The Language Companion is a binder given to new learners to support language learning, PBLA, and the learner’s settlement in Canada. The three versions of the Language Companion are ESL Literacy, CLB 1-4, and CLB 5-8. This section contains suggestions for using the Language Companion in your classroom.
Description and Distribution
The Language Companion is a binder given to new learners to support language learning, PBLA, and the learner’s settlement in Canada. The three versions of the Language Companion are ESL Literacy, CLB 1-4, and CLB 5-8.
The Language Companion begins with an orientation to the sections of the binder contents. It has information about the purpose of the material, and information about the learner’s portfolio. The settlement and ESL information in the binder is written for the range of levels in the particular CLB stage of each Language Companion version. However, teachers may need to modify materials further for particular groups or CLB levels of learners. The binder is divided into the following sections:
Canadian Language Benchmarks – Information about the CLB levels based on the “Can-Do Statements”
My Canada – Basic reference information about Canada that is important for settlement, including opportunities for learners to personalize the information
Where I Live – Information related to provincial, regional, and municipal features and services, including opportunities for learners to add resources and personalize the information
Helpful English – Useful English language reference information, with the option of adding additional information provided by the teacher
My Notes – An empty section for learners to keep day-to-day worksheets, rough drafts, and handouts. This section can be culled when items are no longer needed or when a learner moves to a new class.
My Portfolio – A section in which learners organize artefacts for assessment purposes. Teachers collect this section to review it for evaluation at the end of the term, and then return it. “My Portfolio” is divided into six subsections: About Me, Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing, and Other.
Learners receive a Language Companion from their program. Learners continue to use the same Language Companion when they move to another class or program. Learners only receive a new Language Companion binder when they are working primarily in the next CLB stage and it is advantageous for them to have the new content. For example, a learner who has a CLB 1-4 Language Companion but is now beginning to work toward CLB 5 competencies in most skills should receive a CLB 5-8 Language Companion.
The Language Companion is not a textbook or a curriculum. It is a learning resource intended to support the learning activities the teacher develops for the classroom.
Teachers will continue to develop their own activities or draw on the many excellent published resources available across Canada.
Introducing the Language Companion: Some Activities
Prior to introducing the Language Companion, it is recommended that teachers familiarize themselves with its content, reflect on how they can exploit the resource with their learners, and identify the concepts and language skills that learners will need for daily in-class use of the Language Companion.
Knowing their learners, teachers are likely to come up many ideas for activities to introduce the Language Companion. The following suggestions, which come from teachers across the country, are primarily for lower CLB levels but can be adapted for other levels as necessary. The activities can be done over several days, depending on the length of the class, the level of the learners, and the scaffolding that learners need to build the skills and awareness necessary for using the Language Companion regularly and effectively.
To introduce learners to the purpose and parts of a binder, bring in several examples, including the Language Companion. Elicit from them what they think a binder is. Find out who currently has a binder, what they keep in it, how it’s divided, why they have it, and so on.
Build familiarity with the organization and content of the Language Companion. Use the Table of Contents to help learners develop text organization strategies, such as surveying and predicting, in order to understand content.
Distribute the Language Companions and explain that they are provided by the Canadian government to help them settle in Canada and learn English. Have them write their names on the binder.
Have learners look at the tabs, discuss what they might find in each section, and check their guesses. Ask how they might use each section in school or at home. Ask learners at Stage 2 (CLB 5-8) how they might add to the Language Companion to create a personalized reference.
Try a search activity to find specific information in the various sections.
NOTE: Tell the learners that you will talk about the “My Portfolio” section another day.
Build key vocabulary and phrases for the binder, such as front cover, back cover, dividers, rings, pockets, Put it in your Language Companion, Put it in front of …, Put it behind …, Put it in the X section …, and so on.
Have learners brainstorm advantages of having a Language Companion: for example, they will have a place for their papers, they have important settlement information they can use outside of class, and so on.
Have learners transfer and put any relevant papers into the “My Notes” section of their Language Companion.
Explain the purposes of the Language Companion for you and your learners:
To access information on settlement and language
To keep daily notes and handouts organized
To keep samples of their language learning for assessment for new CLB levels
Have learners make a list of rules for the Language Companion. Depending on the CLB level, some rules might be the following:
Bring the Language Companion to class everyday.
Keep it in a safe place at home.
Don’t lose it or any of its contents.
Keep the it organized.
Don’t let children draw in or play with it.
Have learners sign a “contract” that includes the rules they have established.
