Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Phonics - the basic elements

Which letters are voiced?
Which letters of our alphabet are voiced? Which are unvoiced?

Phonics is about the basic elements of written words. Connecting letters to sounds and vice versa can be challenging for adults who are learning to read. So, as new people join us, we review what we know about written language.

Sadly, our learners often don't know the answers to these simple, basic questions.

Do you? 
As a tutor, these answers should 
just be part of who you are. 
Let's find out.

Here are 5 questions I ask to get us talking. See how well you do. (The answers are at the end of the questions.)

Question 1. How many letters are in our alphabet? 

Hint: I get a range of answers even when the alphabet is staring them in the face and I suggest that they count them.

Question 2. How many vowels are in our alphabet? 

Hint: Even people who think they know the alphabet often get this answer wrong. If you said 5, then you missed the other two vowels that are often overlooked. You'll remember them when you repeat the oft used expression "- a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y and w."

Question 3. How many consonants in our alphabet? 

Hint: This answer is more straight forward - count all the letters except a, e, i, o, and u. Y and w get counted both as vowels and consonants. Note that y and w are consonants whenever they are the first letter of the word. (Yes, I know there are exceptions, like Ypsilanti - a town in Michigan. These exceptions are few and typically associated with proper nouns.)

Question 4. Which single letters share sounds with other letters? 

Hint: Answering this question is a challenge. Here's where you've got to think about all the letters and how they are used.

Question 5. Which letters of our alphabet are voiced and which are unvoiced?

Hint: Before you answer, let me explain. Each letter in English has a sound (even if the sound is not unique to itself, such as "c"). When the letter sounds are made, a vibration will or will not occur in your throat. 
  • Voiced. If you feel the vibration (by gently placing the palm of your hand around your throat as you say the sound), then the letter is considered "voiced." For example, press your lips together and say /m/. Feel your throat as you say /m/. Do you feel the vibration? Of course you do, meaning the sound of "m" is voiced. 
  • Unvoiced. If the letter sound doesn't give off a vibration, then that letter is "unvoiced." For example, blow air through your teeth for the /s/ sound. Feel your throat as you say /s/. Do you feel a vibration? Of course not, meaning the sound of "s" is unvoiced. 

Your turn. Which letters fit into each category?  

Answers. Compare your answers here: 

(1) 26     
(2) 7     
(3) 21     
(4) 5 - The letters are c, g, q, x, and y.
  • The two most common sounds of c are: /k/ in cat and /s/ in city. Less common is when c sounds like /sh/ in ocean, /ch/ in cello, or /ts/ in currency. 
  • The two most common sounds of g are: /j/ as in age and a unique "hard" sound as heard in get. G can also sound like /zh/ as in genre /zhon - ruh/. 
  • While q most often sounds like /kw/ in quit, q can sound like /k/, as in antique. 
  • Here are a few of x's sounds: most common is /ks/ as in extra, /gz/ as in exact, and /kz/ as in exam. When x is the first letter of a word, x usually sounds like /z/, as in xanthan (/zӑn' - thӑn/). X can also be silent, as in faux (pronounced /fō/).
  • Y has 4 sounds: At the beginning of a word, y is a consonant and sounds like the /y/ in yellow. Most often y is not at the beginning of words and acts like a vowel. For example, y can sound like the long "i" in try, long "e" in baby, or short "i" in bicycle.
(5) Voiced (a, b, d, e, g, i, j, l, m, n, o, r, u, v, x, y, z); 
Unvoiced (c, f, h, k, p, q, s, t, w, x) 

How did you do? 
If you aren't 100% there, keep working at it. 

