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ESL forum > Techniques and methods in Language Teaching > GROUP BRAINSTORMING, PLEASE    



I ´m working in the public school system in Beijing. I work for the school district, and my job is -- basically -- to coach and evaluate the Chinese teachers who teach English in primary schools.   I ´ve been asked to do a 2-hour lecture on November 10.  I ´ve been asked to split the time between two topics: Phonics and (of all things) teaching values/character in the primary school classroom. 
I ´m looking for thoughts:  If you had one thing you ´d really like to get across to primary school teachers in another country (on either subject) what would it be? What ´s the one thing on either topic that you ´ve wanted to get someone to listen to for the longest, but didn ´t have a platform?  I ´m considering going at this from an angle of "ESL teachers all over the world approach this in different ways. Here ´s some best practices."  
So, with that --- I ´ll take any thoughts you guys would like to give me.  Phonics  and Values/Character. Take it away. 
Thanks in advance for any input.  

10 Oct 2017      

United Kingdom

Dear ldeloresmoore,
I don ´t want to hog the Forum with a very long post. Also, I want to hear the opinions of other Members. So, I ´ll post my thoughts as they occur to me. Parts of these Posts are from Lessons, Worksheets, etc. on my Computer.
Here is something which probably comes under the heading, ´Values ´.
Les Douglas 


‘Communication’ is the absolute basis of ‘Language’.

According to Professor David Crystal, “Communication refers to the transmission and reception of information, (a message), between a source and a receiver using a signalling system”. (A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, 2008).

In simple English, this means passing a message from Person ‘A’ to Person ‘B’, (or to many people), using a wide variety of techniques.

These include spoken messages, (in one or more of 1000’s of languages), spoken face-to-face, or by telephone, radio, television, computer and many other electronic devices.

Another way to communicate is by written messages, using words, pictures or symbols, (in 100’s of written scripts), sent by messenger, post, newspapers and books, or by electronic methods.

Spoken messages particularly are often made more difficult because the speaker expects an immediate answer, (but not with written messages). Problems are caused by the different abilities of the speaker and the listener; the unspoken ‘rules’ regarding the use of formal and informal language; special words, (jargon), used by certain trades and professions; and the relationship between speaker and listener … (father-child, boss-worker, teacher-student, etc.

A third way of communicating is by sending signalled messages, using Morse Code, Semaphore, Smoke Signals, Heliograph, Sign Language, Road Signs, Maps, etc.

Finally, (but not excluding others), there are some personal messages which are almost Verbal, such as a laugh, a yawn, a sneeze, a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, etc. Included in these are sleepy eyes, a runny nose, a cough, unusual breathing, high or low temperature, altered heart-beat, and other medical conditions. And, of course, there are some personal messages which are Non-Verbal, such as facial expressions, a smile, a gesture, body language, the length of a pause, the context of the conversation, knowledge gained from previous messages; the effect of the surrounding environment, etc. They all ‘say something’ and can alter the meaning of the message.

Accurate communications, (especially spoken messages,) often fail because of interference from outside influences, which distract the listener … noise, other voices, movement, embarrassment of the speaker, mispronunciation, lack of vocabulary, lack of understanding, etc. This sometimes means that the speaker ‘sends’ one message, but because of ‘interference’, the listener ‘receives’ a different message.

I use this explanation to my students: “Sometimes an error the size of an Ant in the mouth of the speaker, becomes a misunderstanding the size of an Elephant in the ear of the listener”.

Whenever possible, accurate communication is essential. 

10 Oct 2017     


Hi there,
I was thinking about your presentation in terms of what I would like to learn about as a teacher. Definitely not ephemeral theories as teachers are practitioners and are usually more into novelties, things of PRACTICAL relevance in the classroom, sorry Les ;-) Perhaps the authorities asked you to do Phonics because generally Asians have difficulty grasping English sounds? How about showing them different tools or games that could make the process more fun? There is a FREE program with a lot of resources called "Teach your monster to read" that you may show them as a relatively new classroom tool and let your presentation revolve around that. As well as other, similar interfaces of this kind, let there be choice. 
Here is the link to the Guardian article about the method:
and here the link to the Teach Your Monster to Read website:
The second topic seems quite ideological to me, especially when I think of "character". However, still remaining practical, I was thinking you may find these values education lesson plans of the Australian government inspirational enough to produce something your audience will find useful. I guess the measure of success of your workshops should be giving your teachers new practical tools, exercises, lesson plans, inspiring ideas to use in their classrooms.
Keep my fingers crossed!

10 Oct 2017     

United Kingdom

Dear Dolores,

I am surprised that more Members have not replied to your request.

In answer to your query, here are some more of my thoughts. This Post relates to PHONICS.


Pronunciation varies from speaker to speaker, and from area to area, depending on the local dialect. However, I teach Standard British English. This is the standard form of English spoken in the UK, which is where my students at present also live. If I moved to a different country, the USA, for example, I would teach Standard American English.

When I first became a teacher, for several months I taught pronunciation using the International Phonetic Alphabet. This is an excellent system. But, I stopped using it. For some nationalities, it is a huge wall to climb. Moreover, not every computer programme supports it. So, I devised my own form of phonetic writing, based on the ‘English’ alphabet.

