More exercises to encourage auditory discrimination

Some time ago, I wrote about the auditory discrimination of 2 vowel sounds that are difficult to distinguish by Spanish speakers: the e and the i. Several months and several phonics later, I am going to propose more discrimination exercises that can be worked on with your students to get them used to recognizing them.

Among the vowel phonemes we can focus on the discrimination between a and u, and in a second moment we will add the o. It is important to choose short words of 3 or 4 letters with only one vowel sound so that our students do not get confused. That means words such as cat, cut, cot, or pat, put and pot.

Other vowel sounds that we worked on this year were the i and the digraph ee, so that the children can see that the first one is a 'short i' and the second one is a 'long i'. If you accompany the words with the movement of both hands, moving them closer or further away depending on which sound the words have, you will help students to notice the difference even more. Some examples are: sheep (hands away) and ship (hands closer) or beet and bit, feet and fit, etc.

Finally, these last days we saw the digraph
oo that can also be pronounced by lengthening or shortening the sound as in moon /ˈmuːn/ or in hook /ˈhʊk/. Again we use our hands to highlight which is the 'long u' and which is the 'short u', when we pronounce the words, to help the little ones to better grasp the difference. Other words with /uː/ (the 'long u') are broom, spoon, food, while some words with /ʊ/ (the 'short u') are cook, foot, book, etc.

Among the consonantal sounds, we have obviously worked on the b and v, which are two phonemes that overlap  in the Spanish language, creating problems when it comes to writing, in both languages. Finally, the latest phonemes we saw were w and g which are also problematic, but, in this case, when it comes to pronouncing them: many children when they read the word wood aloud, would pronounce it good. You should insist on the positioning of their lips and, if nothing works, you can always give them the example of Huelva or huevo, so that they can grab it immediately. 

But... How do we work them out? Easy, peasy. At the moment, since my pupils are third graders who don't have to write anything yet, I just concentrate on the auditory and visual features. I usually use cute paper cups to which I apply a white label. On the label I write the sounds in large letters, both upper and lower case, and I also draw one or two pictures of words that start or contain the same sound. As you can see in the picture, I use pompoms of different types: these are all glittery for it was Christmas time, but, of course, I have  pompoms for workdays, too :o)

I use two different exercises: the first one consists of sitting 2 children (or 3 depending on the number of cups) in front of all the others (at a distance of 2 o 3 meters). These 2 or 3 hold the cups well visible so that their classmates, who must also be sitting, can place their pompoms, in the correct cup once a pompom has been distributed to each one, when they hear the word. 

In the second activity I do not use pompoms, instead, I divide the class into two groups and sit them facing each other at a certain distance. I alternate words that contain the sound I want to work that session with others that do not have it, and the children, when they hear the right phoneme, have to swap places with the one in front of them. This is just an adaptation of the game 'Change places if...' and I have only been able to use it with the 5-year-olds, because it seems that the 4-year-olds are not willing to give up their seats under any circumstances 😀

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Let's play with phonemes!

Hello, everybody!

It's been a long time since my last post, because I've been a little busy designing some entertaining activities to review all the phonemes we saw last year, among other things because new children were enrolled in the classes. I also wanted to take advantage of the fact that the children were one year older to introduce simple crafts in which they could practice a little more their fine motor skills and manual oculus coordination... so much mental work and so little free time!

Today I wanted to show you the 3 board games - soon there will be 4 - with which I work the phonemes, together with the official material of the Jolly Phonics method such as the Activity Books and more material that comes to mymind as I go along in accordance with the needs and inclinations of the different groups.

Pass the Word

The first game is called Pass the Word #ad and consists of pieces that fit together like a puzzle, some of which contain a picture with their respective word and others contain letters of the alphabet. The game is about taking a piece with the image and looking for the letters that make up the word, as you can see in the photos. With this game, in addition to the visual recognition of the letters, you can check whether children already can 'write' the words in the right direction, ie from left to right or in the right order. In any case, it helps children to develop these skills through a manipulative game which entertains them a lot.