Want to learn more? Follow us.   
Guest blogger - D. Young. This article first published in Adult Literacy: Issues, Instruction, & Impact.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Job Description: Literacy Tutor

  • To help adults develop and use reading, writing, and math skills to meet self-identified goals

  • Mature demeanor (and over 20 years old or enrolled in college), respectful, empathetic
  • Strong reading, writing, and/or math skills
  • Dependable, truthful, prompt, organized, realistic expectations, sense of humor, flexible, friendly, patient, optimistic, sensitive, creative
  • Willing to explore ideas, follow instructions, use initiative; Open to learning
  • Maintain confidentiality about learners' lives and the work you are doing with them

  • Volunteer at least 2-3.5 hours per week for a minimum of twelve months (college students for a minimum of 2 hours per week for one semester). Specific days and times are based on each volunteer's availability. (Volunteers are welcome to take vacations, etc., throughout the year.)
  • Successfully complete Volunteer Orientation course, 14-hour Tutor/Volunteer Training Workshop ($35), & NRS training module. Submit appropriate documentation and demonstrate understanding of the content of each course. 
  • Participate in 2-hour Tutor Talks (in-service trainings) four-five times annually, plus other trainings & at least 1 state-sponsored workshop throughout the year, as available. Submit appropriate documentation, highlighting information learned. 

Responsibilities -- Online or Classroom Setting
  • Successfully complete required training and ongoing professional development.
  • Work with learners one-on-one or in a group online or in-person. Use provided curriculum & guidelines. Design & deliver lessons specific to individual or group. 
  • Help learners accomplish their intellectual, academic, and career goals, while also meeting learners’ needs. Facilitate learners' exploration, experimentation, and articulation of the content and strategic behaviors they are building. Find ways to encourage, support, & celebrate their progress.
  • Record work done in work logs at the end of sessions. Share content, methods, and results of instruction with staff following lessons.
  • Maintain a learning environment that is free of physical, sexual, and/or verbal abuse, with no touching. Respect learners' dignities. Accept learners without judgment.
  • Keep information about learners in strict confidence. Don’t exploit anyone for profit or personal gain or use persuasion or coercion to influence anyone to adopt a personal, political, or religious belief. 
  • Share questions and concerns with our staff. 

  • Altered perception of the world
  • Enhanced understanding of the problems of illiteracy
  • Increased creative and problem-solving skills
  • Broadened appreciation of different values and lifestyles
  • Gain strategies for helping adults make sense of our print-oriented world
  • Joy of watching adults grow, change, and become skilled and passionate learners
  • Request recommendation letter for employment, higher education, etc., after volunteering consistently for two or more years 


Literacy Action Center, 1234 S Main Street, Salt Lake City, Utah  84101
Phone: 801/265-9081   Web: www.LiteracyActionCenter.org
Visit our web site. Read our blogs. Join us on Facebook.

We serve English-speaking adults
living in Salt Lake County and Davis County, Utah.
 No person shall be denied services because of race, religion, color, sex, disability, age, or national origin.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Art of Instruction

See what listening to Billy Joel generated by 4 of our participants.
Doodle Art created to one of Billy Joel's tunes,
One warm-up activity in Art Appreciation unit.

Wednesday morning group spent this past summer 
engaged in Art Appreciation

Why? Learners wanted to share their artwork and what they knew about art. This topic was a subject dear to many of our learners' hearts

Our goal? Increase reading comprehension strategies and critical thinking skills while simultaneously sharing learners' artwork and learning about artists - past & present.  

Experimenting with art techniques and examining specific art pieces was providing a platform for:  Expanding personal art techniques. 
 Increasing vocabulary.  Growing observational skills.  Interpreting visual and written texts.  Building critical thinking skills. 
 Enhancing team building skills.  Improving investigation skills.  Forcing summarization skills.  Developing and delivering presentations.  Sharing ideas, supported with evidence.  

Seem odd for an adult literacy organization? 
Not this one! We use topics learners care about the most. 
We deliver literacy education, with a twist.*

Why this content? Are you willing to persevere at something you don't care about? Something that gives you physical or emotional pain? Something you know you suck at?

Reading is hard for our learners. Yet, we want them to experience the joy reading brings to other people. We want them to use reading seamlessly as a tool to get what they want in life. 

To get to this moment, we've found that learners need to be engaged in the practice of reading. Using "stuff" (reading materials) they care about (regardless of the reading levels) increases engagement. 

Look at these faces in these photos from our 5/10/18 lesson about "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso. Do you see engagement?

Who are our learners? The readers in the Picasso lesson ranged from beginning to moderate skill level. Some could read only a few words. A few could say all the words well, but didn't understand what the texts meant. All spoke English. 

