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Thread: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

  1. #1

    Default Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    I just got back from elementary, having tried proper phonics (as in the reading method, not just pronunciation) for the first time. To my mild surprise, it went -great-. The kids seemed really excited by the idea that they could figure out words through something besides rote memorization.

    I'll put up my lesson plan (mostly taken from an ALT who presented a great phonics workshop at the recent MYC, so the credit's not mine) in a bit, I think.

    Basically, we just did a, b, c, d, and f. I opened with a brief explanation about why phonics is handy, and explained that since English has only 26 letters but way more sounds, letters sometimes have more than one sound (I used "c" as an example.) I kept it simple, though: I used only one sound for each of those letters above.

    Anyway, the majority of the class was blackboard karuta. Their job was to whack letters based on A) name B) sound C) the first sound in a random word I said D) the last sound in a random word I said, in that order.

    At the end, I had kids run up and make their own words. (When they did stuff like "cfb", I tried to pronounce it for comedic purposes, then explained that we could fix it by sticking in some "a"s.

    But yeah. As long as the grade in question has learned romaji, I think it's a great subject. It's much easier to fit in at the elementary level, where nobody -really- cares what you do, than in middle school where they're rushing to finish a textbook and don't really have much time for more than the occasional pointer (like the vowel-consonant-e rule).

    Some vocab, as best as I can figure:

    母音: (bo-in) vowel
    子音: (shi-in) consonant
    音声学: phonetics

    I encourage everyone to try this on their next elementary visit!

  2. #2

    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    Speaking of the cfb thing:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zl67IHa6kk

  3. #3
    Senior Member Tegan's Avatar
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    This sounds great. I look forward to reading your lesson plans details.

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    Senior Member ampersand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wakatta View Post
    The kids seemed really excited by the idea that they could figure out words through something besides rote memorization.
    This is an important point that I think often gets overlooked. The ability to look at a new word and have a good guess at how it's pronounced is empowering. It gives them a way to approach the word instead of just seeing a mishmash of letters.

    It's much easier to fit in at the elementary level, where nobody -really- cares what you do, than in middle school where they're rushing to finish a textbook and don't really have much time
    I convinced the JTE who teaches 1st-years this year to let me do pronunciation and phonics at the beginning of the year. It's been well worth it. We took a month before getting into the main textbook, but were quickly able to catch up. I think the JTE was doubtful about its value and only agreed because he basically got a month of not having to teach. But when we finally started into the textbook and we had our first new vocabulary, instead of the crapfest that is the look-say "method", I just held up the vocab cards and asked the class to read them. For the most part, they were able to read them correctly with only a little help.

    Phonics pays for itself, and because the students have a tool to use to approach the language it helps with motivation.

    ETA: In my opinion, pronunciation and phonics should be the main thrust of English in elementary school instead of learning the names of 100 animals, 1000 fruits and vegetables, and what Japanese food is called.
    Last edited by ampersand; January 20th, 2009 at 21:29.
    "I have ... relations... with many of the students." -- Sai1

  5. #5

    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    What sequence would you suggest introing letters/sounds in elementary? I feel like a -ton- of them could be covered in a swath (esp. the ones whose sound is the same as in Japanese), but ... I dunno. I'm also wondering which letters to do first.

    Also, any other things you've found effective in teaching phonics, either in ES or JHS?

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    Senior Member ampersand's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    Let's see. My curriculum, which is based on an available text book goes:

    1) alphabet
    a) consonants that are close to Japanese
    b) associating long vowel sounds with their letters
    (As I do JHS, I usually get them at this point.)
    2) L, R, F, V
    3) short vowels
    4) silent e
    5) "polite" vowel digraphs (i.e. ones that are pronounced like the long version of the first vowel)
    6) consonant digraphs
    7) other vowel digraphs
    8) consonant clusters -- the key here is to tell them instead of saying the stops, just prepare their mouths to make that sound then say the next one. This gets them to make unaspirated stops.
    9) rhotacized vowels.
    That will cover quite a lot of English. Even sight words follow those rules for most of the word.

