Roots and Connections Phase 2 - Rural ESL Enhancement

The Roots and Connections resource is a culturally integrated English as a Second Language (ESL) resource that provides the foundation for English language learning using a community orientation and cultural integration approach.

With decreasing population growth and increasing immigration, Canadian communities are going through a cultural shift. For rural communities, this change has been dramatic. Shrinking workforces have led employers to look for new ways to ensure essential services and maintain production. Simply, immigration has become essential to support a sustainable future for Canada. In Alberta, many rural communities are making greater efforts to attract and retain newcomers. The Alberta Government’s “Welcoming Communities” initiative supports these efforts to be welcoming and inclusive of immigrants and their families.

Roots and Connections began in response to challenges for newcomers in rural immigration, especially isolation brought about as a result of both physical separation from their in-group and social/cultural distance.  The resource also supports the challenges rural communities face in welcoming newcomers including developing cultural awareness, responding to change, and sometimes the lack of services and resources to respond to increasing numbers and needs of newcomers.

Lessons learned

The pilot programs demonstrated learner gains in learners being able to ask more questions, develop more vocabulary, and communicate more effectively in English by the end of the program. After the pilot, learners showed increased confidence to communicate in English. Learners were able to seek community services independently and to talk with community members directly. The pilot programs also saw a reduction in isolation for the learners. Learners described gaining a sense of community within the class, participating in activities that connected them directly with community members through field trips to the library, bank and pharmacy, and through community visits from the peace officer and health unit nurse. During and following the pilot program learners demonstrated their ability to maintain connections made during the program through several activities including volunteering at a seniors centre, taking a child to the health unit for a flu shot, and obtaining a library card from the local library. Information gaps about the community were uncovered, including where to find the hospital or how to call for emergency services through 911.

In the pilot, the Roots and Connection resource was effective to support ESL providers. Program coordinators acknowledged that the resource introduced language, content and connections activities that helped their learners to become more self-reliant and alleviated the burden of their informal, general support role for their learners. Pilot instructors found their experience leading learners through the culturally integrated activities within Roots and Connections helped them to better understand some of the different ways their learner approach topics that are considered to be “common sense knowledge” in Canada. Data collected using the Intercultural Development Inventory indicates that the pilot coordinators and instructors were primarily in early Minimization as defined by the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity. Minimization is an orientation that highlights cultural commonalities and universal values and principles. This orientation may also mask deeper recognition and appreciation of cultural differences. The activities in Roots and Connections provided instructors and learners opportunities to explore differences in safe ways that built connections among them as the learners navigated the transition from their culture of origin to life in a Canadian multicultural society. For learners, the activities were a validation of the changes they are experiencing as they adapt to life in Canada as well as building language skills.


Roots and Connections Program Planning Guide

This is a guide to help program planners establish a course using Roots and Connections in the community. Roots and Connections is a flexible resource that can be used in informal one-on-one settings such as tutoring or home visitation programs or for group lessons organized by a community service provider. This guide uses a cultural lens to plan a language based community orientation program using the Roots and Connections resource. 

Roots and Connections Instructor Guide

The Instructor guide is a self-guided tool to help instructors use the Roots and Connections curriculum resource. The guide will help instructors develop the knowledge, skills and awareness for the three roles they will play using this curriculum resource: ESL Instructor, Cultural Bridge and Community Connector. For experienced instructors, the guide describes an overview of the Roots and Connections curriculum and the instructional approach integrated into the resource. For new instructors, it provides guidance on good instructional techniques, what to do on the first day and a breakdown of the 3 instructional roles.

Roots and Connections Toolkit

The toolkit includes resources for program planning such as culturally sensitive program registration forms. You will also find ESL resources, including language assessment tools, intercultural resources and community connections resources, including community knowledge checklists and a community facilitator guide

Roots and Connections Curriculum

The curriculum includes eight units covering the topics of Getting to Know You, Safety, Community, Health and Wellness, Education and Personal Finance. Each unit contains 5 modules with content, suggested activities, and instructional resources. The Roots and Connections curriculum is designed so each module can be used flexibly to meet learners’ needs and interests. The content is targeted to Canadian Language Benchmark 2 with suggestions to adjust the materials to a higher or lower benchmark. The content is tied together through recurring activity types such as Class Dictionaries, Community Maps and Personal Connections.


The posters are illustrations of each curriculum unit and provide a visual introduction of the vocabulary, content and cultural context.

Other project information
Project time frame January 2009 – June 2010
Project team
  • Sarah Apedaile
  • Jaimy Miller
  • Cheryl Whitelaw
  • Kerry Loew
Project sponsor Alberta Employment and Immigration
Key project activities
  • Revisions of the Roots and Connections resource based on stakeholder feedback following Phase 1.
  • Piloting of the Roots and Connections resource in four rural communities experiencing the arrival of increasing numbers of immigrants. Pilot programs were evaluated for the effectiveness of the resource and the impact of the delivery of the program based on the Roots and Connections resource to reduce isolation, enhance language development and build community connections for newcomers in rural Alberta communities.
  • Providing training and mentoring support for pilot sites.
  • Revising and publishing the final version of Roots and Connections
  • Sharing the results of the pilot and the Roots and Connections resource through direct dissemination and through participation in conferences.
Number of people involved in project

73 people including:

  • 4 Project Team members
  • 8 Advisory Committee members
  • 14 Pilot Community Train-the-Trainer Session Participants
  • 9 Pilot Community Program participants
  • 38 Pilot Program Learners
Communities participating in project
  • Claresholm/Fort MacLeod
  • Edson
  • Peace River
  • Provost