New Directions - Meeting the Opportunities and Challengesof Language Literacy and Numeracy in Context, 9 March 2007 Barrier
Reef Institute of
Abstract: Hazel will briefly outline some of the
principles behind her teaching practice and, using her own published materials
as examples, demonstrate a range of classroom techniques to practise the
decoding and encoding skills which she introduces gradually throughout her
courses. Although the main focus will be
on students who are illiterate in their first languages, she will link the
demonstrated techniques to practices she uses with higher level classes.
After the formal completion of
the session, she will be available to chat with teachers who have further
questions or who want to develop techniques for producing their own reading
texts for low level students.
Biodata: Hazel has been an ESL teacher for the past 25
years. She has taught students from all
levels, from very beginners through to people about to enter Australian
universities. Her special area of
interest is in literacy for students who have had very little or no formal
schooling before their arrival in Australia. With colleague, Dorothy Court, she has published two
volumes of phonics-based spelling materials and four sets of reading materials
with accompanying workbooks and sound CD's.
More recently Dorothy and Hazel, along with Margaret Hounslow, edited A Whole New World, a collection of
teaching tips, resources, worksheets and reading materials to assist teachers
facing the interesting challenges of working with newly-arrived unschooled
refugees. This book is accompanied by a
sound CD of language-teaching songs.
Most of us
learnt to read:
4-6 yrs of developing oral English
the teachable age (the age at which it is natural to learn a skill)
major health problems
major social and/or domestic dislocation or disruption
4-5 yrs to gain reasonable functional literacy.
Most of our
students are expected to learn:
poor or negligible oral English skills;
the teachable age
many cases with serious physical and/or mental health, social and/or domestic
show significant, measurable progress within 160 hrs (or 8 wks – less than one
Yet it is
totally illogical to expect these disadvantaged people
to learn more
quickly than we did!
PRINCIPLES: Low level
repeat, repeat; routine, routine,
Teachers are bored, but students are reassured and
progress towards the necessary mastery of basic skills necessary for beginning real reading and writing.
1. The same with modifications: shorter, quicker routines.
We also need to make allowance for disillusioned students
who may reject this approach. However,
in my experience most tolerate it quite well.
2. Use students'
expectations of school. Even students who have never been to school have
preconceptions about what should happen.
For ESL students in particular, these include:
Reading books (rather
than snippets from newspapers, junk mail etc)
These techniques will do no harm and may well be
helpful. They can be interspersed with
the sorts of practices we are more comfortable with.
same with adjustment for students who reject these
approaches. However, it is often
surprising how well young Australian students react to these old fashioned
techniques which have largely disappeared from our schools and are therefore
novel to many young people.
& extending other parts of course
most common sounds of letters
information (meaning) – we know this but extracting meaning from text is
often outside the experience of our students.
For many decoding is an exercise they do merely to please teachers.
articulation (See Short vowels – mouth
positions and l-r wall chart, from
English Spelling CD Vol. 1)
between pronunciation and squiggles on page - a new concept for many!
Exercises for writing practice
Introduction to syllabification
Introduction to digraphs
to un/stressed syllables and to // sound which is so very common in English
words of more than one syllable.
. The same - Spelling is crucial to both reading & writing.
1. We can't assume
ANY transfer of skills or information from one context to the next:
Therefore it is necessary to practise :
sound and name of each letter ( See alphabet
hand cards and alphabet sound song
from English Spelling CD Vol. 1)
Sound and name
of letter to squiggle;
to hearing words
words to hearing individual sounds
1. Check these skills with higher level classes: do a quick
initial test of alphabet sounds, then of digraphs and routinely practise the
ones in which they show weakness.
(See Digraph cards
and wall chart of short vowels and long vowels and English Sounds booklet from English
Spelling Vol. 2)
2. Spelling which moves from sound to word to sentence to continuous text; i.e., we need to
move constantly from phonics to context AND refer back from context to
Look for, or write,
materials which do this.
Spelling CD Vol. 1
2. The same principles apply.
I use spelling lists (e.g., English Spelling Vol. 2 for level 2 students or upper primary
spelling books for levels 3 and 4) These extend
vocabulary, put words into context,
give opportunities for detailed pronunciation
practice where students sound out words, divide them into syllables, recognise digraphs, silent letters.
Stress the need for slow, exaggerated articulation for spelling
AND fast articulation for stress and normal speaking and listening skills. (Native speakers have difficulty in
understanding foreign-language speakers who articulate too clearly!)
3. Read, read, read
I prefer continuous text because it provides context and
interest. Students are often
understandably fed up with endless junk mail, government forms etc.
BUT texts must be appropriate.
consistent, most common use of tenses (NO historic present "Goldilocks sees a house and knocks on
gradually increasing vocabulary (No whimsical uncommon touches)
No puns and plays on words
No jokes because they are culturally tricky
sentences, preferably single-clause sentences; at most, two clauses linked by
and, but or because (no
One or two
sentences per page. If more are really
necessary, insert a picture between them.
chunked for meaning; e.g., don't let your computer wrap in the middle of a
phrase or between subject and verb.
