Teaching ESL

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Author:  Liana [ Tue Mar 14, 2006 7:33 am ]
Post subject:  Reading

Hi again. I may sound boring with my usual question about reading. Honestly I haven't got much time to concentrate on phonics etc so I'm actually asking for some absolutely practical advice.
I've noticed that some of my beginners (aged 8-9) do not feel confident about reading and do not participate in reading & speaking activities. They admitted today that they feel shy and cannot make sense of all these letters in their books (i.e. words). They are not generally slow but get over anxious when it comes to that. Some others, who are supposed to have learning difficulties, excel in reading and speaking... Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was alarmed and felt I had to do something soon because there are only 3 months left until the end of the school year. I want these beginners to get started and be more confident next year as I'll be teaching them again (for better or for worse...).
I can and will do some remedial teaching with the shy ones but I'd also like to do some reading practice in class. I'm sure that no matter how "cool" the others sound, this will do them good and will help them in forming some rules about reading familiar and unknown words. I've seen the Dolch cards and read very, very general information about the phonics system. I would appreciate it if you could tell me exactly how you practice phonics in your classes -considering that my beginners are, as I said, 8-9 yr old.

Author:  mesmark [ Tue Mar 14, 2006 12:52 pm ]
Post subject: 

Liana - OK here I go. I'll let you know I have put a 30 minute time limit on this response. :P

I start phonics on the first day and work slowly through the same system (varying the pace for the age group.)

I start with single letters getting the students to visually recognize the letter, associate 2 words with that letter and from that, how the letter is read. Starting with the basic hard consonant and short vowel sounds.

Example - Aa;

T: What's this? (showing them the flash card with Aa on it.)
Ss: Aa

Repeat 2 or 3 times

T: OK, 2 words that start with A are... (turn the card over) apple and alligator.
Ss: apple, alligator

Repeat 2 or 3 times. Then, I turn the card back to Aa and ask for 2 words that start with A. They answer and we go back to the pictures.

T: Right, a-a-apple and a-a-alligator. When you read A, A makes the sound a. a-a-alligator, a-a-apple
Ss: a-a-alligator, a-a-apple
T: So, how do you read A?
Ss: a-a-a

I use sign language or my own hand visual indicators for the questions and students start to understand what each question means and how to answer by the visual clues (hand gestures.)

For young children I do one letter a day followed by a letter hunt where they search for the letters around the room. Once all the letters are found, they come back and sit down. I ask:

T: OK, who has an A?
Ss: ME!!!!!! (first student to answer was Kenny.)
T: Kenny, what's that?
K: A
T: Right. What are 2 words that start with A?
K: apple and alligator
T: Wonderful! So, how do you read A?
K: a-a-a
T: That's right! a-a-a! How many As do you have?
K: 2
T: Wow! Alright I'll give you 2 stickers/stamps/whatever....

For a bit older children (upper ele.) we will do 3-4 letters a day in the same fashion. They put up with the monotony of the drilling because they know I'm going to ask them individually. They like the letter hunt game and everyone hears the questions and answers above several times, plus answers (in most cases.)

As we progress through the alphabet, maybe about G and depending on their age, I start to show them some 3 letter words using the letters we've learned and let them see how we blend those sounds together. At this point I work mostly on initial consonant and short vowel blending. BED - b-e b-e to be

3. OK we've finished to Z and the kids have some understanding of basic letter reading
Now, I spend a bit of time on solidifying those letter-sound associations. We read a lot of short words together. We sound them out and then blend them. I have written and illustrated 2 phonics books, one on initial sounds and one on 3 letter words focusing on the short vowels. We go through those slowly, usually while we progress in class through these next steps.

Once the students are able to sound words out and blend them at the same time, we move on to consonant blends.

I work slowly on consonant blends (c-c) for a while but much faster than single letters, because they have learned the letter-sound association and now just need practice making those c-c blend sounds. I do this again with flash cards and 2 words that start with that blend, and do some review and reading in their phonics books.

I start c-c digraphs (ch, sh. th, ng, ...) with the students, usually one a day (again they're probably working on simpler phonics rules in a lower level book.) I have them associate words with the grapheme (written representation - ch for example) and use that to help them remember the sound (phoneme.) I move slowly reviewing as I add and always reading some words together as a group.