    Other things (wr~, kn~, ~igh~, etc.) get covered as they come up.

    My typical phonics lesson is:
    1) review the prior lesson
    a) what did we do
    b) practice words as a group
    c) a reinforcing activity, like minimal word pairs
    2) new rule
    a) briefly explain the rule
    b) do a few word break downs as a class
    c) practice the new rule in words as a class
    d) practice the new rule in words one-by-one: one person does one word.

    The phonics part is surprisingly simple, I've found. Just quickly explain the rule, then a whole lot of practice.

    For pronunciation, it's again just a whole lot of practice. For teaching new sounds, I like to use pocket mirrors so that the kids can see their own mouths. I also try to make instructions based on "tasks" they can do rather than explaining tongue positions or the like too much. For example, for /r/, rather than explaining what to do inside their mouths, my key phrases are "from the back of your mouth" and "with the feeling of swallowing your tongue".
    "I have ... relations... with many of the students." -- Sai1

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    Senior Member reed's Avatar
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    Good on you Wakatta.

    Phonics is the most vital and measurable skill an elementary school Japanese kid can take to junior high. Even if they only get a week's crash course, that week will be more useful and valuable than anything else.

    I was trained for a year how to do proper phonics at a private eikaiwa that guaranteed literacy (in the sense they could correctly read and pronounce anything they come across) for kids of all ages, with different developmental programs for kids starting fresh at age 3, or age 12, or what have you. It was really amazing to work in that program. You could see it in both the public school kids and the ones who only ever studied English at the eikaiwa -- they'd eat it up, teach it to each other and apply it in amazing ways. But there was always that transition into junior high where they'd have to wear the uniforms, put in the ridiculous club hours, and square-peg their way into 60 years of broken postwar education system. The ones who could read from our eikaiwa would tell us horror stories about contradicting "reading techniques" taught in the junior highs, and how those teachers single out the capable kids as proof of the junior high's successful curriculum. The kids end up faking their ability so as to avoid being put on the spot. One year, an entire graduating class of our kids (6th graders moving to 1st year junior high) got placed in the same homeroom. Every single one of them passed the level 1 eiken, with some kids voluntarily taking the level 2 (and also passing). The junior high BOE touted its shitty Horizon books and Japanese-based memorization program as the reason for the success. It ended up in the news.

    Anyway, keep it up Wakatta, and feel free to apply it to EVERY class at EVERY level, if only for a few minutes a day! Adults and high level high schoolers also benefit from it.

    Given the rules and exceptions to phonetic learning, I am shocked it isn't the standard method in Japan.
    Last edited by reed; January 21st, 2009 at 13:02.

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    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    I'm interested in seeing this, since I'm running out of ideas for my elem 3rd graders!! Hope you post it soon!!
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    Quote Originally Posted by matt360 View Post
    Yesterday I went and picked up an iPhone4 and my girlfriend fucking dropped it before I could put it in the case. The screen is fine, but the edges are scuffed a little. I was gonna punch her but she started crying so I just slapped her really hard instead.

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    Senior Member ampersand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by reed View Post
    Anyway, keep it up Wakatta, and feel free to apply it to EVERY class at EVERY level, if only for a few minutes a day! Adults and high level high schoolers also benefit from it.
    This is important. Once your students have the basics down, every bit of written material they see is a phonics lesson, whether explicit or not.

    Given the rules and exceptions to phonetic learning, I am shocked it isn't the standard method in Japan.
    As far as I can tell, English is taught in Japan as if it were just like Japanese. Hence you get things like the look-say method of reading (i.e. this is how you read this kanji) and the confusion of grammar and idiom.
    "I have ... relations... with many of the students." -- Sai1

  10. #10

    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    Thanks for the info, Ampersand! And while in some ways that's depressing, Reed, at least those kids learned how to read! Even if they chalk it up to lots of miso soup or red-colored uniforms, the important thing is that the kids got it. Well, okay. It'd be better if it were properly credited to phonics, so that other teachers would adopt it and it would spread, but ... you take what you can get!

