From our Teachers’ Newsletter

June 2013- Donna’s Blog: Language awareness – phonological and phonemic

One of the more difficult concepts to explain is phonemic awareness. In training the teachers in  Sri Lanka, we use the example of a native English speaker learning Tamil or Sinhalese.

As an English speaker, when I hear Sinhala or Tamil spoken I do not hear sentences or words. I just hear sound or noise. If I lived in Sri Lanka and started to listen and learn the language I would start to recognise sentences and words when I hear them. This is phonological awareness. As I become more aware of words I would then start to hear the parts of the words—the syllables—and soon I would hear even smaller sounds that match the alphabet. This is phonemic awareness.

If I then begin to learn to read and write the alphabet, I can also learn to match the smallest sounds that I hear to the symbols in the alphabet. This is phonics. Now I am moving from just listening and talking to reading and writing skills. After a while, if I pick up a story book written in Sinhala or Tamil, I can sound out the words and begin to teach myself to read. I will also need to learn the meaning of the words (vocabulary) to make sense of what I am reading. I would use a dictionary for this. If I were a small child my teacher would tell me the meaning and help me to read.

When we learn a new language we often do all three at the same time—develop phonological and phonemic awareness and learn our phonics. PIMD has provided Lotus Program schools with a range of resources to help teachers and students develop phonemic awareness including  Ants in the Apple cards and Phonics Alive software to develop phonics skills. These are important tools as they will help students to learn to read on their own, without needing a teacher to help all the time. For adult learners, Issues in English software has also been provided to help teachers to develop all three levels of awareness.

May 2012 – Steph’s Blog: The power of phonics!

Phonics refers to a method for teaching reading which helps students become aware of the sounds which the various letters and combinations of letters make in English words. Phonics helps students decode (sound out) words. By learning letter sounds and letter combination patterns, children can use this knowledge in new situations to help them decipher words they have not seen before.

This will then help them to become independent readers and spellers. Children do this best when they are confident at rhyming. Rhyming is the process of recognising that multiple words have the same ending sound. For example, the word mat and the word sat rhyme as they both end in at. Same, game, name and tame are all rhyming words as they end in the sound ame. When teaching students sound patterns it is important to make word families which are groups of words which rhyme. Regular use of books and songs that include rhyme are essential components of the English classroom. This exposure will assist students to become aware of and confident with rhyming from an early age. Learning phonics allows for progressive learning. Another benefit of learning phonics is that doing so gives children a basis for learning new words, which add to the words they already know. When students have this foundation, they will be more confident to break up words into sounds they already know when they come across new words. This is why teaching students to break words into syllables is essential in order for them to do this when reading unknown words. Even in the older grades, the process of breaking words into syllables (syllabification) is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced every week. It is imperative that students at this level still receive explicit modelling of how to do this correctly. Using clapping to break up the syllables is the best strategy to do this. Students can then dance the syllables to add some variety and enjoyment to this process.

November 2011 – Emma’s Blog: Learning through Music.

Music has always being a great strategy to remember things. Singing and dancing to music is also a very important role in most cultures, religions or language groups. Music is used to help us celebrate, relax, lift our mood, tell stories and communicate messages.

Children love to sing and dance to music. It is actually quite natural for young children to spontaneous move, hum or sing to music. They find it quite easy to remember tunes and lyrics to songs and teachers can easily use songs to help children remember all sorts of content. For instance, when I teach my students about the language of position (words like left, right, beside, in between) I like to sing and dance the ‘Hokey Pokey’ with them. That way they are physically using their left and right parts of their body, as well as singing and using the words that they are learning about. Another strategy that I like to use is to adapt new lyrics to a popular tune. That way, students don’t have to think so much about how the song goes and focus more on the new words of the song. Children find it funny to sing different lyrics to familiar songs and this is very engaging for them.

Music helps the brain make connections to the facts children are learning about. So, using music in the classroom shouldn’t be viewed as a waste of time or just a reward for the students. Teachers need to use music strategically. Children are having fun whist simultaneously developing their creativity and expanding their cognitive capacity. I encourage you to have a go at incorporating music into a few of your language lessons and see just how engaged children are in their learning. You might even get your students to apply their language skills by making up their own song and dance. Their performance can be an indicator of how well they pronounce words and place words into the correct structure and context.

Your students will enjoy learning through music. You may even spot them at play time singing their songs and interacting with each other in English! Have a go at teaching English through song and I hope that you will see the benefits and the effectiveness of this strategy.

Steph’s Response

I agree Emma and I have found that singing at the beginning of the day is a great way to get the children relaxed and thinking for the day. The children love to see the teacher singing and dancing, it always makes them smile and want to join in. In Literacy I have often used songs and nursery rhymes to help consolidate concepts. The Hokey Pokey is a great way to teach the language of position. Nursery Rhymes like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Baa, Baa Black Sheep are very effective for the teaching of rhyming words. A simple nursery rhyme or song can be easily used for a Shared Reading lesson if it is written large enough for the students to see. Music should be a daily part of every classroom.

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