Promoting spelling awareness at ISB

It’s been a very long time since I wrote anything on here but I’ve decided that this is something I really want to write about!

As some of you know, last year I started working at the International School of Brno (ISB) as the EAL Coordinator. The job was quite a change for me, often a challenge but a very enjoyable one!

At ISB, we use a spelling programme called Words Their Way to help children improve their spelling. Some children find it difficult to remember English spelling patterns and rules, particularly as many of them are Czech and the Czech language is spelt phonetically. Since I did my DELTA, I have been interested in pronunciation and spelling rules and the first thing I noticed using Words Their Way is that spellings which don’t fit the pattern being studied are labelled ‘Oddballs’. This didn’t seem fair to me, as there are almost always other ‘oddballs’ we could use to reinforce a spelling pattern (e.g. In one week, while studying a_e spellings, a word with ai might be thrown in and called an oddball. Later this new pattern might be introduced with other words with the same spelling)!

Anyway, to try and break down the Oddball issue, and more importantly to raise awareness of spelling among our Czech speakers, the Year 5 & 6 teachers with 9-11 year-old pupils) agreed to give an additional approach a try.

So a few weeks ago we started experimenting with a ‘Sound Dictionary’, with the aim of helping the children notice how different spelling patterns can produce the same sounds, and also how the same spelling patterns can produce different sounds 🙂

After discussing the idea with Christina McKellar, she came up with this fantastic Sound Dictionary worksheet (click the link for a pdf version).

Sound Dictionary

We decided that as Words Their Way does not use IPA, that students could draw a picture which reminded them of the key sound in the top box. The 3 circles underneath are for the spelling patterns, either as they are learned or as they are ‘noticed’. The students can then list the words they find in the respective columns and a new sheet is needed for each phoneme studied.

After using the worksheet a couple of times with Year 5 (9-10 year-olds), we noticed that some of the children were confused, so Beth Edgell suggested that we teach two new words: phoneme (drilled with the action of a phone), and grapheme (drilled with the action of writing). This instantly cleared up the issues the children were having.

It has been a big success so far, the children enjoy using the sheet and love the activities we have been doing with them. Now we just have to see if they remember the spellings!

So what have we done with the Sound Dictionary so far?

Activity 1: Hear the phoneme

Children are assigned a phoneme (or one of the phonemes being studied via its spelling in Words Their Way). the teacher reads a passage and the children should identify the words which include that phoneme – by raising their hands or shouting the word back – then they are shown the text and should find the written form and complete their dictionary page.

Activity 2: Hear the phoneme (in pairs)

Children work in pairs, one reading and the other trying to identify the phoneme. Both children make a note of the words and complete their dictionary.

Activity 3: Phoneme hunt.

In the library, children choose books and read passages to look for the phonemes they are studying.

Activity 4: Spelling and sound confusion!

Students looked at a text with various regular past tense verbs and had to sort them into the 3 different sounding categories (d, t, id). After doing this the children were invited to try and work out the pronunciation rules. This has a lot of possibilities for many other situations.

Another advantage of these activities is that students can study different phonemes (or graphemes) at the same time, so in an international environment each student can focus on specific issues that they may have or can be put into groups as we have done.

Some other modifications you might want to try:

  • Add L1 phonetics to the paper (e.g. Czechs might add a box with ‘aj’ on the ‘bike‘ phoneme page)
  • Add extra circles for more graphemes as the students discover them

Give it a try for yourself and see how it goes!



Another sample DELTA module 3 assignment

Today I have the pleasure of adding Monica Ruda’s module 3 assignment to my blog. Monica contacted me recently and asked whether I would like to post it here and of course I said yes!

Monica has also taken the time to write a little bit about herself and her reasons for allowing me to post her work, which I have included below.

“After three years teaching abroad and in the UK, the DELTA seemed like the next logical step to take.

Choosing the M3 specialism is never easy, especially after teaching a wide range of classes. I chose Multilingual Classes because my past and current teaching experience led me to it. Besides, multilingual classes involve a great deal of cultural awareness (in a multicultural environment such as the UK), something I’m very interested in.
During my M3 months, I found reading other people assignments very helpful and inspiring. Hopefully my work, which achieved a Pass, can be just as useful to other candidates.
Best of luck”

A listening experiment that worked

Some of you may be aware how interested I am in the teaching of listening and my belief that teachers should try to help their learners ‘learn to listen’.

I have tried a number of techniques with a particular class of mine (see class profile at the end of the post), but although they have improved, they still find listening very difficult and are nervous every time I go near the CD player.

I teach in the Czech Republic, and the language has a very different stress pattern to English, and while I keep telling my students to focus on content words (which should carry the stress and therefore be easier to hear), it has been difficult to implement with this class, who try to listen to everything and then get frustrated and say English is just too fast.