    If it makes you feel better, though, I already know one JTE (a bit of a rogue!) who already starts out with phonics and pronunciation. His students are quite high-level as a result. It's perhaps a replay of what happened in America -- my understanding (I'm not sure) is that phonics wasn't always taught much, but in the past, I don't know, 30 years or so it was pushed more and more, especially to help slow readers. And so far, elementary teachers have been quite receptive! Even JHS teachers (despite it being near year-end) have generally agreed with things like me taking a few minutes at the start of class to teach some high-value rules, like the vCe rule.

    Doug, I'll endeavor to post up what I've done tonight! Stealing freely from everyone else.
    Last edited by Wakatta; January 21st, 2009 at 19:12.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    Posted! It'll be viewable once the mods approve it.

    Let me know how it goes!

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    OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE mteacher80's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    didnt know where to post this but since its about phonics i thought i would put it here

    Hello Everyone,
    I'm giving a lecture on teaching phonics to elementary school age children. For more information please check out the info below. If you know anyone who may be interested it would be great if you could pass the word on.
    Thanks much,
    Cadmus
    The Japan Association for Language Teaching
    January 2009
    Fukui Chapter
    福井支部
    Presents
    Phonics and the SPHERIC teaching method
    Date: Sunday, February 1, 2009
    Time: 1:30PM-3:30PM
    Venue: Open University of Japan
    Fukui Campus, AOSSA, 7th Floor
    SPHERIC stands for Synthetic PHonics, Engaged Reading, and Integrated
    Communication. This presentation will explain how synthetic phonics can be used
    as the center of a fully-integrated communicative teaching method in line with the
    current theoretical and research consensus. Specifically addressed will be
    recommendations on how to teach elementary school-aged children. Examples
    will be drawn from experiences teaching in the Nagahama Elementary School
    English Program (NESEP). Although the model is designed for use in Japanese
    public schools, the method is flexible enough to be applied to a variety of
    contexts.
    About the Presenter
    Cadmus Kyrala was an ALT for three years in the JET programme and a teacher in
    the Nagahama Elementary School English Program (NESEP) for the last three. He is
    currently in the dissertation stage of an MA in Applied Linguistics from the
    University of Birmingham, where his research focus is decoding ideology in text.
    He has been active in advocating reforms in NESEP and training teachers in
    phonics techniques, culminating in the SPHERIC teaching method. He recently
    presented on phonics at the PAC7-JALT 2008 international conference in Tokyo
    and has an article scheduled for publication in a future issue of the Journal of
    Language and Politics.
    Cost: members free; “One-day members” 1,000 yen.
    For more information, contact Takako Watanabe
    (wes@sage.ocn.ne.jp).
    COME JOIN US!
    ☆★REAL EYES REALIZE REAL LIES★☆

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    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    This will all be for naught once the MEXT guidelines get enforced...

    according to MEXT we can't teach kids how to read in elementary school...

    according to MEXT English education in elementary school is about eye contact, international awareness, communicative ability, basically everything EXCEPT for English.


    ...I had a kenkyuukai yesterday and I feel bitter now because of how stupid the Ministry of Education is in this country.

  14. #14
    Senior Member ampersand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by katsudon View Post
    according to MEXT we can't teach kids how to read in elementary school...
    So ignore MEXT. MEXT also declared that English should be taught communicatively in JHS and HS. How well is that being enforced?
    "I have ... relations... with many of the students." -- Sai1

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by ampersand View Post
    So ignore MEXT. MEXT also declared that English should be taught communicatively in JHS and HS. How well is that being enforced?
    +1

    Stupid bureaucratic initiatives are a worldwide educational problem. Fortunately, Eigo Nouto is incapable (it is so far believed) of leaping off the desk and bludgeoning an ALT or HRT who tries to teach something else. I've had this conversation with elementary teachers more than once. Surprise: many of them feel just the same way. I remember one remarked that it was a pain and made it harder to teach because they had to throw that thing around sometimes.

