Harnessing Technology to Serve Adult Literacy

Integrating Technology in Adult Literacy Education

, Ed.D
Newsome Associates
Boston, MA

Updated April 4, 2014

The Harnessing Technology Web pages help adult literacy education (ABE/GED/ESL/ESOL) teachers and learners to use computers, tablets, smart phones, television, CD-Roms, DVDs, audio and video cassettes, and other electronic technology to help solve learning and instructional problems.   The Web pages grow and improve as practitioners and learners describe problems and contribute good solutions which use technology.  Problems and solutions which are unattributed are those of  David J. Rosen.

Table of Contents


















List of Problems



  • Math problem solving
  • Using computers and the Web to solve common, real-life math tasks
  • Teaching graphs to a multi-level education group
  • Learning about the human body
  • Hands-on science experiments without a laboratory
  • Health information
  • Health lesson plans
  • Management Information System software
  • Help for students searching for information
  • How to find useful sites on the Web without spending hours surfing
  • How part-time teachers who can't meet informally in the halls can get together
  • Web resources with information for new or prospective volunteer tutors
  • How to use the Internet for collaboration
  • Where to find good adult education courses
  • Information about electronic tools, software and hardware, that can help dyslexic adults to read and write.

    Problems and Solutions


    Problem: Where to find online lesson plans for adult basic education, adult secondary education  and ESL/ESOL

    Solution 1:  Web pages
    The Literacy List

    Solution 2: Web Pages
    The Gateway to Educational Materials
    Intended for a K-12 audience, "The Gateway provides the key to one-stop, any-stop access to high quality Internet lesson plans, curriculum units and other education resources."  It is very comprehensive, and some of its lesson plans are suitable for adults.

    Problem:   How to acquire more information about starting a family literacy program or adding family literacy to my current program

    Solution 1:  Family Literacy Resource Notebook Web Pages
    The Family Literacy Resource Notebook serves a broad spectrum of users.  You can learn what family literacy is all about or you can obtain information to expand or enrich an existing program.  This notebook can be downloaded at http://literacy.kent.edu/Oasis/famlitnotebook

    Solution 2:   Family Literacy Special Collections Web Pages
    The LINCS Family Literacy Special Collections provides individuals working with families a means to access a variety of resources electronically.  At this site you can explore parenting issues, children's activities, and classroom materials.  You will also discover professional development topics and current event information.  Whether you want to browse the site for developing curriculum or to download classroom activities, the Family Literacy Special Collections is one-stop shopping.  This comprehensive source of literacy information can be accessed at http://literacy.kent.edu/Midwest/FamilyLit.

    Problem and solutions contributed 8/11/99 by:
    Judy Franks, Literacy Projects Coordinator
    Ohio Literacy Resource Center
    Kent State University
    Kent, Ohio


    Problem 1: What are some Math activities that students can do on the computer?

    Solutions: Math Activities:

    "1.  Checking bills for accuracy.   Student discussion around cost of living, bills, and expenses.  Students are asked to go through their bills and check the figures, added costs, penalties, dates, times and amounts of last payment and check for discrepancies.  Pointing out the conflict and resolution skills they have learned in their parenting class, they are asked to call the billing department and ask questions of any part of a bill they don't understand negotiate with the billing department.

    2.  Using online math quizzes.  I have several math quizzes posted online at http://www.funbrain.com. Students can access several math quizzes that I have posted online after they log on and create a password.  The online site grades and emails their scores to me.  The students often exceed my quizzes and then search the Internet to find more math quizzing sites and services.

    3.  Students search and evaluate web sites in math.  They have an evaluation form they fill out, choose their best math sites, write the
    evaluation using a word processing program,  including links.  They should then mail these to the instructor and the other students.  The
    instructor will compile the list and email it back to the student, who must download it, possibly convert versions, and store it in his or her file
    on the hard drive. The students can then choose from these and access their website of choice during computer time.  These compilations
    of math links will be uploaded to the student resources area Website.

    4.  Word problems II: The student will generate his or her own word problems, present them to the other students and grade the other students answers.  Students get an ABE Online Penpal and send each other questions and answers using the internet and attaching files to email. The students may wish to center the word problem around some activity geographic locality pertinent to where they live, their family, or

    5.  Planning a vacation using the Internet. Students will plan a family vacation using the Internet to determine place, distance, mode of travel, cost-analysis, expenses, accommodations,  and currency exchange.  Students can search and find web sites to most major cities or tourist activities and  plan a realistic but virtual vacation.  http://google.com   (choose Google Maps from the menu)

    6.  Internet searching:  One of my first assignments on the computer is to have students search and evaluate Internet math sites using different search engines.  Even students who have never used a computer or typewriter can pick this up easily.  Students learn the how to search the Internet, and  how to evaluate web sites for content. Students often find sites that help them learn math.  Internet research is not only apersonal/fun activity but also a job skill.  Evaluating the source and content of websites is important in many ways, including for parents who want to keep some control over what their children are doing on the web.

