El Paso Curriculum

Curriculum Home


El Paso Community College/Community Education program (EPCC/CEP)

An Instructional Model for Adult Education

The Five Step model is built on using learner-generated topics, information-gathering involving reading and discussion, and a learning process that engages reading, writing, speaking, listening, and critical thinking resulting in practical out-of-the-classroom English language use (action activities). Philosophically, the approach builds on whole language theory while addressing learner needs for practical instruction that works.

The Five Step model was developed by EPCC/CEP (formerly the Literacy Center) based on lengthy experience providing literacy instruction in various contexts in a Mexican-immigrant border culture. The model consists of the following steps:

  • Critical Discussion: An oral language activity which encourages group discussion, questioning, and critical thinking.
  • Reading Activity: Provides the participant information about a topic and develops language skills.
  • Writing Activity: Develops writing ability in different contexts and the particular rules for that context.
  • Group Activity: Students use language while interacting with other students.
  • Home Activity: An application activity to apply learning outside of the classroom


Beginning twelve years ago with the creation of the Community Education Program, the Five Step model has been applied in a number of contexts, including workplace literacy, family literacy, health literacy, home ownership literacy, and community literacy. Model instructional materials using the Five Step model have been created with funding from the Texas Education Agency, U. S. Department of Education, U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U. S. Department of Labor, U. S Department of Health and Human Services, Fannie Mae Foundation, Pfizer Health Foundation, and business and industry.

The Five Step model of language instruction can be used as a catalyst for students to obtain, learn and use information facilitated by entities that exist in a community. Representatives from these entities provide brochures, booklets and pamphlets with information regarding their programs and services, and make presentations and organize tours of facilities. Through this process, students improve their language communication skills while learning how to access community programs, services, and activities.

The Five-Step instructional model is an excellent tool to improve the math and language communication skills of the students while they engage topics of personal interest. For example, teachers can develop instructional activities using health-related information and a GED assessment format. After discussing and reviewing an article facilitated by a local health representative, the teacher gives the students an excerpt from the health article with multiple choice questions similar to what they would find in a GED test. After discussing statistics about the incidence of heart disease in the U. S., students may be given a related math activity also similar to one in the GED test. Through this approach, students learn about a topic that has direct impact on their lives while they get ready for the GED.

Classes have students of different academic levels. The Five-Step model can be used successfully with students who have different educational levels. For example a teacher assigns a health related reading to the students and divides them into groups of three to five students. A low-level group is asked to read the first sentence in the reading, identify two words that they do not know, and look for their meanings in the dictionary. With this information, the group attempts to infer the meaning of the complete sentence. Another group is asked to read a paragraph from the reading and identify vocabulary that they do not understand. A third group may be asked to paraphrase sentences from the same paragraph. A fourth group may be asked to summarize the entire reading and a fifth group is asked to do a math activity related to the reading. The students become responsible for their own learning and develop metacognitive learning strategies (i.e., how to collaborate on an assignment, how to divide responsibilities, and the advantages of group learning). The instructor meets with each group for a short period and answers relevant questions. This creates a better opportunity for the instructor to engage all students on a more personal basis and reduces the amount of lecture time. Research shows that academically disadvantaged students do not respond well to lecture time, preferring a more personalized approach. This method is also effective when students are working on different topics, as may be the case in certain classes.


Description of steps in the Five Step model

Critical Discussion: The purpose of the critical discussion is:

  • for students to engage freely in conversation about a topic
  • for students to think about a topic in more depth
  • to activate the student's thinking process in relationship to a topic
  • raise the student's interest and curiosity regarding a topic

Critical discussions are not controlled pronunciation activities. Students should speak freely and if they wish to, in their native languages. If students in a class speak several languages, they should be paired with speakers of the same language whenever possible.

Some activities that promote critical discussion include:

  • Asking questions to the students
  • Writing a list of questions on the board for discussion
  • Showing a movie and asking the students to discuss it
  • Inviting a speaker to present on a topic and having the students discuss the topic once the guess speaker leaves
  • Combination of the above


Reading Activity: The purpose of this activity is for the students to:

  • increase their knowledge of a topic
  • expand their vocabulary
  • gain exposure to a variety of print materials

After the interest and curiosity of the students about a topic has been activated, students will desire to obtain more knowledge about it. Therefore, a reading activity may be appropriate to satisfy the students.

The following are suggested reading activities:

  • Reading comprehension activity about a brochure, sign, form, paragraph, prescription, drug indications, poem, song, article or any other type of text
  • Summarizing information from text
  • Paraphrasing text
  • Using dictionaries to search for definitions of terms
  • Memorizing and reciting poems
  • Reading aloud to practice pronunciation


Writing Activity: The purpose of this activity is for students to:

  • Become familiar with different types of writing contexts and situations
  • To develop their writing skills in various contexts

Reading and writing activities are intimately related. The more people read, the better they write and writing always involves reading.

The following are suggested writing activities:

  • Informal journal writing, spontaneous and unchecked. Students may write in native language, draw, and misspell words.
  • More structured journal writing. Students may be asked to read from their journals or share the journal with their teacher.
  • Writing notes to co-workers, fellow students, relatives, etc.
  • Drawing maps or charts.
  • Writing instructions on how to do something, i.e., doing laundry, replacing a tire, cooking, getting to a specific location
  • Writing grocery lists, recipes, etc
  • Writing resumes or job letters
  • Writing letters to relatives
  • Taking dictation
  • Writing words, sentences, paragraphs, compositions, research papers, or other academic writing
  • Revising and editing

During reading and writing activities, students may do some traditional language instruction activities such as spelling or grammar exercises. Traditional grammar exercises are appropriate within whole language instruction methods provided that they emerge from a context and are not given at random.


Group activity: The purpose of the group activity is to expose students to a variety of communication contexts.

Some group activities include:

  • Role playing and acting
  • Group research and reports
  • Tours
  • Interaction between students and speakers
  • Discussions
  • Interviews
  • Family activities


Action Activity: The purpose of this activity is for learners to use language outside the class and home. The classroom is an experimental setting while the home is a safe place. In order for students to measure their communicative competence, they need to use language in community contexts.

Action activities may include:

  • Procuring services from community entities
  • Applying for jobs
  • Interviewing for jobs
  • Using public libraries
  • Shopping
  • Asking for directions
  • Writing letters to the newspaper's opinion page

*Note: The steps are presented sequentially, but the order is not important. The important thing is for students to talk about important topics, read about them, write about them, go into their communities to get a need met, and for them to interact with others. For example, a group of students may be writing collectively. As a result of the collective effort, they will be talking to each other, and may decide that they need to obtain and read more information. They may go to the library, procure information, read it and apply it to their writing. In this case, they engaged all five steps in the Five Step model in an unspecified sequence. Since they are writing collectively, they are doing a writing and a group activity. Since they are talking with each other, they are discussing and still doing a group activity. They do an action activity by going to the library to do some research. Finally, they do a reading activity to get more information.


Health Literacy Curriculum