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!



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!


So, do you really want to do DELTA?

As a follow-up to the questions I answered about DELTA on Sandy’s blog, I have decided to publish my finished assignments for module 2 (the reading and research sections of my LSAs and PDA part B) and module 3 to give prospective candidates an idea of what is required. Please see my example DELTA assignments page by clicking here.

Please note that as examples these are only my assignments, which passed, and are not ‘perfect’ examples!

Why was the listening difficult?

When my students ‘huff and puff’ after a listening exercise and I try to find out why it was difficult, my learners usually find it very hard to explain why.

How could I get useful feedback to help improve problems with listening?

I decided that by encouraging them to reflect on what they had listened to, we could gain some useful insights into what areas were difficult for them. This was the main idea behind designing my ‘Post listening reflection‘. (You can download it by clicking on the link).

By using this regularly after listening exercises, I hope to build a better picture of what aspects of listening to focus on to help my learners become better listeners.

Why not give it a try yourself?

In the next couple of days I intend to post some ideas of activities we can do to help improve the weak areas.

Welcome to my ELT blog!

Hi everyone and welcome to my blog!

I’ve been meaning to start this for a long time but finally after receiving the push I needed by answering questions for Sandy Millin, I have only now decided to start.

I doubt that I will be a prolific blogger, but I hope that what I put in here will be of some use and interest to other ELT and ESL teachers.