What is the “best” way to teach reading to children who are learning English.

Welcome to my next blog about reading with children who are learning English.

Recently I have been involved in some professional learning about reading and what impacts on it. As part of the professional learning, I read a Chapter titled “Building Bridges to text” in a book called “English Learners, Academic literacy and thinking” by Pauline Gibbons. Below is my summary of this text and my own opinion on how to ensure that children who are learning English are able to comprehend the texts that they are reading.

In multicultural nations, like Australia, many children begin school with a very limited understanding about English. These children usually speak another language at home or have been looked after by their grandparents (who do not speak English fluently) while their parents work. These children have not been exposed to the correct structure of spoken English and therefore need a lot of assistance when learning to read English texts.

Not only do they find the concepts about print (how a text works eg front cover, left to right, read left page first) difficult to understand, but their field knowledge is very limited as well. Field knowledge is the understanding about our world and making connections through experience. This is an area that many children struggle with, not just children who have English as a second or even third language. The texts that beginning readers are given cover a variety of topics. The text could be about a circus, playground, airport, another culture, swimming lessons, farm, making bread etc. If children are not familiar with these topics, they will need a lot of assistance to build their field knowledge to enable them to comprehend the text.

Remember the most important goal of learning to read is for a child to understand what they are reading. Reading fluently is important and does relate to comprehension but most of the time parents focus on this at the cost of a child not understanding the text.

Approaches to teaching reading for children learning English

1. Traditional or phonics based approach

This approach focuses on the child learning all their sounds to be able to work out written symbols. An educator would start with individual letters, then simple sight words, then the sounds that are made with two or more letters. After they have gained confidence with this, they would move onto simple sentences that focus on repetition. All early reader texts rely on repetition.

The disadvantage of this approach is that the child is able to make few links to what they already know from their own language. Reading can become a very abstract process for these children as the sounds do not match their first language.

2. Whole language approach

imgres-1This approach focuses on the child learning about the whole text by recognising what type of text it is, predicting what the text is about and using their own knowledge about the subject to bring meaning to the text. Good readers draw on three types of knowledge when reading a text; semanic knowledge (knowledge about the world), Syntactic knowledge (knowledge about the structure of the language) and graphophonic knowledge (letter-sound realtionships). This approach aims to combine all these types of knowledge when trying to read a text.

The disadvantage of this approach is that the child may not be familiar with the texts subject or familiar with the structure of the language that will help them predict what the sentences will be about.

3. Interactive approach

imagesThis approach is the combination of the traditional and the whole language approaches. A child learns about predictive and decoding (working out) skills depending on the type of text being read. What an educator does before reading a text with a child is very important to how successfully a child will be able to read it.

4. Critical approach

researchingThis approach focuses on a child being able to question and analyse a text in which they have been exposed to. They learn that no text is “neutral” as an author always has a particular context and the reader also has their own context. This means that we all see things differently depending on who we are. Words such as discovery, invasion and colonisation all have a particular context that refers to one event.

5. Social and cultural approach

reading 1This approach focuses on the understanding that reading is a cultural and social practice. Each society places a different value on it. Some children come from cultures that value oral story telling whereas some value  picture books or factual texts or religious texts such as the bible. This approach guides the educator in selecting particular texts for a child and the nature of the classroom discussion around reading.

Not one approach has all the answers. As educators and parents we need to use all of these approaches at different times depending on the needs of the child. I hope this has given you insight into the many factors that influence the skill of learning to read, especially for a child who is learning English.

Please share this article with all your staff and parents to ensure we all have access to information that will help our children reach their potential.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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20 Ways To Help Your Child Learn Their Sounds

Sound Collage

Welcome to my third blog in the series “Literacy in the Primary Classroom”. In this blog I focus on how educators and parents can use games in their home and classroom to help children learn sounds successfully.

Learning the sounds that letters make in our alphabet are the building blocks to writing and reading. Children need to have a comprehensive understanding and knowledge of the relationship between the letter and the sound.  This will give them a solid foundation to learn to read and write efficiently.

Children begin learning sounds before they start primary school. They may know the sound of the letter that begins their name or the sound of a letter of their favourite toy. As you have probably already gathered from my previous blogs, I do not encourage parents and educators to only use flashcards to help a child learn a concept. Learning in context is the best way that children learn anything. It needs to mean something to the child in order for them to store the information in their brain.

Enabling your child to learn their sounds in a fun environment is pivotal to their success. There are so many quick games that the child could play independently, with a sibling or a parent which gives the child a meaningful learning environment to learn their sounds successfully.

