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Health Resources

This page is designed to support ESOL tutors in their lesson development for beginner and intermediate students.  It also serves as an easy reference for advanced students seeking additional resources about health issues and health care in the Berkshires.  We hope that the resources below will familiarize students with common elements of the healthcare system and empower them to communicate with doctor’s offices, pharmacy staff, and others in the community about basic medical issues.  For lesson plan overviews and ideas, please click here.

Before you begin…

Because of the important and sensitive nature of many healthcare issues, most patients prefer to conduct their medical appointments in their native languages.  We encourage students to ask for an interpreter to help them communicate with doctors and medical professionals regarding direct care.  Tutors can support their students by helping them to understand their right to an interpreter and by teaching them key language in English, such as:  “I need an interpreter, please. I speak Spanish.”

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities that receive federal funding are required by law to provide free interpreters for patients with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).  Locally, Berkshire Medical Center (BMC), Community Health Programs (CHP) and Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) have bilingual staff on-site to interpret certain languages.  (Spanish-language interpreters are typically available in the Berkshires.)  For other languages, healthcare facilities often use a telephone translation system.

AND REMEMBER:  LitNet is part of a comprehensive referral network.  If your student expresses a need for medical, dental, or mental health care, please call the office and we can help him or her to connect with the appropriate professionals.

General Health Knowledge

Before visiting a doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic, a student should be able to make an informed decision about why he or she is seeking medical attention and where is the best place to get the type of attention that meets his or her needs.

The first step is to become familiar with common ailments, and body parts, and how to describe them.  For example: “I have a sore throat,” or “My knee hurts.”  Learning the vocabulary for ailments and symptoms can be very helpful in negotiating daily life.  (It also provides a terrific framework for introducing simple grammatical structures!)  For example, ” I cannot come to work today because I have the flu.”  or “My daughter is sick.  She has an ear infection.”

Discussing the type and severity of symptoms can also be an excellent way to discuss the appropriate place to seek treatment.  For example, students should learn that, in the American healthcare system, the first place to seek treatment for a minor problem like a cough, cold, or stomach bug should typically be the office of their primary care physician or a local walk-in clinic, rather than the emergency room.

Check out the excellent health curriculum created by the Queens Library with three chapters devoted to body parts, symptoms, and ailments that are accompanied by lesson plans, images, worksheets, and activities.  There are lessons for both beginner and intermediate students.

The Queens Library curriculum also has a great chapter on identifying and reacting to medical emergencies.  Give your student the tools she needs to be able to call 911, report her address, and describe an emergency situation in English.


Insurance is a major component of the modern health care system, and many students may be unfamiliar with the requirement to maintain health insurance in Massachusetts.

  • Students can contact Volunteers in Medicine, which often is able to treat patients regardless of legal status, insurance status, or ability to pay.
  • CHP has two enrollment counselors, Octavio Hernandez and William Cruz, who can help patients to determine if they qualify for insurance coverage.   CHP “cares for all patients regardless of income, immigration status or insurance limitations” and offers a sliding-fee scale for income-qualified patients without access to insurance.
  • BMC offers the Advocacy for Access program both in Pittsfield at 510 North Street and in Great Barrington at Fairview Hospital, to help patients explore their insurance eligibility options.

The Queens Library provides this intermediate level curriculum introducing the vocabulary and related elements of health insurance.

The Appointment

Students may be unfamiliar with the process of making an appointment to visit the doctor.  In some countries, it is common to just show up at a clinic and wait in line for service.  Vocabulary such as “referral” and “co-pay” may be new for students.  It can be helpful to introduce your student to the typical process of a doctor’s appointment in America: call for an appointment, visit the check-in desk, pay a co-pay, meet with a nurse or medical assistant before finally seeing the doctor, and schedule a follow-up appointment, etc.  Don’t forget to ask her what the process is in her country!

Making an appointment by phone is a major challenge for an English Language Learner because it removes all visual context clues that a learner may rely upon to help them understand.  Use sample dialogues, like the ones available in this lesson plan from the Florida Literacy Coalition or this unit from Project SHINE, to help your student become familiar with the types of questions typically asked and common responses.  This is a great place to teach concepts of time, dates, days of the week, polite responses to questions, and helpful responses like “Could you please repeat the question?” or “Could you please slow down?”

Another common element of the first appointment is completing a health history.  Click here to download a sample health history form and help your student become familiar with the vocabulary involved especially family relationships!

Medications, Prescriptions, and Refills

Understanding and managing medications can be complicated for anyone.  The whole sector has its own vocabulary and its own processes– from refills to generic names to dosage instructions.  One of the most important things to determine is whether or not a student has any allergies.  A tutor can help her student to recognize potentially dangerous medications and advocate for herself by saying, “I am allergic to penicillin” or “I am allergic to sulfa drugs.”

The Queens Library, the Florida Literacy Coalition, and Project SHINE all have comprehensive units that discuss medical labels, instructions, and the safe use of medications.  Project SHINE even has a section on alternative medicine and treatments such as herbal supplements or acupuncture.

Many pharmacies in the Berkshires do not have easy access to translation services, so they rely on smartphone apps to help communicate with their ELL customers.  Students should feel comfortable bringing a phone to the counter and explaining to the pharmacy staff, “I am learning English.  We can use this translator to communicate.”  For a detailed review of how to read and fill a prescription, click here.   You can also use this medication list worksheet to stay organized by writing clear instructions for each medication.  Create an activity using these actual images of instructional stickers found on prescription bottles that were provided by a local Berkshire pharmacy.  (A good exercise is to discuss the image on each sticker and how it represents the instructional information presented.)

