Next Week in Cleveland: XPRIZE & CLE-BEE

Adult literacy providers and supporters in the Cleveland area have two exciting opportunities next week to network and learn:

$1 Million Adult Literacy XPRIZE Communities Competition Info Session

Want to revolutionze adult literacy by testing out the newest, research-based adult literacy mobile apps? Willing to compete for a chance at $1 million by motivating the most adult learners to utilize mobile learning? Register for free lunch and more information at 1pm on September 12th at Cleveland Public Library, Main Branch.

XPRIZE representative Haneen Khalef will also be hosting information sessions in Columbus on September 10th and in Akron on September 14th.

Not in Ohio? Find out more about the Communities Competition here.

One Night Only: 3rd Annual CLE-BEE

Many years ago, Christine Lee trained me as a volunteer adult literacy tutor, opening my eyes to the depth of the issue and inspiring my future career path.

More recently, Christine continues to inspire awareness and involvement with the crazy, fun idea to host a corporate spelling bee fundraiser to benefit adult literacy.

The whole team at The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland has worked to make this fun idea a reality. On September 13th, CLE-BEE will celebrate its 3rd year with high energy, local celebrities… and of course some good food and drink.

Individual tickets are $30.

Hope to see you there!

Friday in Cleveland: Make & Take Mustard Seed Books

Ready to have some fun with literacy learning? Three hours will fly by on Friday, April 21st at The Literacy Cooperative workshop on making your own Mustard Seed Book. Space is limited to 30 participants, so register today.

Mustard Seed Books are leveled readers that can assist your learners–at any age–to become fluent with 1st grade reading. We’ll look at the original series by Dr. Rick Chan Frey to explore the breadth of skills covered at this level. 

Then I’ll show you how to create your own fun little books that will truly engage your readers. Warning: This is where it gets addictive!

As a demo, I’ll walk you through the process I took to create my own multi-media reader: Monty the Cat.

Every participant will get a printed book to take home, and we’ll have a drawing for a few to get the whole series.
Last week, I facilitated a short version of the Make & Take: Mustard Seed Books workshop at COABE. Participants found that 75 minutes was way too short! They came up with excellent topics about doctor’s appointments, gardening, cats, family vacations and more. 

I’m very excited to offer a full 3-hour version of this engaging workshop. I hope you in the Cleveland area will join me! For learners of all ages, this fun and simple process can help transform beginning readers into lifelong learners.

This FREE training is offered through The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland on Friday, April 21st at 9:00 to noon. Register here

Interested in bringing a Mustard Seed Books workshop to your organization? Contact Meagen at or 216.973.4977.

Your Early Holiday Gift: A Sneak Peak at Mustard Seed Teaching

Hi friends! SHHHHH! I have been working on something, and I can’t keep it a secret any more! But don’t tell everyone just yet…

I’m not ready to shout it to the WHOLE world, but just couldn’t wait to give you a sneak peak into an exciting new project I’m planning to launch in early 2017. I really look forward to your feedback!

fb-profilepicYou may notice I’ve been updating my social media profiles and testing out a redesign to my website, which will still be around at

While I’m keeping the website, I closed Farrell Ink LLC as an organization last year. In 2017, I will be building a new social enterprise called Mustard Seed Teaching, which will work closely with the existing non-profit Mustard Seed Books.

Check out our first two FREE courses!

You know how much I love sharing FREE study materials! Dr Rick Chan Frey and his team at Mustard Seed Books developed a series of 1st grade level readers that anyone can view, download or print for free. That’s TWENTY FREE BOOKS for 1st graders! Having a first grader myself, I decided I had to tell the world about these cool books.

But sharing the books is just the beginning…

Mustard Seed Books has the potential to go way beyond the existing original series. We want to develop a community of authors so that teachers, parents, and even kids can write their own Mustard Seed Books to share with the world. It’s not rocket science to write a 1st grade book, after all, and turns out to be quite a bit of fun!

Little Lizard

With my background in adult literacy, I instantly saw these elementary school books as adaptable for adult beginning readers as well.