I start introducing some whole reading concepts with the reading cards that are listed on this site. Working on some sight words like the, blue, happy...

After c-c digraphs, I move on to the silent-e and long vowel sounds. I explain that vowels have a long reading as well as a short one. We practice the long reading of A and then I explain we're going to learn when we read A the long way, A_E!

I start with just A and work on first just recognizing the pattern. I write some words on the board and ask them if they see the pattern a_e . We practice that for a class and the next class we start to try and read those that we found have the pattern a_e. Then move on to I, O, U and touch on E.

Here, I work in some more reading cards, not yet posted.

I introduce the first set of vowel digraphs (ee, ea, ai, oa, oo.) Again, only one a day and associated words they should know with the graphemes and using pictures as visual clues.

I'm still at this point reviewing lower level phonics rules with the class through worksheets or reading activities.

It may be important to sat that I use an all speaking system with students and do all tasks based on visual clues using pictures, even in worksheets. So, to this point students haven't done any reading or writing in a textbook.

Once they have hit step 7 or finished it, and they are verbally ready, we move into a textbook. The textbook is generally well beneath them and I don't use the textbook to teach. I use the textbook to apply structure to things they already know how to say.

Then, I can focus more on structuring writing (start sentences with caps, end with a period, how are contractions formed, etc.) Also, reading becomes more of an exercise in being able to read, not being able to read AND understand.

soft-c, soft-g, ph

r controlled vowels (ar, ir, er, or, ur), igh, ay, ey, oy

Vowel digraphs 2 [au, ie, ou, ea (e) oi]

and then we head into misc. less common graphemes.

That's breifly my phonics curriculum. I didn't go into the why and how for a lot but if you have any questions I'd be glad to answer them.

Also, around steps 5-6, experts vary on what they recommend as the "correct" order to teach. This is just what I feel helps promote reading understanding through my method of practice.

I see my students once a week and we get through steps 1-6 or 1-7 in a year with the age group you're talking about. Then, we grow slower maybe getting to 9 in the next year.

Author:  Manuela [ Thu Mar 16, 2006 3:10 am ]
Post subject: 

Don't be discouraged. There is still plenty of time.
I did some research on becoming literate when I did my project for the RSA Cambridge Diploma. There are the so called "part" methods(alphabetic, phonetic, phonic) which deal with reading as product and the "whole" methods (word, sentence, story) which see reading as a process.

Greek students use the phonic approach to break through to literacy. They sound each individual letter, build syllables and then unite those syllables to form words. In English however the same graphological representation may be sounded in different ways.so the phonic method is very efficient for consonants, less so for vowel combinations.

Whatever method one employs, in time kids discover the so called "acrological principle", that is, they get to identify the letter-sound value of most letters of the alphabet. As in everything else the middle road, that is, a combination of the two methods, seems to be the best in this case too. Mark has done marvellous work on the phonic approach which he so generously shares with us.

Greek students have a great advantage over Japanese ones, however.
Most of the capital letters of the Greek and Roman alphabets are similar. Some are identical like A,K,M,N some look the same but sound differently like B,X, P a few ones are totallly new like J, D.

I'm going to list some of the things I do to help students become literate in English.
1. Every time I write a word on the board I make sure I write it underneath in capital letters too. I also assign as a homework copying a short text in capital letters. (You'll often find that even kids who go to frondistiria have trouble writing the capital u as U and not Y and capital l as L and not I). Since I teach them quite a few songs which we sing accompanied by a guitar I usually assign lyrics to be copied in capital letters. Early finishers can do this copying during class.

2. I do a wall dictionary making lesson in which each student aks for a letter to colour "Can I have a letter?" "Here you are" "Thank you". I also have a box of markers which they can borrow using "Can I have a marker?" On A4 pieces of paper I have drawn the contours of a capital letter and a lowercase letter. One sheet for one letter, 26 in all. In the beginning I used to bring ready coloured letters for the dictionary but they got vandalised very soon. When kids do their own colouring they feel protective of the wall dictionary.After the lesson I tape the letters, which have been coloured by the students ,on a wall of the classroom in alphabetical order. It is better if the letters are taped quite low on the wall so that at the end of lessons you can get early finishers to fill in the new words learnt during a lesson.