So after the last listening lesson (English File Third Edition, file 8A, page 61, listening 51 & 52) which didn’t go quite according to plan, I started thinking about how I could force them into listening to the content words. And then it hit me! I would make them listen to only the content words!

Lacking any better ideas, next lesson I took the tape script and underlined the content words in the next two tasks which we hadn’t managed (listening 53 and 54). There were two characters in the listening but I didn’t let this put me off! I read the first half to my class (in two voices 🙂 ), only the content words, at a normal speaking pace. Immediately, 4 of the students looked at each other in surprise and recalled almost every word when asked! The others were a little slower, and I repeated it for them all to check what they heard the first time.

Then I did the same with the second half of the text, and this time I saw the lights coming on in their heads – they really didn’t need to hear all of the words, as they were building the meaning in their minds!

I repeated this process again with the second (related) listening (54, CD3)

This experiment worked much better than I had hoped, so I put 3 of the sentences I had read onto the board and asked them to fill in the missing words.

Here were the sentences and their guesses:

Original text Content words on board Their guess to complete After a hint from me
since I was a child since child since I was child since I was a child
go to the cinema go cinema go to the cinema
He’ll soon see what’s happening, and stop seeing his ex. soon see what’s happening, stop seeing ex soon he see what’s happening, he stop seeing the ex soon he’ll see what’s happening, he’ll stop seeing the ex


As you can see, these were not bad guesses from my pre-int class! I was particularly happy to see that they could notice what type of words were missing and where they were missing from. They then checked by reading the tape script.

I was especially pleased that their ‘mistake’ in the last sentence gave me the opportunity to show them how their idea was perfectly valid and we practised saying both versions and fitting the small words between the BIG content words as we clapped the content words. We then went through the other examples to show how there is the same amount of time between the content words irrespective of how many words there are. I felt that clapping as we practised helped to reinforce the point of the exercise.

I will definitely be doing a bit more of this, and maybe in the future I will even consider giving them the gapped tape script to complete as a post listening task.



Level: Pre-Int

7 students: 6 women, one retired, two mid-thirties, and three in their fifties. One man, mid-thirties. All are from a small town and none listen to English outside class or have any contact with English outside class (except when doing homework with their children/grandchildren!)

So, you really want to do DELTA? Update

This short post is intended as an updated to this post here in May last year.

If you are about to undertake the Cambridge DELTA or are considering it, There are a couple of useful blogs you might be interested in.

As well as Sandy Millin’s great blog which I recommended on the subject last year, I have also recently been reading Lizzie Pinnard’s blog, which not only contains a number of useful DELTA tips and examples, it also contains a number of useful links and other information on DELTA and on her M.A. It’s a great resource and an interesting read!


Lesson idea – comparative/superlative revision game

An activity introduced to me by my DoS in September (thanks Dave!), adapted slightly here to turn it into the main activity for my lesson. I used this with various large classes of teenagers but could be used with learners of any age.

Lesson length: 45 mins

Planning time: 2 mins

Aim: To practise using various comparative and/or superlative structures (depending on what your class has learnt, or what they know) 

To encourage team work


Before the lesson

1) Think of 3-5 categories for stage 2 (during the lesson). I used 5 categories but never managed to work through all of them. Some examples could be: a male actor, a city, a sportsman……

During the lesson

1) Split the learners into teams (I had 6 teams of 4). They could think of a team name. While they are doing this, you can draw a table on the board with 5 columns (or one column for each category you thought up before the lesson)

2) Read out a category and allow the teams some time to write an answer. They call out their ideas, and you write their answers in column 1 on the board. Award teams 3 points for an original answer or 1 point for an answer which is the same as another group’s.

3) Repeat for each category.

4) Take two people/things from column 1 and demonstrate the game. Eleicit an example sentence from the class/from a group. E.g. ‘David Beckham is richer than Tony Blair’.

5) Continue using the example people from stage 4 but now give the class some time to think of more sentences about them with their team.Then one at a time, each team says/reads one of their sentences out loud to the class. A grammatically correct sentence gets a point. Teams may not repeat the same adjectives as previous teams have used. Another good idea is to make a different student speak each time to stop the stronger ones taking over.

5) Continue until one of the teams has no further ideas.

6) Move on to category 2. Give the teams time to write/think of some ideas…… and on it goes…..


Even with big, noisy classes this activity had everyone working together and helping each other. The fact that they score points for everything encouraged them to take turns and listen to their peers. Because all of the categories were personalised I think it also added to the keeping the interest of the class.

Lesson idea – using will/going to for prediction

Here is a lesson I came up with for a state school class of 24 pupils to revise will for prediction. It could also be used with adults, and may come in useful to you.