    7.  Budgeting:  I have students keep track of their expenses for a month and use Excel to graph their expenses.  In this way they really see
    where their money is going every month, learn about graphs(making and interpreting), and learn more about what a computer can do. "

    Problem 1and solutions 1-7 provided  January 1, 2002 by:
    Jeffery Parham, ABE/GED Instructor
    Pre-College Studies and Academic Support Program
    Highline Community College
    2400 S. 240th St. P.O. Box 98000  MS 19-1
    Des Moines, WA 98198-9800

    Problem 2: Does anyone know of a good program (games, computer programs, web sites etc.) to help students learn the steps for division?

    Solution 1: Web-sites

    AAA Math is a website devoted to teaching division at grade levels 1-8

    Math.com is a great all around math website. The division may be a little advanced, but worth checking out.

    Web Math used to be at Discovery.com but now has its own site at

    Visual Fractions is one of my favorites for getting a visual idea of what fractions and division are about.

    Problem contributed on the NIFL-AALPD list on October 14th by:

    Lisa Snyder, Adult education Teacher
    Bastrop TWC

    Solution contributed on the NIFL-AALPD list on October 15th by:

    Robbie James
    Ohio University
    338 McCracken Hall,
    Athens, OH 45701

    Problem 1: Learning about the human body

    "My ABE/GED students need to learn about the human body. Are there pictures of the human body available  on computer CD's or the Internet? "

    Solution 1: A.D.A.M.  The Inside Story CD-ROM
    There are excellent CD-ROMS on the human body, for example A.D.A.M. The Inside Story, available for Windows and Macintosh. Although no longer available from the publisher it is still available  inexpensively from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Mindscape-A-D-A-M-The-Inside-Story/dp/B000AYWYQY 

    Solutions 2-4: Web pages
    The following web pages offer views of the inside of the human body and its various systems:

    Problem 2:  How do I find hands-on science experiments that I can
    do without a laboratory?"

    Solution : Web Page

  •  http://www.iit.edu/~smile/cheminde.html

  • "I'm planning to do a lot of science for at least part of this year, and you
    can bet I'll be using some of this!"

    Problem and solution contributed 8/19/00 by:
    Wendy Quinones, adult education teacher
    Eastern Massachusetts

    Also see  Additional science-related Web sites in the NIFL LINCS Science and Numeracy Special Collection.

    Problem 1:  Learning about Housing Laws

    "My Level One students need to be familiar with basic U.S. housing laws and how these laws protect them in their daily lives. How can I put such critical but complicated legal concepts in their reach ?"

    Solution : Rebecca's EZ Page Web Pages
    Rebecca's EZ Page includes Web lessons on Lead Poisoning, and Housing --What Should the Landlord Do? These housing lessons aim to teach the crux of those laws using carefully chosen vocabulary and pictures to illustrate the words.

    Problem and Solution contributed on November 12, 1999 by:
    Rebecca Pomerantz
    Jamaica Plain Community Centers Adult Learning Program
    Boston, MA

    Problem 1 :  Getting students interested in the political process and the
    upcoming elections.

    Solution 1: World's Smallest Political Quiz Web Page

    "This site is fun; it allows students to take a quick quiz (providing a lot
    of opportunity for discussion on these concepts and issues right there) and
    then submit their answers.  Then it gets even more interesting, the site
    analyzes the results and then locates the respondents on the political map
    and gives you a personal self-government score as well as an economic
    self-government score.

    I can imagine students taking this quiz individually (they don't have to
    tell the truth), and then comparing their scores, followed by discussions as
    to why particular opinions are reflective of various ideologies.

    The site then links to another page that presents the libertarian view on
    immigration ("let peaceful people cross borders freely").  There's another
    month's worth of lesson plans right there !

    Since I am not teaching these days, I'd love to hear from others on how they
    might use this site"

    Problem and Solution contributed on March 13, 2000 by:
    Heide Wrigley
    Aguirre International

    Solution 2: Easy Voter Guide Web Page 
    These Web pages were designed by and for adult new readers in California.  They are written clearly and directly, and most of the pages have sound files which allow the user to hear the page read out loud.