On this wall dictionary I also write during the next lesson the Greek equivalent of the letters. e.g. next to D I write NT. Then I give them a family tree handout, or a worksheet with questions of the type: "What is your mother's name?" I encourage students to write the names of the members of their family with Roman letters. When they have problems I take them to the wall dictionary and show them how they can collect the letters. If the name is Anna they need to look for A and n and n and a.
In the beginning they find it difficult but they soon get the hang of it.

3 A game of snap is very helpful for getting kids to read. On one small flashcard you have the picture and on another the corresponding word.
All the cards are shuffled and dealt to the players who may not look at them. When the a player's turn comes he puts down the card he has on top of his pile, face up. The first person to notice that a picture card and its corresponding word card have been discarded and are on the table slaps the cards and says snap. He gets the pair. The object of the game is two collect the most pairs.

4. I ask kids to look out for labels written in Roman alphabet and bring them to class. Then we make a poster with them. "Mars" "Coca Cola" "Pepsi" etc They help kids realize that in fact they can read but are not aware of it.

5.I encourage kids to read the street names, they are given in Roman letters as well, copy them and show just the Roman script in class to the other kids to read. I make a game out of it. A student who has copied street names may come in front of the class"take the teacher's place", show the street name and say who should read. If the chosen person reads correctly he may "become the teacher" and show the street name he has collected.

There are a few other things I do but I've just reread what I've written and I see I've got carried away. This answer is far too bulky. If you think you can use my ideas and would like more please . let me know.

And as Mark says "Happy teaching".

Author:  Liana [ Thu Mar 16, 2006 11:12 pm ]
Post subject: 

Mark and Manuela, thanks very much. My PC has died :? and I have to rely on the school's computer. So I had a quick look and printed your ideas. Please don't hesitate to get carried away as I'm getting through my usual "Why? oh, why?" phase and feel very happy with answers like yours. :lol:
I'll study my new material as soon as I get home... BTW, this was the first day I tried some kind of "phonics" with a slow student. Well, it is hard work...

Author:  mesmark [ Sun Mar 19, 2006 9:52 am ]
Post subject: 

Liana - You can also color code different phonics rules which draws out the code in the word. All of my handouts are color coded.

hard consonants
short vowels
consonant blends
long vowels with silent e
consonant digraphs
vowel digraphs
r-controlled vowels

Beyond those I don't color code. I find that once we get a ways in, the students start to understand that English is a code to be broken down and also it gets complicated to color code more dificult words with multiple rules.

I only color code for presentation. After that I just have them try to find the phonics rules in words.
example: peach

You can have them circle the combinations they see.
If they're having difficulties you can tell them there are 2.

Once they've found the 'ea' and 'ch' you can review how to read them and then practice reading the word.

This activity really helps them break down the code and see it when reading.

Author:  Liana [ Thu Mar 23, 2006 3:52 am ]
Post subject: 

After c-c digraphs, I move on to the silent-e and long vowel sounds. I explain that vowels have a long reading as well as a short one. We practice the long reading of A and then I explain we're going to learn when we read A the long way, A_E!

Hi again Mark. What do you mean with A_E ?

That's breifly my phonics curriculum. I didn't go into the why and how for a lot but if you have any questions I'd be glad to answer them.

I'd be more than happy if you got into details about the how.
You see, there are so many differences in the way we work that I wouldn't know how to start if I tried to explain.

Author:  mesmark [ Sun Mar 26, 2006 11:00 pm ]
Post subject: 

It may be good to say that even among native speakers some people just don't get phonics and can't "see the code." They just have to memorize the words in the whole reading fashion. So if some of your students are having problems with phonics, don't take it personally.

A_E is supposed to represent the silente e that makes vowels long in words like: cake, skate, name, cape ...) I have flash cards and handouts for that www.mes-english.com/phonics/silente.php


I went over a bit about how I introduce letters to help the students with the initial sounds. After that we just start reading sounding out words that I write on the board. It's best to start with 3 letter words and things they will know if they read them right: bed, red, cat, dog, ... I also keep it very short (5 minutes) as a transient section of the lesson. I still review a-z readings real quick and focus on letters that are difficult. I generally give the class 10-15 seconds to look at the word and sound it out by themselves, silently or very quietly. Then we all sound out the word (one letter at a time) and then blend those sounds together slowly a few times until they recognize it.

I don't allow students to shout out the answers right away because the lower level students never even get a shot at it otherwise.