Mustard Seed Books has the potential to address a major crisis in our field: we don’t have enough high-interest, beginning-level readers for adults, nor do we have many high-quality mobile apps for that demographic. Sure, there are some really awesome book series available on the market, and some great desktop-based software that has converted to mobile friendly.

But adult literacy publishers and programs alike are struggling to keep their doors open. The financial pinch means open source content is taking over. Mustard Seed Books offers a simple, engaging method to make that movement relevant to beginning adult readers. AND make reading materials easily accessible on any device, online OR offline!

“We don’t have enough high-interest, low level readers for adults.”

So I started daydreaming, as I often do…..


instead of writing books FOR adult educators, we wrote them WITH adult educators?


instead of writing books for a NATIONAL audience, we wrote them for LOCAL contexts?


instead of writing separate science, social studies, language arts, and math courses, we COMBINED them in a series of short and fun-to-read books?


we encouraged readers and parents and teachers to write and share their OWN stories?


high-demand entry level jobs had short, easy-to-follow training manuals?

That’s just a first glimpse at my vision for Mustard Seed Teaching. I hope you’re getting as excited as I am!

Starting in the spring, I will be offering a LIMITED NUMBER of online and face-to-face workshops to bring Mustard Seed Books to the world of adult literacy and workforce development. The workshops are not quite ready for prime time yet, but I wanted to share these FREE materials with you first, my most loyal readers.


I’m very open to improvements, and eager to talk with you about possibilities to get involved. Please feel free to comment, email, or schedule a call. But most importantly…

Enroll in the first two FREE courses today!

Think of it as an early holiday gift from me to you. Hope you enjoy!

Top 30 FREE Websites for GED Test Prep & Workforce Development

Warning: Once you start clicking these links, you may be amazed at what you find!

Inclusion in this list is not a guarantee of the site’s relevance for your particular program. Links are not endorsements, but rather a starting point to help you explore the many free resources available on the web for GED Test Prep and workforce development. Though loosely organized into categories, many sites overlap these boundaries.

This post is targeted to Ohio residents and educators with the generous support of The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland. The list also includes products I provide training for as an employee of Essential Education; they are available for free trials.

Workforce Development

WIOA is on the minds and lips of adult educators these days. The new federal legislation requires adult education providers to begin alignment and collaboration with job training and career pathways. These sites will give adult education students an edge in the workplace or job search.

GCF LearnFree

Videos and online courses in reading, math and technology developed by the Goodwill Community Foundation.

WorkKeys Practice Tests at OhioMeansJobs

Very simple: practice tests for the WorkKeys credential. This stackable certificate measures the practical literacy and mathematics skills needed for your job of choice.

OhioMeansJobs for Job Seekers is designed to be a one-stop online portal connecting job seekers to viable employment. The goal of this site is to give you the information you need to get the most out of your trip to the One Stop Career Centers around Ohio.

Occupational Outlook Handbook

This handbook provides information on the expected skills sets, salaries, industry growth and more on careers in the US. Great for job seekers to learn what you need to include on a resume for specific jobs.

Women Employed Resources

Women need some extra help to not only find fair employment, but also to protect their rights in the workforce. This Illinois-based initiative provides lots of practical information for women looking to advance their careers.

Soft Skills to Pay the Bills

Targeted at 14-21 year olds, this practical curriculum focuses on bolstering skills in communication, teamwork, and other requirements for workplace success.


Based in Ireland, this site offers free open enrollment courses. Their paid services include an ad-free version, certificates (once earned), and testing modules to employers and schools.


Tri-C’s Dev Ed Math MOOC

Tri-C’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was developed to help students prepare for college without paying tuition for a developmental education course in math.

Khan Academy GED Math Playlist

Florida Literacy Coalition has kindly compiled a playlist of Khan Academy videos that teach content on the GED Math test.

Cool Math Games

This site is aimed at kids, but the games are fun for all ages. Great for parents who want to help their kids with homework but need to overcome their anxiety about math practice.


While we want to avoid being “worksheet factories,” many people need practice, practice, practice to master and retain basic math skills.