    Solution 3: The Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education Your Government, Your Taxes curriculum
    /http://www.nelrc.org/cpcc/index.htm The Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education has published and updated its Curriculum: Your Government, Your Taxes, Your Choices (most recent version by Diana Satin and Nancy Sheridan) available free and used by adult basic education programs across the state

    Solution 4: The Right Question Project
    http://tinyurl.com/5s7axdg The Right Question Project has worked with adult education programs on voter education in New Hampshire, Arizona, Missouri, and perhaps in other states

    Solution 5: The Change Agent
    http://www.nelrc.org/changeagent/index.htm The Change Agent publication has had many issues that include articles on adult education civic literacy for social change.

    Solution 6: Civic Participation and Community Action Sourcebook and Collection
    http://tech.worlded.org/docs/vera/index1.htmThe New England Literacy Resource Center's Civic Participation and http://www.nelrc.org/cpcc/index.htm The Community Action Sourcebook and Civic Participation and Citizenship Collection have many great resources and examples of civic literacy and social change. 

    Problem 2: Finding videos and films on peace and social justice issues

    Solution: Web page


    The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Video and Film Library provides audio-visual programs on the issues of our times. They have a large collection of films, videos, and slide shows.
    They may be the largest lending library of programs on peace and social justice issues in the country.

    Problem and solution provided on October 9, 2000 by:
    Diana Satin, ESOL Teacher
    Jamaica Plain Community Centers
    Jamaica Plain, MA

    Problem: Management Information System software

    "I am looking for a...commercially produced MIS program...one that is simple and user friendly is a plus. My plans are to put this program on our LAN..... "

    Problem on the NIFL-Technology E-list Tue, 19 Jan 1999
    Gene Gramarossa
    Hampden County Correctional Center
    Ludlow, MA

    Solution : Database software
    "LiteracyPro Systems, Inc., of California, is the leading developer of software database management systems for non-profits, literacy programs, and vocational tech schools. We are even the sole providers of databases for the Correctional Ed sites in VA and PA.  The LitPro Web site is www.literacypro.com."

    Solution on the NIFL-Technology E-list Tue, 19 Jan 1999
    Catherine Fetterman
    San Jose, California

    [NOTE: There is more information and discussion about this software which took place in January, 1999 on the NIFL-Technology electronic list, archived at  http://lincs.ed.gov/nifl-technology/1999/index.html]

    Problem 1: Help for students searching for information

    I want students to be able to find information that answers their questions and and meets their needs, including searching the Internet.  Is there a student-friendly Web search engine that is relatively easy to understand and use?

    Solution 1: Web Search Engine
    At www.askjeeves.com the students can ask questions in full sentences which gives them the opportunity to practice writing skills and basic question and sentence structure.  After the students type in their question they are given a choice of related questions and answers to choose from.  Ask Jeeves also searches several other search engines and gives 8-10 different links for each in a pull down button format.  There are always some sites that have nothing to do with the question but for the most part it gives the students many solid leads and it is easy to maneuver among all the choices. Another interesting element of the site is a box in which they show the types of questions that other people are asking.  Students can look at the answers that others have received for questions that intrigue them.  You can also use this as a model for question structure.

    Problem and Solution provided 7/26/99 by
    Jonathan Chapman
    GED Teacher
    Crittenton Hastings House
    Boston, Massachusetts

    Solution 2: Web Search Engine

    This is one of the best search engines I have found in my last position as a researcher for the State of  Texas.  It is also supplies a "notable quote" to read while it is searching.

    Solution contributed 1/4/00 by:
    Eileen Trainor
    Project Inter-ALT
    Center for Initiatives in Education
    Southwest Texas State University

    Solution 3: Web Search Engine

    Problem 1 :  Is there information about electronic tools, software and hardware, that can help dyslexic adults to read and write?

    Solution 1: Web pages
    This site includes dyslexia, disability, access, ADD, ADHD, Attention Deficit, SpLD, and Specific Learning Difficulties.  It offers links to information about hardware and software products which may help to address the challenges of dyslexic adults and adults with other learning disabilities.  The Web site "aims at being a comprehensive resource of technology based tools to help dyslexic people make the most of their abilities. It is particularly strong on computers and speech, both dictation systems and speech feedback."