The biggest part of the system is motivation to move on and learn more rules and not get discouraged. I have a system I call the reading wall where students get a bookmark and move up a color coded system as they remember and master more rules. www.marks-english-school.com/news/readingwall/ So far that has worked pretty well as motivation for the students to pay attention during the phonics sections of class.

Boggle's World has some good worksheets and cards for phonics if you want to take a look at their resources bogglesworldesl.com/phonics.htm
I have some things I can send you that aren't on the site but I need to know more about where your students are and what kinds of things you've been doing with them. Otherwise I'm just shooting out arrows in the dark.

So, can you tell me a bit about what you've done with your students?

Author:  Liana [ Tue Mar 28, 2006 3:53 am ]
Post subject: 

That's what I was trying to avoid! :P
First of all, we're talking about a state school not a private one, and that makes a great difference. Children are taught English as well as all other subjects and in fact foreign languages, music and PE are considered as secondary importance lessons, sth like playtime. Most children (and adults) learn foreign languages in private schools, after school or after work of course. It's an absurd situation which is encouraged by both the public and the private sector.
By saying all this, I'm trying to explain that despite my efforts (that goes for all colleagues of course) I face certain obstacles such overcrowded classes, limited space, lack of time, lack of equipment, quite often no help from parents and other teachers, horrible coursebooks, absolutely mixed ability classes, etc etc. For example, the children had been preparing for a school play for the past 2 weeks. I missed all my lessons for almost 15 days because the teachers needed extra time for rehearsals etc. I was at school of course but just couldn't work... The day after the play, we went on a school trip so goodbye lessons and in three weeks we're closing for Easter holiday (that's 15 days again) and so on and so forth.
This does not mean that the whole year goes like that or that I don't have 10 minutes a week to practice reading. I cannot work the way I want though because whenever we're getting at sth good with the children, there's always somenone or something telling me "now, get out of the classroom, we have more important things to do." :smt009

Now, about the 3rd graders: we started with the alphabet and used the coursebook's alphabet book to practice. The children learned the letters and the alphabet words (a for apple, b for bed, c for cat etc) and actually tried to read from the very beginning (not because I insisted.) They also wrote their letters and words in the alphabet book. We played the usual games one plays when teaching the alphabet, with lots of flash cards, miming, listening & repeating etc. After 4 weeks or so we moved on to the coursebook stories. I read and played the tape, they listened and repeated, did the book's exercises and played quite a few vocab, grammar and communication games because they seemed to learn and remember much better like that (not to mention the book by itself is a bit boring.)BUT on the other hand, 80% of the class attend afternoon classes as well. There, from what I've heard, they get straight to the point without too much waiting or playing and most of them can read when they actually start English at school.

Anyway, back to school. Considering we started the coursebook in October and have missed about 1,500 lessons since then, I never really asked myself whether my students can read or not. Some of them are brilliant and have an innate feeling for languages. But others "crawl" on their way to literacy. :smt100 I asked some colleagues what to do with reading and they said: Don't worry, they'll learn...

The book doesn't always help. With words like "milkshake", "kite", "police officer" etc, children get confused although they can say the word when they see the flashcard. In general, they are quite confident with words which do not play tricks, such as cat, bed, hat, actor, igloo, farmer, zebra, ruler. I know it's an odd collection but these are some of the easy words we have found. All "tricky" words can be a problem (eg. teacher).
So far we've done 1) alphabet, colours, numbers 0-20, some animals, some food, school things, jobs, family, birthday and birthday presents, feelings 2) the verb to be, my/your/his/her, plural with -s. They can really read what I said before, ie, all simple words. "They are" is not simple.
I have never done any phonics they way you do it. I do some remedial work with a couple of girls and I'd really love to get organised because I can see it works. Unfortunately, I can concentrate only on the 3rd graders because there's too much to do every day and I'll probably lose control if I try to prepare sth for each class.
Well, I don't know whether these (relevant and irrelevant) details helped. Let me know if there's sth else you'd like to know. Thanks very much for your help.

Author:  mesmark [ Tue Apr 04, 2006 12:07 am ]
Post subject: 

Liana - Sorry, for some reason I thought i had already replied to this.

Anyway, whole reading works well for some and phonics works well for others. You might just need to find the balance that works well for you. I find that a little of both with dash of Dolch is the key for me.