A number of ESL Literacy teachers have said over the years that it was not uncommon for their learners to bring all their papers to school shoved into a plastic grocery bag in complete disorder. It was time consuming, at best, to find a worksheet even from the day before.
Now, as part of their daily lessons, learners date every paper and help each other to put them in order into the “My Notes” section of their Language Companion.
Using the Language Companion throughout the Term
The Language Companion is intended to support settlement in Canada and be a resource for learners in their learning of English both in and outside the classroom. It is intended to complement but not replace authentic, published, or teacher-made materials.
The Language Companion is not a curriculum or a textbook. It does not include language practice activities. However, it can be useful to learners and teachers in a variety of ways.
The settlement content in the Language Companion is valuable to both learners and teachers. While it provides some key information on a range of common settlement topics, it is not intended to be a comprehensive or in-depth exploration of each topic. Learners will also find opportunities throughout the Companion for them to personalize the information. In addition, teachers may have learners add local reference material as they explore various topics:
In a module on going to the library, learners could add a brochure from a local library to the Community Service pages of the section “Where I Live” in their Language Companion.
In a module on settlement services, learners could copy the address of their local service on the relevant page of their Language Companion, and insert an information brochure.
In a module on looking for work, a learner in CLB Stage 2 could add a copy of his or her resume, while a learner in Stage 1 might add a completed job application to refer to or copy from when applying for a job.
Language Tasks and Learning Activities
The content of the Language Companion can be used as the basis for developing language tasks or as reading or listening texts. Pages in “Helpful English” are also easily developed into skill-building activities: for example, listed words could be used in different vocabulary exercises. Content can also be used to develop skill-using learning activities, such as making posters or signs, role playing, filling in forms, making grocery lists, and so on.
Outside the classroom, learners can use the Language Companion for self study or as a place to compile and organize additional language learning or settlement information.
Like any instructional resource, in the hands of a creative teacher, the Language Companion has tremendous potential.
Language Companion ESL Literacy
ESL Literacy learners have reported that having the Language Companion makes them feel like “real” learners. Because it is similar to the other versions of the Companion, ESL Literacy learners do not feel singled out as different from learners in other classes in the program.
The ESL Literacy version of the Language Companion was developed for a range of ESL Literacy levels aligned to the document, Canadian Language Benchmarks 2000: ESL for Literacy Learners. It is highly pictorial, with simplified text; however, teachers of Pre-Benchmarks A or B learners may want to further simplify parts of it for specific situations or use particular strategies to support learning. Here are some additional suggestions that ESL Literacy teachers may find helpful:
…our actual experience with the Language Companion in Ottawa with ESL Literacy to CLB 4 over the past 3 1/2 years is that learners are very positive about the ‘binders’. They feel that the time taken to introduce and practice PBLA was well spent and they take responsibility for their Language Companions.
– Larry Iveson
LINC, Ottawa Carleton District School Board
When you begin a new module, ask learners if they think their Language Companion might have some pages with helpful information on the topic. Have them look for pages that are relevant.
Have learners mark the pages of the Language Companion that are related to the current module with coloured stickies. For example, in a module on shopping, learners can mark the page about sales tax in “Where I Live” and the pages on prices and sales tax in “Helpful English.” It is easier, then, for learners to find the pages they need for certain learning activities. (Stickies can be easily moved to different pages when a new module is begun.)
Give learners a list of key words related to a topic and have learners look for and highlight them on a specific page in their Language Companion. For example, for a topic on government, learners might find and highlight the words, representative, community ,local, federal, provincial, territorial, municipal and councillor on p. 5 of “Where I Live.”
Have learners write their name and the date on every worksheet and highlight them with a coloured marker, using the same colour each time for consistency. This helps learners to identify their papers and organize them sequentially.
At the end of an activity, learners can work with a partner to put the worksheet sequentially into the “My Notes” section so they will be able to find it easily the next day for review or additional learning activities.
For Pre-Benchmarks A (Foundations) learners, you might want to simplify the reference material further using pictures from the Language Companion or elsewhere. Learners can then file their new reference paper in the appropriate place in the Language Companion.
When learners need to reproduce their name, address, or phone number, they can find where they wrote it in their Language Companion and use it as a model or to check their own work.
As an introduction to using the Language Companion to organize their language assessments, have learners participate in categorizing activities with “realia,” such as the following:
Sort realia into groups using pictures as indicators of various categories.
Work in small groups to decide on the categories for a number of items and then to sort them into those groups.
Make a simple label for each category.
Sort labelled pictures into categories. Make a list of items in each category and label the category.
Use simple inventories to keep track of the assessment tasks they put into each skill section of the Language Companion.
