Community - Blog

Blogging for Professional Learning



Are you looking for a way to keep your class projects, activities and ideas organized? Have you ever thought about creating an online professional portfolio?

Last month, I met an ESL instructor who has created an inspiring professional portfolio blog called Cultivating Learning. Jennifer teaches LINC 2 - 4 learners, as well as Phase II ESL literacy learners at the Immigrant Women's Centre in Hamilton, Ontario. I have asked Jennifer to share about her unique blog that features horticultural & seasonal classroom activities.

When did you create your blog, and what motivated you to create it?

I have been interested in creating things for many years. I knit, can my own fruit and vegetables, garden, take pictures, and have recently starting learning how to use a sewing machine. I took courses in horticultural therapy and wanted to incorporate some of the activities into my classroom. Before I started my own blog, I was following a small handful of blogs that prolifically incorporated seasonal activities. In 2011, I created my blog as a way to organize these projects, keep myself motivated in doing horticulturally based activities in my class, and to maintain an on-line portfolio of these activities.

What is the purpose of your blog?

The purpose of my blog is both to keep me on track with incorporating horticulturally based activities in my class as well as share ideas with my colleagues. I hope to inspire colleagues in using these kinds of activities in their classes.

Who is your blog for: ESL literacy learners, practitioners or both?

My blog is for practitioners.

What blogging platform did you use to create your blog? How difficult (or easy) was it to create your blog?

I used Blogger. I found that it was easy to create a blog on this software once I figured out how to upload pictures and change the formatting.

What special design or content considerations are there when creating an ESL literacy blog?

The first step is to determine your audience. You will use different design and content if you are publishing for learners or practitioners. Inspired by other blogs I have been following, I wanted to keep it photo based, with some text to set up the context. As my audience is literacy practitioners, I did not have to adapt any of my language or amount of text as I would have for learners. If I were to publish this for learners, I would likely use icons rather than words, or keep the links to common sight words my students would feel successful with. Also, the content would be more interactive or relevant to their needs and language practice.

What have you learned from creating the blog? What advice do you have for ESL literacy practitioners who would like to create a blog?

I have learned that it is important to have a focus /theme, but to also be flexible so that you do not limit yourself in the future. For example, when I started my blog I was only teaching literacy Foundation and Phase I. However, my class levels have changed since then, so I have incorporated the new and old in my blog. Since I have only a handful of LIFE students in my class, I have included the CLB levels into my ‘tags’ as well as the Phases. This way, I can reach a greater audience of ESL practitioners and keep my motivation.

Do you have any other reflections on blogging?

Anyone can create a blog. In higher levels, learners could also contribute and upload the material with some teacher support. Also, feel open about sharing your blog with others so that your ideas and message will get out to the people you want to reach. 

Take some time to explore Jennifer's blog, Cultivating Learning. Then share with the online community about what classroom seasonal activities inspire you.


great hands on ideas

Hello Jennifer,  

I love your blog and all of the hands on, interesting activities that you do with your learners to extend their learning beyond language.  Thank you for sharing your great ideas with us!


Hello Jennifer: I attended

Hello Jennifer:

I attended your webinar on Tutela some time ago. Used many of your ideas in class. Thank you so much. My students just love reading about Sam and Pam (I started using it after your reccomendation).

Warm regards, Svetlana

Thank you

Thank you Svetlana for commenting on the blog. I have enjoyed exploring your blended online course webpage and your Teach2Learn blog. Would you mind if I shared the links to these websites in this space?

Thanks as well for the great exchange on Twitter today! It's always great to make connections in the ESL literacy community.

Ms. Lana's Literacy Blog

Here is the link to Svetlana's ESL literacy blog: Ms. Lana's Literacy

Svetlana will be presenting at the TESL Toronto conference on developing an ESL literacy blended online course for LINC learners.

Thank you for sharing Svetlana! 



I have loved your blog since before it was given the spotlight here and, as you know, have it linked in the sidebar of my blog. It is bright, colourful and oozes a feeling of creativity and energy for what you do. It also reflects that you are a dedicated literacy professional who pours her whole self into the job. I'm so glad we connected.

Thanks for creating this wonderful blog!

Jennifer, Your blog reflects how essential it is to engage learners in important topics beyond life skills --which isn't to say that life skills are irrelevant-- but, I believe strongly that we teachers need to raise the bar if learners are to reach their goals. In addition to presenting rich and important topics, there are at least two things that I see in your approach that are critical: 1) your lessons give adult learners a lot of choices, and 2) these lessons engage adult ELLs in using technology in meaningful ways. I'm so excited to share your blog with other teachers in the United States! Thanks for the wonderful work you are doing. I'm looking forward to keeping up with your blog routinely!

Susan Finn Miller, Lancaster, PA USA

Susan Finn Miller

Lancaster, PA USA

Blog Portfolio

Thanks for sharing this Shelagh!  I'm all for learning about teaching as I begin with my first class which is LINC 4.  I was very impressed with the vocabulary that the students use.  Right now I'm doing a unit on climbing Mount Everest - and linking it to camping and hiking in and around Calgary.  She's given me some ideas!

Marcia, I am happy to have

Marcia, I am happy to have given you some ideas! Good luck in you LINC 4 class!

Nature Journal for Hike

Marcia, I came across this website for making a nature journal. When I saw it I thought about your hike.


Nature Journals

Thanks Shelagh!  A nature walk, even in the downtown core, would yield some interesting and original digital books!  My daughter and I used to go on nature walks and write/draw about our experiences.  It's good learning on so many levels!  And nature can be human as well - I'm getting excited, just thinking about the possibilities!

Jennifer's blog

Hi Marcia,

I am happy to hear that you enjoyed visiting Jennifer's blog Cultivating Learning. I just wanted you to know that it was Jennifer who responded to you about the nature journal idea. :)

One of the things I like about Jennifer's blog is that it highlights activities that are rooted in nature and the natural environment. I think it's important to bring beauty into the classroom and learning.

The importance of basic education concepts in ESL Literacy

Hi Jennifer,

I loved your blog.  The thing I like the most about what you've been doing with your class is your recognition that ESL Literacy learners require basic elementary education concepts in addition to language and literacy.  I had a couple of great reminders of this with my class just this week.  I was teaching them about the "Bow River" and "Bow River Valley" to get acquainted with how our college "Bow Valley College" was named. This involved a walk down beside the river.  After learning some of the names for "river" in the students' languages, it was soon apparent that many of the learners in my class did not have the same concept of "river" as I did.  I learned this when one of my higher students started talking about the "big big river" in Vancouver, while miming the waves crashing into the shore.  He didn't have a clear conceptual difference between "river" and "ocean", and perhaps saw the word "river" as a cognate to "body of water".  This led to a really interesting series of lessons on how our drinking water comes from the mountains.  Most of the learners did not know that the water in the river came from snow in the mountains or have any knowledge of the clouds being formed by evaporating water.  This led to a very basic lesson on the water cycle in my class. 

It was also really interesting to reflect on whether my learner's conceptual background is only related to having had interrupted formal education or whether it is also related to having had an interupted childhood in general, with little contact with elders who could have shared traditional knowledge.  I have, for example, several learners in my class who have never known their grandparents and many whose parents were killed when they were small children.  A few of my students were raised primarily in refugee camps outside their countries of origin by older siblings who were still children themselves.

Anyway, I loved reading your blog and was very heartened to see an understanding that ESL Literacy involves much more than tranferring information from one's own language to English.

Thanks, Shelley! I never

Thanks, Shelley! I never really thought about how many learners have few or no elders from whom to learn. But, of course, that makes perfect sense! Thank you for sharing that!