by Sophia McMillan
(Shane Training Centre, Tokyo)
What knowledge are you using to read this? One thing you are using is your knowledge of the graphophonemic relationships of English, i.e. the links between written letters and the sounds they represent. You’ve also had a lot of practise with English spelling conventions. You’re using your knowledge of English grammar and quickly take in the morphemes of English, the grammatical units of meaning such as the –ed ending we use to make the regular form of past tenses. All these skills took a while to build up. It’s also going to take our learners a long time to build up these same skills.
Let’s start by considering the basic skills you need to build up to become literate. Reading can be seen as decoding different pieces of information. We use visual information when we recognise written symbols. We use phonological information when we connect these symbols to sounds. Finally we use semantic information when we use these symbols and their sounds and connect words to meaning. Phonics teaching helps our young learners make these basic connections between letters and sounds.
The smallest unit we use to read is letters. Letters become syllables, syllables become words and so on through sentences to paragraphs, but it all starts with letters. We need to make learners aware of three important aspects of a letter: its name, shape and sound. Many young learners can chant the alphabet but often they can’t recognize the individual shapes of the letters and don’t know the sounds commonly associated with the letters. Phonics teaching starts with the individual letters of the alphabet and associated sounds and moves on to help learners sound out words. Teachers can draw learners’ attention to the regular patterns of English spelling. Phonics teaching can seem very time-consuming but this information is invaluable in helping learners to read. Short regular activities should be used in lessons to present and practice phonics these can be done at any point
but can be either at the beginning with a quick game that could review vocabulary from the previous week or at the end of the lesson using words that you’ve used that day.
Another useful reading skill to build up is whole word recognition. Young readers will know some sight words, i.e. words they are able to read because they recognize the shape or length. This is a valuable skill as it is motivating for the learner as it pays off much more quickly than phonics teaching and also helps them read sentences as they will usually use this method to read common words, such as is, the and do. Whole word recognition has its limitations as there are only so many sight words a learner can remember but it can provide a useful resource of words they can read that you can later use to practise phonics and learners can see how letters build up into syllables, and then words.
Young learner texts generally introduce several new items of vocabulary every unit. A useful time to focus on increasing learner’s sight vocabulary is after this new vocabulary and the grammar structure for the unit has been presented. Many games that provide speaking practice of the new structure can be adapted to focus on the written form of the new vocabulary and then put the word into the target structure. Naturally learners will struggle to read so many new words in one go, so allow them to refer to picture prompts e.g. flashcards with both pictures and words. They are still working on word recognition skills as they are matching the shape of words.
Below are some activities to help young learners improve their reading. These are mostly variations on games you’ll know already, adapted to focus on the following skills: • Practising alphabet and phonic value of letters • Focusing on the whole word • Focusing on spelling • Focusing on reading sentences
To Reading Activites Part 2