Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks - For Volunteers Working with Refugees


Are you working with Newcomers who need literacy training?  


An understanding of literacy needs is of great value to those trying to assist newcomers., Many refugees coming to Canada may know how to speak several languages, but because of life circumstances, may have little formal education, and be unable to read or write.  


The Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks has a great deal of valuable information.  Below is an excerpt from the CLB  guide for Adult LiteracyLearners (ALL)


Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and
written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an
individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate
fully in the wider society.
- The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), www.unesco.org/en/ 


English as a Second Language (ESL) Literacy is a complex field that addresses the needs of individuals who face
the challenge of learning literacy concepts in a language other than their mother tongue (hereafter termed ESL
Literacy learners). Educational programs usually focus on the development of either language or literacy, and
most existing scales measure one or the other of these two separate constructs, but not both.
The ideal context for the development of literacy is a first-language, print-rich environment. Many ESL learners
with literacy needs lack sufficient exposure to literacy concepts in their first language; as a result, they face the
challenge of working on both language and literacy at the same time. Because there are so many concepts to
learn and internalize, progressing through the classroom levels of a program usually takes significantly longer
than it would for literate adult ESL learners.


CLB: ESL for ALL – Purpose and Audience
The Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) framework is a descriptive scale of language ability in English as a
Second Language (ESL), containing 12 benchmarks or reference points, from basic to advanced. Within the CLB
framework, this document addresses the needs and abilities of adult ESL literacy learners. Most government funded
Adult ESL classes in Canada are referenced to the CLB and adult ESL learners are placed on the CLB scale
using a CLB-based assessment instrument. However, adult ESL learners placed on the scale who lack literacy
skills require unique supports as they gain the ability to communicate in an additional language. The purpose of
this document is to describe the needs and abilities of adult ESL Literacy learners, and to support instructors in
meeting their learning needs.
Adult ESL Literacy learners work toward the same language learning outcomes as literate ESL
learners (as outlined in the Canadian Language Benchmarks), but their learning does not progress as
quickly because they lack transferable literacy concepts, knowledge and strategies from their first
language; they are working on both language and literacy at the same time. Because of this, ESL
Literacy learners need considerable support, instruction and guided practice in acquiring and
applying literacy skills and strategies. This document supports instructors in providing this guidance
to literacy learners. It is assumed that instructors will use this document in conjunction with the
Canadian Language Benchmarks document.
The primary audience for this document is instructors of adult ESL Literacy learners. It can inform classroom
instruction, observation of progress, and curriculum development across a range of educational contexts. This
document is suitable for use both by instructors in programs that provide separate classes for ESL Literacy
learners and those who work in programs where ESL Literacy learners are included in mainstream ESL classes.

Key Assumptions
ESL learners with literacy needs:
1. Are learning English as their second or other language and are in the process of developing literacy,
numeracy and digital skills to help them interact in community, workplace and educational
2. May require support to function effectively in home, work, citizenship, and community contexts.
3. May require use of their first language for directions, concepts or explanations.
4. May have stronger oral skills, which can be used to aid development of reading and writing.
5. Have the same goals, needs, and motivations to learn and improve their English proficiency skills, and
their numeracy and digital skills as learners in mainstream ESL programs.
6. Have special learning needs that need to be addressed in collaborative as well as individualized, flexible
7. Are responsible for managing their learning, including demonstration of progress and ability to use
English in various contexts.
8. Require content that is relevant to the world outside the classroom and immediately useable in their
roles as learners, parents, employees, and citizens.
9. Are often less confident learners who will benefit from a learning environment that is validating,
encouraging, relevant, and supportive of risk-taking and lifelong learning.
10. Require a print-rich environment, predictable routines, explicit strategy training, repetition, spiraling and


Instructors working with ESL learners with literacy needs:
1. Require a solid understanding of ESL literacy needs and how they differ from those of mainstream ESL
2. Require support to deliver ESL literacy training that effectively accommodates the diversity of learners
within dedicated ESL literacy classes, mainstream ESL classes and in workplace training.
3. Require tools and related training designed to support them working with ESL learners with literacy
4. Need supports to enable them to conduct effective and appropriate placement and needs assessments.
5. Need supports to enable them to evaluate progress, facilitate ongoing learning and support learners’
transition into mainstream classes.
6. Need to be adaptable, supportive, knowledgeable and aware of the various challenges learners may face
in the real world.

Document Overview
This document has three parts. You can read the document as a whole or focus on a particular part.


PART 1 ELS Literacy Approaches and Supports
 Describes the unique characteristics and needs of ESL literacy learners
 Focuses on approaches to instruction that can effectively help learners draw on their existing strengths
and strategies as they internalize new concepts.
 Provides specific learning supports that facilitate ESL Literacy development, such as oral communication,
learning strategies, numeracy, digital literacy and sociolinguistic and cultural awareness.


PART 2 ELS Literacy and the CLB
 Focuses on supporting ESL Literacy learners as they develop critical concepts and abilities for Reading
and Writing.
 Describes the surface similarities to mainstream ESL learners while acknowledging the ESL Literacy
learner's lack of underlying knowledge, skills and strategies.
 Encourages instructors to take a holistic approach, considering all of a learner's strengths and
challenges, to assign benchmarks that capture both Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) outcomes
and literacy needs.
 Provides suggestions for classroom activities and tasks, along with typical supports that can enhance the
learning process.


PART 3 The Continuum of Literacy Skills
 Presents a five-phased continuum of ESL Literacy skills, focusing on reading and writing skill
development. (Note that development along this continuum is not aligned with progress along the CLB.)
 Provides instructors with a sense of the skills, knowledge and strategies that ESL Literacy learners may
need to acquire to support their daily activities.
 Provides a reminder of the uniqueness of each learner.
 Shows instructors how to use this information to informally diagnose gaps in the learners’ skill set.
 Illustrates how to target instruction in a way that best help


To download the CLB Adult Literacy Guide, click here


For information about services and publications available, click here  There are a number of helpful links, plus info available in Arabic.