As many teachers, parents and students know - the best way to learn to read is with phonics. There are two parts to teaching students how to make that firm connection between letters and sounds. The first part is giving them a hook to remember what each squiggle is.
The second part is the drilling.
Students need to go over and practice many times till that connection is as automatic as it is to you - the reader of this blog. Some need to review it just 2-3 times. Others struggle and need 10-15 drills, especially if it is a foreign language for them. A few challenged students might need 40-50 drills -even 100! How do I practice with my students so many times without it becoming boring? Games!
First of all, before I start describing the games, one of the most important things about teaching phonics is being systematic and constant. It's not enough to teach letter #1, then #2, and finally #3. You must teach #1. Once that is down pat continue on to #1 and #2! Then you need to teach #1, #2 and #3 together. Keep this in mind when creating the games.
There are two types of fun games to play - some games are better for smaller groups and good also for parents to practice with their child at home. These are games such as Bingo, Memory, Lotto and Snakes & Ladders. For more about that look at one of my columns about reading preparation.
The other type of games lend themselves just as easily (and perhaps more) to the classroom. Flashcards can be made fun. They are super easy to make (just divide an A4 paper into index card size strips). Write letters, words or chunks of works in different colors. Then I go around the classroom and have each kid say one. The second time around I let each child keep the paper that they get to read. I then collect them all again and divide them up once more, but this time the child gets to keep the paper forever. Then I tell them that they can take it home and practice it even more! This takes practically no time to prepare and children love it!
Another way to make flashcards fun is to have the kids color them first and then uses them. This gives them a sense of ownership and invested interest to see what happens to their letter!
Besides flashcards, I like to play a blackboard game with my students. I draw a ladder on the board and each student has a word or letter to read. For example, I might draw a, b, d and f and have each one read out that letter. It's a good idea to put similar looking letters together so they can learn to differentiate between them (I mentioned this once in my column about letter order in teaching reading). Remember always have children sound out the sound the letter makes - not the name of the letter!
Gaila has almost 40 year of experience teaching and runs A.H.A.V.A., a non-profit to promote English literacy. Would you like to ask Gaila a question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message. Look out for more Dear Gaila columns