For Further Study:

1999 IDEA Book - GED Acquisition - Skills Development


The Key – A Newspaper for New Readers

Focus on Basics December 1988 - Turning Obstacles into Opportunities

Knowledge in Action: The Promise of Project-Based Learning




Module 4 – Instructional Techniques

Contextual Instruction

Problem-Based Learning

In problem-based learning, students use problems they are facing or perceive in the world around them as a basis for acquiring new literacy skills. Problem-based learning has at its heart a search for answers, often to problems for which society has no current solutions. Problem-based learning can be family-focused or short-term:  “How can I feed my family and relatives at Thanksgiving on my limited budget?” ; community-focused: “How can we lower the crime rate in the neighborhood?”; or even more broadly focused and long-term: “How can we clean up the environment?” Problem-based learning is often associated with project-based learning; learners often design solutions to problems that they themselves can or wish to carry out.


“We had planned originally to do only class presentations and educate each other, but as we talked, we came to the conclusion that we need to give the information out to others in the community.”


“I want to make a difference – to know I matter …I see terrible things outside my door every day and I want to help – to know I can help – to know how to help.”

Take a moment to consider the implications for a problem-based focus in instruction for adult literacy learners.


On your worksheet, record your initial thoughts about problem-based learning.

Do you already incorporate problem-based examples or projects into your instruction?

Note any insights or ideas you may have at this point.

Problem-based learning, as the name implies, encourages learners to engage problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Reading, math, and writing skills, as well as science and social studies concepts, can be addressed as a part of the problem-solving process. This process begins with the learners, typically working in teams, to identify a need or difficulty, investigate the issues surrounding the need or problem, and then creating a plan to address it. Learners can then implement their plan or carry out their project, evaluate its success, and make any necessary adjustments to accomplish the original goals.

Listed below is a real-life adult education scenario. While you are reading, consider the literacy skills required to investigate this issue and brainstorm solutions. What kinds of tasks might the instructor suggest in the process of the proposed project?

Real-Life Scenario - Rosinda’s Students' Class Project:

Rosinda's class is mostly made up of adults whose children attend school in the building where her class meets in the evenings. The parents have been discussing informally how hard it is to make ends meet, and they occasionally bring their children's outgrown clothes to the class to share and exchange. The parents decide to approach the school principal about the possibility of starting a clothing bank for the whole school to expand what they have been doing informally in their class. Rosinda encourages her students to explore the idea as a class project and helps them plan how to move their idea into reality. They want to develop a plan of how they will proceed before they present their idea to the principal.


On your worksheet, record your thoughts on the literacy skills required to investigate and plan solutions for this problem.

Then record any ideas you have for the instructor. What might she do to guide students and support their learning in the context of the proposed project?

Click the + sign in the box to the right to see ideas from other Adult Education Instructors.
  • With most project-based learning, you are trying to find a solution for a problem. It takes a lot of discussion and planning to analyze the problem and the possible solutions. We employ a lot of charts and graphs in class to track our progress. Data analysis is an important part of the problem-solving process.

  • I really emphasize each step in the planning process with my learners. They get all excited about the task or project and want to jump in and try the first solution they propose. But they need to brainstorm and review several solutions, and choose the one most feasible or most likely to succeed.

  • The first step in problem solving is to ask the right questions, such as: Who will be involved? Whose cooperation will we need? Will there be costs involved? How much time will it take? How will we organize it? What procedures should be established? How do we encourage others to participate? The questions will help you visualize what you need to do. It would be a good idea to break the project down into manageable steps and put the steps in order. Good records have to be kept since people will have to coordinate their efforts.

In reviewing these ideas, did you find any similar to your own? Did any of them strike you as particularly interesting? Did they provide any new insights for your instruction of adult literacy learners?


On your worksheet, make note of any tips, insights, or new ideas gained from the instructors’ suggestions.


In Summary:


On your worksheet, record any final notes or thoughts, specific ideas you want to remember, plans for further study, etc.

Click "Next" below or a specific topic on the outline to the left to continue.