Gardening as a Theme for Teaching ESOL


Adult educators practicing planting vegetable and herb seeds.

Using themes is an effective way to design curriculum for English language learners.

Organizing instruction around topics of interest to learners allows the teacher to integrate all four language skills-reading, writing, speaking, and listening-in a coherent manner and increases students’ comprehension. Common themes in ESOL curricula include health, work, and family. When themes get more technical and require specialized knowledge, teachers often reach out to content area experts in the community to help provide accurate content for their language learning lessons.

That’s what Riva Person and Brian Jordan of ABCD Mattapan did when they designed and implemented their First Literacy Lab grant Teaching ESOL through Community Gardening. Their students-mostly Haitian-wanted to know more about gardening in the U.S. They collaborated with City Growers since Brian and Riva are not gardeners. With their help they shaped a curriculum to meet students’ needs. Other teachers who are not expert gardeners but want to include it on their curriculum could seek help from a Gardening Website or find a gardening organization local to the area.

On May 5, Riva and Brian facilitated a workshop at First Literacy based on their Literacy Lab grant. They provided an overview of the gardening project, week by week, and shared resources they developed. The workshop illustrated a successful theme-based approach that blended the expertise of language teachers with content experts.

For more information on theme-based instruction, see

You can find Brian and Riva’s ESOL and gardening resources on our Resources for Educators page. To navigate there, go to Resources>For Educators>ESOL.


By Lenore Balliro

Learn more about Lenore’s experience as a city gardener in her short essay on Guerrilla Gardening.