responses. 
  3. Talk through how learning English can be integrated into daily activities that can be done at home, with family members, individually, or in a formal school program 
  4. Share images from the Learning English worksheet. Read the images aloud and connect back to ideas generated in steps one and two. Ask participants to circle three ways they will try to learn English. 
  5. Ask participants: Which of these learning methods will you try? Which will you not try? Ask participants to explain their answers to a partner in the classroom or as a whole group 

  • Pair this activity with the Importance of Learning English using the Settle In app activity.
  • Adapt and alter images to best fit the local context.

Adapted from Making Your Way CurriculumUnit on Learning English 

The Importance of Learning English Using the Settle In mobile app

This activity is ideal for explaining the importance of learning English. Use in-person or virtually.

  1. Ask participants: What is your personal goal for learning English? What activities might help you achieve your goal?  
    • Use the Benefits of Learning English photo cards to generate ideas (not all photos show goals, sort photos in advance). 
    • Provide an example for newcomers: I want to feel comfortable shopping for groceries alone, so I will label food in my kitchen with the English word.   
  2. Guide participants to identify specific goals that are attainable short term. You may ask them to work in pairs. If participants are unsure about a goal, use the Sample Goal page to help frame their ideas. 
  3. Assist participants in navigating the Settle In app on their phones or computers. Open the “Learning English” chapter of Settle In and select the lesson: The Importance of Learning English. Work with participants to complete the lesson on the Settle In app and assist participants in navigating the technology.  
  4. Ask participants: What new ideas do you have about Learning English based on completing the Settle In chapter? Guide participants in a discussion of how Settle In can help with learning English and meeting the goals identified in step two.

  • Computer or another digital device for using the Settle In app. If using a desktop, have access to reliable Wi-Fi
  • Benefits of Learning English photo cards
  • Sample Goals – For participants who are preliterate, use the benefits of learning English photo cards to have participants identify a goal and then phrase the goal using the sentence frame provided

  • The mobile app can work offline once you download the content when connected to Wi-Fi.
  • Please reference CORE’s How to Integrate Digital Technology document or online course if additional guidance on using technology during Cultural Orientation is needed. 

Adapted from Making Your Way CurriculumUnit on Learning English. 

Local Community Resources for Learning English 

This activity is ideal for exploring local resources for learning English and why it’s important to attend classes consistently. Use in-person or virtually.

  1. Have participants pair/share, or group share, answers to the following questions (collect answers on a whiteboard or display): 
    • What types of learning opportunities existed in your home country?  
    • What types of learning opportunities exist in the U.S.? Guide participants to add relevant information for the U.S., like K-12, GED, Adult Basic Education (ABE), volunteer/community organizations, Community College (two years), University (four years), etc.  
  2. Guide participants in a discussion of similarities and differences between the education experience in their home country and the United States. Note similarities on the whiteboard.
  3. Review local programs available in the community using local information (brochures, flyers, GPS/map, website, etc.). Discuss how English classes might fit around a future work schedule and which type of program the participant might be referred to (evening or morning classes, weekend options, online options, waiting list, etc.) 
    • Guide participants in discussing employment and learning English and the necessity of starting work versus having time to learn English.  
    • Ask participants, if classes do not fit into their work schedule, what else can they do to practice English?  Examples: practice at home with family, practice on an app or website, use YouTube or shows for language learning, etc.  
    • Ask participants, when they attend classes, why is it important to go regularly? Emphasize that consistent practice is important for retention, and improvements might be slow, but daily practice will lead to improvements.
  4. If participants are literate, have them identify and write out one action they will take in the local community to start learning English. 
    • For participants who are pre-literate, use the images on the Learning English Worksheet and have participants identify which action they will take in the local community to start learning English. 

  • Brochure, flyer, or printed information about local English programs
  • GPS/map to show the location of the school or review how to get to the school
  • Learning English Worksheet images to prompt answers from pre-literate participants

  • If possible, invite staff from local adult education programs to meet with newcomers and introduce themselves briefly. Participants might not remember the name/location/schedule information but will feel more comfortable at a new school/program if they see friendly, familiar faces.  
  • If possible, take newcomers directly to the school to meet staff and start any registration process.  

Images taken from Making Your Way Curriculum 

Learning English Using Digital Resources  

This activity is ideal for exploring how to incorporate learning English into daily activities through digital resources. This activity also reinforces the importance of learning English independently, even if participants cannot attend formal classes. Use in-person or virtually.

  1. Ask participants: Have you used technology to learn English before?  What are some ways you have used technology to learn?  Record responses.   
  2. Emphasize that there are traditional ways to learn English (formal, in a classroom, from a textbook) but there are many ways learning English can be integrated into daily activities, using digital resources. 
  3. Pair or group participants, with at least one group member who has strong digital skills.  If no participants have strong digital skills, do these activities as a whole group using volunteers or other staff to help participants start to learn.  Use one, two, or all three of the below ideas, depending on your participants.  Providers can follow page one of Ideas for Digital Learning to help guide demonstrations. Give participants page two of Ideas for Digital Learning.  
    • With either a computer or a mobile device, navigate to YouTube and have participants discuss what they like to watch on YouTube.  Give examples of ways to use YouTube for language practice and give time for participants to search YouTube with their pair/group, to test out some ideas.  
    • Using a mobile device, demonstrate some of the methods to learn English, such as changing settings to English, taking photos, or using speech-to-text.  Give time for participants to explore these methods on a device. 
    • Using a mobile device, explore different apps that can help with learning English, including Settle In (the app can be changed from native language to English and back), Google Translate, and other relevant apps for participants. 
  4. Ask participants: When could these ideas be integrated in daily life? Examples: Taking the bus to a job, during a work break, watching storybook videos with children before bed, listening to English music, videos, or news while cleaning/cooking/relaxing. 
  5. Discuss that it is better to do multiple small practices (15-20 minutes each) instead of a longer study.   
  6. Have participants identify one way they will integrate digital resources into learning English independently, either through the photo list (page two of Ideas for Digital Learning), or a spoken conversation.

  • Computer or another digital device for using any apps or websites. If using a desktop, have access to reliable Wi-Fi
  • Ideas for Digital Learning

  • For participants with low digital literacy, encourage them to review the app/website/resource at home with the guidance of a relative, who can help to re-teach them. 

Additional Resources