It is important for your child to be exposed to lowercase and uppercase letters. Children need to learn that we mainly write in lower case letters and only use uppercase letters for the beginning of a sentence or beginning of a proper noun. So many children begin school writing their entire name using capital letters. Please discourage this as it is a very hard habit to break.

Once children have learnt most of the sounds of the alphabet, they need to be exposed to sounds that letters make when they are together. For example phonic blends like ch, sh, ar, ou, er and ing.

Below is a list of 20 sound games that can be played at home and at school. Not only do they give your child an opportunity to learn their sounds but they also are fun and engaging learning activities. All these games are versatile so you can use single sounds or more complicated sound patterns in the games depending of your child’s needs. 

1. Hammer sounds

HammerPut a sticker of a letter on each block of wood. Have a mystery bag that has objects that begin with each letter. Have the child put their hand into the bag without looking and pull out one object. The child needs to say the name of the object and say what letter it starts with. They can then hammer down the corresponding letter on the wood while making the letter’s sound.

2. Padlock sounds

PadlocksHave a variety of padlocks with matching keys. On each padlock, put a sticker of an object. Write the beginning letter of the object on the corresponding keys. Lock all the padlocks and put in a tub. Mix up all the keys as well. The child must look at each object, determine the starting sound and use the correct letter key to open it. Ensure that the child says the correct sound for the letter.

3. Musical sounds

musical soundsWrite all the sounds on different pieces of paper and spread around the outside of a large table. Get you child to use their finger or a toy to move around onto each letter while the music is on. When the music stops, the child must stop on that sound. They must say the name and sound of that letter (or letter pattern)

4. Plastic egg match

lettersoneggsUsing plastic eggs, write the lower case and upper case letter on each half of the egg. Take all the eggs apart and mix them up in a tub. The child can match all the correct halves back together while saying their name and sound. (There are many plastic eggs in the shops at the moment due to Easter)

5. Paper plate sounds

fb1cabdd2b26c35d78711e1baee6f9adUsing a paper plate, write all the upper case letters around the outside. Have the matching lower case letters on single pegs. The child must match all the letters/sounds together while saying the letter names and sounds.

6. Sound catch

WaterFill up a small container with water. Write the letter/sounds on ping pong balls. The child must use a net to catch a ping pong ball and say the name and sound before putting it into their fishing bucket.

7. Shaving cream tray

c563165f34fc9fc6d7b8f5431f6edbf6Fill a mini cupcake tray with shaving cream. Gently put a piece of paper on each with a letter/sound written on it. The child must say the letter sound and name before they can push the piece of paper down to the bottom of the cupcake tin. Children love squashing the shaving cream. This has always been a successful game for me.

8. Toy match

matchtoysWrite letters/sounds all over a large piece of paper. Have a collection of little toys that all begin with one of the letters/sounds on the paper. The child must put each little toy on the corresponding letter/sound while saying the name and sound of that letter.

9. Simple sound board game

17eb72ea5d54cc1397b0c5613fa95f40Make up a simple snake like board game that has all the sounds that your child is working on. Have a little toy to be the player’s piece. The child rolls the dice and moves that many spots. They must say the letter name, sound and a word that begins (or has it in if you prefer) with that sound before they can have another turn.

10. Sound Popcorn

soundpopcornWrite the letter/sound on outlines of popcorn and put them in a popcorn bag. The child needs to choose a piece of popcorn and put it on their popcorn paper template in the correct spot (or colour in or cross off) while saying the name and sound of the letter.

11. Sound water spray

waterspraysoundsUse chalk on a blackboard or pavement to write the letters/sounds that your child is working on. The child must say the correct name and sound of the letter before they can use the water spray to take it away.

12. Bulldozer sounds

bulldozersoundsMake a track for a bulldozer to go along. You can use tape, lines on a piece of paper or lines in the sand. Have the child use their bulldozer to pick up the letters/sounds along the way. They must say the letter name and sound.

13. Matching spoons

spoonsWrite all uppercase letters on the tip of coloured spoons. Write all lowercase letters on the base of clear spoons. Mix all the spoons up and the child must put the a clear spoon on top of the matching coloured spoon to make a pair. They must say the name and sound when they have formed a pair.

14. Scavenger hunt

scavenger huntHave all the letters/sounds written on separate pieces of paper. The child must search the home or classroom to find an object that starts with each letter/sound. They place the object on the letter and continue until the 10 minute time limit is up. Then they have to say all the sounds they were able to find and the ones they could not.

15. Treasure hunt

treasure huntHide letters/sounds in a sandpit or in the soil. The child must dig around to find all the hidden sound fossils. (you could write the letters on dinosaur bone shapes). The child would then say all the sounds they have found.

