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Using MassLegalHelp in Adult Literacy/ESL Classrooms

Produced by Lynne Weintraub, Massachusetts Literacy Foundation Literacy Champion
Created September 2011


Although these activities are designed with classroom-based instruction in mind, they can be easily adapted for one-to-one tutoring contexts.

Preparing the Lesson

  1. Identify the page(s) from MassLegalHelp that you will teach.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the page format, content, and how the quiz works. Print the pages you have selected as a reference for yourself. 
  3. Decide whether students will get the information from the computer or on paper. Bookmark the relevant opening page on students’ computers, or print out the pages as handouts. 
  4. Select key vocabulary words to pre-teach, and identify some “leading questions” to elicit an introductory discussion (see steps below).

Introducing the Topic

  1. Tell students which topic they will be studying in this lesson/unit. Find out what experience students already have with the topic.


    Ask: "Have you—or someone you know—ever applied for unemployment?"

    Invite students to elaborate on the experience.


    Ask students about how or where they or people they know have applied for unemployment, what they had to do to qualify, how long they received benefits, etc.

  2. Find out the factual information students already have about the topic.


    Ask: "What can you tell me about unemployment insurance? If you were explaining the unemployment system to your child, or to someone who just arrived in the US, what could you tell them?"

    On the board, sumarize key pieces of information that students contribute.


    If a student offers information that is factually inaccurate, ask, “Are you sure?” Invite discussion from the rest of the class, and note the assertion on the board with a question mark.

  3. Elicit additional information by asking a few “leading questions” related to the topic.


    If students have not already provided this information, ask:
    "Who can qualify for unemployment?"
    "How do you apply for unemployment?"
    "How long can you receive unemployment benefits?"

    Encourage students to guess the answers, but do not confirm or deny their guesses. Acknowledge students’ guesses by saying: "Maybe yes, maybe no—let’s find out".

  4. Ask students what they would like to learn about the topic.


    Ask: "As we begin reading about unemployment insurance, what are some questions you have?" "What would you like to learn about unemployment?" Write students’ questions on the board.

  5. Introduce and explain the key vocabulary words you have selected. If students will be reading the information from printed handouts, have them find and circle the key words in the printout.

Exploring MassLegalHelp content


If possible, use an LCD projector so that you can explain and demonstrate page features and functionality on one screen at the front of the room, rather than on separate computer monitors.

  1. Familiarize students with the layout of the webpage:
    • Direct students to the title at the top of the page and ask them what the page is about.
    • Show students how to scroll (or if using printed handouts, skim) up and down the page. Challenge them to find a particular piece of information by skimming through the blue sub-headings—rather than reading the whole page from top to bottom.


      Ask: "Where on this page can you quickly find out how much money you can get from unemployment?"

  2. Skip this step if students are working from a print-out. Point out that most of the words on the page appear in black, but in a few places, there are underlined words that are blue. Why? Have students click on these words to see what happens (a new page will open up). Tell students that this is a way of getting more information about a particular topic, if they want to. Show them how to get back to the original page by hitting the “back” button or page tab.
  3. Point out the quiz questions on the bottom of the page, and tell students that they will try the quiz in a few minutes. (If they like, students can attempt a few quiz questions by clicking on a letter, and noting the response. After they have done so, show them how to reset the quiz.)
  4. Choose one of the following methods of working through the text (depending on students’ level of proficiency or preferred study modes):
    • study mode A: Have students work on their own or in pairs to explore the page content independently. Stand by to help/answer questions/monitor students’ progress as they go along.
    • study mode B: Have students follow along silently while you read each paragraph aloud to them. Pause frequently to review the information/check for comprehension—not by asking “Do you understand?”—but rather by asking one of the question types below:
      • yes/no questions like, "Can every worker get unemployment?"
      • choice questions like, "Can every worker get unemployment, or can only some workers get it?"
      • open ended questions like, "If you get unemployment, what other benefits might you get at the same time?"
      • summary questions like, "What does this paragraph tell you? Can you explain it to me in your own words?"
    • study mode C: If students are confident in their ability to decode text, and they enjoy reading aloud, call on individuals to read each section. Pause frequently to review and check for comprehension using the question types above.


      If students are insecure about decoding text, or are unfamiliar with the vocabulary and how it is pronounced, it is unfair and intimidating to ask them to read it aloud the first time they encounter it.
      Avoid asking limited English speakers to read out loud, unless the students indicate that they wish to read aloud.

  5. Ask students take the quiz independently, in pairs, or as a full group activity.


    If students are using handouts, rather than computers, you will need to indicate the correct answers and provide any necessary explanations yourself.

    The quiz can also be used as a homework assignment.

Summing up

  1. Ask students how they well they did with the quiz, and how they liked using the web site.
  2. Refer students back to the questions they had asked in the introductory activities, and see which questions were answered over the course of this lesson. If outstanding questions remain, ask students how and where they might find additional information on the topic.
  3. Encourage students to provide feedback to MassLegalHelp by using the Contact Us link at the bottom of the page.

Optional extension activities

  1. Ask students to create a skit or perform a role play based on characters/ situations they read about in the quiz. Invite students to choose one of the characters in the quiz, and imagine that this person is a good friend who has asked them for help. Remind students that only lawyers can give legal advice, but they can prepare a letter or a “talk” that explains the information they learned from MassLegalHelp, in their own words. (Another student can play the role of the friend, and listen to the summary of information).
  2. Challenge students to create new quiz questions and scenarios based on information they have learned from MassLegalHelp.
  3. Search for up-to-date video news clips on the topic (from a reputable news organization) and explore them with the class.
  4. Print out a recent story on the topic from a local newspaper and explore it with the class.
  5. Look at the MassLegalHelp home page and invite students to identify other topics that they would like to explore.

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