How do we pull this off? Some of the questions under investigation required intense reading; some questions did not. For example, one group focused on examining the work of art itself. 

Groups had print and electronic materials available. An introduction to "Guernica" and Picasso were listed on our learner website, but groups were not required to visit or limited to the info on our site. One group found info about Picasso on Khan Academy, another found info about Picasso's art periods, and one group started with a paper-version of the encyclopedia. 

Presentations: Each group read and interpreted different information in search of the information needed to present the one piece to the entire group. 

Learners (and facilitators) worked on decoding, pronunciation, and comprehension to build learners' abilities and confidence to present what they learned to the group. Not an easy task. Our hats off to the learners who persevered because they wanted to engage in this activity. And, our hats off to the mentors as they skillfully oversaw inclusion and skill building. 

Note: Our underlying structure comes from a constructivism POV with support from CCR Standards. Career pathways is relevant because several of our learners are aiming for art-related careers through SLCC-SATTS. Generic skill sets are being developed and refined. Specific job options are highlighted, as appropriate.  

Monday, August 13, 2018

Volunteer/Tutor Training Dates: 2018-2019

Thank you for expressing interest in volunteering with us!

We are always in need of good volunteers to work as tutors, on our Board of Trustees, in our office, and on special projects (e.g., marketing & fundraising). We appreciate your help in whatever way you wish to serve. For more information, please check out this list of volunteer opportunities. While all volunteers are expected to complete volunteer/tutor training we understand that not all volunteers will be tutors.

Our next training dates are:

___ Saturdays: September 22 & 29, 2018 (9:00 AM - 3:30 PM)  Closing Date: September 19, 2018

___ Saturdays: November 3 & 17, 2018 (9:00 AM - 3:30 PM)  Closing Date: October 31, 2018

___ Saturdays: January 12 & 26, 2019 (9:00 AM - 3:30 PM)  Closing Date: January 9, 2019

___ Saturdays: March 16 & 23, 2019 (9:00 AM - 3:30 PM)  Closing Date: March 13, 2019

___ Saturdays: May 4 & 18, 2019 (9:00 AM - 3:30 PM)  Closing Date: May 1, 2019

All training is at our office at:
Literacy Action Center, 3595 S Main Street, Salt Lake City UT 84115.

Note: We develop highly-trained, well-qualified volunteers. As such, in addition to participating in this two-day workshop, we also expect our volunteers to annually complete several on-line trainings, attend five tutor talks annually, and participate in at least one state-sponsored workshop. Upcoming Tutor Talk dates include: 9/29/18, 11/17/18, 1/26/19, 3/23/19 & 5/18/19. All Tutor Talks are 10:00AM-12:00PM on Day 2 of each Tutor Training Workshop. Please mark your calendar. Other opportunities will be shared as available. 

Registration is required. We currently accept registration delivered by mail, email (lac@LiteracyActionCenter.org), or in person at our office. The cost of this training is $35 for anyone who tutors through our program. (This training is $135 for anyone tutoring for some other program or on his or her own.) Regardless of your tax situation, no part of this training fee is tax-deductible. The entire amount goes towards this 2-day training as well as five tutor talks, staff support if you're volunteering with us, and a one-year membership. (Some scholarship funds may be available upon request.) 


Literacy Action Center

Volunteer/Training Registration Form
(please print)

I am interested in attending training on:
(You must attend both Saturdays to complete this training.)

___ Saturdays: September 22 & 29, 2018 (9:00 AM - 3:30 PM)  Closing Date: September 19, 2018

___ Saturdays: November 3 & 17, 2018 (9:00 AM - 3:30 PM)  Closing Date: October 31, 2018

___ Saturdays: January 12 & 26, 2019 (9:00 AM - 3:30 PM)  Closing Date: January 9, 2019

___ Saturdays: March 16 & 23, 2019 (9:00 AM - 3:30 PM)  Closing Date: March 13, 2019

___ Saturdays: May 4 & 18, 2019 (9:00 AM - 3:30 PM)  Closing Date: May 1, 2019


Mailing Address:

City, State Zip Code:

Phone number:


Please make your check for $35 (or $135) payable to: Literacy Action Center
Bring your check (or cash) in to our office or mail this form and your check to Literacy Action Center, 3595 S Main Street, Salt Lake City UT 84115.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tutoring Scenarios: Producing Independent Learners

Tutoring style or methodology truly impacts
who is doing the learning and how independent the
learner will be tomorrow when the tutor isn't around. 

