ESL Resources for Students

Welcome to this website that has resources to help you prepare for academic work at the college level. Becoming fluent in a new language takes time, preparation, and hard work. Academic language use is even more challenging, but you can do it and we are here to help!

What skills will you need?
You’ll want to develop your language skills in the following areas:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Listening

Let’s look at each skill separately and the types of things you’ll need to be able to do in college.


You’ll be reading a lot more than you had to read in high school and reading at a more advanced level. You’ll be asked to read in order to get information from texts, to analyze the information you read, to evaluate information, and to use the information in your readings to solve problems, write papers, and complete projects.

What you can do now to get ready:
1. Increase your academic vocabulary –
2. Practice reading strategies like skimming and scanning
3. Improve your skills in finding the main points and supporting information in texts.
4. Practice reading with a purpose. Ask yourself what you need to get out of the reading and keep this focus in mind as you read. What will you need to do with the reading material when you are done? Always have your purpose in mind.
5. Be an active reader – take notes, highlight key points, look-up unknown words, practice using the context to guess at word meanings, summarize readings when you finish them, discuss what you are reading with others, connect the readings to experiences in your own life. Do an online activity about active reading at
6. Use questions to stay involved. Ask yourself at the beginning what you want to learn. As you are reading, ask yourself what is unclear. When you finish, ask if there is anything you still want to know.
7. Read about more active reading strategies at

How can you improve your reading skills?
1. Use good academic preparation books – see the book section below for more information. Townsend Press has a good reading and vocabulary building series that has accompanying online practice activities to help build your fluency, reading comprehension, and the skills listed above.

They have a vocabulary placement test that you can take online that will tell you which book in the series to begin with. It also teaches reading strategies that will help you to be a more efficient and accurate reader in academic settings.

2. Read materials that are just a little bit challenging. You might have to look up some words, but not so many that it becomes frustrating. Continue to challenge yourself and learn new words.


College writing will be required in almost every course you take. Even math and science courses may have some writing requirements, so improving your writing skills will be very important. Not only will you need to have correct grammar and punctuation, but you’ll need to be able to write in a variety of forms: creative writing, scientific lab reports, research papers, analytical papers, critical and evaluative essays, comparison and contrast, persuasive writing, just to name a few…

What are some of the things you will you need to do in college writing
adapted from ESL course objectives at Central Piedmont Community College

  • write compositions designed for different audiences
  • include clear, well-written thesis statements and topic sentences in all compositions
  • integrate data from outside sources into a composition
  • use library sources, correct citation forms, and bibliographic information in a research composition
  • develop and organize extensive supporting information for main ideas
  • write summaries and paraphrases
  • analyze problems and support arguments in compositions
  • write in a variety of styles for different academic purposes

What can you do to get ready?
1. Take an academic writing course
2. Use one or more of the academic writing books suggested below
3. Writing styles in American colleges may be very different from your home culture writing style. Read this handout to compare styles and find out American writing expectations in college.
4.Plagiarism in the US is a serious academic offense. You can fail a class or be expelled from school for plagiarizing. You need to know what it is and how to avoid it. Here are some links to tell you more about it.

5. Visit Online Writing Lab websites and learn about writing conventions in the US – See the link below on the Penn State York OWL


Speaking is a very important skill in college. You’ll probably be taking a speech class at some point, but you’ll also be doing group projects, in-class presentations, and discussions, all of which require good speech and communication skills.

What can you do to get ready?
1. Work on your pronunciation, intonation, and rhythm by listening to movie clips at Get the script, practice it, and then record your voice. Try to match what you hear on the clips with your own voice. Record your voice using YouTube or You just need a microphone (inexpensive!) to get started practicing and recording.

2. Learn about effective presentation techniques at and and

3. Learn about effective communication skills as well as cultural expectations in American communication. Check out this website or check out this book at the library: Inter-Act : Interpersonal Communication Concepts, Skills, and Contexts by R. Verderber and K. Verderber. It may be a little challenging reading, but that may help you to build your academic vocabulary too! Used copies are also available at for under $6.00!

4. Practice talking with English-speaking friends often

5. Listen for differences in how people speak in formal and informal settings

6. You’ll probably be doing a lot of team projects in college. Prepare by reading about why teams are used so much in college at this website.
Then read about the skills you’ll need to work in teams effectively at

7. Learn the skills you’ll need to participate in classroom discussions in the Academic Encounter series described in the book section below.


In college, you’ll be listening to lectures, taking notes, participating in discussions, and working in groups, so your listening skills will need to be sharpened. Remember that the vocabulary you use in everyday speaking and listening won’t be as robust as it will need to be for academic work. So increasing your academic vocabulary will also help to improve your listening skills!

What can I do to get ready?
1. Listen to academic podcasts of college lectures that are available over the Internet at the following addresses and practice taking notes:

2. Practice taking organized notes while listening to lectures by using the Cornell System of notetaking

3. Visit other Internet listening sites at:

Interesting talks about great ideas! –
This American Life –
National Public Radio – streamed radio shows
Randall’s ESL Listening Lab –

4. Don’t forget that listening doesn’t just mean understanding the words, but also the intended meaning of the speaker- Good listening skills are also important – Find out more about being a good listener at:

5. Use one of the books listed below to improve your academic listening skills

More Resources

Paradigm Online Writing Lab
English Zone
Dave’s ESL Cafe
New York Times Learning Center
More practice sites
Randall’s ESL Listening Lab
Learning Tools for Reading, Writing, Note-taking, Problem-solving, etc….

Get a book!!! Academic Encounters by Cambridge Press is an excellent series for intermediate and advanced ESL students preparing for academic work in college. Find out more at
Townsend Press books

Another good series is the Townsend Press Reading and Vocabulary Series that has online activities for you to do at their Online Learning Center .
Townsend Press books

What resources are available at Penn State York?

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