Bright Ideas


Just in Time English: Innovations in ESOL

Senior immigrants and refugees face many barriers to learning English and integrating into American society. They have often suffered from war, religious persecution, and deprivation. They are grateful to be in America, but it isn’t easy. They face all the problems of other elders, but they must also learn a new language and navigate a complex and often confusing new world.

Bright Ideas” classes that help low-literate elderly learn English and civics.  The all-class parties that brought students together were eagerly anticipated and enjoyed as students conversed in English and tasted food from other countries. Read more about our Students

The Bright Ideas project is a unique collaboration between CLESE‘s coalition of community-based organizations serving various ethnic groups and a research and technical assistance firm specializing in hard-to-serve populations (The Aguirre Group).

We are implementing an innovative training model that is designed to meet the specific needs of community teachers with little experience in teaching students the literacy and communication skills needed for self-sufficiency, citizenship, and civic engagement. The project is designed to meet the needs of hard-to-serve immigrant populations with special needs who face multiple challenges to learning.
The learners are from underserved language groups within the Chicago area: Bosnians, Assyrians, Chinese, Romanians, Ukrainians, and Philippinos. All are limited English speakers (the majority fall into Student Performance Levels 0 to 1) and many of the students have only limited formal education in their home country.

CLESE is involved in ongoing research to identify how seniors learn English and to develop innovative ways for teachers to engage students. With assistance from national literacy consultants, over the past three years, we have identified a range of strategies that not only improve English communication, but decrease social isolation, and increase civics skills.

More about the project


Kansas – What Works in ESL Literacy v4  by Heide Spruck Wrigley
(Download PowerPoint presentation)

Working closely with researchers and program developers from the Aguirre Group, we have designed and are implementing an innovative curriculum that emphasizes the use of visual material (pictures, overheads, videos), community interactions (field trips, inter-ethnic events), and projects (community mapping, virtual visits) to prompt learners in addressing their priority needs: face to face communication skills and basic reading and writing skills, as well as skills needed to fully participate in civic life. Several videos will be produced for use in the classroom and a teacher training video, demonstrating promising practices in serving elder immigrants and refugees will also be produced.

View video clips


The project will accomplish the following: (1) design, implement and field test training for teachers from four community-based organizations; (2) develop innovative state-of-the-art curriculum based on the abilities and needs of senior immigrants; (3) increase students’ applied language and literacy skills and their civic engagement; and (4) build the capacity of CBO teachers to document learner progress.

This project was jointly funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Illinois Department of Human Services, and the Retirement Research Foundation.

Coalition of Limited English Speaking Elderly (CLESE)
53 West Jackson, Suite 1340
Chicago, IL 60604
312-461-0812  /  312-461-1466 (fax)