When I am teaching pronunciation, or when a student makes a serious pronunciation error, I frequently find that he/she is reading the English word, and trying to pronounce it phonetically. In other words, students often think that they can read the English word, letter by letter, and then pronounce the word, accurately.

This is not correct! English is NOT a phonetic language!

The teacher must stress this, because many students persist in trying to read English as it is written. This is virtually impossible.

For example, as you know, the ‘a’ in ‘cat’, ‘father’ and ‘mate’ are three different sounds.

The letter combination ‘ough’, as you probably know, can be pronounced in 10 different ways: ‘cough’, ‘bough’, ‘through’, etc.

Many Beginner students do not realise this. Because their native language is phonetic, (or near-phonetic), they assume that English is also phonetic. It is not.

So, it is often NOT possible, (even for English speakers), to read an unknown word and pronounce it correctly, unless they have previously heard it PRONOUNCED correctly. This is one of the reasons that I always teach that Listening is the most important of the four disciplines, Speaking, Listening, Reading, and Writing.

Of course, in English, there ARE rules of pronunciation. They can be learned, and I teach them. But, at the Beginner Stage, the ability to listen accurately, is VITAL.

“GOOD LISTENING is the foundation-stone of GOOD SPEAKING.”

It is possible that others will disagree with me, as they are entitled to do. No two teachers are alike. More importantly, no two students are alike. We ALL learn in different ways. However, I have formed my opinions after 25 years of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, (TESOL). I still teach regularly.

Like other teachers I often use Minimal Pairs to teach pronunciation.

As you know, a Minimal Pair refers to two different words, but they differ in one sound only. To move from the first word to the second word, you alter one sound only.

Here are some examples of Minimal Pairs: will hill; loss boss; cup pup.; boy joy; etc.

The sound-change can alter the vowel-sound of the word: at eat it oat, etc.

Or, the first consonant-sound: bat cat fat hat, etc.

Or, the last consonant-sound: bed beg bell bet, etc.

Or, a middle consonant-sound: bicker bidder bigger bitter, etc.

These are all English words. The exact MEANING is not important, but the correct PRONUNCIATION is important.

Using Minimal Pairs, I use these sound-changes as the basis of a classroom PRONUNCIATION game.

Often, a Beginner student badly mispronounces a word, let us say, ‘nose’, with the ‘Long O’. Perhaps he pronounces it as [noh s], (with an ‘s’ sound, when it should be a ‘z’ sound); or [noh say], (pronouncing the final ‘e’). The correct pronunciation is [noh ooz].

I try to correct him, by slowly pronouncing the word, correctly, [noh ooz]. I say it 3 or 4 times, and he repeats.

If he has problems, I often pronounce the word VERY slowly, pronouncing each part of the word separately.

If this fails, first, I teach good speakers in the class, (especially native speakers of HIS language), to say the word correctly. When they have learned it, THEY pronounce the word correctly for him. He follows their speaking, by saying the same word, with the same pronunciation.

The psychology is: “If a student who speaks the same language as you, can pronounce the word correctly, YOU, can pronounce the word correctly!”

Sometimes, this ruse still fails to produce the correct pronunciation. So, I quickly write on the board a Minimal Set of words, based on the problem-word, (usually in alphabetical order). I do this by going through the alphabet, silently, seeking Minimal Pairs, and then moving on to the next word, while I am writing.

The words in the Set are all Minimal Pairs with the original, mispronounced word. To avoid confusion, I use words with the same basic spelling and the same pronunciation.

If the chosen word WAS ‘nose’, [noh ooz], I would quickly write on the Whiteboard:

NOSE ‘chose; (Past Simple of ‘choose’), close (the door); hose; pose; prose; rose; those; nose’.

These words are common English words, with the same spelling, and the same pronunciation as ‘nose’.

The following words have the same vowel-sound, the ‘Long O’: ‘’beaus’, ‘blows’, ‘doze’, ‘toes’.

But, I DON’T use words like these. Yes, the pronunciation is the same. But, the spelling is different, and this may cause problems for the students. I make the Minimal List words as simple as possible, and try to choose well-known words.

When I have completed the list, I read it to the class, slowly, pronouncing all the words VERY carefully. If I need to, I give a VERY QUICK description of the meaning of the word, but I stress, that we are concerned about pronunciation, NOT meaning. It is a Pronunciation Lesson, NOT a Comprehension Lesson.

Then, I go around the class, in turn, asking each student to pronounce the list of words, ending with the original word, ‘nose’.

Most often, when the original student has LISTENED, and has heard the basic sound of the ‘difficult’ word many times, he is able to reproduce the sound correctly.

If the problem word has two syllables, (for example, ‘apple’), I often slowly raise one finger, then, slowly, the second finger, to emphasise the 2 syllables of the word, [app ull], with the stress on the first syllable. Then, I ask the student to repeat the correct pronunciation, after me, several times. I repeat raising the fingers. This helps the student’s pronunciation, by breaking the word down into syllables. It also prepares students for subsequent work on syllables, and stress.

At first, to quickly write out on the Whiteboard a list of Minimal Pairs is quite difficult. It requires the teacher to do several things, all at the same time. However, when you can write a long list successfully, without pausing, it is very impressive. It convinces your students that they can trust you, because they realise that you know your subject. This reinforces the effectiveness of your lesson.


11 Oct 2017