Large sans serif font; e.g., Century
Gothic or Comic Sans MS or the
state primary school fonts, which you can buy quite cheaply for your computer
Left to right – no "artistic" angles etc.
text, but not too long because exhaustion sets in and students lose the
thread of meaning
are better than black and white but more expensive
Photos are better
than drawings. I look out for
potentially useful images as I take holiday photos – this avoids copyright
The same general principles apply.
Is it interesting to you? If you are bored, that will rub off onto your
students. Your enthusiasm for texts which interest you is likely to be
Edit texts if necessary and add line numbers so that you
and the students can find specific words or phrases readily.
Length of text
Level 3 students can cope well with approximately one A4 page of 14 point
font; level 4 two or three pages
length of sentences,
unusual structures or vocabulary;
proportion of unknown vocabulary (aim at 90% known) (see
Clarke & Nation article in Bibliography)
texts have advantages:
You can use
students' photos (but be careful
with names, which are often unknown to other students and thus constitute new
vocabulary. They also make the text more
difficult to use with other classes.
On the other hand, they provide additional identification with the text. It's yet another professional balancing
focus on shared experiences such
as excursions or class activities.
You can focus
on students' interests and needs such
as health and other practical issues and background information on Australian
history, geography and customs ("values"!!)
BUT there are disadvantages, the main ones, of course,
being consuming your TIME & ENERGY
Existing texts need to be selected
carefully. I use the ones which Dorothy Court and
I have published and which are listed in the bibliography. Most of these are written at three levels
of difficulty within the one volume so that you can start at the students'
comfort level, follow up with the exercises at that level and then push the
students on to a level which would have otherwise been beyond their current
There are, of
course, other suitable texts on the market, including some excellent ones by
Paula Withers, another Queensland ESL teacher.
Sometimes I write texts for my higher level students on
specific topics relevant, e.g., as preparation for a planned excursion.
students time to look at pictures
section to class. (Make OHT's of each
page so that students can follow from the white board and so that you can
annotate the text where necessary.)
beginning. From here on the class
repeats after the teacher at each point:
Sound first word from OHT
word (See if students can tell you the word after it has been sounded.)
are two syllables in a word, divide it into syllables & sound each
Read whole word with each syllable stressed
Repeat whole word with normal stress
end of phrase & then reread whole phrase
end of sentence and reread each phrase
whole sentence with normal stress & rhythm
Faster but similar principles
Read through or
play a tape of the text (Depending on students' listening skills, you can
choose to do this first reading with or without the written text in front of
questions about the meaning.
students repeating in turn after you.
(I find most ESL students are keen to do this but an occasional one
isn't. I allow students to choose to
participate or not in the oral reading.)
Go back to the
first paragraph and ask students to tell you words they don't know (I never comment at this stage.)
Put the words onto
a vocabulary grid on the white board. (See attachment)
Divide these words into syllables, look at digraphs,
mark the stressed syllables, mark
the unstressed with the schwa
Note part of speech
and the other features as shown on the grid.
Move through the
whole text in this way.
Then reread whole
text to re-establish the overall meaning.
Exercises on text
To get best value from text, use follow-up or interpellated
Match pictures to words
Supply verbs in correct tense
(Use Simple present as habitual tense (sometimes,
always, never), present continuous in its basic meaning of now, not finished, and simple past.)
Proof reading sentences
Sentences to show correct/incorrect
For other examples, look at the Davidson & Court
workbooks in the Bibliography.
The same principles apply:
Suggested exercises include:
Words missing in sentences;
Parts of speech built from words in
text; e.g., from expelexpulsion, expelled etc build
Definitions and opposites;
Summary notes of
text; Remove the original text (so that they don't copy parts of it!) and ask
students to write a paragraph with topic sentence, details and concluding
exercise where students listen to tape of part of the text and have to
supply missing words, including both content and unstressed function words. (I design this exercise with three levels
to allow for widely varied listening skills within most classes. The lowest level has every second word
missing (missing words have _ for each letter); the second level removes 3
out of every 4 words; the highest level removes most of the words, leaving in
proper nouns and an occasional word to keep the place on the page. See listening exercises at HardWorkbooks in Bibliography.) level in
text and replay tape. Then replay
one last time without written text in front of students.
There's no magic wand.
Lots of patience,
Assistance to transfer skills back & forth.
& Nation, S.P.: Guessing the meaning of words from context: strategy and
techniques in System, Vol. 8,
& Court: see website for details of reading texts published
Withers, P. (2006). Baseball
reader, Baseball Student's Workbook and audio CD. Paula has produced five other beginner
readers with workbooks and audio CD's.