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Workplace ESOL Conversation Cafes
Program of the Literacy Council of Sarasota

About The Organization:

The Literacy Council of Sarasota Inc., (LCS) a not-for-profit educational organization, is building a more literate community by helping adults and families improve English language communications skills through personalized, needs-based tutoring.  LCS’ aim is to empower and enable people to become self-sufficient, increase their opportunities and build better lives by helping them improve their basic literacy skills.

Description of Project:

The purpose of the Conversation Cafes is to improve workplace conversation skills in a safe, relaxed atmosphere. The classes serve the employees of Goodwill and take place at The Sarasota Goodwill Store during the workers lunch hour.  The class, essentially, comes to them.  Some students forfeit eating lunch to participate. 

The focus of the classes is to help the students to overcome their most frequent challenges in their workplace, Goodwill. 

  • Interacting with co-workers and clients is the biggest challenge for ESOL learners.
  • Talking about and understanding the safety issues and/or OSHA rules and regulations.
  • Talking about and understanding the workplace acronyms and idioms
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Adult Literacy Instruction with Motheread®
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Workplace Literacy Program

Classes are conducted as a group, with learners doing the lesson planning through open discussion of needs.   Role playing and planned manuscripts of life skills and work skills are created by the facilitator (LCS trained volunteer) and implemented by the learners.

The most common topics of conversation that the learners request:

  • financial issues (most important)
  • Things to do and see in Sarasota
  • School issues
  • Holidays
  • health issues

These classes occur once per week, for one hour.   Each session lasts a total of 12 weeks with 4 weeks between sessions.

The proficiency levels of participating students include ESL level 1, 2, 3, and 4.

The average class size is 10 – 12 students. 

The participants have complete control over their topics of conversation.  Much of the chosen topics are related to communication in the workplace and learning workplace terminology (i.e. common acronyms).

Project Rationale and Background:

Goodwill has had a partnership with LCS for several years. Goodwill showed interest in having a continuing 12-week program when the workers began talking about how pleased they were to be learning ‘useful’ conversation skills. It was at this point that LCS began planning an intake and exit conversation evaluation to show Goodwill, and LCS, what skills were needed to work on during the next 12 week session. LCS believes that all lesson plans should be learner-based life skills and interactive. 

All participants are in LCS’ LACES database.  The learners are mixed in terms of their current tutor scenario.  Some are matched with a one-on-one tutor, some are waiting and some determine instruction in the workplace is all they desire.  For those students on the wait list, this instruction is successful in keeping them active as they wait for a tutor. 

The current tutor facilitating volunteer is trained and overseen by the LCS AmeriCorps* VISTA member.


One challenge includes working with Goodwill supervisors to insure all interested learners have this time in classroom.

LCS is in the process of contacting other workplaces to expand the program; however having the staff or dedicated volunteers to facilitate the class and provide accountability of the program (attendance and evaluations) has held LCS back from presenting this program to many other workplaces.

Evidence of Impact and Effectiveness:

No formal intake or assessments are done for this class, however they were assessed upon intake at LCS and it has been determined that they would do well in this class.

Many participants are on the waiting list for a one-on-one tutor – participation in this type of “class” greatly help in retaining students who might others get frustrated.

This approach has proven to be successful reaching a difficult-to-serve population. Specifically, the supplemental activities added to the lessons have become “therapeutic” to them.

Words of Advice:

Holding conversation classes in a safe environment and empowering the learners to help with lesson planning is the key to a successful conversation class.

Costs and Funding:

  • Materials - $50.00
  • Office expenses, copies, etc. - $50.00
  • Facilitator stipend / travel expenses. $200.00


Contact Information:

Susan Bergstrom
The Literacy Council of Sarasota
1750 17th St.
Sarasota, Fl. 34234
(941) 955-0421






.Florida Literacy Coalition
..235 Maitland Ave. S #102

Maitland, FL 32751
..Phone: (407)-246-7110
..Fax: (407)-246 - 7104

Florida Literacy Hotline
(800) - 237 - 5113