Adult Literacy/English Language Learners

Day at Dollar General

Interactive, family-oriented online game that teaches basic budgeting skills. Developed as a collaboration between Dollar General and the National Center for Families Learning.

USA Learns

Self-paced lessons and practice for beginning to intermediate English language learners. Targeted at adult immigrants to the USA.


Scaffolded assistance for Spanish speakers to learn English and prepare for US citizenship.


Videos and web exercises designed for adult learners. DVDs and workbooks available for sale their Kentucky Educational Television (KET).

ProLiteracy EdNet

Free online learning for both adult learners and instructors developed by ProLiteracy.

GED Test Prep

GED Testing Service

Go directly to the source for free practice tests, tutorials, and especially writing samplers for classroom use.

Free Test Prep GED Practice Tests

This is my favorite unofficial free practice test site. Though you need to watch out for ads, these tests were written by an educational consultant and test prep expert based in Columbus.

GED Academy

Complete online learning platform to prepare adult learners for success on the GED Test, and aligned to the Essential Skills workbook series. Contact Beth Williams for a free pilot for adult education programs in Ohio.

College Transitions

Bridge to Success

Courses specifically designed for non-traditional adults who want to make a successful return to college or the workforce. Includes both student and educator tool kits.

World Education University (WEU) Prep Academy

WEU offers free secondary and post-secondary level courses focused on global prerequisites for success. A high school or GED diploma required to earn college credit.

Federal Student Aid

Help students understand their benefits to help pay for job training or postsecondary opportunities. Includes a link to FAFSA with explanation.

National College Transition Network

This is a site where you can download NCTN’s free publications including guides, toolkits, and newsletters for college transition. Caveat: They are not interactive online materials.

Digital Literacy

Guiding Ohio Online

Curriculum designed for AmeriCorps members to teach basic technology courses at rural libraries around Ohio. Adaptable for a variety of contexts.


This free tutorial introduces the basics of using a mouse. Simple, fun, effective, and free.


Learn and practice touch typing with free tutorials and games. Certificates and tutoring also available at cost. Beware advertisements.

NorthStar Basic Computer Skills Certificate

Want to know if your students have the basic skills to use an online program independently in class? Wonder no longer! Find out with these free online assessments.

Computer Essentials

When students have mastered the basics, move them to these three courses in digital literacy. Master the courses for a certificate or preparation for the IC3 exam. Contact Beth Williams for a free pilot for adult education programs in Ohio.

DIY Content

Do you know what content you want, but just need reliable places to find the best stuff?

Adult Education Resources

Hosted by COABE and sponsored by Essential Education, this repository focuses on free and CCR-aligned materials specifically for adult education.


Five minutes or less to WOW!

iTunes U

Podcasts about things.

Open Education Consortium

Browse thousands of courses in hundreds of categories!

Introduction to AERET!

Congratulations! You have been selected by The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland to join the Adult Education Resource Evaluation Team (AERET).

As you are well aware, area literacy programs are constantly trying to balance instructional needs and financial constraints. Budgets are tight, and instructional materials are increasingly expensive. Many programs have invested in purchasing or updating computers to make technology available in the classroom. However, even technologically literate instructors can be overwhelmed by the learning curve of new technology.

The main question we need your team to answer is: How do you judge which resources are worthwhile to incorporate in an adult literacy program?

Comment on this post to let us know what you think!

You can benefit our adult education community by developing recommendations for which free resources are best suited for different settings. Some of the other questions to consider in your exploration:

  • What is the cost-benefit of using free resources? What are the “hidden costs”?
  • What is the range of technology available in adult education programs?
  • At what point is it cost effective to invest in a paid program?
  • How user-friendly are the resources? In other words, how easily can students and teachers learn to use them?
  • What changes need to be made in adult education programs to support instructors when introducing new resources into the classroom?

Thank you for your commitment to serving Northeast Ohio in the field of adult education!