16. Alphabet toss

alphabettossWrite all the letters/sounds on balls or beanbags. The child picks up a ball or beanbag, says the name and sound and tries to throw it into one of the baskets in front of them.

17. Alphabet hide

alphabethideandseekWrite all the letters of the alphabet on different blocks of Duplo. Hide them around the house or classroom. The child must find them all and correctly order them in an alphabet tower. They must say the name and sound of each letter.

18. Feed the Monster

Feed-the-Alphabet-Monster-466x1000Make a monster out of an empty wipe container. Have all the letters/sounds written on pieces of paper. The child feeds the monster the letters (letters written on old bottle caps) and the monster makes the sound of the letter they are eating. The child can be the voice of the monster. Alternatively this can be a two player game. One child feeds the monster, the other is the monster who makes the sounds.

19. Dice game

dicegameMake a template similar to this image. The child rolls the dice and colours in the first sound in that row. They must say the letter name and sound. Before the game starts they need to guess which row they think will be coloured in first.

20. Sound I spy

Phonics-I-spy-discovery-bottle-game-680x915Put a variety of objects in a bottle. Write their corresponding letters on a sheet. Fill the rest of the bottle up with rice or sand. The child shakes the bottle around and when they find an object they must say the first sound of that object and cross the letter off on their sheet. They need to cross off all letters.

It is important that children engage in meaningful learning experiences in order to gain the knowledge and understanding about a subject matter. Have fun with your child as they begin to learn their sounds. Always try to point out letters in our environment to make connections for your child.

I hope this blog has given you some useful information about incorporating some interesting sound games at home and in the classroom. Playing these games will help your child learn their sounds in a fun and meaningful way, instead of just using flash cards.

Until next time…

Kelly Pisani

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Literacy in the Primary Classroom : Lower Case Letter Formation

lowercaseletters

Welcome to my new series focusing on literacy in the primary classroom. Over the next few weeks I will focus on the different aspects of literacy and give lots of practical tips for parents to employ into their home to develop their child’s literacy knowledge and understanding.

assessmentsThis first blog in the literacy series will focus on the correct formation of letters.  Although technology is embedded into everything we do, handwriting is still an essential skill to have in today’s society. Handwriting is a fine motor skill that can be developed through a variety of activities. It is strongly advised to hold off introducing the formation of letters until these pre-writing skills are developed. Below is a list of 5 pre-writing skills that your child should be able to do before learning how to form letters.

1. Drawing lines from top to bottom.

LinesChildren need lots of opportunities to draw straight lines going from the top to the bottom. This is an important skill for letter formation that they need to grasp before forming a single letter. This pencil movement is used often to form many letters. These letters are; b, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, p, r and t. Children not only need to draw straight lines from top to bottom with a pencil but with many other tools. For example paintbrushes, crayons, chalk, sticks and fingers.

Parent tips to encourage this skill

  • Have the child draw lots of lines from top to bottom across the page. After they have done that, they can use the lines as stems for flowers and draw petals on each.
  • Have the child draw lots of lines from top to bottom with chalk on the pavement. After that get your child to draw circles on each to turn each line into a lollipop.
  • Have the child paint lots of lines from top to bottom. After that, have them paint a line on top of them all from left to right to create a fence. They could paint a cat walking  on top of the fence.
  • Have the child draw lines with crayon from one sticker at the top of the page to a sticker directly under it at the bottom of the page.

2. Drawing circles starting from the ‘2’ position on a clock

clock[1]Drawing a circle is another important skill that the child must be confident with before introducing letter formation. This pencil movement is used often to form a few letters. These letters are; a, c, g, o and q. We want to encourage a child to start their circle from a ‘2’ position on the clock and go in an anticlockwise direction until they get back to the ‘2’. Therefore their pencil would go past the 1, then 12, then 11 etc until they get back to the starting position to complete their circle. We want them to start from this position so it will be easier for them to continue to form a letter without taking their pencil off the page when they are ready for letter formation. For example, to be able to add a line to a circle for an ‘a’ or a tail to a circle for a “g’.

Parent tips to encourage this skill

  • Have the child draw lots of circles on a piece of blue paper. These circles can become bubbles in an underwater scene. They could cut out underwater sea animals to stick on their page.
  • Have the child draw a small circle in the middle of the page and get them to keep drawing larger circles around the smaller one.
  • Have your child trace around circle shapes, such as bottle lids while always encouraging them to start at the right spot (‘2′ on the clock)

3. Using tools other than pencils

circlesChildren need to practise pre-writing skills using a variety of tools. We need a child to start with a thicker tool, like a paintbrush and make big movements with this tool. As they become more confident, a child could move onto chalk, thick crayons, using their fingers and then pencils. They need to be able to make large movements first and then develop their fine motor skills to be able to make smaller and more controlled movements with a tool. It will be hard for a child to use a pencil at first, so by using thicker tools, the child will be able to start practising these pre-writing skills from a younger age.