Please read the two tutoring scenes below. Think about the following questions:

  • Who is doing the learning in each method? 
  • Which tutoring method builds an independent adult?

Tutoring Scene 1

Yesterday, a learner asked for help with a fraction problem in Khan Academy. The learner's task was: 

3/5 + 2/3 = n

The tutor immediately looked at the math problem in question and told the learner exactly what to do. The only thinking the learner did was to multiply two sets of numbers (making the denominators common) and adding the numerators. The tutor never asked what the learner knew or provided a framework for the learner to be included in solving the problem. No notes were taken. No examples were set up with annotations in the learner's notebook. However, the learner did get the answer correct in Khan Academy.  

Tutoring Scene 2

Around the same time, another tutor helped a learner examine a percentage-based story problem.

The sale price of a table was $123. 
This price was 20% of the original cost.
What was the original cost of the table?

After the learner read the problem aloud, this tutor asked, "How can you turn these words into an equation to solve."

The learner wrote:  x + 20 = 123

The tutor asked, "Will this equation bring you a reasonable answer?"

The learners said, "I don't know."
The tutor said, "Solve the equation."

The learner next wrote:   x  + 20 = 123
                                              -20     -20
                                               x  =  120

The tutor asked, "When you plug in your answer for x back into the equation, does the number make sense? Then explain it to me."

The learner said, "103 plus 20 is 123. That fits."
The tutor said, "I wonder what the numbers represent. Go ahead and label each number for me please."

The learner wrote:  original price        20%                 sale price
                                         120        +    20               =      123
                                                      marked down

The learner looked at the labels for a moment, then said, "The original price is cheaper than the sales price. What's wrong?"

Then the tutor and learner went on to talk about how sales in stores work, what the learner usually did with a sale, and built meaning around how to write 20% as a decimal, and the math operation needed to complete the equation. 

The learner then went on to write notes on a notes page labeled "Percentages" with examples and explanations for converting percentages to decimals and solving percentage equations. The learner wrote the page number in the index on the inside of the learner's notebook cover. 


  • Who is doing the learning in each method? 
In Tutoring Scene 1, the learner just followed the tutor's directions. The learner in fact learned nothing. The learner still didn't know what to do with the next problem because the learner didn't know what was being done with this problem. The tutor, on the other hand, reviewed her knowledge and selected what was appropriate to share based on the constraints of the problem.

What about in Tutoring Scene 2? The tutor let the learner explore and try out what she thought was correct. The learner showed what she knew. The tutor could see and hear the learner's "wheels turning" (mind working), but she still let the learner follow-through with her thoughts. The tutor offered questions that provided opportunities for the learner to step back from the work to make decisions. The learner was definitely the person learning. With help, the learner then went on to create a notes page that let her consolidate what she'd been doing. Now she has a plan for how to attack future percentage problems. 

  • Which tutoring method builds an independent adult?

Tutoring Scene 2 wins hands down! This scene describes the type of tutoring/teaching interactions we expect from our tutors as they facilitate academic growth. 

How can you tutor/teach more like the tutor in Tutoring Scene 2?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Results "tickle" us

"I get 'tickled' when I see our learners using
 their skills to teach their classmates! 
(Sometimes, I even choke up a bit.)" - KJL

This sentiment is felt by all of us who work with the adults who come to Literacy Action. 

Picture this - 

Prepared, Rob (an adult learner) is now at the board, but white board blindness has set in. 

Have you ever had white board blindness? 
You know, that moment in time when you 
know what to do but your mind goes blank?

Sal (another adult learner) steps up. She begins by finding out what part of the math problem is bothering him - where he's stuck. She asks Rob questions about what he's thinking, what he's trying to do, and what the problem is asking. He responds. When his written or oral responses are slightly off, she asks other questions to facilitate Rob's decisions.

