Ideas for Teaching Listening and Phonics to ESL Children

Teaching phonics to English Foreign Language children can be a challenge. There are aspects of the children’s environment that make phonics difficult for the teacher to teach and for the students to hear, repeat and understand. As we look at some of these problems let’s keep in mind that the key to their success – the most important factor in any lesson - is getting them interested and if possible, making it fun, an interesting challenge or perhaps funny. They’ll learn if they are enjoying themselves. This article offers ideas that can make phonics fun.

What Difficulties Are the Children Encountering?
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to their hearing and pronouncing the English sounds is the fact that they are hearing another language at home, or more seriously they are hearing a mixture of English and their own first language.

Another difficulty is likely the fact that some of the English sounds are not a part of their first language. This, however, isn’t too serious a problem for young children as they are still able to parrot the sounds they hear just as they did when they were learning their first language. Games such as Picture Bingo keep the children’s attention while providing the correct pronunciation.

How Can We Create Phonics Lessons that Catch the Children’s Interest in a Meaningful Way?
Let’s think about what kids get excited about – what they are interested in. How about animals, games, songs, stories, puzzles, verses, drawing, puppets or acting? Although there are many more things we could add to the list, let’s work with some of these.

Suppose your phonics lesson for the day was to teach the “sh” sound. The children probably have a phonics book that includes an exercise about “sh”. Many of those books are very good but if you add something interesting or funny then your lesson will be much better. It doesn’t need to take you a long time in extra preparation, it can be very simple.

Perhaps the easiest way is to think of some interesting “sh” words like:
Shark – kids love to think about scary things if they’re in a safe environment.
Ship – this has appeal for the boys who may be having more difficulty with phonics that the girls.
Fish – they need to listen to hear “sh” at the end of the word.
Sea shore – this requires them to hear the difference between “s” and “sh”.
Shirt – they will likely know this one

How Can You Use Some of These Words Without Spending a Lot of Time Preparing?
If you don’t have any pictures available then have some of the children draw one or more of them on the board. The others who are watching are to name the drawing. This could become a competition between two classroom teams.
As they work, print the names under each picture and have the children repeat them. You can add to this by:
- helping them to make a rhyme using any of the words
- having them print a funny sentence that includes one or more of the words
- having them draw pictures and print the picture names in their books.
Their understanding of the meaning and their pronunciation are equally important.

Try any of these ideas or combine several of them to create an approach that suits your teaching style and the needs of you class.

See Also:

Adventures in Canada

ESL Activities


About Daisy & George Stocker

Successful ESL was created out of our first company, Learning English With Laughter which began in 1990 when we, George and Daisy Stocker, traveled to the historic city of Karlovy Vary in Czechoslovakia, to teach English in a private language school. Communism was over and the people were embarking along the road to democracy. There were hundreds of students eager to learn the English Language, but suitable textbooks were non-existent. Consequently, we wrote as we taught, making countless revisions as we listened to the students' special needs. Upon returning to our home in Victoria, Canada, we have adapted the Teen-adult Series to meet the cultural needs of students in a number of different countries. A variety of adaptations have been achieved through contacts with many countries. Thousands of students have encouraged us to use a conversational approach to English that stresses communication in a variety of everyday situations. See our facebook page:
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