English as a Second Language

Department Head: Cinnie Wappel


  • Russ Carrick
  • Laura DeCerchio
  • Cinnie Wappel


Solebury ESL (English as a Second Language) is a 3-year program built on content and skills courses in three interconnected levels:

  • a Foundations Level designed to develop language skills and introduce American culture and educational expectations,
  • an Intermediate Level designed to solidify language skills and begin the mainstream transition process,
  • a Transitions Level designed to ensure students are fully prepared to succeed in the American system going forward.

TOEFL scores are only used for determining a student’s entry level into the program. Once accepted into the program, students commit themselves to the entire process, completing all required courses from the point at which they enter the program. Then they follow the established path until they are fully mainstreamed.

TOEFL scores are NOT used to exit the program before it has been completed. For example: a student who joins the program at the Intermediate level must complete all the required courses at the Intermediate Level, then all the required courses at the Transitions Level before completing the program to become a fully "mainstreamed.”

Foundations Level courses:

  • Introduction to Listening and Speaking
  • Introduction to Grammar and Writing
  • Introduction to Reading
  • American Culture through the Media
  • Mainstream math (level determined by placement test)

At the Foundations Level, students do not receive course grades at the end of the first trimester. This is done to give students time to become comfortable with the American system of education and the challenges of learning a second language. We believe that if students do not have to worry about grades in their first trimester, they can focus on all aspects of Solebury life, and better adapt to their new environment. This gives students more opportunities for success as they proceed forward.

Intermediate Level courses:

  • Listening and Speaking for Success
  • Advanced Grammar and Reading Practice
  • Physical, Human, and Political Geography
  • Mainstream Conceptual Physics
  • Mainstream math (level determined by placement test)

The Intermediate Level is a crucial step in the program where essential content is learned and necessary skills are strengthened, even though very few outward signs of “English as a Second Language” remain.

Transitions Level courses:

  • Writing Portfolio
  • Reading Strategies
  • Introduction to Western Civilization
  • Mainstream Chemistry
  • Mainstream math (according to level of placement)

By the time students enter the Transitions Level, all traces of traditional ESL are gone. No class has the “ESL” label, and all courses use mainstream textbooks.

For ALL LEVELS: students may take additional mainstream classes as long as they fit into their schedule of required courses.

Additionally, students will be involved in sports, clubs, weekend adventures, community service, and dormitory activities. Students will receive instruction in how to develop independence and strong peer relationships. They will be encouraged to express their ideas and opinions openly, thereby instilling confidence in preparation for leadership positions in the future.

The three level program is described below:


Introduction to Grammar and Writing: This course provides students with a foundation in American English grammar and with the skills to improve their academic writing. Students are consistently tasked with writing on a variety of topics and themes. Using short stories and current news articles as prompts, students construct both objective and subjective written pieces. In order to improve student writing, this course addresses a wide variety of grammatical concepts. These include an introduction to: verb tenses – past, present, future, and perfect; verb aspects – simple and continuous; gerunds and infinitives; passive voice; modal auxiliary verbs; adjectives – simple, comparative, and superlative; conjunctions; punctuation; and capitalization. The topics supply students with a foundation on which they can build, working towards mastery in Advanced Grammar and Reading the following year. Students are frequently assessed in class, through creative projects, and through multi-draft take-home essays. 6 credits.

American Culture through the Media: Based on the premise that exposure to popular culture leads to accelerated English improvement, this course offers students a thorough experience of American culture, while providing them with a natural way to improve their language skills. Students not only become familiar with some classic American stories and characters, but also get a chance to learn about, and practice, classic American rituals and traditions. A student who completes this course should be able to comfortably interact with an American family, just as if they had been in the U.S. for years. 6 credits.

Introduction to Reading: This is a course designed to improve the written, spoken, listening, and reading skills of students, while at the same time providing them with a basic understanding of the elements and mechanics of narrative fiction. Using short stories and novels, students will first come to understand the basics of story structure such as setting, character, plot, and conflict as well as the application of literary techniques such as imagery, irony, and symbolism. Active reading and intensive writing practice will be augmented by numerous opportunities for class discussion. 6 credits.

Introduction to Listening and Speaking: This is a course designed for learners who are just developing language proficiency. The course begins with vowel and consonant sounds and their corresponding symbols, in addition to learning and practicing word stress and rhythm, as well as intonation. This is integrated into thematic units which target idioms and new vocabulary. Students also listen to audio 59 versions of novels in the language lab and then make recordings of their responses to questions. Another important element is listening to academic lectures and learning effective note-taking techniques. 6 credits.


Listening and Speaking for Success: The course begins with an intensive study of vowel and consonant sounds and their corresponding symbols in conjunction with rhythm, stress, intonation, and sentence patterns. This is accomplished through dictation, song, limericks, activities in the Sanako Language Lab, games, and pair practice. This is followed by techniques and practice in discussions and conversations through improvisation and role play. To hone listening skills, an audio novel is assigned each trimester and responses to discussion questions are recorded. Finally, by listening to cross-curricular lectures, a variety of note-taking strategies is developed. 6 credits.

Advanced Grammar and Reading Practice: This course is a grammar-intensive workshop for intermediate ESL students. The year begins with a review of basic grammar skills learned in Foundations and then shifts to a comprehensive study of the verb tenses, modals, syntax, and much more. Students journal daily and often write ½ page responses to prompts generated in class and in response to other assignments on a nightly basis. Beyond grammar and writing, students spend a considerable amount of time reading and comprehending short stories. The class vocabulary is drawn from these texts. 6 credits.

Physical, Human, and Political Geography: This course will provide students with essential concepts, vocabulary, and skills necessary to understand humans’ interactions with their environment. This begins with a comprehensive tour of the Earth and its landforms (in English), moves to study topics like economics and globalization, and finishes with a close-up look at North America and Europe. Traditional tests as well as projects are used to boost student written and spoken English skills, and provide them with an understanding of their role in the larger world. 6 credits.


Reading Strategies: This is a thematic approach to literature focusing on a wide variety of genres. Each selection includes a particular literary element and reading skill to learn and apply. A list of vocabulary words is assigned from each story and discussed in context. Discussion of the selection then follows in which students must hone their critical thinking and analytical skills. In addition, a novel will be assigned each trimester for independent reading followed by a project, which focuses on writing and knowledge of grammar, usage, mechanics, and editing skills. This course will provide the basics for mainstream English courses. 6 credits

Introduction to Western Civilization: This course will provide students with a thorough and detailed understanding of the various cultures and historical milestones that shaped our current idea of "The West." By reading 10th grade level texts, original sources, and supplemental articles, student will receive crucial study skills practice; and have numerous opportunities to demonstrate their understanding through written responses, projects, and one complete research paper. Having been immersed in some of Western Civilization's most famous characters and events will position students for further study of American history, as well as some college-level courses. 6 credits

Writing Portfolio: In this class, students will learn to write in various genres. In the fall, the focus is on formal compositions, including informative; compare-and-contrast; biographical and autobiographical; cause-and-effect; persuasive; cause-and-effect; and how-to essays. In the winter, students learn how to conduct and write lengthy research papers. The spring trimester is spent focusing on creative and informal writing, including short stories; poetry; myths; narratives; and descriptive essays. There is significant emphasis placed on grammar, mechanics, and organization all year. 6 credits.