Phonics is quite intense and if you really get into it, you'll find that a lot of words that you think might be irregular are really regular. You just need to know the rules. Now, that being said, sometimes it's not that necessary to delve so deep.

My advice would be to start with a phonics program from the beginning, something you're comfortable with time-wise. Build on that and add in whole reading using your course book but continuing with phonics. Build both whole reading and phonics techniques and hopefully you'll see the difference over time.

I was a very slow reader as a child and I hated it. I dreaded being called out to read. I read, start to finish, a handful of books through high school and pretty much only textbooks even at university. And I turned out alright :mrgreen:

i've eventually discovered the joy of reading, but still have a hard time motivating myself to read for pleasure.

I think reading is a fantastic way to learn, but it's not the only way...

Author:  Manuela [ Wed Apr 05, 2006 8:26 pm ]
Post subject: 

Don't be so hard on yourself. Learning to read is a process. It takes time.
If your students can read some of the words it means they are successful.
Little by little they are going to read more. The most important thing is for them to have fun in the English class and think of English in a fond way. If there is love in the air between you and your students, in time they'll learn.Some more, some less. Isn't it like this with the Greek subjects as well?Unfortunately there is no such thing as equality and equal opportunities in real life, only in theory. Do you think differently?
There is also the possibility that those students that "cannot" read are simply shy and afraid of making mistakes...
Happy teaching,

Author:  mesmark [ Fri Jul 28, 2006 12:48 pm ]
Post subject: 

Here's a quick/semi-quick lesson on phonetics:
http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/ ... /notes.htm

I didn't finish the whole thing and I'm not an IPA fan, but it's great information.

Author:  mknight [ Mon Oct 16, 2006 5:39 am ]
Post subject: 

Thanks for the excellent phonics responses. I learned a lot. A great book for phonics and reading information and instruction that I have found an invaluable resource is by Wiley Blevins called "Phonics from A-Z". It can be found on Amazon.


Author:  Ms Vanessa [ Mon Oct 16, 2006 9:43 am ]
Post subject:  Reading walls_Mesmark


I'm a new teacher and I am looking for teachniques.
I read your "reading wall" technique for learning phonics. I am very interested to find out how to do this.

Can you please help me to know more?

What do you give students that are in the "white" . What is in each box?
How do you know that the student is ready to move on to the next level?

You teach what grade?

Thank you

Author:  mknight [ Thu Nov 30, 2006 11:29 am ]
Post subject: 

I find that a good complement to any phonics program is a set of phonics reading books that have stories related to the phonics you are teaching. I use some of the sets from the Scholastic booster phonic series (set of 60 books), and this helps the students get the practice of using the learned phonics in a story and provides some context.

Author:  mesmark [ Thu Nov 30, 2006 12:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reading walls_Mesmark

Ms Vanessa wrote:
What do you give students that are in the "white" . What is in each box?
How do you know that the student is ready to move on to the next level?

You teach what grade?

Sorry, I never responded.

Each box contains materials for each level.

The white box just has some alphabet cards in it. Once students learn the alphabet by name, both upper and lower, they can start climbing the wall. I will test the students by having them draw 10 alphabet cards and have them name the letters.

The yellow box has some small flashcards with 3 letter words on them, some reading cards (single sentences with pictures) and a couple short vowel phonics books. Basically everything I use to teach at this level.

I cover hard consonants, short vowels and consonant blends at the yellow level. Again, once they're pretty proficient, I test them by having them draw some of the cards and read them to me.

Green - silent e and consonant digraphs
Blue - vowel combinations (ee, ea, ai, oo, oa) and soft consonants c and g
Purple - r-controlled vowels, igh, ph
Orange - vowel combo.s (ea, ou, oi, au, ie), and ay, oy, ey
Red - tion, sion, war,wor, ould, ough, kn, mb
Black - reading fluency (no special rules)

I'm actuall away from my desk, so as best as I can recall, that's the conent for each level. Some of the boxes just contain word lists that I brainstormed. That way I can just grab the list, instead of trying to think up words on the spot.

Like mknight said, as they move up, it becomes more important that they start reading texts. Basically, so they can start to understand and not just sound out language. I use Spectrum readers, but anything will do. If you have some 1st grade or 2nd grade level books, you can make them available for the students to borrow and try to read on their own. I sometimes just have 10 minutes of reading time in class, since a few students won't read otherwise.

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