Discovering meaning!

Discovering meaning!
Students are rearranging words to make meaningful sentences

jueves, 25 de febrero de 2016

More Multisensory Literacy Building Visual Activities for Young Learners

Good morning everyone! Today is a somewhat grey and snow- flurry,  hazy day in Toronto where I am writing this entry.   A perfect day for writing and researching and sharing information!

Several of my students have asked for more literacy building activities as they are now doing their practice teaching in real classrooms.  For the past several years  I have been keeping a Pinterest board which has grown quite large but which more importantly has helped me to organise my interests and wonderful, exciting, inspiring,  and creative information around my interests.

I am a very visual person and have worked for the past 25 years as a teacher and teacher trainer learning about and coming to better understand the power of the image to express meaning, build memory, prompt and support  the productive skills (speaking and writing), support comprehension, make learning visible, provide comprehensible feedback, connect with the family and ohhh the list just goes on and on, which is why I use anything "visual" at all parts and stages and for any subject or age group in my classes!

So, for this reason, and in answer to my students´ questions, I thought today´s shorter entry, could be a very visual overview of  several  more hands-on, multi sensory, student-as -protagonist, literacy building activities. What better way to do this, then to direct you to my Pinterest Board entitled Great Literacy Activities.

Here is the link!

If you like what you see, and you have some time, you may also want to check out several of my other teaching and learning- related boards!

Happy browsing!


sábado, 19 de diciembre de 2015

Letter work with little learners

I haven´t posted for a while, but I have been busy teaching student teachers at the University of Barcelona who are studying to become preschool and primary teachers and I thought it would be a good time to resume posting once again. One of the several interesting and important topics we have covered in this last course, has been the importance of pre-literacy and literacy skill development in the preschool and primary English classroom.

As I do these courses, I am always reminded of the need to expose primary English teachers to the world of teaching/learning how to read and write. As our young learners are learning how to read in their first language, it is a wonderful opportunity for us to build on and support this reading and writing skill development. The thing here, is that most primary and preschool English teachers have no explicit training in teaching young children how to read and write. Many believe that with the skills students learn in their first language, they should be able to begin reading and writing in English with little explicit instruction. I would love to believe that this is true but classroom experience has shown me that there is really so much we can do in the primary English classroom to actually teach and not only support emerging literacy skills, thereby creating opportunities for  student success.

So for this reason, I am including a few simple hands-on, student-centered, multisensory activities which we can do with young learners so that learning to begin to read and write in English is fun, engaging and instructive. One powerful strategy is to focus on letters! Learning with letters can help us to do many things in the classroom. It can:

1. help develop and improve simple pre-reading and pre-writing skills
2. help build vocabulary comprehension and pronunciation
3. help young learners develop their own ideas about letters, words, sounds and how English works
4. help increase site reading word counts and
5. help foster a love for letters, words and books

Here are five different "learning with letters" activities I have used successfully with my students and shared with teachers in many of my workshops. These activities can form a part of your basic literacy classroom routines.

Flashcard Fun: Hide and seek!
Find five food flashcards and five corresponding colour letter or word flashcards, words or letters that your students have seen. Hide them around the class. Put sts in groups of three. Have sts look for them. They must search for the image and the matching letter or word flashcard. When a st finds one, he or she calls out.. “I´ve got one!” or “I found one!” . The groups have 30 seconds to consult with each other and then say the word to the class. If correct, the group gets a point for the match. The flashcards are posted on the board or on a bulletin board or poster area that says "Our new words for the day". Once all 5 pairs of the flashcards are found and posted, the students can join the teacher in "reading" out loud these words while seeing the letter and/or word and the image at the same time.

Air writing and/or Body writing
This can be a stand alone activity to be done anytime during the class when you are working on letter recognition or it can immediately used to follow up a letter/sound activity such as the first one I have explained above. For example, if after the activity above, you have posted the flashcards for all the students to see, you can say, "Ok, I´m going to call out one of these foods.  When you hear the name of the food, write the sound of the first letter of that food in the air.  For example, pear!"  Teacher models or demonstrates how she writes a "p" in the air. Once she is sure that everyone has written the correct letter in the air, the teacher can say to the students, "Ok, now turn to your classmate on your right. (teacher demonstrates the right side). on their back, write the letter so that they can feel it. As you write it, say the sound that letter makes."  Teacher demonstrates this with a student. Students of all ages, young learners, teens and even adults enjoy and are assisted with a multi sensory letter/sound recognition activity when we ask them to air write and body write!

Sound Sleuths!
Play “sound sleuths!” A sleuth is a detective or someone who searches for something. Have your students search for sounds. This is a good activity to teach and work beginning, middle and end sounds. Put your students in groups of three. Tell your students that you will say a sound and its position in the word. Air write this letter or sound in the air for them to see. Students then have 2 minutes to go around the class and make a list  and/or find or point to all the words they can find with that sound in that position. If the students are just asked to find the letter/letter combination  with that sound, once they find it, they are to call out "We found it!". Teacher moves to the students to confirm their find and provide the appropriate feedback, such as " Yes, well done!  Can you say that sound for me again? Great work!"

