Did you know reading for ten minutes a day can help improve memory and concentration? Reading is also a great way for children to relax. But there are hundreds and thousands of books to choose from, so how do you decide what to read with your students or children? It can be tricky.
If I asked you what the hardest part of learning English was, how many of you would point out the relationship (or seeming lack of a relationship) between how English sounds and how it is written?
My social media feeds are full of jokes about English spelling, like the famous poem ‘The Chaos’ by G. Nolst Trenite, which uses rhymes to point out that
“Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.”
Ahead of my forthcoming webinar Fun with Phonics next month, let’s go back to basics with phonics and think about how it is relevant in the young learner’s classroom.
What is phonics?
English is not spelt phonetically so reading and spelling in English can be challenging even for native speakers. Phonics is a system that was developed to help native speaking children learn to read in English. It involves linking the 44 sounds of English (phonemes) to the possible ways they can be spelt (graphemes). There are three main types of phonics: Analytic, Embedded and Synthetic.
- Analytic phonics takes whole words and asks learners to analyse them. Students are taught to compare sound patterns, for example identifying what is the same about the words pet, purple and potato, or noticing the similarities between words with the same ending like book and cook.
- Embedded phonics teaches phonics as and when it is needed. For example, if a student is having particular difficulties with a new word. It is not a systematic approach, and students are only taught what is needed so not all phonics elements are covered.
- Synthetic phonics is the most widely used approach around the world. This is because it is the most effective. This method takes a systematic approach to phonics, teaching children to sound out words to ‘decode’ what they say, or blend sounds together to ‘encode’ them in their written form.
As Synthetic phonics is the most widely used, we will look at this further during the webinar.
Why does it matter to English language teachers?
As a native English speaker (and reader) I clearly remember receiving phonics instruction as I navigated English spelling. I remember working through levelled reading schemes in school, and reading with my Grandmother as she challenged me to find all the words in the newspaper with “oo” in them while we experimented with the sounds they make. More than 30 years on and phonics has become a buzzword in the English language classroom.
However, phonics doesn’t just help children to associate the sounds and spelling of English. Through focusing on the sounds of English, young learners can develop confidence when they tackle new words. It can also help them to improve their spoken and written English and develop their learner autonomy. We’ll be exploring this further in the webinar.
How can I teach phonics?
In 2018 there are plenty of great phonics-based reading schemes that can be used in our classrooms.
There are those such as Floppy’s Phonics which is designed for the first language English speakers, but which is increasingly used in the second language classroom. Then there are schemes such as Oxford Phonics World which is developed specifically for learners of English. Phonics can also be seen embedded in young learners’ coursebooks such as Family and Friends, where children learn phonics while they learn English.
Of course, having the right materials is only half of the battle. As with anything else in the classroom, success with phonics will also depend on how well you implement the ideas into your lessons.
Charlotte Rance is a freelance teacher trainer and educational consultant based in Brighton, UK. She has been working in the English Language Teaching industry for over a decade, and her key areas of interest are young learners and the use of stories and reading as a tool for language learning. Her main goal as a trainer is to provide practical advice and strategies that teachers can implement in their lessons.
Puppets are a great way to encourage and motivate your pre-primary learners when learning a new language.
Here, Kathryn Harper, one of the authors from Show and Tell, gives her top ten tips for using a puppet in the classroom.
1) Greetings and routines: “Hello. How are you?”
Establishing predictable routines is extremely important in the pre-primary classroom to help with classroom management. With routines, children quickly get to understand what’s expected of them, giving them the confidence to learn and achieve more.
A great way to use the class puppet is for routines. The puppet can greet and say goodbye to the children when they come in or leave the class, and elicit information from them, for example, “How are you today?”
The children will be comfortable and interested in replying to the puppet, and even the shyest child will want to interact with it in this way.
By using the puppet regularly for specific activities such as ‘Reading time’ or ‘Goodbye time’, you can move from one activity to the next seamlessly, keeping your students motivated and engaged.
2) Creating affective conditions
One of the pre-conditions for learning is for children to feel comfortable, secure, and in a nurturing environment. The presence of a class puppet can help reinforce this ‘safe’, affectionate space.
Here’s how to create this space using your puppet:
- Puppets, particularly a soft one, can give cuddles to the children. This creates an instant warm reaction with the children.
- Children can express affection towards the puppet by stroking it, patting its head etc. This contact can be extremely important in breaking down barriers, relaxing the children, and enabling physical expression.
- The puppet can comfort children if they are sad, for example, they can sit with the puppet. The puppet keeps children comforted and includes them in the class.
- The puppet can be emotional when you can’t, for example, show anger or cry. This is a great way for children to learn about different emotions.
3) Using humour to animate the classroom
As a teacher, you know that getting and keeping the attention of a class full of little ones can be a challenge when it’s just you up at the front of the class. Having a class puppet can suddenly make everything more interesting for your students, and is a great way to animate your class. Used in the right doses, the puppet can keep the attention of your students in many ways:
- By doing funny or unusual things.
- By showing reactions or emotions that might not be acceptable.
- By creating a focus to an otherwise boring event.
- By interacting with you.