Task and Process

Your goal is to develop recommendations on these resources to share with other adult educators. If you are working with a team, here’s the game plan:

5 MINUTES: Please decide on the following roles within your team:

  1. Usability Specialist: Your task is to evaluate the selected resources to decide how easy they would be for students and instructors to use. Some questions to consider: What are the technology requirements to access the programs? How easy is it to get started? What are the features that adult educators would require to get the most out of the programs?
  2. Instructional Specialist: Your task is to consider the instructional quality and implications of the selected resources. You need to decide how well the programs meet various instructional needs. Some questions to consider: Who is the intended student audience? What skills are taught? What is required of the instructor in the learning process?
  3. Cost Analysis Specialist: Your task is to make administrative recommendations for implementing the selected resources. Some questions to consider: How well would the selected resources help meet the goals of various adult education organizations? What training or support do staff need to use the resources? What are the hidden costs and barriers to using the resources?

5 MINUTES: After assigning roles, your AERET will decide on a subsection of the resources shared this morning to evaluate, and also take some time to find and consider additional resources.

10 MINUTES: Exploration and evaluation of selected resources.

10 MINUTES: Discussion of findings within group. Create a list of talking points for each resources: pros and cons, tips and concerns, who and how, etc.

10 MINUTES: Draft presentations of your findings:

  • Comment on THIS POST to tell us what you found, and what you think about it.
  • For in-person teams, all members of the team must participate in presenting a brief, two minute summary of your results.

2 MINUTES: Proof read your draft before submitting. Remember, your final product is a professional recommendation that reflects on The Literacy Cooperative. Adult educators are depending on you to provide relevant but succinct information to aid in their decision making.

Presentation and Conclusion

Thank you for taking time out of your busy week to participate in AERET as a service to our region and the field of adult education.

Adult Educators’ Recommendations for Best Free Resources

It was a delight to work with adult educators to share and evaluate a smattering of the free content available out there for adult education and GED Test Prep. Participants at The Literacy Cooperative’s training organized into groups to become the Adult Education Resource Evaluation Team (AERET). After introducing 25 free websites available for Ohio adult educators (18 of those sites are free to a national audience), I sent the teams on a webquest.  They have shared their recommendations with you:

Low Level English Proficiency Learners

Our first group were professionals who serve a variety of literacy levels. Their overall finding was that there is not much out there that is intuitive and well paced for low level English readers or speakers. Almost everything requires instructional intervention.

Parameters for evaluation:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Site navigation
  3. General app look and feel
  4. Tech requirements

  1. Accessibility : Need to sign in which requires a username and Need to have an email address in order to enter the site. Need to answer a series of questions in order to enter the site.
  2. Site Navigation: The site is difficult to navigate; it doesn’t allow you to return to the previous page.
  3. Applications : The speaking part of the testing is too fast for low level learners. There are multiple ads on the page which makes it confusing for low level English.
  4. Tech Reqs: Need to have speakers on the computer to do the testing. (non profit)

  1. Accessibility : No sign in for this site ; no email address needed.
  2. Site Navigation: No ads on the site but you need to have a higher level English level to understand the choices.
  3. Applications : Navigate in multiple languages to understand what to choose but there is a lot of narrative (content). There are many applications but they are scattered and difficult to navigate by technology.
  4. Tech Reqs: No special technology requirements.

  1. Accessibility : Need to sign in (register) and requires an email. You need to enter a birth date which is a personal security issue.
  2. Site Navigation: Requires that you go to your email and click a link to sign up. Once you go to the email you then have to enter additional information which is confusing.
  3. Applications : Requires you to select an avatar which is confusing and then does not allow you to move to the next level.
  4. Tech Reqs: Speakers would be nice for interaction of sound but not necessary; necessary for video component. Adobe flash needed for video component.

  1. Accessibility: No sign in required ; no security issues or email address needed.
  2. Site Navigation: The site has too many ads that could be confusing to the low level English learner.
  3. Applications: The quality of the videos is very low; not ESOL teachers on the video which allows for the use of confusing English for low level learners.
  4. Tech Reqs: Speakers and Adobe flash for video component.

NEO Literacy Corps

The next group was a team of AmeriCorps Members serving for a year in adult literacy and workforce development contexts.