Touchable letters (great for preschool and first cycle children and older students who confuse letter sounds and letters in general), Materials: two pieces of paper, glue stick and lentils/rice/scrap paper/ or cotton baton
First make an envelope with one piece of paper. Fold it horizontally so that there is a small flap. Now  take a second piece of paper and cut it in four. Now take one of these 4 slips of papers. Have students trace out the letter you are practicing on a piece of paper using a glue stick. Make sure the letter is big and occupies the full size of slip of the paper. Now take some lentils, cotton, rice, small pieces of scrap paper (good for recycling and using up old scraps of paper) or any other material that is “touchable” and will stick to glue.

Tell students to place this material directly on top of the glue. They  will see the shape of the letter formed by this material magically appear in a touchable format. Students can then pass their finger over the material and “feel” as well as “see” the shape of the letter. This is a wonderfully kinaesthetic activity that allows all students to succeed in writing and pronouncing the sounds of letters. Of course, this activity can be done with just the vowels, as a lesson on vowels and their sounds and/or with consonant blends (two or more consonants where two sounds are heard "bl"),  consonant digraphs (two or consonants where only one sound is heard ie. "sh") or vowel diphthongs (two or more vowels come together and make a sound ie. "ow").

Pipe Cleaner Letters
Give the students a pipe cleaner. Call out the name of a letter and show students how they can make the letter with the pipe cleaner. Once you have done this several times or with older students who have already learned the alphabet but need review and consolidation practice, let them be creative and design their own pipe cleaner letters, You can even create a classroom pipe cleaner alphabet to be displayed for and  touched  by the students.

I hope these activities inspire you to create and experiment with "learning with letters" -kinds of activities.

Happy teaching,


lunes, 12 de noviembre de 2012

miércoles, 6 de octubre de 2010

Classroom Language: Supporting and Celebrating Learning!

The beginning of October marks the second month of the academic school year. By now, for many of us, we have gotten to know a little more about our students: their names, their likes and dislikes, their study habits and their linguistic capabilities. We have also probably established several classroom routines to provide opportunities for meaningful repetition, classroom structure, speaking and the development of study skills and habits.

No doubt, in addition to this, we will be thinking about the language we are using in the classroom. Our classroom language is critical for creating an atmosphere that both supports and celebrates learning! There are so many different kinds of language we can use in the classroom to do this. For example, there is the language of praise and encouragement: Good for you! Keep it up! Your work is excellent! You must be so proud of the work you have done! etc.

There is the language of classroom management: Let's help each other!
Let´s share what we know! Say what you know! Show what you know! Tell me more! I´m listening! How can I help you?

There is the language of rules and classroom routines: Let´s begin the class with a song. What´s the weather today? Speak softly to your partner! Let´s play a language game! Can the classroom helpers hand out the glue, please? etc.

I find one of the most effective ways of judging how I am contributing to and in fact affecting my classroom environment is to record myself and listen to the language I use. My cell phone records short sequences easily and gives me a quick playback on what I am saying and how I am saying it. It provides me with lots of food for thought.

If you are a native or a non-native speaking teacher, you may want to look for more ways to create a positive atmosphere that is so essential for language learning. Here are two web sites that I like for 101 different ways to praise aand encourage our students to succeed: and

Another great source is the book, "A handbook of Classroom English" written by . You can find the entire, super-helpful and complete book at if you don´t already have a copy.

If you are a university student studying teaching methodology and you would like to expand and build your classroom language, take a look at this powerpoint presentation which I have converted into a short video clip. You might find it helpful.

Write me if you have any questions, comments or stories about the language we use in the English classroom!

Happy teaching and learning :-)


domingo, 3 de octubre de 2010

Oral English Communication Skills

Oral English skills are critical when teaching English to children. I´m reminded of how many hours native children "hear" and "absorb" their mother tongue before actually beginning to speak their own first few words, anywhere from 2000 to 5000 hours of contact time!

Compare that with the 30 -70 hours most young children receive in preschool and early primary and it´s easy to understand why it takes a while before young children feel comfortable producing language in English.
I´ve always felt that teaching children English implies having a very good understanding of just how effective our own oral communication skills are. But how does one do this?

In business circles, companies use an interesting and effective tool for diagnosing the overall status of a particular situation. This tool is called a SWOT analysis: S for strengths, W for weaknesses, O for opportunities and T for threats.

The strengths and weaknesses analysis refers to the internal environment of the company or situation being analyzed. The opportunities and threats refers to the external ennvironment of the company or situation.

When I began to think about my own oral language skills, both in Spanish and Catalan, it occurred to me that the SWOT analysis could be a very helpful instrument in helping me to see where I was in terms of oral language skill development. It forced me to think about my own personal strengths and weaknesses as a language speaker and reflect upon the opportunities
and threats in my immediate teaching and learning environment.

Sometime later, I came across a language blog written by Neil Barker. He also had the idea of doing a SWOT analysis. Take a minute to visit his blog and see his personal SWOT analysis as an English language teacher.

In the university classes I teach, my student teachers are asked to do their own personal SWOT analysis as it relates to their oral language communication skills. The results are most enlightening and rewarding!

If you have done or would like to work with SWOT analyses in yor classrooms or with teachers you work with, drop me a line and let me know how it is going. If I can help in any way, just let me know!

happy teaching!