Harmonizing Principles, Practices, Standards, and Outcomes
Through Proven Program Design

To be presented at TESOL 2013, Dallas, Texas
Thursday, March 21, 7:30 am–8:15 am
Convention Center, A302

This may be the most comprehensive discussion of FOCAL SKILLS ever presented at TESOL. If you are interested in learning more about this successful, innovative approach to language program design and teaching, don't miss it!


Brenda Murphy

Shenandoah University

This 10-minute video introduces FOCAL SKILLS as it has typically been implemented in intensive pre-university English as a Second Language programs. It is common for programs to adapt this basic design in various ways to meet local needs and circumstances.


Mary Pat Clasen
Hogares Guadalupe

Whether one is teaching English to IEP students in the US, rural kids in Guatemala, or untouchables in urban India, FOCAL SKILLS teaching techniques can produce remarkable results. The FOCAL SKILLS movie technique (MovieTalk) has been successful in all these environments, plus others, such as high school Spanish classes. Interactive reading activities using authentic materials can be powerful tools for language acquisition, especially for students who already understand the spoken language fairly well. Once students have made sufficient progress in listening and reading, their fluency and accuracy can be boosted through individualized focused rewrites of the students’ self-directed writings (the Co-Author technique).

Jean Mileham
University of Maine; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


When we adopted the first version of FOCAL SKILLS in 1988, nobody knew what to expect, but we did know that we were tired of the constant curriculum juggling, long placement meetings, obsessive grammar focus, and humdrum results that had characterized our program for years. After a trial period, we realized that we were really on to something, with chronically burned-out teachers enjoying their work again, students acquiring English at an impressive rate, and other ESL programs beginning to see us as a model. When I left UWM, I took FOCAL SKILLS with me to the University of Maine, where the teachers were more than ready for a change; and when grandmotherhood drew me back to Wisconsin, I was delighted to know that there was an opening back at UWM, the "mother" FOCAL SKILLS program. I know I speak for many others when I say that FOCAL SKILLS is the teaching environment that I will always prefer.

Lori Netti
Vincennes University

With judicious scheduling and a little help, I have been able to run a FOCAL SKILLS program with only a handful of students. However, even very large programs can easily implement FOCAL SKILLS. The simplicity of the placement system allows large numbers of students to be quickly sorted into the appropriate modules. The use of authentic materials (rather than traditional discrete-point syllabi and textbooks) means that multiple sections of any module can run in parallel, independently of one another, each working at its own pace with its own materials. This feature makes program administration relatively simple, because little or no central coordination among the sections is required. It also makes it possible to admit new students at any time and get them up to speed immediately, a real advantage for generating program revenue.

Katherine Riebe
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

We believe that our IEP was the first FOCAL SKILLS program to seek CEA accreditation. While we were somewhat anxious at first, we can report that the basic FOCAL SKILLS design is perfectly consistent with the relevant CEA standards for curriculum and student achievement. The placement system is tailored to the goals of the skill-focused modules, which in turn are clearly and directly related to the teaching methods and materials used. The modular structure, placement tests, and teaching approaches form a logical, well-aligned, integrated system that is easy to describe and explain for accreditation purposes. We are happy to say that we won accreditation.

Elizabeth Reyes
Elgin Community College

When we first became interested in FOCAL SKILLS, we found that there were many sources of help. The program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee allowed a group of us to visit them, observe their classes, and discuss the program with their faculty. The International Center for FOCAL SKILLS has a website full of useful information; there is also a FOCAL SKILLS Facebook Group. We also chose to obtain in-person teacher-training workshops and online placement testing, at very reasonable rates. Recently, we have been helping the Sanyuan Foreign Languages School in Chengdu, China, adapt FOCAL SKILLS to their particular situation. We are happy to be part of a supportive community dedicated to excellence in English language teaching.
Session organized by Ashley Hastings
Global Language Education Services

Online Resources

Comments by Other FOCAL SKILLS Educators
International Center for FOCAL SKILLS
FOCAL SKILLS Placement Tests
Contact: icfs@focalskills.info