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Reading for Children

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August 15, 2011

Phonics / Reading Board Games

Hello again,
I hope you are all having a good summer and that the weather is not proving too hot for you :)

I have just a very quick post today about some phonics board games that we have put up on our website for free download for teachers / parents who may be interested. If they seem like something you'd like to use with your students, you can download them here.

Drilling phonics can be a real drag for both students and teachers alike. However, phonics recognition really is a fundamental building block on the path to children developing their initial reading and decoding skills. Because of this, at our school we are constantly putting our heads together to come up with different, fun and interesting ways for the kids to practice / drill their phonics.

We have recently put together a set of phonics / reading board games to help our students do just that. There are 4 different game boards. These contain the phonics targets:

1. Consonants / Vowels

2. ee (tree), ea (seal), ch (chicken), sh (ship)

3. oy (boy), or (horse), ir (girl), ow (cow)

4. ai (tail), ay (tray), oa (boat), ow (window)

The following is a video to give a quick run down on how we use the boards at our school. Obviously these kinds of games can be used in many different ways, but this should get you started.

For those of you worried about the length of the games, I find using 2, or even 3 dice for the games (depending on the level of the students) helps to get through the games a little quicker and additionally helps the kids a little more with their numbers.

Again, for those of you interested, the board games are available here.

I hope these can be of some help to you and your students.
Have fun reading!

March 15, 2011

Starting a Children's Reading Program: Part 2 - What to Look for in a Good Reader

Continuing on from part 1 of 'Starting a Children's Reading Program', 'Benefits to Students & Schools', in this entry I'll be looking at what to look for in a good children's reader.

As many of you will know, there is an absolute sea of children's readers available in the marketplace today. Knowing which reader to choose for your students when starting a reading program can be quite a daunting task as a teacher / school owner. What reader will suit my students best, and quite simply, what should I look for when choosing a reader.

I hope some of the following suggestions may help to make the choose a little easier, or clearer for those of you in this situation.

A good place to start is possibly telling you of some of the problems we encountered when starting our own reading program. We actually tried many readers during the years of establishing our program. We wanted a reader that was not going to overwhelm students who were new to reading with word counts that were too high. Also, as I mentioned in my first entry of this series, we have a comprehensive phonics program at our school and wanted our readers to tie in with this. So, we wanted a reader that was phonics-based. Because of this, we also searched for a reader that contained some color-coding to support the students as they became more familiar with sight words that were phonically irregular. Obviously, a reader with clear and stimulating illustrations to draw the reader in is also highly desirable. Additionally, we wanted a reader that would complement much of the language that the students were studying
in their coursebooks. Finally, cost was obviously a consideration. We wanted to establish a reading program where all students in the class could read the same story at the same time. With many readers this kind of system can become very expensive for a school.

Recycled Vocabulary, Language Structures & Phonics

A fundamental feature of any great reader is recycling of vocabulary, language structures and phonics. The more often students have the opportunity to ‘meet’ phonics, vocabulary and language structures, the better chance they have of retaining and being able to use that language. This will help our students to absorb the language they are studying in class at a deeper level, allow them to review and reinforce language and strengthen their English skills.

Gradual Building of Word Count

It is also important to choose readers that have a gradual increase in word count. As teachers, we don’t want students to become overwhelmed with a word count that is too high in their reading activities. In saying that, we also want to challenge and encourage our students to develop their reading skills and ability. It is wise to choose readers with a steady, gradual increase in word count.

Language That Complements Students' Study

It may not always be possible, but idealistically, choosing a reader that contains / complements much of the language

that students are studying can help to increase the benefits of a reading program. Not only do we want our reading program to develop students’ reading fluency and decoding skills, but also to allow students to reinforce, review and see the language that they are studying in context, hence helping them to absorb language at a deeper level.

Easily Understandable Font

When choosing a reader suitable for our school and students, we obviously want to choose a reader with a very simple, generic style font that is easy to understand and matches the writing style the students are learning, avoiding confusion for students.

Easily understandable fonts

Clear, Stimulating Illustrations to Aid the Reader

Illustrations account for a huge part of a reader. Well illustrated readers should stimulate the children and clearly illustrate the language they are intended to complement. While overly detailed illustrations may stimulate the reader, we also need to be careful not to include too much detail in illustrations, to avoid confusing the reader. The most effective illustrations will complement the language by clearly and unambiguously illustrating the meaning of the
language it relates to.