Alphabet Lotto
The second game is called Alphabet Lotto #ad and is essentially a phoneme lottery consisting of 5 double-sided boards, with drawings or with letters, 30 cards with drawings and 30 with letters. Thanks to this design it is possible to play in 4 different ways: by matching those cards that carry drawings with the boards that carry drawings, by matching cards that carry letters with the boards that carry drawings, by matching cards that carry drawings with the boards that carry letters or by matching cards that carry letters with the boards that carry letters. Here we help our pupils to practice both auditory and visual recognition of phonemes and, in addition, they learn vocabulary, improving their mnemonic skills.
Match and Spell

The latest member of the family is called Match and Spell #ad It contains 12 double-sided boards with three-letter words, 8 double-sided boards with four-letter words and several cards with letters to 'write' the words that appear on the boards. It presents 2 levels of play: in the first, the children, once they have chosen the board they want to complete, look for the letters one by one and pronounce them until they read aloud the whole word.  The second level of the game consists of choosing a board with the side that does not show the letters face up, only the image and the blank spaces, and taking the letters as they are pronounced. Here we also work on the visual recognition of phonemes, phonemic awareness when they use the boards without the letters and begin to develop the first reading skills. I especially like this game because it is very similar to some Montessori reading and writing preschool activities, which is one more guarantee of its usefulness...

The fourth game I'm going to buy soon is another Match and Spell, but NextSteps, #ad in which the boards and the cards come with words containing the 'digraphs' we're reviewing these days, such as sh-ee-p, b-a-l-oo-n, t-r-ai-n, qu-ee-n, and so on.

Have fun!

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Have a great summer!

Vacation at last!

It has been a year full of experiences and has enriched us with a lot of knowledge, especially about the processes behind each learning.

We have talked about the fundamental role that emotions play in the teaching-learning process in this post.

We have given very practical indications on how to make the most of every subject taught in English in bilingual schools in this second post.

We have presented very valuable tools to improve our children's level of English with a view to the official Cambridge exams, but also to enjoy reading adapted classics and more contemporary stories: the 'readers'.

And finally we have concentrated on the processes of acquiring English literacy through the Jolly Phonics method: we have told you how I organized the classes, underlining the importance of the use of fine and gross motor activities, which should always accompany any learning, along with playful activities, since they have the great advantage of capturing 100% of the attention of the youngest; and finally we talked about pre-reading, first with short word blending exercises and then enriching the experience with stories and games.

I hope it was useful and that you enjoyed the process as much as I did.

See you in September!

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Simon Says + Blending

'Simon says' is an action game teachers can use to review vocabulary and action verbs; it can be played anywhere and it only requires at least 3 people. The teacher is usually designated Simon, but you can always pick one of the children if you'd like to work on their speaking skill; the other children are the players. 

Standing in front of the players, Simon tells them what they must do. However there's a trick: the players must follow the instructions only if they begin with the words "Simon says". For example, if "Simon says hop" then the players must jump, but if Simon simply says "hop", skipping the words"Simon says", then players must not hop. Those who do hop are out.

I've thought we can make the most of this game with young learners who are learning English using Synthetic Phonics and are already acquainted with 'blending'. Actually the adaptation is absolutely easy peasy: we only have to substitude "Simon says hop" with "Simon says h-o-p". 

Some examples: Simon says... J-u-m-p
T-u-r-n around
S-t-a-m-p your f-ee-t
C-l-a-p your h-a-n-d-s
Touch your l-e-g/a-r-m/f-ee-t/...
P-l-ay  the piano/the guitar/football/tennis/...
P-oi-n-t to the door/the window/... 
S-i-ng a s-o-ng
P-i-ck a flower/ an apple /...
Ea-t a lolly/spaghetti/...
Drive a c-ar/ a b-u-s / a j-e-t/ a b-oa-t/...
R-oa-r like a lion
Qu-a-ck like a d-u-ck

The only advice I'd give you is to choose your words taking into account the phonemes and the vocabulary we've already worked with our students, either using flashcards or chants, and as always... have fun! 

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I Want to Be a... S-ai-l-or

Hello everyone! 
Today a super short post about the class I gave last week with my Jolly Phonics group of preschoolers because it turned out very well (the children were attentive and actively participating) and I want to share it with you.