Payoff -

As volunteers/tutors, we know that we learn the most when we teach or guide someone else in discovering and understanding. 
As such, we encourage our learners to teach each other. In fact, when learners have enough skill, we aid them in the next step - building their mentoring and questioning skills as facilitators of knowledge. 

The payoff for them is incredible. Their self-esteem soars, their leadership skills grow, and their own learning excels. The payoff for us is priceless. Changes in learners keeps us coming back, back to help more learners. 

You can feel this same way when you join us as a volunteer tutor. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Volunteer Opportunities (Updated 10/21)

Literacy Action Center relies heavily on volunteers. 

We'd love your help. If not as a tutor, then perhaps you are interested in one of the tasks listed below. Is there something you could do for us that we didn't mention? Or do you know someone else who would be good at one of these tasks? Please let us know.

  • Weekly:  donors -- create/maintain relationships with donors; write/send thank you notes
  • Monthly: grants -- write/deliver grants; write/send thank you notes; write/send follow-up reports
  • fundraising -- set up and follow through with a range of fundraising activities
  • January-May -- set up and oversee annual May fundraising event; develop sponsors for spring event
  • January-August  -- set up and oversee annual August silent auction fundraising event; develop sponsors for annual fundraiser
  • August-November -- draft, produce and send out November "giving" letter
  • August-December -- set up annual Barnes & Noble gift wrapping event; oversee scheduling & paperwork for gift wrapping event

Literacy Action Center Library:
  • December -- inventory library/sales materials
  • March, August, October -- prepare purchasing information; order materials

Office tasks:

  • Daily:   take telephone messages; talk to prospective volunteers, learners, & advocates; call learners/volunteers about attendance, events, etc.
  • Weekly: compile/enter data into databases; analyze data to tell "stories"; complete housekeeping chores
  • Monthly: create/prepare/send mailings; photocopy materials; file paperwork; setup/organize filing system

Public relations/marketing:
  • Social media: create/follow plan for posting to social media accounts (especially LAC website, Learner website, LAC blog, tutor blog, LAC Facebook page), YouTube, add other appropriate accounts (e.g., Instagram); prepare/post entries based on plan 
  • Weekly: seek out and talk to groups (or schedule director to do the talks); contact and establish connections with local media; collect stories from learners about changes in their lives; collect changes to be included in blogs; Send out PSAs & billboards about upcoming events; get articles written by reporters from different media outlets; post appropriate social media entries
  • Monthly: write/send public service announcements; setup & staff marketing opportunities; create/send monthly e-news email to thank donors; include requests; post appropriate social media entries
  • Quarterly: produce and distribute posters; write and prepare quarterly newsletter for mailing; staff booths at events (get others to help); create materials for booths/tabling events; post appropriate social media entries
  • Annually: produce annual report; post appropriate social media entries

Recognition activities:
  • Monthly: write/send birthday cards/notes to volunteers & learners; create, prepare, distribute monthly volunteer thank you gifts
  • January-April: setup annual recognition dinner -- food, place, etc.; oversee annual dinner -- setup, cleanup, dinner crew; oversee production and distribution an annual Adult Learner Writings booklet (at dinner and mailings)

  • Daily: teach an adult to read/write/math; teach a group of adults to read/write/math; teach tech skills, such as word processing, internet, typing, social media, and/or email; help learner work through process of writing essays, papers, or letters
  • Weekly: review goals/tasks with learners; track test score changes; re-test learners (note: must pass official annual training )

  • Weekly: Fix/update computers in office and lab; keep this equipment repaired and clean
  • Quarterly: refurbish older/extra computers donated to us to give to learners; deliver these computers to learners' homes (help them set them up)

Tutor Training:
  • Weekly: send out PSAs & billboards announcing training; create and check on web sites for volunteering; compile list of people interested in attending training; send out training materials; collect registrations; send emails/mailings, as appropriate; find sponsors for training
  • January, March, May, September, November: photocopy training packets; help set up training; help set up food
  • Become a trainer by taking the lead on several training segments (Note: Trainers must also be tutors. Trainers learn all segments so that they can eventually handle all aspects of training.)
Revised 10/2021