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Teaching Phonics to ESL Students

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  • 0:00 What Is Phonics?
  • 0:23 Teaching with Phonetics
  • 1:01 Sound Partners
  • 2:14 The Root of Things
  • 3:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Vanessa Botts
Expert Contributor
Sasha Blakeley

Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for six years.

Learning phonics will help your ESL students improve reading, spelling and pronunciation, especially with new words. In this lesson, we will discuss some ideas to teach phonics to students of various ages and linguistic levels.

What Is Phonics?

Phonics is a method for teaching English reading and writing. It focuses on promoting students' ability to hear, identify, and manipulate phonemes, which are the smallest sound segments. The goal of phonics is to enable readers to decode new written words by recognizing the relationship between written letters and their spoken sound.

Teaching with Phonetics

As you know, English phonetics can be very confusing, especially since the same letter, or combination of letters, can be pronounced differently in different words. As a matter of fact, the same English word can be pronounced in different ways by native English speakers from different countries or even from different regions of the same country.

This makes the English language hard to learn and understand, particularly for ESL students whose first language does not use the same alphabet as English does, like Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Arabic. And so, teaching phonics can be very helpful. Let's look at a few activities you can incorporate into your classroom when teaching phonics.

Sound Partners

In order to make sense of what they read, ESL students need to sort out the unfamiliar sounds into pieces that make sense. Like deciphering a code, knowing the sounds of letters and letter combinations helps ESL students decode words as they read. This process will also help them figure out which letters to use as they write, in addition to facilitating proper pronunciation.

The Sound Partners game helps students of any age at the basic language level learn to decode words. Start by creating a set of flashcards made up of different phonemes that can be assembled to create words. For example, you might include the phonemes for the word 'chicken' in your deck:

  • Card 1: ch
  • Card 2: i
  • Card 3: ck
  • Card 4: en

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Additional Activities

Build Your Own Game

The games described above are excellent ways to get you started, but remember that every classroom setting is different, and these games may not work in all situations. The following activity will get you to think about your own classroom: the types of students, the layout of the class, and any resources available to you as the teacher, in order to guide you to designing a game of your own that you can use to teach them phonics. If you don't have a current class that you teach, think about classes you have taught in the past.

Tailoring your game to your class

With your specific classroom setting in mind, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does your class find particularly difficult with regards to phonics? What sounds are they struggling with?
  • Are the students active, and high energy, or shyer, and quieter? Will they prefer a tactile group game, or a mental, individual activity?
  • Do you have any props available to you in the class that could make a game more tactile and engaging, such as dice, a whiteboard and markers, or playing cards?
  • What do they enjoy talking about, and what material have they liked so far? Any point of interest that you can incorporate into your game will make a world of difference in their level of engagement and understanding.

Once you have answered these questions, you are ready to begin designing your own game. You can base your game on an existing game that you already know of, for instance, incorporating phoneme recognition into a game of tic-tac-toe, or you can come up with something completely original. There are many online ESL game lists for teachers at a loss. Take advantage of these if you are unsure where to start. Remember, a simple game is often the most effective. You will be surprised how delighted students can be at even a basic game of snakes and ladders, as long as they can be distracted from the fact that they're actually learning for a moment. These games should above all be fun, age-appropriate, and contain an easy, effective way to help them engage with difficult phonics.

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