Fun Ways to teach Phonics, Reading and Vocabulary

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Title: TPR and Vocab
Type: Listen and Do.
Method: Students are in teams. Each team member is given a vocabulary item - eg a color. There is one of each colour in each team. Either tell each person their colour, or give them a card with that colour. The teacher says, "If you have a red card, please stand up." Or: "If you are red, please stand up." Or: "The first red to stand up gets a point for their team." Or: "Reds, please stand up."

Title: Point to It
Type: Listen, Look and Do
Time: a few minutes at most
Method: Students merely point to the item that the teacher says. Allow students to look at their friends’ responses for this. This can be used for the presentation stage of the lesson, but needs to be kept brief. It can also be used to review items prior to a speaking activity in games such as Snakes and Ladders and Follow the Wire.
Rationale: Perhaps it is easier to learn from fellow students rather than from the teacher.

Title: Put the Cards in Order
Type: Listen, Look and Do.
Time: a few minutes at most
Method: Students have a selection of cards, say ten. The teacher reads some (say five) and the students rush to put them in order. Best to keep this brief.

Title: Bring me
Type: Listen, Look and Do
Time: 10 to 15 minutes depending on number of cards
Method: Each team has a set of cards, eg 16 out of 24 total (or 12 out of 16 total for a shorter game). The teacher calls out one item and scores it off the list. Students bring the card to the teacher. If it is correct, they get two points, but if it is incorrect, they lose one point. The teacher keeps the card. When all items have been called out, remaining cards are subtracted from each team’s score.
Rationale: For reading, the deducted point encourages students to attempt to read the card rather than merely sight guess.

Title: Numbered or Alphabetised List.
Type: Listen, Look and Do
Method: Students have a fixed set of pictures in a fixed order. This could be a row of pictures in a textbook, or a set of teacher’s cards. The order of the cards should be the same for all students. It may be necessary to review the numbers prior to the exercise.
Give each item a number, but inform the students that they must not write down the numbers beside the items. The teacher asks, “What number is the ---?” Initially the items can be numbered in simply linear fashion, but later this can be varied.

Title: Extension to Numbered or Alphabetised list.
Type: Listen, Look and Say.
Method: The teacher calls out the number or letter and the students give the word.

Title: Extension to Numbered or Alphabetised list.
Type: Listen, Look, Say and Write.
Method: One member from each team stands at the blackboard. When the teacher calls out the item the team shouts the answer to the person at the front, who writes it. The written answer can be: a) the reference number, or letter of the item; b) any word beginning with the reference letter of the item, provided no team has used that word before; c) the word itself.

Title: Follow the Wire
Type: Listen, Look and Do
Time: 10 minutes at most
Method: Students have a grid of 25 to 36 items. The teacher has the same grid with a path drawn on it from a start square (eg the bottom left corner) to the finish square, moving only vertically or horizontally.
Students put one finger on the start square. The teacher calls out the next square on the path and students move their finger to it. If any student is seen to touch the wrong square with any hand, the teacher explodes (well, pleasantly!) All students have to return to the start square. The teacher can maximise the listening by repeating the item a number of times. It doesn’t matter if students are learning from other students, however, beware of letting the class blame a weaker student for causing an explosion.
Origin: In the days when electronics was a hobby, I made a “follow the wire” game in which, if you touched the wire, a bell would sound. There are now more sophisticated versions on Japanese TV game shows.

Title: Snakes and Ladders
Type: Look and Say
Method: Students have a grid of say six rows by ten columns, and one die per group. Students take turn to throw the die and move forward the number of squares. They read only the item on the square that they land on. If this square is a ladder, they climb up it, but if it is a snake, they slide down it.

Title: Othello – also known as Reversi
Type: Look and Say
Time: Up to 30 minutes depending on complexity of items
Method: Students in pairs (or two teams of two) have a grid of six rows by six columns filled with items. They also have 36 squares of counters cut from card that is one colour on one side and a different colour (let’s say black and white) on the reverse. The rules are the same as Othello. Students have to read the item on the square where they place their counter, and the items of the opponents’ counters which they turn over. To speed the game, after a team had said three of the items, they can turn over the remainder.
Origin: Mario Rinvolucri’s version used cards with the target language on one side and translation on the other. This version allows both students to have the same target.

Title: Don't take the last card
Type: Look and Say
Time: Each game is just a few minutes, but allow students to play four or five times.
Method: Students have ten cards arranged in a pyramid – one on the top row, two below it, three under them, and four on the bottom row. The students can take (and say) one, two, or three cards at a time. The student who takes the last card is the loser.
An alternative set of rules is that a student can take cards only from one line in any one turn, up to all the remaining cards in that line.