    So far, though, every time I've brought up phonics, teachers have been like, "That's awesome. Let's ditch this random phrase nonsense and do more of that." A lot of them are independently interested in it, and definitely want their students learning more of it. The only time I've been turned down was in the sense of, "Well, these kids only have one more English class before March, and so-and-so sensei has already put together a plan. But let's do this after that. In the meantime, would you mind doing a period after lunch to come and teach this to my class?" (And yeah, the teacher -had- already worked pretty hard to make a plan, and I wouldn't have wanted to bump it in any event.)

    Going in with the foregone conclusion that Japanese education is fucked and you might as well not try is a great way to fail to accomplish what you're after.

  16. #16

    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    Actually, just today, the following conversation or so took place with an ES teacher:

    <Her> "So starting in April there's a new textbook for elementary..."
    <Me> "Yeah, so I say let's teach some real English before that takes over."
    (etc. etc.; I outline the phonics lesson)
    <Her> "Yeah, that's a good idea."
    <Me> "It's too bad about the textbook, though."
    <Her> "Eh, it's true, there's that textbook, but I like this." (expression and such conveying the agreement that Eigo Nohto, stupid as it might be, doesn't mean that we can't de facto teach whatever the hell we want.)

    Now, don't get me wrong...eye contact, communicative ability with some simple phrases (introductions, what food do you like, etc.), and international awareness are all things that I think should continue to be taught! But an introductory phonics lesson or two, followed by periodic "by the way this means this" notes, is also valuable.
    Last edited by Wakatta; January 23rd, 2009 at 19:32.

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    Senior Member jonesinjapan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    Thank you very much guys for this info, I will be talking to my JTE today about next year and I am hoping to get her to agree with me that phonics would be something we can work on in the next year. I was even thinking of just getting the first 15 minutes of class to work on it then the rest of the class to her own devices but I will tell you how that wil turn out today!
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    The next day Batman wrote: "Superman is Clark Kent."

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    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    I've done phonics at a couple schools now. It has worked great! I've decided to first introduce letters A~I and then J~R and then S~Z. This way is it gets the letters out in clumps and building upon the ones from lessons before. As for vowels, I have just initially taught short shounds. Some schools i opportunities to do this 3 or 4 times... so i can stretch it out. I'm mostly doing it with 6th years right now... before they start JHS... like you said, Wakatta, the kids start getting into it and getting excited that they can read. Works better in smaller classes but I also did it with a class of 40 and it went well (not everyone got it, but you can't expect everyone to)
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    Quote Originally Posted by matt360 View Post
    Yesterday I went and picked up an iPhone4 and my girlfriend fucking dropped it before I could put it in the case. The screen is fine, but the edges are scuffed a little. I was gonna punch her but she started crying so I just slapped her really hard instead.

  19. #19

    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    I'm really glad to hear that! And that's great that you get so many opportunities to teach this at ES...I teach it whenever possible, but most of my schools have like monthly English at best.

    Anyway, yeah, I think there's really nothing else that holds a candle to it for ES English.

    Lately, I've been teaching "a" plus a bunch of consonants. Your in-order system does sound pretty good, though; I might try that myself in the future! My biggest stumbling block has been distinguishing the vowels.

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    Default Re: Elementary: Phonics = awesome!

    A bit of an update:

    I did the J-R lesson today with my class of 40 (told the teachers that things would probably go better if the classes were separate, but they had to put them together this week)... but it was a little more difficult than I had planned on. I didnt think the plan completely through and had a couple stumbles with N and with O...

    Do you think teaching ESL phonics and teaching native speaker phonics approaches would differ greatlY? I need to look more into this before I continue on with my lessons... I have to leave now, but i'll update more later.
    With a belt on my head, underpants over my shorts, and my sidekick Quaildog... I AM QUAILMAN

    Power, Patience, Speed.

    Quote Originally Posted by matt360 View Post
    Yesterday I went and picked up an iPhone4 and my girlfriend fucking dropped it before I could put it in the case. The screen is fine, but the edges are scuffed a little. I was gonna punch her but she started crying so I just slapped her really hard instead.

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