Give learners simple homework tasks, which can be used for assessment: for example, tell learners to find certain information in the Language Companion and leave you a phone message with the information, or ask them to look on a particular page and tell you the next day what is on that page.
Consider using the simplified dialogues on various pages as a basis for language practice. For example, in a module on cooking, the “Where is it?” activity on p. 39 can be the basis for skill-building activities for a speaking task to locate items in the fridge, such as “Where is the X?” or “Is the X on the top shelf?”
Language Companion Stage 1 (CLB Levels 1-4)
Teachers may also wish to try the following:Learners in CLB 1-4 require simple, concrete language. Visual support is helpful. The CLB 1-4 Language Companion reflects these needs; however, CLB 1 and 2 teachers might find that in some instances, it is helpful to simplify the language further. Teachers may also wish to supplement the CLB Stage 1 material with some pages from the ESL Literacy Language Companion.
Have learners predict whether content related to a new module topic will be found in the Language Companion. Have them locate all references.
Ask learners to search for specific information: for example, “Look in Helpful English and find four ways to ask the location of grocery items in a store.”
Have learners use reference information in the CLB to carry out tasks: for example, use the “Reading Labels” page in “Helpful English” to find information on a number of authentic product labels brought into class by the teacher and learners.
Use reference information as the basis for language tasks: for example, use the activities and hobbies information on the “Being Active” pages in “Helpful English” to practise making suggestions or giving advice.
In my three years’ experience teaching LINC, I have always wanted a collection of resource materials to give to learners with visuals and clear language explanations. Then the Language Companion came along and was an answer to my dreams. When I first introduced the Language Companion to learners, however, I was frustrated that they wouldn’t carry them home and study as I had hoped. I started to refer to materials in the binder as much as possible in the daily lessons. This would require learners to find the page I was referring to. After a bit more reflection, I started creating lessons and tasks around the binder. I would give them a task where they had to skim and scan the binder to find information to answer questions. I also gave them readings to do from the LC and then had them present to other learners what they had learned. This took a lot of effort initially, but it helped lay the ground work.… I think that the information and skills that I was teaching them were transferable to other areas of life.
– Angela MacMichael
MAGMA, Moncton, NB
Language Companion Stage 2 (CLB Levels 5-8)
In addition to the range of settlement topics covered in the Language Companion for learners in CLB 5-8, the “Helpful English” section has a significant employment focus and can be a very useful reference for learners with goals related to work. Many of the skills outlined in “Helpful English” are also transferable to other life and school contexts. Teachers are encouraged to consider how they might use the content in multiple contexts. Here are some suggestions for maximizing the Language Companion with Stage 2 learners:
Build references to specific Language Companion sections into instruction as part of the background or social situation information for tasks.
Have learners brainstorm and discuss ideas for using the Language Companion for self-study.
Use the information in the various sections as jumping off points to research projects or for awareness-raising activities prior to a deeper exploration of a subject or issue.
Have learners summarize text in a paragraph or re-write the text with additional information added.
Use information as a basis for learner surveys or questionnaires in the community.
Encourage learners to take advantage of the many opportunities in “My Canada” or “Where I Live” for further research. Have them note their additional information in the appropriate section.
Discuss transferable skills with learners and have them brainstorm how the skills outlined in the Language Companion might apply to other contexts.
Developing Autonomy and Responsibility
The Language Companion is important to learner learning, and it is the learners’ responsibility to take care of it. They should have it in class every day so they can keep their papers organized and accessible. Here are some points to keep in mind:
The Language Companion belongs to the learner and is the learner’s responsibility.
You are preparing them for living, working, and studying in the Canadian context. That includes familiarizing them with expectations and practices of the workplace or school.
Learners should understand that in the workplace, they will be expected to take individual responsibility for their tools or materials.
Just as adults taking other training or post-secondary courses are responsible for their texts and papers, learners in adult ESL classes are also responsible for their learning materials, including their Language Companions.
Learners cannot do homework or self-study at home if they do not have their resources.
If, because of unusual circumstances, you allow learners to leave their Language Companion at school during the week, it is increasingly important that you use or refer to the Language Companion daily. In this way, it will become an important resource to learners, and they will remember to take it (and therefore their portfolio) with them to the next class.
If you make “a big deal” of the Language Companion, take advantage of the resources, and encourage learners to maximize it for their language learning and settlement, your learners will be likely to treat the Language Companion with similar enthusiasm and respect.
NOTE: A learner who loses his or her Language Companion binder does not receive a new one from the funder. Consult with your administration for the program protocol.