    Solution provided on 6/13/00 by
    Ian Litterick <ianl@dyslexic.com>

    Solution 2: Free Software Products
    "Free software that will read text out loud and that new readers can operate...available for download from www.cnet.com.
    In the search box type:  reading software   In the category to search, choose all cnet.  Most programs on cnet are reliable and should be virus free!!!"

    Solution Provided on 8/6/01 by:
    Tom Woods
    Computer Tech Volunteer
    Dogwood Literacy Council
    Siloam Springs, AR

    Solution 3: Free Software products
    The following are freeware (software available at no charge)

        Text to Speech

        Text Readers/screenreaders

        Speech to Text
        Office Suites (free software that does word processing, spreadsheets, etc.)


        Free Images

            Some of the sites listed below also include links to services that offer images at a low cost.

            Prices for downloading images vary according to intended use. See the details on each site for up-to-date cost information.


            Shareware text-to-speech programs are available via the Internet from shareware sites such as Tucows. Some examples of shareware and freeware text-to-speech tools are:

        Decompressing (Unzipping) Files

            Use these free tools to unzip or decompress files:

    Solution 3 provided by Dr. Christopher Lee in a posting to the National Institute for Literacy Learning Disabilities (NIFL-LD) Electronic List on September 21, 2005.

    Solution 4: Commercial Software Products

    The products below are some of the commercial text reading products.

    1. Universal Reader with Talking Pointer by Premier Asistive Technology. Inexpensive (under $50)software that reads text, including Web pages. The Talking Pointer is designed for sighted readers who want to have some text read out loud. It is very easy to use and requires only pointing, not even highlighting. It is possible, upon request, to get an evaluation copy. http://www.premier-programming.com/

    2. Kurzweil 3000 http://www.kurzweiledu.com/

    3. Text Aloud by Next Up. Around $25.  http://download.cnet.com/TextAloud/3000-7239_4-10046551.html or http://www.nextup.com/
    Can convert electronic text to synthetic speech (audio) and save it in MP3 format. 

    4. WYNN Reader http://www.freedomscientific.com/LSG/index.asp

    Problem 2: I need materials that will help me with basic literacy students who are dyslexic.

    Solution 1: Software products

    1. Language Tune up Kit  http://www.rmlearning.com/dyslexia.htm

    2. Climbing With Phonics (only works on Windows 95) http://www.ab-cdrom.com/

    Solutions 1 and 2 suggested by Vickie Green, NIFL-LD electronic list, 8/13/05. 


    Problem 1: I would like to make Web pages with instruction and quizzes for my students to use online in class or at home.

    Solution: Discovery School Web Pages
    "In addition to many other fine educational aids, content, and resources,
    Discovery School (http://school.discovery.com/) has added some great new teaching tools. Solution provided  8/22/00 by:
    Carole Blair
    Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
    North Adams, Massachusetts

    Problem 2:  I would like to do a project in which my students make Web pages which integrate language skills and computer skills learning.

    Solution: AngelfireWebpage
    Angelfire is a free Web page (with advertisements) which provides teachers and students with the tools to make and post Web pages. (up to 30 megabytes, free.)

    Solution provided  8/31/00 by;
    Diana Satin
    ESOL Teacher
    Jamaica Plain Community Centers
    Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts


    Problem: "Occasionally, I will have a student who has never sat before a computer. It
    would be handy to start them out with a game/tutorial that would play them
    through the functions of the mouse and basic mechanisms of moving around the
    computer environment. Has anyone come across such a game format?"

    Nick Griffis
    Adult Education
    Inlet Grove H.S.
    Riviera Beach, FL
    (Question posted to NIFL-Technology 1/25/04)

    Solution 1: Web sites

    Below are links to Web pages that will help adults practice using a mouse. Thanks for identifying these to Massachusetts adult education teachers: Diana Satin, Jamaica Plain Community Centers, Jamaica Plain; John Seay, Dimock Community Health Center, Roxbury; Wendy Quinones, Community Learning Center, Cambridge, and Carole Blair, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams.

    BBC Absolute Beginners' Guide to using your computer, Stage 1

    Jig Zone
    Drag-n-drop pieces to make whole jigsaw puzzles.

    Mouse Practice


    Palm Beach County Libray Mousing
    Mousing Around, Mousercise and Practice Games


    Practice Your Mouse Skills

    The Learning Ladder

    "...in MS Paint, have [students] write their name or the alphabet. It's hard! But great mouse practice. For the more concrete students, you might have them start with paper, then the black/whiteboard and then finally the computer."
    Wendy Quinones

    This page last updated 4.4.14 by