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Fun with Phonics | Charlotte Rance | OUP

Phonics dictionary entry with OUP logo

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. If you are new to phonics and you are interested in picking up a few hints and tips for your classroom, why not register for the webinar? I look forward to seeing you online!

Webinar registration button


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.


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Teaching young learners and teenagers English | Are we all on the same page?

This presentation draws from my experience of working as an ELT teacher, teacher educator and researcher in relatively underprivileged contexts in sub-Saharan Africa. I hope the issues I have highlighted here resonate with teachers in other parts of the world. While policymakers continue to promote Curricula changes which focus on the development of communicative competence and learner-centred pedagogies, such policies are not often matched by a concomitant provision of human, material, or financial resources. As a result, classrooms remain overcrowded (some of my examples are taken from a classroom of 235 teenagers), and there is an acute lack of textbooks and other teaching and learning resources.

Teacher educators and teachers in this context, like elsewhere, have traditionally concerned themselves with teaching methods and techniques, teaching theories, learning materials, and classroom conditions. Yet there is evidence (e.g. from work done by members of the Teaching English in Large Classes Network, which shows that learners can play a very important role in the development of good practices. My own experience of working with young learners and teenagers in large under-resourced classrooms in sub-Saharan Africa has shown me that the best policies, materials, teaching practices etc. can only be as good as the learners for whom they are designed.

My research into context appropriate ELT pedagogy in Cameroon has shown that it may be possible to develop a pedagogic partnership which takes account of learner agency in teaching and teacher education processes. In this study, 11-year-old children claimed to learn better through collaborative tasks rather than quietly listening to their teacher.

Good teaching does not necessarily lead to good learning, but good learning can be achieved sometimes in spite of teaching. In an under-resourced context, learning must be a mutually constructed endeavour; a collaborative experience between teachers and learners, striving towards common goals. Both parties should have the same answers to the following questions:

  • What do we want to achieve?
  • How shall we achieve it?
  • Where shall we find the resources we need?

This collaboration between teachers and students in the design of content and process of learning is what I call a ‘pedagogy of partnership’. The examples show that when students are involved in sourcing and or producing their own materials for the language classroom and when they are given opportunities to contribute ideas for classroom activities, they benefit from using language productively and authentically. What is more, student-generated materials become invaluable learning resources in resource-poor contexts.

Watch my webinar to learn more about my research, and the Pedagogy of Partnership.


Harry Kuchah has been involved in English Language Teacher education and materials development for 20 years. His interests are in developing appropriate learning resources and processes for English language education in under-resourced large class contexts.

 

 


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10 ways to use puppets in the ELT classroom

Fifi Show and Tell - Oxford University PressPuppets 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).


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Making reading fun: Using graded readers with young learners

There is a famous saying by Dr. Seuss that says: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Anyone who has read a good book knows how  reading can transport us to far and distant places. Not only does reading help us relax, but it also develops our mind, and imagination. Reading has become an essential life skill that helps us interact with the world around us. Equipping our children with effective literacy skills has become a natural and fundamental part of our lives.

However, reading isn’t a skill that we are naturally born with. Whilst it is true that there are some children who are capable of learning to read on their own, the majority of us need to be taught how to read. In most cases children start developing their literacy skills at nursery school, where they start to learn how to decipher the letters of the alphabet. It is only usually at primary school that they begin learning how to read by learning how to apply decoding and blending strategies. Although mastering this skill requires a lot of focused practice both in and out of the classroom, the result is and should be magical.

So how can we, as teachers and parents, promote the love of reading in our children? How can we make it easier for our children to choose a book that appeals to their natural curiosity, as well as their interests? Only with the answers to these questions can we enable them to have a meaningful and personalised reading experience.

Children need to make sense of, and personalise their reading experience.

To do this, get them to develop their creativity skills. Ask them to create a final “product” that reflects upon their reading experience. Rather than relying solely on reading worksheets with comprehension questions (which we can use to test the children’s reading memory), there’s a wider variety of activities out there that we as teachers could use to get an insight into our student’s understanding of the story.

I’ll be exploring this topic, and answering all of the questions above in my upcoming webinar. Please click here to register!

We will also discuss how these activities allow children to take a step further in their language learning process. As children make and present personalised reading activities, they are also learning to apply the language to real world scenarios. By the end of this webinar, you’ll be equipped with the tools that’ll allow your children to experience and share the magic of reading. Afterwards, you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions, and to share your own valuable experiences with fellow teachers.


Vanessa Esteves has been teaching English as a foreign language in Portugal for the past 23 years in both private and state schools around the country. She is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação in Porto. She has an M.A. in Anglo-American Studies and has been involved in teacher training in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Croatia, Slovenia, Malta, Morocco, Egypt and Portugal. Vanessa is a regular presenter at conferences.