We evaluated four different sites for GED preparation. It was our goal to find sites to use in our classrooms, with students ages 17-22 as well as adult learners (22+).  All sites evaluated require internet access and access to a computer with a functioning keyboard, mouse or track pad, and monitor. We analyzed the sites based on Usability and Instructional Quality. In the conclusion, we covered Cost Analysis.

Tri-C’s Math MOOC


  • the students need to know how to navigate the Blackboard Course system.
  • Accessing the system requires login
  • Facilitators would need to have taken the course themselves, as there is no instructor companion material.

Instructional Quality:

  • Student & adult learners can use website
  • Math, English, GED readiness
  • Learners use without instructor guiding

McGraw Hill Online Learning Center

[Farrell Ink’s note: Aligned to the 2002 GED Test Prep Series from Contemporary/McGraw Hill.] Websites:


  • Has a teachers guide
  • Does not require auxiliary equipment
  • Simple, logical layout and structure
  • Language arts focus on writing, but not reading comprehension.

Instructional Quality:

  • Both instructors and students can use site for language arts, math, various refreshers for GED readiness
  • Instructors can assist students with curriculum
  • Does not have to be instructor lead


  • Unappealing set up: small print, antiquated look.
  • We don’t know if signing up grants you access to automatic grading for question responses.

Instructional Quality:

  • Student based
  • This site does not give process updates, this is not instructor based


  • This site was one of the only places we could find for Reading Comprehension, which is one of the major components of the GED and one that many sites (including Khan Academy) did not specifically target.
  • Sleek, appealing layout and appearance.

Instructional Quality:

  • Reading comprehension, language arts, reading development
  • Student based but they can track their progress


With respect to analyzing cost, start-up fees are associated with any computer lab or computer based program including location (renting or maintaining available space, as well as associated utilities).  Classroom instruction fees could be incurred as well.  Maintaining the computers will require IT personnel, which may be volunteers but it is more likely that programs will pay for these services.  All of the online programs we analyzed were free to access.

Workforce Development

The final group’s target population were low-income, low-literacy un-employed or under employed adults with limited labor market attachment; individuals who need to advance towards self-sufficiency.

Costs:  Headphones for computers (if needed), paper, pens, printer


  • Low-cost/free resources for low-income and low-computer literacy users
  • Materials written at around a 6th grade level; visually appealing as well to keep users engaged
  • Sites able to blend smoothly into the job search process AND support career retention and advancement

Recommended Resources and Process:

    • We will start off with an assessment of each individual’s existing computer literacy level
    • Students will be instructed on how to improve their skills, as most resume and job search is done online
    • This website has different modules that individuals can take on their own; they are scored and instruction can be tailored to the lacking skills
  2.’s Soft Skills to Pay the Bills
    • This site uses role play and interactive classroom-based activities
    • These can keep students engaged while teaching valuable job skills that are needed to gain and retain employment
    • The materials on the site are written at an appropriate literacy level and the printable worksheets are visually appealing
    • This site offers an excellent section on jobs
      • Includes online career coach, resume tips/examples, interviewing basics, how to dress for success, and how to find a job with a criminal background, amongst others
      • The site is well-written at an appropriate literacy level, and again is visually appealing
    • At this point, we envision students registering on the website, uploading the resume, and beginning to search for jobs online
    • They can also perform WorkKeys testing, if they want to brush up on their skills
  5. The Beehive (again)
    • After obtaining employment, students can be referred back to the for additional supportive services
  6. Tri-C’s Math MOOC
    • Students who are interested in career pathways and advancing their education and career will be referred to Tri-C for MOOC and other classes

Thanks again to all the awesome AERET groups for their recommendations! Happy teaching, and Happy New Year!

Top 18 FREE Websites for Workforce and GED® Test Prep

Warning: Once you start clicking these links, you may be amazed at what you find!

This list is not offered in any particular order of importance or quality, and without comment. I offer it to you as a starting point to the many free resources available on the web for self-motivated adult learners, and tech savvy adult education instructors.

