David, MS/HS, Literacy

Increasing English Comprehension and Vocabulary

David White-Espin teaching at the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center
Interview with David White-Espin

In this interview David describes how he increases his students' English comprehension and vocabulary using Facing the Future resources.

School: Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center (since renamed to Seattle World School), Seattle, WA

Grade: ages 11 to 21; classes are based on students' speaking ability

Subject: Literacy and Reading     Classroom Size: ~20

Classroom Characteristics:

  • At-risk youth
  • Classroom Management
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Gifted/Advanced Learners
  • Large Classroom
  • Special Needs

Click on a topic below to read more about David's work:

Please describe your experience with Facing the Future materials and how you use them in your classroom:
David's students reading 'Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions'

"I use Facing the Future content to teach vocabulary, to practice reading short passages and, to practice answering comprehensive questions about the text structure (e.g., find the title, headings, keywords, etc.), or finding mistakes in English, and to practice reading. The reason I do this is because I believe the content is important. A lot of people will say, especially in ESL, that it really doesn’t make that much difference what students arereading as long as they’re practicing reading, but I think content is important. Why not have a content that is meaningful, universal, related to some of the global issues that are happening today? If people are going to tell me it doesn’t matter what they’re reading, I say let them read something significant! They can make connections; the books are great. They’ll flip through the pages of the books and they’ll see a picture of Peru, or of China. They really get excited when they see something from their own country.

I use the activities that stress interaction. I have a heterogeneous group as far as languages that they speak at home. I set them up so that they’re at a table where other students don’t speak their home language. My emphasis is on getting them to talk to each other and having interaction in English. These are rich activities for that as long as I set up the groups right."

David uses the following Facing the Future resources:

How often do you use Facing the Future resources throughout the school year?

"The resources are interspersed throughout the whole semester. I am able to fit in more Facing the Future [resources] in the second half, once students have a greater vocabulary."

How do Facing the Future resources fit into your curriculum?

"There is a district adopted curriculum that students are tested on. There are things students need to know for the test. I stick with this curriculum that isn’t as good because this is what students are evaluated on. Just using Facing the Future [resources] wouldn’t cover the content on the test which is so specific. But there isn’t a test for the reading part, so I get to choose what interests the students and what I think they will get excited about."

What standards were met by using Facing the Future resources?

"I am able to meet most ELL standards using Facing the Future curriculum, since the standards are very general."

What are your main objectives and goals for this course?

"I really want to get students' oral and written communication skills to where they can transition to a regular middle or high school (with some continued extra support)."

How do Facing the Future resources help you meet these goals?

"When [students] write about topics they care about it helps them learn vocabulary."

What skills did your students gain?

"Their vocabulary and literacy skills increased. I have them do journaling, written responses. I teach Level 2, but our literacy coach said my students were writing better than Level 3. It may have a lot to do with the fact that they’re writing about topics they care about. They are also learning skills such as communication, public speaking, and resume-building skills."

What are your classroom challenges and how have Facing the Future resources help you address them?

"There’s a lot to be said about having engaging curriculum. When kids are truly engaged, there aren’t any behavior problems. For differentiated learners I adapt the materials and expectations based on different learning levels and adjust the outcomes.

David's classroom challenges include:
  • At-risk youth

  • Classroom Management Issues
    I do have classroom management issues, since some kids have experienced trauma and have escaped street poverty and war.

  • Differentiated Instruction
    Since my students are from a wide age range, there is a need for differentiated instruction. Some, for whom English is the third or fourth language, are very quick at learning languages. There are very different levels, even within the classes although we put them in classes based on language ability.


  • Gifted/Advanced Learners

  • Large Classroom
    My average class size is 20, which is large for an ELL classroom.

  • Special Needs
    Several of my students would be identified as health-impaired."

Did you make adjustments to Facing the Future lesson(s)/reading(s) for your classroom type?

David's students reading 'Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions'

"I adapt readings to contain errors that students have to catch and correct. Reading comprehension is a real challenge for students. My emphasis is on having students find the main ideas, look for details, make predictions, and draw conclusions based on the reading. They also learn vocabulary in context, understand different tenses and sentence forms. These are skills they need to practice. I have them practice with something that is worthwhile learning – I use a lot of Facing the Future passages (and some fiction as well).