Parent tips to encourage this skill

  • Have a child trace chalk outlines of lines and circles with a paintbrush
  • Have the child paint circles, lines (zig zag, left to right and top to bottom) and spots with their fingers.
  • Have the child use a variety of tools (paint, chalk, crayon and pencil) on a large piece of paper. They can trace over lines and circles or try doing dot to dot lines.

4. Multi-sensory play

Marble in Sand[1]Children learn best through a multi sensory approach. This means allowing the child to discover skills and concepts through a variety of sensory methods. Pre-writing skills can be developed through this method very successfully. Children should be encouraged to use their sight and sense of touch to develop the fine motor skills required to learn letter formation.

Parent tips to encourage this skill

  • Have the child draw lines and circles and any other writing patterns in the sand with their finger
  • Put some paint in a zip lock bag and put it on a flat surface. Get the child to use their finger to practise writing patterns on the outside of the bag. The paint will move around depending on where they press.
  • Have the child practise writing patterns in the dirt with a stick

5. Holding the pencil correctly

pencil1The correct pencil grip needs to be encouraged, not forced from the age of 4 years old. Children younger than this need to explore holding a variety of tools in their own ways before the correct pencil grip can be taught. Forcing a child who is younger than school age to use the correct grip before they are ready, can cause more harm than good for their development of fine motor skills. Children need to hold the pencil with their thumb and index finger, while the middle finger is used for support under the pencil. We can call these fingers the tripod fingers so when ever you ask your child to check their pencil grip ask them if all of their tripod fingers are in the correct spot.

Parent tips to encourage this skill

  • Have the child hold something small in their hand, like a tissue to prevent the fingers that are not being used from moving
  • Use a pencil grip to encourage the correct hold when the child is younger. You can also get triangular pencils that also do this job.
  • Have the child do lots of finger exercises with the thumb, index finger and middle finger to strengthen their small muscles eg roll small play dough balls using these three fingers and making a pinch pot with clay.

Teaching letter formation for lower case letters

When teaching letter formation, it is a great idea to introduce letters that have a similar formation to help the child understand direction and pencil movement. Below is the oral instruction you can say with your child when forming each letter.

lowercase-and-capitals-prev[1]

1. Round Letters (a, c, d , g, o, q, s)

a (around in a circle and down), c (around in a circle until the 5 position on the clock), d (around in a circle, up and down), g (around in a circle, down and tail), o (around in a circle), q (around in a circle and down), s (around in a small half circle, then the opposite way)

2. Straight Letters (b, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, p, r , t)

b (top to bottom, up and around), h (top to bottom and hump), i (top to bottom, pencil off to dot), j (top to bottom and tail), k (top to bottom, up, oval and diagonal stick), l (top to bottom), m (top to bottom, hump and a hump), n (top to bottom and a hump), p (top to bottom, up and circle), r (top to bottom and half hump) and t (top to bottom, pencil off for line left to right)

3. Curved Letters (u, v, w, y)

u (smiley face and top to bottom), v (diagonal down and up), w (smiley face and smiley face), and y (smiley face, top to bottom and tail)

4. Different letters (e, f, x, z)

e (left to right, up and around), f (half circle, top to bottom, pencil off for line left to right), x (diagonal line from top left to bottom right, diagonal line from top right to bottom left) and z (line left to right, diagonal down to bottom left and line from left to right again)

When a child first learns how to form letters they need to continually revise this skill on blank paper with no lines. The introduction of writing letters on lines comes much later when a child is competent at forming each letter.

lower-case-letter-formation-i3[1]

We can use the analogy of sky, grass and soil to help the children remember what lines each letter is written on.

The grass letters are: a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, z

The sky and grass letters: b, d, f, h, k, l, t

The grass and soil letters: g, j, p, q

When a child is learning to write letters correctly, exposing them to as many varied experiences with different types of mediums and tools will enhance their learning immensely. Children do not learn the formation of letters by pencil and paper only. Be creative and let them explore lots of techniques.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog and you can take away some practical tips that will help you guide your child in forming lowercase letters accurately. I would like to end this blog with a little rhyme that I always say with my Early Stage 1 and Stage 1 classes to help them to remember some important tips before they begin to write.

1, 2, 3, 4, Are my feet flat on the floor? 5, 6, 7, 8, Is my back nice and straight? 9, 10, 11, 12, Is my pencil correctly held?

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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