Title: Throw six to say
Type: Look and Say
Method: Students in groups of four or five have one die per group and a page with ten items or so on it. They take turns to throw the die. As soon as one student gets a six, the student starts reading the words in order: "This is a book, this is a bag..." The other students continue to throw the die in order, trying to get a six before the first student has read all ten words. The next student to get a six starts reading, interrupting the first student. It may be an idea to have the student who is currently speaking hold up a "speech box" flag.
Origin: This activity is from the party game: "Unwrap the chocolate." A bar of chocolate is in the middle of the room, wrapped in several layers of paper. Anyone who throws a six (or is it double six with two dice?) has to put on a hat, coat and gloves, pick up the knife and fork, and try to get at the chocolate. If someone else throws a six, they take the hat, etc. and dig into the bar. Anyone who gets to eat some chocolate, however small a piece, drops out of the game so that others get a chance.

Title: Three card shuffle
Type: Ask, Say and Look
Method: Students in pairs have three cards. They put the cards face up on the table, and one student tries to remember the order. The other student turns the cards face down, and is allowed to slowly shuffle them into new positions, two at a time. They can make only three changes. That students then asks, “What’s this?” pointing to one card. The first student tries to remember.

Title: SPS What's This
Type: Ask, Look and Say
Method: Students have three cards each. They pair up and do SPS. The loser has to select a card, show it to the winner and ask "What's this?" If the winner can supply the correct answer, they take the card from the loser. The aim is to get the most cards and not lose any.

Title: SPS Three Card Guess
Type: Ask, Look and Say
Method: Students have three cards each. They pair up and do SPS. The loser has to select a card, but shows only the back of the card to the winner. The loser asks: "Is this a ruler?" The winner has to guess, "Yes, it is," or "No, it isn't." If the winner guesses correctly, they take the card. Students then change partners.

Title: Guess the card.
Type: Ask, Say and Look
Method: Every student has three cards. Students choose a partner and do SPS. The loser has to point to one of their cards and ask a Yes/No question: “Is this a pen.” The winner has to guess if it is or not. If the winner is correct, they take the card from the loser. Students change partners. End the game when several students have lost all their cards.

Title: Blind questions.
Type: Ask, Say and Look
Method: Use a page from the students' book or make a sheet with the eight or ten items on it. Student A closes their eyes and puts a finger on one corner of the page. Partner B puts Student A's finger onto one of the pictures and asks: "What's this?" Student B guesses.

Title: Fishing with magnets
Type: Look and Say
Method: Attach paper clips to lots of cards. Put some magnets on the end of a string attached to a short rod. Students fish for a card and read it.

Title: Eight cards in a row.
Type: Look and Say
Method: Start with all the eight cards face up in a row. Teams of students say their eight cards. Then they turn over the first card and say all eight again. They proceed to turn over one card at a time until they can correctly say all eight cards face down, in order.

Title: Telepathic students
Type: Look, Ask and Say
Method: Prior to the class (or activity) tell one student the secret. Put a selection of teacher’s cards at the front of the class. The “telepathic” student goes out of the room, and can’t see or hear the decision. The other class members, or the teacher, choose one item. The telepathic student is called back in. The teacher proceeds to point at the cards, in no particular order and the other students ask the question: “Is it the baboon?” If the teacher points to the top of the card, the telepathic student replies: “No, it isn’t.” But, if the teacher points to the bottom of the card, they respond: “Yes, it is.” This is repeated several times, and if some other students catch on, they can become telepathic, too.

Title: Count the guesses
Type: Look, Ask and Say
Method: Students are in pairs and have either a page of up to eight items, or eight cards. One student chooses an item but does not say which one. The other student guesses: "Is it the table?" For each wrong guess, the first student gets one point.

Title: Fill in the Maze
Type: Listen and Write
Method: Method: Make a maze with about 40 blank squares from the start to the finish, and a few blind alleys. Give each student a die. Students hold the dice up in their hands until you dictate the item they have to write. Then they throw the die once only, and write the item in the number of squares indicated on the die. There is a sample maze in pdf format here (137k bytes).

Title: Room Maps
Type: Look and Write
Method: Prior to the class, place cards or photocopies of items under the desks in a classroom. Draw a map of the class with all the desks. Make a copy with the answers. Students fill in the map, writing the item onto the desk on the map.

Title: Railway Riots
Type: Look and Write; Copy, Read and Look
Time: 15 to 20 minutes.
Method: Prepare a set of about 18 "stations." Each station will have its own name as a picture item, and the next destination as either a picture or a word. The station signposts are spread around the room. The students have a blank map with just one starting station written in. They read the word and find the station. Then they copy or write the next destination on their map. When they have completed the full circle, they are finished. There is a sample of railway riots in pdf format here (128k bytes).

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