  1. MikeRoweWORKS Tool Shed
  2. WorkKeys Practice Tests at OhioMeansJobs
  3. The Beehive
  4. My Job Scout
  5. USA Learns
  6. National College Transition Network Publications
  7. Tri-C’s Dev Ed Math MOOC
  8. Women Employed Resources
  9. Free Test Prep GED Practice Tests
  10. TV411
  11. Khan Academy
  12. Federal Student Aid
  13. Guiding Ohio Online Training
  14. Sense-Lang
  15. GED Testing Service
  16. Digital Literacy Assessment
  17. Occupational Outlook Handbook
  18. Soft Skills to Pay the Bills

It’s Election Day in the USA! What Do You Need to Know to Vote? And Pass the Social Studies Test?

I just voted! Will you? As students and teachers, the candidates and issues on the ballot today impact YOU!

Want to vote, but not sure about all the candidates and issues on the ballot? Understanding how voting works is also important information on Social Studies High School Graduation or Equivalency tests (GED, TASC & HiSET).

How to Do Your Homework on Voting

I used the SamUSA Flag. Keep calm and voteple Ballot Lookup on the non-partisan website Ballotopedia. It provided information on the State and Federal level candidates.

For my local candidates and issues, I searched on Google for the name of my county and “board of elections.” My county board of elections provided a sample ballot that listed all the candidates and issues. My local newspaper had links to the campaign websites, along with more information on the issues and interviews with candidates.

In all cases, ask yourself: Do I think this person has the best solutions? Also ask if the person can be trusted to do what they say.

Quick Civics Lesson: What U.S. Citizens See on Their Ballots

  •  Executive candidates at the Federal, State, and Local levels.

These are positions like: School Board who runs education in your state; Governor who proposes the budget (including for schools!); Treasurer and Auditor, who handle taxpayer money; and Representatives and Senators who write laws in your State or U.S. Congress.

For incumbents – people currently in that job – consider what they have done. For candidates running for the job ask: What is their experience? What do they say they will do?

  •  Judges and Attorney General to serve your State or County.

If you’ve ever had to stand before a judge, you know how much power they can have.

But political party is not always important in a judge. Consider their experience as a judge or an attorney, what types of cases they have handled, and their attitude towards the people they will see in court.

  • Issues at the State or Local level.

Issues can be anything citizens think are important. Many issues are tax levies, particularly to support schools and libraries. Personally, I always vote in favor of levies for schools and libraries because that money supports many adult education programs!

Fun Ways to Equip Students for Critical Thinking on the GED® Test

Our morning session tackled standards-based instruction and interdisciplinary activities. This afternoon, we will probe deeper into sample GED Test items to increase depth of knowledge and offline ways to prepare students for computer-based testing. In-person participants will also receive a sampler including instructional activities from Teaching Adults: A 2014 GED® Test Resource Book.

If you want to view sample questions and item types for the 2014 GED® Test from your computer, there are three free options from GED Testing Service:

What GED® Test Takers Need to Study for Social Studies

Uncle Sam says to newly elected President Wilson, "Woodrow, I'm Proud of You!"

The GED® Social Studies Test is currently 50% Civics and Government. The other subjects are United States History, Economics and Geography. International test takers may have to study more because most of the content is focused on the USA. (Capitalism! Democracy! 50 States!)

If you’re not so familiar with US Civics and History (even if you are from the United States!), try studying questions for the US Citizenship Test.

First, you can test your readiness with two quizzes from The History Channel. Watch out for advertisements! Take notes of any words or questions you don’t know so you can study them later:

Once you have a list of what topics from the quiz you need to know, go to US Citizenship and Immigration Services for FREE questions, flash cards, and videos: Study Materials for the Civics Test. You can also go to and use the Search feature to access the Library of Congress catalog. If you are a self-directed learner and like to explore resources, I highly recommend browsing the Library of Congress digital collections.

Instructors should check out my previous post “Beyond the Textbook: Additional Texts for GED® Test Preparation.”

The United States 1783, Louisiana Purchase from France 1803, The Texan Annexation 1845, Oregon Country 1846, Acquired from Mexico 1848, Gadsden Purchase 1853

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