Teaching Children to Read Part 3: Activities
by Sophia McMillan
(Shane Training Centre, Japan)
Phonics is: the association of a letter and sound. In order to read children need to be able to recognise the letter but more importantly the sound associated with that letter. It is often easier for the learners if we focus on lower case letters first as they account for about 95% of all letters in written English.
One way to get children familiar with letters is to take a holistic approach i.e. one that requires using the body and space rather than a pen and paper. Children respond well to the physicality of the activities and it helps them retain the shapes and sounds of letters and encourage them to manipulate them. Activities that practice letter recognition can also be used to practice and develop phonic recognition as first you use the letters and then do the same activity but use the phonic value.
* Touch/Stations: Place letter cards around the room. Teacher says a letter, sound or word beginning with that letter and the children run to find/touch the correct letter, repeating it when they do.
* Recognising Letters: On the board or handouts as below children have to recognise which letter is the same and circle or colour it.
n h n m r
o a o d g
* Hold up the letter: Handout letter cards to the children and when they hear the letter name or sound they hold up the corresponding letter. This game allows all the children to join in and to focus on processing the sound-letter link without having to produce any language (although it can be encouraged).
* Body Letters: Have children make themselves into the shape of letters e.g. make yourself into an ‘s’. Alternatively: teach actions that match the alphabet letters so that each time you say a letter/phonic value the children perform that action.
* What begins with /b/?: Using letters the learners know elicit words that begin with that letter (sound). This is great for them to make their own connections between the letter and the sound. You may be surprised at how many words they know – even ones not introduced in class. Award blocks as points.
* Tracing letters: Line the children up in 2 teams facing the board. On the backs of the last child trace a letter shape, they repeat this shape on the back of the child in front of them and so on up the line. The last child writes the letter on the board and repeats its name and/or sound. Alternatively this game can be played in pairs. This activity allows them to ‘see’ the letter in their mind’s eye.
* Air writing: Before the children are asked to put pencil to paper have them trace the shape of the letter in the air. Stand facing the same way as the children and using your writing hand draw a big letter in the air saying its name/sound at the same time. The children copy moving their arms to ‘draw’ the letter.
* Letter Sculptures: Using modelling clay have them make certain letters. This encourages them to concentrate on the shape of the letter and its proportions.
* Collages: Have the children choose a letter and stick it on a piece of paper (these can be decorated if desired). Then hand out magazines and newspapers and let the children look and find either words or pictures of things that begin with the same letter. They cut these out and create a collage with their letter.
* Feel: Put some magnetic letters into an opaque bag or have the children stand with their hands behind their backs - make sure that half the letters are upper case and half are lower case. Children have to identify the letter chosen/given, and whether it’s ‘big’ or ‘small’, its phonic value and a word beginning with that letter.
* Phonic Telephone: Draw a telephone dial grid on the whiteboard and dictate a phone number phonically – children write it down numerically. Children can work in pairs to exchange numbers (if they do not wish to use their own have them write a number to dictate).
* First Letter Slap: Drill the phonics using the letter flashcards to remind the learners. Then put the letters on the table and either say the word or show the flashcard. Learners have to slap/grab the right letter. This can be extended to final letter slap.
* Run, Circle & Say: Divide the whiteboard in half (one half per team) and write letters and numbers on both sides as in the box below, eliciting them from the children. Teacher says a number and a phonic value. The
first person in each team runs to circle the correct letter and number, draws a line to connect them, and shouts the answer.
* Noughts & Crosses: With known picture cards drill the words emphasising the final letter phonic values. Teacher leaves the picture cards face up on the table, so learners can see them. Put some magnetic letters/letter flashcards near the cards, or in a different part of the room. In two teams draw a noughts and crosses (tic-tac-toe) grid on the board. Teacher says one of the words but doesn’t say the final letter. The person from each team races to grab and identify the magnetic final letter. The winning learner can then place the letter anywhere in the grid and draw their team’s symbol to claim the square.
* Moving Vowels: Place magnetic vowels or write the vowels down the centre of the board. Elicit the sounds by moving a consonant down the left-hand side and up the right-hand side of the vowels e.g. ba, be, bi, bo, bu, ub, ob, ib, eb, ab. Make sure the learners repeat the sound as a group. Teacher calling out a sound and the learners run to grab the magnetic letter/s and race to place it in the correct place on the board. Make sure there are enough vowels and letter piles so there is one per team.
Whole Word Recognition
Whole word recognition is: an essential skill in learning to read as learners need to be able to read words that are not phonically spelt (e.g. one, the, two, blue). Far Eastern learners are used to recognising and interpreting logograms (like Kanji) so are quick to learn this skill. This is very much a long-term process. Weekly review of number and colour words (for example) imprints the shape as well as the sound and meaning.
* Word Building: Have the children make letter cards themselves or use letter cards. Split the class into teams or groups and make sure they have one set of cards per group. Call out a word they know and have them find the letters and make the word. For example: cat – /k æ t/. This encourages quick eye movement over the letters, recognition and letter combination. This can also be done with word cards and the children make sentences.
* Gap-fill: On the board or on handouts, children complete the word to match a picture. Pictures make the language more meaningful for them.
* Anagrams: Children unscramble letters to make known words. This can be done on the board or into notebooks.
* Wordsearch: These are good for children to recognise words within a jumble of other words and makes them concentrate and ‘see’ the words on the page. Children will need the target words otherwise the task is too daunting for them.
* Crossword: A good record of vocabulary for children to keep they ensure they remember the word, spelling etc.
* Pelmanism: Put a set of cards face down (e.g. colours & written form) in turns children turn over the cards saying what they are. If the two cards match they keep the cards.
* Bingo: Prepare bingo cards containing the written form of a particular vocab set (colours or numbers). Teacher calls out or draws a word and the children match it with what is on their sheet or cards. If they can make a straight line (or cover all their words) first they win. This can be done on the board with a sticky ball, with flashcards and building blocks etc.
* Musical Chairs: Arrange chairs facing outwards around a table so there is one chair/mat/space for each child. One is the ‘Danger Spot’. Face down on this spot is a word, whoever lands on this spot will have to make a question or sentence with that word. As the music plays the children run, skip, hop, jump, etc round the spots. When the music stops they rush to sit down/find a spot. The first child that lands on the danger spot becomes teacher for a round. Once another learner had landed on the danger spot, they become teacher and the first learner returns to the group. Alternatively have word cards face up on the chairs and call out a word or show a picture prompt and that is the chair the children cannot sit on.
Reading is a complex process and will not happen overnight. Doing a little regularly and incorporating reading and writing into every lesson gives the lesson variety without overloading the learners. Remember in teaching children to read: start early, make it fun, make it holistic and you will encourage life-long skills.