4) Being allowed to get things wrong
Learning from mistakes and helping children see the good side of getting things wrong is key for their development. The puppet can be a huge confidence booster to your students, by showing them that it’s perfectly normal to get things wrong. It can do this by:
- Showing the children that it doesn’t understand everything – and that’s alright!
- Making fun of itself when it doesn’t understand –taking the pressure off children to get things perfect first time.
- Letting the children play at being the teacher.
5) Modelling activities
When it comes to new activities and role plays, puppets can make the best partners. The puppet can attempt the role play and make a few mistakes. This shows students that it’s fine if they don’t get things right first time. Eventually, the puppet will complete the role play correctly and provide the perfect model for the children.
6) Acting out
One of the most effective and involving activities for children is acting out stories or situations. Of course the children could be the actors themselves, but if they use puppets, it liberates them and gives them greater creative licence. In particular, shy children can come alive using puppets as it takes the focus off them. What’s more, children with lower linguistic levels can be just as engaged with puppets because they can react visually through actions when they don’t have words.
7) Helping create stories or storytelling
Following on from number six, the next step is for children to create their own stories or follow on from an existing one. For this, you will need more than one puppet but you can easily get kids to bring in some of their cuddly toys, or make your own! When children tell their own stories, you really know they are engaged, their brains are working, and they have something to say.
This is a great activity to get the whole class participating. It can be very casual and short, or more involved and set up with props depending on your class size, the confidence of your students, or the learning outcomes you have set.
8) Being a target for activities
Activities are a lot more fun when a puppet is playing along. For example, if you are working on furniture vocabulary, you could play games such as ‘Where’s the puppet?’ – “He’s on the chair!” Or for classroom objects, you could play ‘What’s in the puppet’s bag?’ You can play games in which you pass the puppet around the class until someone says a particular word, and you could even play ‘Puppet says’ (instead of ‘Simon says’). The variations are endless. Have fun including the puppet in class games, and see your students’ participation soar!
9) The puppet as a a ‘prize’
The puppet is a tool for helping students learn how to behave in class, and as such, it can be used as a reward or a prize to incentivise good behaviour or hard work. Some ways you could use the puppet as a reward include:
- holding the puppet for the rest of the class
- leading the class in a song as ‘the puppet’
- saying ‘Goodbye’ to everyone as ‘the puppet’
Children will be proud to take responsibility for the puppet during the class, and know they must look after it carefully.
10) Making puppets and creating a persona
Making puppets can become a great cross-curricular activity in itself and develop students’ fine motor skills. Get the children to create puppets reflecting characters from their English coursebook or their favourite stories, reflecting themselves or their chosen imaginary characters. By investing with the actual making of these puppets, role play or storytelling will become a lot more personal to the students.
Puppet making can be very simple or more complex. You can make puppets out of socks or paper bags. Finger puppets can be made out of felt, wool, paper or other materials, or even stick puppets made from lollypop sticks. There a lots of other ways to make great puppets so have fun getting crafty with your students! Looking for some templates to help you get started? Here are some finger puppets featuring some of the much loved characters from OUP’s Show and Tell series!
Kathryn Harper has a background in ELT teaching in both France and Canada. She worked in publishing for 10 years as a grammar and reference editor (OUP), developing-world schools and ELT publisher (OUP and Macmillan), and ELT publisher for Latin America (Macmillan). She has written educational materials for the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa, and is one of the authors of the pre-primary course Show and Tell (OUP).
Vanessa Reilly, teacher, teacher trainer and OUP author, introduces her upcoming webinar on 27th and 28th May entitled: “Having fun with festivals – cultivating interest in the target culture in your young learner classroom.”
Just how important is the target culture to you when teaching English as a foreign language to young learners? Looking at a language from the point of view of speakers of that language and how they live makes the target language more real, not just a collection of words and sentences to be learnt.
All learners need to be introduced to the target culture, no matter how young or early on in their language learning experience, in order to provide them with the optimum conditions for success.
My webinar will provide an overview of the following:
Target culture in the very young learner and young learner classroom
Very early on in my teaching career, I remember reading Claire Kramsch’s book Context and Culture in Language Teaching, and this statement stuck in my mind:
If… language is seen as social practice, culture becomes the very core of language teaching. Cultural awareness must then be viewed as enabling language proficiency… Culture in language teaching is not an expendable fifth skill, tacked on, so to speak, to the teaching of speaking, listening, reading and writing.”
So I started to explore:
→ What are the implications for primary age children?
If, as Kramsch proposes, cultural awareness needs to be an integral part of language learning, then I believe that as teachers of English we need to explore the many aspects of English-speaking culture appropriate for all learners, however young the children we teach.
→ What can we do as primary teachers?
We need to look at culture through a child’s eyes and consider what will motivate a Primary child to want to know more about the target culture. Having worked with children for nearly 25 years, I have found even young children are really interested when I talk about what children in English-speaking countries do that is the same or different to their world. I find activities based on festivals very motivational and the children quickly become engaged in the colourful, fun activities; so festivals are usually where I begin to introduce culture into the Pre-school and Primary classroom.
In my upcoming webinar we will look at bringing cultural awareness to young learners through festivals that are important to the everyday lives of children in English-speaking countries. In this very practical session we will investigate stories, songs, games and other mysterious things to enjoy with our Primary children.