Well, it turns out that before Easter we started working on the 4th group of synthetic phonics; we saw the digraphs /ai/ and /ou/ before the holidays, and this week was playing the third, /ie/, whose chant is about a sailor and his captain:

"The captain said, "/ie/-/ie/!"
"The captain said, "/ie/-/ie/!"
"Stand up straight!
Don't be late!"
"The captain said, "/ie/-/ie/!"

So, I thought that, in order to review a little what we did before the holidays and introduce the new phoneme, it would be a good idea to use a story from the OUP collection 'I Want To Be... Storybooks' and precisely the 'I Want to Be a SAILOR' book for the following reasons:

Fiest of all, because it has several short words, some of which we already worked with the children using the flashcards of the method, very useful words to practice blending.

Secondly, because, specifically, it contains the words s-ai-l, s-ai-l-or and b-oa-t which helped me to refresh the digraphs already seen.

And finally, because when the story ends, the kids are so involved in the story that it seems very natural for them to act like a sailor, imitating the military greeting when they hear the chant of the sound /ie/.

In addition the book has stickers that represent the characters, one for each page, and this helps our young students to maintain a good level of attention in order to follow the story, since they ask for the one they want to paste and they have to wait for the character to appear on the page, and on the other hand to review or learn specific vocabulary.

Also, if you want to go a little deeper into the subject of aquatic animals, the book has a few pages to work reading comprehension, some mini flashcards and a very cool action-song.

In short, we liked the story a lot and it provides a lot of different levels of interaction.

More about reading and writing in English, here.

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Emotional education and meaningful learning

"Every time you hear Emotional Intelligence, shot" writes Maestra de Pueblo on her FB page. It's funny because when you study the scientific papers that have been written on the subject and then you read how the theory is put into practice in the classroom in those schools which claim to work it, I wonder if the human race would not be destined to unhappiness and frustration forever.

Until very recently, students were seen as passive receivers of knowledge. A teacher vomited notions from a platform and the students tried to retain as much as possible in order to vomit them again in a test, and so on up to the finish line.

However, we have known since the '60s of the past century, (mind it!) that everything we do, think, imagine or remember is possible because the rational and emotional parts of the brain work together, depending on each other. For this reason the emotions, both of children and their teachers, must be taken into account in the pedagogical act.

When we hear that 'There can be no knowledge without emotion (Arnold Bennet)' they mean the same thing, and it is scientifically and widely proven, even if it has been ignored for practicality. As Cesar Bona states, "Every child is a universe. All children are extraordinary and it is not enough to fill their heads with data, but it is necessary to provide them with tools such as knowledge, empathy, sensitivity and resilience so that they can emerge strengthened from adverse situations...".

What is emotional intelligence? According to Goleman, emotional intelligence involves five basic capabilities: discovering one's own emotions and feelings, recognizing them, managing them, creating one's own motivation and managing personal relationships.

Emotional education, therefore, is linked to the emotional intelligence since, in order for a person to be emotionally intelligent and resolute, he must have received an emotional education. And as incredible as it may seem, it has a lot to do with learning and therefore knowledge. In fact, nowadays, whenever we talk about learning, we overlook significant learning, that is, useful learning which makes sense to the student, and which awakes such interest that he wants to learn more every day. However, if you look at the three circles of the graph, there is a fundamental aspect that has nothing to do with notions and previous knowledge, and it is the availability of the student to learn, in other words his motivation, which depends on his self-concept and self-esteem. 

A student who knows how to recognize and accept his emotions will be able to learn to decide which behavior is the most appropriate to be handled according to the circumstances, in such a way that they contribute to a positive social and personal constructive interaction, capable of contributing to the elevation of his quality of life. In practice, one third of a student's chances of success or failure depends on their emotions.

Currently, emotional education in preschool and primary classrooms is given to students as if it was just another subject: in most cases children have to work  with cards, activities, games, stories, roleplay, drawings, etc. so they can recognize and name their emotions". It's all very interesting, all very nice and probably very useful.

But, what about the teacher? Let's repeat it again: emotions, both of the children and of their teachers, must be taken into account in the pedagogical act. This statement implies the whole amount of hours spent at school and not only a little dedicated time.

I wonder if it makes sense to talk about emotional education in the classroom when the first piece of advice we get when a student misbehaves during a class is to sit him on the thinking chair, punish him, or rather ignore him?

