Skip to main content

Accessing ESOL classes is often a really important part of integration; building skills and feeling part of a community.

Access to classes in England is not possible in the first 6 months after arrival and funding cuts have affected ESOL classes and their availability in recent times. Often the cost of attending one class is equivalent to the  asylum support allowance for food, toiletries, shoes and clothes ( just over £5/ day), making it a difficult choice between learning or eating.

There are many informal free ESOL classes across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, trying to bridge this gap, enabling people to integrate and connecting people with people – and in so doing breaking down barriers and prejudices and building confidence and relationships.

City of Sanctuary volunteers are delivering ESOL classes, one to one support and conversation clubs in different cities and towns.  

The Refugee Action campaign Let Refugees Learn calls for better provision of ESOL for refugees

ESOL Matters – a film to help promote the Let Refugees Learn campaign and to use in awareness-raising sessions

Action for ESOL is a campaign to protect ESOL provision (and has some great resources for ESOL classes on the UK political system)

Voluntary ESOL for sanctuary seekers


Resources for Volunteers, English Language Learners and Conversation Clubs – 2020 Range of free resources including videos, 15 units of lesson plans and guides for volunteer tutors from the Learning and Work Institute 

The Basics of Voluntary ESOL  – a guide from Birmingham CoS ESOL Forum by Steph Neville, St Chad’s Sanctuary ESOL coordinator

​Stepping Stones – is a fully developed course from University of Manchester including materials and session plans for teachers (including volunteer teachers) to deliver
basic English language provision to mums new to English, along with their babies, in settings such as children’s centres, schools, libraries, cultural and community centres​.

Working with refugees and asylum seekers – support materials for ESOL providers – Excellence Gateway. These materials are a bit dated but much of the information is still relevant to anyone teaching ESOL to this vulnerable group for the first time.

Materials for Teachers

Good Things Foundation ‘English My Way’ resources – Free teaching resources for those who support adults with no or low levels of English

A Council of Europe Toolkit -The toolkit is designed to assist organisations, and especially volunteers, providing language support for adult refugees.

#refugeeswelcomeinparks resource ‘Let’s Talk About Parks’ – beautiful free photo cards to support ESOL conversations in any setting

Learn English Free – a fabulous Facebook page to share with your learners with great photo cards covering a range of language issues in a visual way

TES -Free teaching materials for educators working with refugees

The British Council – Lesson plans and activities for English language teachers of adults, business English students and learners in tertiary education.

ESOL Resources –  UK website with flashcards topical videos and classroom ideas. Suitable for beginners in the classroom or as a small group exercise.

Skills Workshop –  ICT, Literacy, Numeracy and ESOL resources for classroom use from pre-entry to Level 2. Free access.

Handwriting Worksheets – Enter your own script (student’s name, sentence) This programme produces customised sheets for handwriting practice.

British slang – The Wikipedia guide – can be helpful as slang can be very confusing to new arrivals and is potentially a great subject for amusing lessons.  See this short video of a class learning the local lingo in Londonderry. 

Many words which we use in English are borrowed or loan words from many different languages.  See this comprehensive list of such words.

Other General Resources and Resources for Planning

The fully comprehensive Core Curriculum for English for Speakers of Other Languages, which can be used as a guide to structuring learning and as a resource of ideas for activities in the English classroom.

Family Learning in ESOL free website resources  Working with adults and children together is a well established model and may be appropriate in a Schools of Sanctuary or community or home context.  For more information on what Family Learning in ESOL is and a contact for support please click here.

BBC Learning English has wide variety of resources for both teachers and children 

Reflect for ESOL Resource Pack – from Skills for life Network. An innovative approach to adult learning and social change in a set of materials intended for anyone teaching or working with refugees, asylum seekers, or long-term immigrant groups in the UK.

Facilitating Adult Learning A good summary of interactive learning methodology

Learning Unlimited – a range of relevant downloadable resources including Welcome to the UK project packs: Preparing for Life in the UK Test,   Befrienders Toolkit,   and other ESOL materials. Some of these include authorable sections for easy adaptation.

Life in the UK – Test Preparation and Practice  This is a free website to practice and help migrants pass the test needed for British citizenship.  The test is one of the requirements to become permanent residents or to apply for citizenship.

IELTS Official YouTube channel. Videos, discussion for those preparing for the IELTS exams.

Trinity College Information on the GESE Grade 5 exam: Required for Indefinite Leave to Remain (to settle) or British Citizenship.  Candidates must pass a Secure English Language Test (SELT) in at least CEFR level B1 in Speaking and Listening.

Refugee Action – The Survival Guide to Manchester slang – ‘Ave a Word.

Are you Eligible for ESOL? – Thanks to Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary

A list of IT resources and mobile apps for students learning English 

OLS is a free online language learning platform for refugees and newly arrived migrants.

The British Council – ESOL Nexus for learners and also their YouTube videos 

English My Way  – Teaching resources for real beginners, especially those with little or no writing experience.

Really English – an app for refugees / on line learning resources  from RefuAid Language Gateway

Dave’s ESL Cafe –  – aimed at higher level students (above Entry 3) – includes grammar, pronunciation, slang and idioms. Pages for teachers and students.

ESOL Stepping Stones – English Language Teaching for non-English speaking mothers

We are inspired by Fáilte Isteach – an organic network in Ireland –  welcoming migrants through conversational  English. See also their Facebook page here.

The FAN model may be useful for new groups 


Doncaster Conversation Club

Leeds STAR Conversation Class

Sheffield Conversation Club

The Birmingham ESOL Network brings together voluntary providers of English classes, conversation groups, etc for refugees and asylum seekers across the city. Anyone is welcome to join the mailing list which is used to share ideas and resources, to communicate about relevant events, and to be a space for network building to be used in whatever ways to support and encourage those offering voluntary ESOL. To subscribe click here