Project SHINE recommends that everyone be able to ask the following questions about their prescriptions to their doctor or pharmacist:

  • Do you have written information about my medicine? Is it available in a language other than English?
  • What is the most important thing I should know about this medicine?
  • Can I get a refill? If so, when?
  • How and where should I keep this medicine?


Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is an important habit that impacts both individuals and their families.  Some students may not have access to nutritious foods or may be unaware of how to prepare foods in a healthy manner.  Tutors can help students to connect with local programs like the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, SNAP, or WIC, which can provide access to healthy food and help to reduce food insecurity.  Tutors can also encourage students to implement healthy habits such as regular exercise and identify risk factors like excessive stress or a family history of heart disease, which could lead to medical problems in the future.

LitNet has a collection of short, easy-to-read booklets designed for a mainstream audience on a variety of health and wellness topics such as general wellness, Medicare, enjoying a balanced diet on a balanced budget, sodium, cholesterol, bullying, and more.  These booklets are a great way to introduce new vocabulary on real issues impacting the daily lives of adult learners.  The Queens Library Collection presents several good chapters on health goals and healthy eating, and Project SHINE introduces common risks and approaches to managing or preventing diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Books and Materials

Don’t forget about the books and materials in LitNet’s lending library!

  • Health Stories: Readings and Language Activities for Healthy Choices (Introductory, Low Beginning, and High Beginning):  Each health stories book addresses many of the topics introduced in this website, including common illnesses, healthy lifestyles, medical procedures, and the U.S. health care system.  Each chapter begins with a reading and is followed by a variety of comprehension questions and exercises that emphasize vocabulary and practical situations.  Click the link for audio exercises and a teacher’s guide.
  • Oxford Picture Dictionary (All Levels):  The Oxford Picture Dictionary is a great reference book for introducing vocabulary on all topics including foods, body parts, locations (such as the doctor’s office or hospital), scheduling, time, calendars, etc.
  • Classic Illustration Booklets from Channing-Bete (All Levels):  These booklets are a great way to incorporate authentic materials into lessons.  They were not specifically created for ESOL students, but they present information in a clear and easy-to-understand way.  LitNet has booklets on the following topics:  About Wellness, About Headaches, Medicare and You, Food and Drug Interactions, Anxiety Disorders, Relaxation Techniques, Home Care Safety, About Caregiving, How to Manage Your Medications, How to Enjoy a Balanced Diet on a Balanced Budget, Good Nutrition, What to Do in an Emergency, Sodium in Your Diet, Child Safety, About Stress, About Cholesterol, About Bullying, Short for Tots (Immunization for your Child), About Diabetes, About Depression.
Berkshire Health Systems

Complete information about medical interpreters at Berkshire Medical Center. For Medical Interpretations, please call 413-881-5489.

Collection of Dialogues on Health Literacy

Collection of dialogues focused on health literacy to help improve communication between healthcare providers and patients.

Community Health Programs (CHP)

CHP’s services for immigrants include being able to perform Civil Service Medical Exams for green card applications.

Different Types of Doctors – Learn Medical Vocabulary

Video lesson focusing on the terminology related to specialist doctors and how to use the correct vocabulary when referring to them.

Florida Literacy Coalition “Staying Healthy” Curriculum

The Florida Literacy Coalition offers complete downloads of two healthy living books: Staying Healthy (for intermediate learners) and Staying Healthy For Beginners. These books also come with a pre and post test to help measure achievement!

How to Prepare for a Doctor’s Appointment

General information from the National Institutes of Health about how to prepare for a doctor’s appointment.

Lesson Plan Overviews

Employment lesson plan overviews and ideas.

Mental Health

Variety of mental health resources to help support and manage mental health concerns.

Picture Stories for Adult ESL Health Literacy

Picture Stories designed to improve health literacy among adult ESL learners by using visual aids to enhance comprehension of healthcare topics.

Project SHINE ESOL Health Units

Created by the Intergenerational Center at Temple University, in partnership with the MetLife Foundation, this comprehensive five-part health series is well-suited for high beginners or intermediate students. Each unit is composed of multiple step-by-step lessons and activities for students.

Queens Library (NYC) – Health Literacy Curriculum for ESOL Learners

A complete health literacy curriculum for beginner to intermediate ESOL students.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) is the largest domestic hunger program in the country, offering nutrition assistance to millions of eligible individuals and families. Benefits are distributed through an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, which works like a debit card at local grocery stores, convenience stores, and even some local farmers’ markets.

Various Activities in Health and Medicine

Activities related to health and medicine, aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle and enhancing understanding of medical concepts

Virginia Adult ESOL Health Literacy Toolkit

The Virginia Literacy Coalition’s toolkit does not provide a ready-to-use curriculum; however, it does offer many helpful worksheets and links to other reliable online sites containing huge amounts of information about health and the health care system in the U.S. See the “Links for Learners” section for great worksheets and lesson hand-outs.

Volunteers in Medicine

Volunteers in Medicine Berkshires provides access to free, comprehensive healthcare for those in the Berkshire region who are income-qualified and uninsured or under-insured. VIM’s services are provided by volunteer clinicians.

Women Infants Children (WIC)

WIC (Women, Infants & Children) is a nutrition program that provides health and nutrition education, healthy food and other services free of charge to eligible Massachusetts families.