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Learning to Learn in the Primary Classroom | Q&A with Erika Osváth

I recently presented three webinars on ‘Learning to Learn Skills’ in the Primary Classroom. Here we collect the questions that could not be answered because of time reasons. Naturally, there were a great number of interesting thoughts that came up, so in this post we’ll reflect upon some of the most common ones.

  1. How to help children concentrate for a longer period of time?

I find this question one of the most important ones, as children’s ability to focus seems to have dramatically decreased in the past 20 years or so. It’s not just me; hundreds of teachers that I work with every year report the same thing. Discussing the cause is beyond the scope of this post, but the consequences are evident in terms of their capacity to learn. More and more psychologists express their concern in this area. One internationally known psychologist, Daniel Goleman (2013), says he is worried about children in particular because their brain continues to mature into their 20s. He worries that if young students fail to build up the neural networks that are required for focused attention, they could have problems with emotional control and empathy.

“…the children’s ability to focus seems to have dramatically decreased in the past 20 years or so…”

So what can we do in our classroom to cultivate the skill of attention? As with all things that we learn, we need to adjust the practice to the current ability of the children.  Here are a couple of ideas you can start to experiment with in your classes.

Clapping games that students could do in pairs or with the whole class following a particular rhythm require attentions, games like these help to develop this skill a great deal. Why not combine the game with some vocabulary practise? For example, if you are practising food vocabulary, start the following rhythm with the whole class standing in a circle: Clap-clap, tap (on your lap), tap (on your lap). When you tap your lap say a food item and the child on your right has to say a different food item at the next tap, keeping the rhythm. With each tap the next child on the right continues saying a new food item. If they do not manage to stay in rhythm or they repeat the same word, the cycle starts from the beginning. It is very important that nobody goes out of the game, but with every mistake the cycle is repeated.

In this way, children will want to really pay attention, either because they are getting bored and they want to finish quickly, or – and this is the case most of the time in my experience – they want to prove that they can go around the whole circle without repeating the previous word and staying more or less in rhythm. I highly recommend clapping games combined with vocabulary practice. They are very effective in terms of developing attention, and it is a lot of fun too!

Another idea is to conduct some simple mindfulness activities with your children, especially when they’re not paying attention to you or the material. Ask them to close their eyes and put their heads down on the table for a minute. Then ask them to listen to all the sounds they hear and try to work out what they are. Of course, there are a great number of other activities we could use to help children focus.

  1. How do you motivate children to learn?

This is an extremely broad question, with a seemingly simple answer that I’m sure you all know. Make the experience fun and meaningful for them without expecting children to ‘learn’ as we may do when we are older. What they want to do and can do at this age is to learn through play. One idea is to build your teaching on playful enquiry, encouraging children to explore. You could, for example, use topics in your course book to inspire children to ask their questions, before trying to find the answers to those questions together collaboratively. Project work could be utilised here.

“Make the experience fun and meaningful… [so that they] … learn through play.”

We should focus as much on our teaching content as on the language we use to describe it, as this is the part that keeps children curious and motivated in our lessons. A commonly used and extremely effective idea is to use the use the K/W/L chart. Say you are focusing on wild animals in your lesson, ask the children to write down some things they know about wild animals, and things they want to know on large post-it notes. Place the notes in two separate columns. You can use a class poster for this idea so that the children can see each other’s questions. At the end of the lesson(s), use the third column of this chart to help them reflect on what they have learnt.  The post-it notes can then be flexibly moved from one column to the other, say from want to know column to what have I learnt.

KWL chart:

K

What do I know?

W

What do I want to know?

L

What have I learnt?

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Can 6-8 year olds become independent learners?

If we mean by “independent learner” someone who has a number of learning strategies to choose from, and is able to opt for the most effective one when they need it, then the answer is ‘no, in most cases’. In my experience, although children at this age are able to, for example, assess themselves and possibly even to self-correct, it doesn’t mean that they are independent learners of English. It is not something that should be expected of them within a language classroom.  There are certain techniques and strategies you can use to develop children’s independence, however. For example, by not giving them the answers to their questions instantly, but encouraging them to find a way to work out their own answers – either through getting help from their peer, checking it in their book, checking a dictionary, or asking someone at home.

Another important thing to point out is that the level of independence may vary greatly from one child to another, and this is normal. One child, for example, never forgets to bring their English notebook to class, but another one keeps leaving theirs at home. One child turns to their desk-mate to check their answer immediately after finishing a task, while another looks straight at you, the teacher, with great big eyes, seeking confirmation. We need to treat every child as a special and unique individual, who needs our support and guidance to grow their wings, which will then help them to fly on their own when they are ready.


Erika Osvath is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. She worked for International House schools in Eastern and Central Europe as a YL co-ordinator, trainer, and Director of Studies. She regularly travels to teach demonstration lessons with local children, and do workshops for teachers. Erika is co–author with Edmund Dudley of Teaching Mixed Ability.


References:

Goleman, D. (2013). Focus: the hidden driver of excellence. Harper: New York.

Erika Osváth is co-author of Mixed-Ability Teaching with Edmund Dudley.