Clear, stimulating illustrations to aid the reader


Some children's readers also contain color-coding. Personally, I'm a big fan of color-coding of phonically irregular words in the earlier stages of children's readers. Color-coding can help to make phonetically irregular words easier for students to recognise and decode.

An example of color-coding

Cost- Effective Reading Programs

Readers can be very expensive. Particularly when schools look at starting a comprehensive reading program and are buying readers in considerable quantities, the cost can be very high. In our school, we wanted to implement a reading program in classes where all students were able to read the same stories in class at the same time. With many readers on the market where individual stories are produced in individual books and then sold as sets, this meant that our
school had to buy between 6 – 12 sets of each book, the cost of which can run into the thousands of dollars and become a huge expense for a small school, or, find a reader that was a single book containing many stories. We decided on the later. Each student now buys their own reader and the cost is incorporated into their yearly text fee. This is a very affordable and cost effective way to introduce a reading program into your school.

I hope some of this information will help to guide those of you who are thinking of starting a reading program in your schools / classes. I'll be continuing this series with the final entry of the series, "Implementing a Children's Reading Program' in the next few weeks.

In the mean time....

Have fun reading!

February 24, 2011

Starting a Children's Reading Program: Part 1 - Benefits to Students & Schools

Well that time of year is rapidly approaching again with the new school year due to start in March / April. This is a very good time for schools / teachers who don't currently have a children's reading program in their school, but would like to, to explore this opportunity further.

This is part 1 of a 3 part entry that I'll be writing with regards to having a children's reading program in your school. In this entry, part 1, I'll be looking at the benefits of having a children's reading program to both students and schools / teachers alike. Part 2, which I will be posting in the coming weeks will discuss what to look for in a good children's reader. The final entry, part 3 will offer advice and ideas on how to implement a children's reading program in your school/classes.

As I said earlier, there are many benefits of having a reading program in your school / classes, not only for students, but for schools also. Some are very obvious, and some, maybe a little less so. I will be discussing some of the more important benefits here.

Benefits to Students:

Giving students the opportunity to reinforce, review and see the language that they are studying in context:
As with many children's teachers in Japan, I am in a situation where I work at a private language school. In this situation, my students come to class only once a week for a one hour lesson. As we all well know, we would like for our students to have more opportunities to be exposed to English. However, this is the reality of our teaching situation. In this situation it can be very difficult for students to have opportunities to see the language that they are, or have studied in class in context. Having a children's reading program is one very good way of helping to overcome this obstacle. In this situation, a reading program can be particularly advantageous when much of the language you study in class is contained within the reader that you use. Idealistically, it's great to have a reader that directly complements students' course books or study. The added benefits of this are that not only does this give students the opportunity to view language in context, but also acts as a great method of review of language studied previously, keeping the language fresh in students' minds and also helps to reinforce language that students are either currently studying, or have studied at some time in the past. This also helps our students to absorb the language that they are, or have studied, at a deeper level.

Building confidence and motivation in students:
We have quite a comprehensive phonics program at our school. Phonics is the kind of thing that can often take some time to put all the little building blocks into place before the bigger picture can be clearly seen. With our particular program, we have our students learn their phonics and then they start our reading program. A very big light bulb seems to be switched on when our students discover that they can actually read! This seems to add a certain element of tangibility to all the hard effort and study that they have been doing up to that point. We find that students get a real kick out of this very obvious realisation of improvement, progress and accomplishment and it does wonders for their motivation and general positive attitude toward English, studying English and what English can do for them.

Increasing students' exposure to English outside the classroom:
As I touched on a little in an earlier point, our students don't have nearly enough exposure to English between their weekly classes with us. This is one of the great challenges for us as Children's English teachers in Japan. Again having a reading program for students allows them to come into contact with English more often when out of the classroom.

Benefits to Schools:
Schools also benefit greatly from having a children's reading program. This can be particularly applicable to the smaller private English schools in Japan. Here are some of the main advantages for schools.

Showing parents very tangible evidence of improvement & increased student retention rates:
Often, it can be difficult for parents to see tangible evidence of their child's improvement when concerning their English studies. This is usually due to things such as the fact that many Japanese children can be too shy to speak English in front of their parents and often because of this, parents have no idea as to what their child is learning, or whether they are progressing. From a 'business' perspective, parents 'not knowing' can be one of the worst enemies to the small English school. Lack of tangible evidence of improvement can lead to parents wondering if they are getting what they are paying for, parents developing a lack of confidence in the school/teacher, or ultimately parents pulling children out of schools due to feeling dissatisfied. Having a reading program is a great way to overcome this problem.