Lesson length: 45 mins

Planning time: 5 mins

Aim: To practise guessing what will (or is going to) happen next using cartoon strip stories


Before the lesson

1) Draw a short 4 picture cartoon strip.

2) Fold a piece of A4 paper 3 times as shown below and then rip/cut so that you have enough papers for one per student.


During the lesson

1) Draw 4 boxes on the board and then draw the first picture from your story in the box. My story had a picture of a man walking down the street with 3 shops in the background.

2) Ask individual students what they can see (or ask them to describe it with a partner first).

3) Ask a question using the target language ‘Will the man go in the bakery?’ and elicit answers ‘Yes, he will’ or ‘No he won’t’. Then ask those saying no what they think will happen. Elicit ideas, encouaging them to use full sentences and using the target language.

4) Draw the next picture on the board. They see who was right.

5) Repeat the procedure until your complete story is on the board. In my story a dinsaur came out of the shop and then got run over by a car, but I think the more shocking/crazy the story the better!

6) Tell the students they are going to make their own stories and hand out the paper strips.

7) Show them the strip and get them to fold it up. I folded it in half, then in half again while they copied me. I then folded an approximately 1cm strip at the bottom for them to write a question into (again they copied me). See the photo of the finished strip below.


8) Students then draw their cartoons on the paper (and if you want them to, they can write their will/going to questions in too).

9) When the students are finished, they can fold up their paper so it shows only the first picture and show it to another student, asking their questions, encouraging their partner to guess what will happen next  and then showing them the following pictures, in the same way you demonstrated above.

10) This can be repeated with other students.

11) Feedback to see which story was their favourite/funniest/etc.

Can you think of any other grammar items we could teach in this way?

A selection of post listening activities

I have finally got round to posting a selection of the remedial activities I use when my students find listening exercises difficult, although they are all great activities we can use in their own right to try and teach our learners to listen better.

These are listed under the categories listed on my post-listening reflection sheet described in my previous post here. You can find a link to the reflection worksheet here.

I didn’t know the vocabulary…

Activity 1: Listen again with the tapescript and underline any new words. Sometimes learners understand the words on paper but don’t recognize the pronunciation.

– New vocabulary can be taught, or difficult pronunciation practised.

Activity 2: An alternative activity is to read the tapescript.

Both activities above could easily continue into roleplays or pronunciation practice.

The speaker(s) didn’t speak clearly, The speakers spoke very quickly……

Activity 1 (Not using the tapescript):

– Listen for key vocabulary/stressed words.

– Then try to answer the questions.

– After this, learners could try to add the unstressed words.

This should help them recognize the content words in the sentences and to notice that unstressed words are grammar words.

This activity could also be even used instead of the standard listening procedure in the coursebook.

Activity 2: Use the tapescript to underline stressed words.

– After demonstrating that content words are stressed, this can be done as a predicting activity and listen to check.

A logical follow up here would be to do pronunciation practice.

 I couldn’t hear where the words started and finished …….

Activity 1: Listen for words which are connected and elicit when and how native speakers connect words.

Activity 2: The activities described above could also be useful in addressing this problem.

 I couldn’t answer the questions correctly

Check again that they understand the questions. Listen again. Any better?

Ask them to describe what they heard…..

 The speaker(s) had a horrible accent……….

After discussing this problem further, activity choices can be made. Any of the above may be beneficial, or a focus on sounds can be carried out. This could also be useful for other problems too.

A couple of example activities of this kind:

– Identify all ‘ɑː’ sounds (while using the tapescript).

– Learner listens and circles or underlines all occasions of that sound (while using the tapescript).

(These could also be done as prediction activities)

– Is the pronunciation standard? Or does the speaker have a regional accent? I believe it is very important to raise awareness of this

– Listen together, stopping as necessary and practising.

– Read out loud and practise pronunciation.

Activities focussing on intonation may also be beneficial here.

The activities listed above are not activities I have invented myself, but what I have picked up over the years from a range of sources. If you are unfamiliar with any of them, please let me know and I would be happy to go into more detail….

Below are some useful references and resources for further reading on listening and pronunciation:

Hedge, T. (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, M. (1993) The Lexical Approach. Heinle.

Ridgeway, T. (2000) Listening Strategies- I beg your pardon? ELT Journal April 2000, 54/2: 179-185

Underhill, A. (2011a) Introducing the pronunciation chart to your class. Retrieved 8 October, 2012, from:

Underhill, A. (2011b) Introduction to Teaching Pronunciation Workshop. Macmillan Education. Retrieved 5 October, 2012, from:

Underhill, A. (2005) Sound Foundations. Learning and teaching pronunciation. Macmillan Publishers Limited.

Ur, P. (2011) A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

White, G. (1998) Listening. Oxford: Oxford