What message do we communicate to them? "The tale of the Colour Monster is a very nice one, but right now, whatever you feel, it's the wrong moment, so either you stay still or I'll set you apart, because we have worksheets to do and a program to continue with without wasting time.

We are fine with the fact that, in the end, what does it matter if out of 28/30 students, 4 or 5 can not handle their emotions properly? After all, they will learn to control themselves they like it or not, otherwise they will spend the rest of their school days being punished, victims of the mocking of their classmates, unmotivated and wanting to run away from school asap. An avalanche generated by a small snowball that, day after day, gains speed and mass to run over us with the second place in school failure among all the countries of the European Union (I'm talking about Spain).

I give you good news: we can make the most of the snowball effect. If we spend those 3-4 minutes talking to our students and asking them how they feel and how they think they might feel better (sometimes there's nothing more to be done than that), letting them clear up with a classmate who has unintentionally upset them, or just sitting them close to us, instead of continuing with the class as nothing is happening, perhaps at the beginning of the year it will slow us down a bit, but as they feel comfortable in class, they will stop expressing discomfort and we will have earned their trust in such an overwhelming way that they will become our most attentive and participative students.

In short, as they conclude, in this scientific article on the subject:

"Cognition and emotion constitute a dialectical whole, in such a way that the modification of one irremediably influences the other and the whole of which they are part of. Therefore, in the classroom, learning often depends more on the emotion than on the reason the learning objectives are worked with. All this leads us to point out that if the heart of the student is won, learning is practically assured.

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Graded readers: adapted stories for any level, age or interest

I've wanted to write this post about 'readers' for a long time, since one of the pillars of learning (as I'll explain in my next book) is reading, even though we live in a somewhat complicated time regarding this subject. 

As you know, reading is the number one source of independent access to knowledge, and it is no coincidence that the first years of compulsory education are devoted to learning this basic skill. Mastery of any language, mother tongue and non mother tongue, after a first approach made of listening and speaking, passes through the acquisition, use and practice of new words, or vocabulary, and grammatical expressions.

In the practice of teaching English as a second language, ESL, (or Foreign Language, EFL) in addition to the school's grammar and vocabulary textbooks, it is fundamental, in my opinion, to use graduated readings for these different reasons:
 - First, because they present vocabulary and grammar in context, which allows an almost osmotic assimilation of them.
  -  Second, because these books always come with a CD or an audio track that helps learn the correct pronunciation of words as well as get the ear accustomed to different accents and speed of speech.
- Third, because they provide a wide range of conversational topics: from summarizing a chapter to practice verb tenses and vocabulary, to expressing opinions on events, passing through an analysis of the differences between the social and historical context described in the text and the current one.
   - Fourth, and finally, because each reader also proposes reading comprehension exercises similar to those found in the most important official exams such as Cambridge and Trinity.

I personally tend to use them quite a lot, from the second/third year of primary school if my students attend a bilingual school or from the fourth/fifth year of primary school in the case of students attending non-bilingual schools, because at some point the conversation topics start to be always the same and, secondly, to avoid spending an hour translating* what children can't express for their lack of vocabulary when I want to work on their speaking skills.
Naturally I have a couple of favorite reader collections that I usually use depending on my students' tastes: the Oxford Read and Imagine collection from level 3 (Cambridge Starters/Movers), which provides the audio tracks in British and American English, and CIDEB's Green Apple adapted classics collection.

I usually use them for their aesthetic attractiveness, because they come with many images that at the same time support reading comprehension, and for the exercises that they propose, because in addition to questions about the text, they deepen other aspects such as the life of the author or the socioeconomic context, they propose research projects and interactive online activities.
But the most important thing is that depending on the level, they propose topics that coincide with the English, social and natural school textbooks, and therefore they become another tool for strengthening language acquisition.More than once it has happened to me that, reviewing the lesson of the day, I have come to ask my students: do you remember that we saw this in that book? This circumstance seems of little importance, but, in fact, getting a student to connect the concepts of one book with those of another means leading him to reorganize his previous knowledge with the new one and therefore to generate significant learning, which is the ultimate goal of any teaching.

*The effectiveness of having a human translator when learning languages has not yet been scientifically proven ;)

More about reading:

Reading as a game
How to make children love reading

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