Whether students can comprehend or cannot comprehend what they read is a big part of what the tests requires. The scores on the test determine if they can go on to next level. So using Facing the Future resources helps students gain comprehension skills they will use later on the test."

What parts of Facing the Future lessons engage your students the most?

"Everyone’s favorite is always 'Fishing for the Future' [see Lesson 20 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. If I set up the groups right there is an explosion of English while they are arguing.

They also like the footprint comparisons in Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions [see  'Chapter 4: How Many People Can the Earth Support?']. In this reading there is a girl from India and a boy from the U.S. They enjoy reading the stories about the footprints of kids living in different countries. It gets students to compare and contrast. Students also compare their footprint in the U.S. to what their footprint was in their home country."

 In addition to the Facing the Future resources, what other curriculum resources did you use for this course?

Did you do incorporate an action project or service learning component into this course?
David's student reading 'Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions'

"My students participate in the Voices project. In this project students talk about refugee issues. In our migration unit students learn about migration and tell their own story. Students then go to elementary, middle, high schools to tell their story. I want them to be experts on their own story, to know what a refugee is versus an immigrant, a displaced person, and what asylum is. To facilitate this I use Facing the Future's 'Seeking Asylum' lesson [see Lesson 11 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues].

The Office of Service Learning gave them $1,000 to do the Voice project. I only do this project with our Level 3 kids, toward the end of their semester when they’ve had a lot of instruction. The others aren’t ready to go out and speak in public. It's a really good service learning project – something that they can do better than anyone else. They’re speaking to young people, and the young people really listen to them. They’ve presented at the University of Washington and the public library. Additional components to this projects can be: a typed up story, questionnaires, or a film. Each of these pieces can be graded with rubrics.

Students get all this knowledge, they are learning English and becoming more confident, and they also have something to put on their resume. One student was selected as Seattle Times Outstanding Graduate for her year. This is resume-building teaching."

What are the professional development implications of using Facing the Future materials?

"Facing the Future has really enforced the concept of engaging curriculum. Once kids are engaged in a quality lesson around content they care about they don’t have to goof off. It makes you a better teacher. There are a lot of great ideas with Facing the Future.

I became a Classroom Partner with Facing the Future. A component of this partnership was that I had to do a service learning project. So, I went to Facing the Future's website and found the International Refugee Council. I asked them what refugee kids could do. The Speaker Bureau project came out of this, which led to me becoming a World Affairs Council World Educator, my work being published in magazines, and chapter books, and I still get emails about this. I've been interviewed by newspapers and traveled to speak at conferences. All of a sudden I’m everyone’s politically connected ELL teacher! All of this came out of one idea."

In terms of sustainability and global issues education, what do you want to know more about?

"I’m really into the whole body of knowledge of teaching for sustainability, authentic teaching, and using democratic approaches to teaching. I think those are good ideas. I’d like to know how more of us can be the voices that believe that content is important; what the kids learn to do (can be something important and authentic). People should be involving education in solving our global issues. Edutopia and Facing the Future are leading in that direction. Alternative voices that trend toward accountability, focus on one test, teaching by data, looking for errors/mistakes and stressing out kids. This is all about remediation vs. whole child learning and seeing the students and their real learning needs and potential. I believe in the power of good ideas. It’s got to swing back the other way. Parents care that their children are full of positive learning experiences, that they are happy, and that they are not overstressed by a testing agenda."

What resources do you have available to help you acquire new knowledge and skills in teaching about global sustainability?

Have you participated in any school or district-wide sustainability projects?

"The Voices project has been our focus and it takes six weeks to prepare. I also work with ASB kids (student government) on recycling."

Anything else you’d you like to share with other teachers who are looking to engage their students in global issues and sustainability?

"I really just encourage them to give it a try, to make time for it and not worry about coverage so much. Letting go of your curriculum is really the tough part. Teachers complain so much about losing time. Change your style! Go for depth, and then see what happens."

Learn more about David's work


Have you created inspiring adaptations with Facing the Future's lessons? Then contact us to be featured as a Classroom Example.


About Us

We equip and motivate students to develop critical thinking skills, build global awareness, and engage in positive solutions for a sustainable future through hands-on curricula and professional learning.

Facing the Future is an
independent program of WWU