What I mean by this is the situation where little Takahiro, for example, starts at an English school. It is his first experience with learning English. When he first starts at the school, he knows no alphabet, no phonics and no conversation. Twelve months later, as part of his weekly homework, Takahiro takes his reader home every week and reads in front of his parents. This is basically the system that we have at our school. This is obviously great for the student, the parents feel very happy with what we are doing, as they can clearly see the improvement in their child's English and from a business perspective it probably results in some of the greatest marketing/word of mouth that our school has, as parents tell other parents when they see this happening. This very effective form of marketing/word of mouth comes to us at a cost of zero.

Additionally, because the school has satisfied parents who can see steady and continuous improvement in the child's English, students tend to stay enrolled at the school for much longer periods of time, resulting in student retention rates improve dramatically. This is clearly very beneficial to any school.

Having a children's reading program really is a win/win situation for all concerned. For teachers/school owners reading this entry who do not currently have a reading program within their school, I strongly recommend looking into this highly beneficial addition to a children's curriculum.

Please drop by to check out part 2 of this 3 part entry, 'What to Look for in a Good Reader', which I will be posting in the coming weeks.

Have fun reading!

July 19, 2010

Sound Stop!

In this entry, another activity that will hopefully help you to mix up and add some variety to your students' reading activities while focusing on a particular area of their reading.

This activity is again, a very simple one, however, works very well for reading time in our school and one that students enjoy. Today's activity is called 'Sound Stop!'.

We use 'Sound Stop!' to help our students practice and focus on reading a particular double phonic when reading stories (for example 'sh' as in ship, 'ch' as in chicken, 'ea' as in seal etc.).
We use 'Fun Phonics Readers' as our readers for our elementary students and book 1 of Fun Phonics Readers has stories for each of the double phonics combinations from David Paul's 'Finding Out 1' text.

When reading a story for the purpose of practicing a certain phonic target, it's good to prepare students for the target. This can be done in many ways such as playing a game using the target phonic with students before reading. Additionally, the stories in Fun Phonics Readers containing double phonic targets emphasize the target by having it written at the top of the story, to make students aware of the target.

With 'Sound Stop!' students read by taking turns. When each student starts and stops reading is determined by the target phonic. When a student meets and reads a word containing the target phonic, they stop and the next student begins reading. This helps students to pay more attention to, and focus more on the target phonic. Students also enjoy the randomness of this activity. There may be situations where a student only reads a single word, as the first word that they meet and read may contain the target phonic. Equally the student may read a full sentence or more before they meet and read a word containing the target phonic.

To illustrate more clearly, if you refer to the picture below, whenever a student met and read the target phonic (circled in red for clear illustration. In this example, story 14 of Fun Phonics Readers book 1 contains the target 'sh' as in ship and 'ch' as in chicken) they stop reading and the next student starts.


Again, this is a very simple activity, but very effective and most importantly, an enjoyable one for our students.

I hope you find 'Sound Stop!' helpful and fun for your students.
Have fun reading,

May 17, 2010

Reading Treasure Hunt

Thanks for dropping by and welcome to my next post. In this post I'd like to tell you about a very simple game/activity (the simple ones are often the best) that we often incorporate into the reading component of classes at our school. This activity is called 'Reading Treasure Hunt'.

We like using Reading Treasure Hunt at our school for many reasons. Firstly, and very importantly, children seem to really enjoy this activity, which is something that we constantly focus on with our reading activities. It's a frequently requested favorite! Reading Treasure Hunt also benefits the children's reading in many ways. This activity is great, as it helps to improve the children's sight word recognition, phonics decoding skills and skim reading skills. Additionally, it's good for reinforcing vocabulary and practicing counting.

It's best to do Reading Treasure Hunt once students have completed reading a story in class. There are many different ways to go about Reading Treasure Hunt and I recommend playing around with it and finding what works best for you and your students. The basic idea of Reading Treasure Hunt is that the teacher selects either words or phrases from the story and the children race to find the words or phrases within the story. When they find the word/phrase, children raise their hands and tell the teacher what line number within the story the word/phrase is in.

Again, this is good for the children's sight word recognition, phonics decoding skills, skim reading skills, reinforcing vocabulary and practicing counting. As with any game/activity, the success of the activity will often depend on the teacher's enthusiasm for the game. Remember to be creative, show excitment and enthusiasm with your reading activities and the children will reciprocate.

You can see Reading Treasure Hunt in action by watching the video below.

I hope you find Reading Treasure Hunt helpful in your classes. Comments, feedback and questions are most welcome.

...And remember....have fun reading!

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