Category Archives: phonics activities

It’s not a spelling test, it’s a quiz

Spelling tests are boring, right? The teacher reads out a word, everyone writes it down, then it gets marked. Ho hum. Nobody really likes them except annoying pedants and teacher’s pets.

Quizzes, on the other hand, are fun. They have quizzes on TV and in pubs, board games and apps. Quizzes are about thinking laterally, friendly competition, and having a bit of a laugh. They can even be done in teams, if collaborative learning is the main aim. You can ham it up with a top hat and some pictures of typical quiz prizes (you win the steak knives!).

Here’s an example beginner’s quiz for a six-year-old. She is working on three-sound words with “short” vowels, and starting to learn about consonant digraphs like sh, ch and th. She was keen to write on a whiteboard rather than use pencil and paper, but whiteboards aren’t necessary. My questions were something like:

  1. I’m like a really big car that lots of people can fit in, and I drive on the road, and stop to pick people up, and I start with the sound “b” and I rhyme with “fuss”.
  2. The opposite of the bottom is the “t…”
  3. I am an animal that says “woof, woof” and I like to go for walks, and when I was a baby I was called a puppy.
  4. When I need to buy something, I go to a “sh…”
  5. I am a thing you can wear on your head to keep the sun off or keep your head warm, and I start with “h” and I rhyme with “cat”.

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Free spelling lists for teachers

One of my fun summer activities has been refreshing and editing the free spelling lists on my website (yeah, weird, I know).

I hope teachers find them useful when teaching spelling, I know some already do. Other free spelling lists on the internet tend to focus on what words look like, but not what they sound like, or how they’re constructed, or they tend to reflect UK or US accents, not Australian English.

My lists menu allows words to be looked up in three different ways:

  1. Starting from sounds (phonemes) and looking up their spellings (graphemes). This is the direction we need to work in for spelling, i.e. turning speech into print.
  2. Starting from spellings and looking up the sounds they represent, which is the reading direction i.e. turning print into speech (whether reading aloud or silently).
  3. Starting with short, simple words and working towards longer, more complex ones, the direction needed for teaching. This sequence is the one used in my workbooks, but it’s not better than any other sequence. The important thing is to have a sequence. If wanting to use this one, but not sure where to start, my free low-frequency word spelling test might help.

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MSL Club 2018

The MSL Club is a four-day non-residential camp for children in Years 1 to 8 with, or at risk of, reading and spelling difficulties. Many, but not all, have dyslexia diagnoses.

Such kids can often feel a bit like a fish out of water in mainstream schools, especially if they don’t know other kids their age with similar difficulties.

It can be a great relief to meet many other kids just like them, learn and play together and form friendships.

The camp aims to help these children feel less isolated, and more supported and celebrated.

Program for kids

The 2018 MSL Club in Melbourne was held at St Joan of Arc PS in Brighton from 15-18th January.

Morning sessions for kids involve intensive structured literacy intervention for 2-3 hours. Here are some 2017 photos borrowed from their website to give you the idea, click here for heaps more:

The sessions are run by experienced teachers and therapists with Multisensory Structured Learning (MSL) training, many of whom could earn much more elsewhere, but sign up to help kids, learn from and share ideas with like-minded colleagues, and make the club a success.

Volunteer Speech Pathologists from Gameplan Education provided free assessments for some of the older kids.

“It was so wonderful to teach alongside like minded professionals and to see children who often find school a challenge engaged, enthusiastic and happy”, said Sarah Asome, a key organiser.

A variety of afternoon activities are designed to build children’s relationships and confidence at MSL Club.

I asked Sarah for a few photos of things club participants did this year for this blog post, and it seemed to include robotics and making giant towers, quel fun. They also had fairy floss and slushies lined up for the last day this year, though these were under threat from a planned power cut (this and local roadwork detours kept organisers on their toes).

Sessions for parents and professionals

MSL Club also runs a parallel information days for parents and teachers.

This year’s sessions were astonishingly good value at $75 for a whole day, including lunch and morning tea. The well-attended Parent Info Day agenda is here, and presenters’ slides will be available on the MSL Club website soon. They contain heaps of great information, of the type now also accessible via the great new Dyslexia Victoria Support website.

The Professional Info Day agenda, which included a session from yours truly (here depicted banging on about that Seidenberg book again) is here. Slides from the sessions will all soon be on the MSL website, if you’re kicking yourself for missing out.

MSL Club provided an opportunity to listen to educators and researchers in the field of dyslexia, dyscalculia, speech pathology, occupational therapy and psychology, as well as expert teachers and advocates. I learnt quite a lot from the other speakers, and the day I attended was also excellent for professional networking. A morning session about Emotional Intelligence on one of the other days also looked great, and again very affordable at $50.

Staff and volunteers

As well as MSL Club Director Kate Bertoncello (below left) and Educational consultant Sarah Asome (below right), key organisers included Kathryn White (next picture down, on left, in 2017), Christine Clancy (on right), and Lauren Segal and Michael Bertoncello (not pictured, sorry).

The world’s greatest supermums (two sterling examples of the species, Heidi Gregory and Gemma Crouch, are pictured below) volunteered on the resource table and lent a hand with afternoon activities, plus there were some volunteer first aiders on hand in case of (hopefully just) papercuts.

The professionals and key volunteers involved all went out to dinner together on Wednesday night, to kick back, catch up and talk about how to change the literacy-teaching world.

All the hard work paid off, and even with the road closures and power outages, it was still such a rewarding and inspiring four days,” said Kate Bertoncello.

Congratulations to the amazing team that made it all happen. I just wish this project could get some government or philanthropic funding to allow families without much spare cash (e.g. from public housing estates) to still send their dyslexic kids along for a holiday boost.

MSL Club Sydney 2018 and Melbourne 2019

More MSL Clubs are planned for Sydney in October 2018 and Melbourne in January 2019, but if you’d like to enrol a student, you need to keep a sharp eye on their Facebook page to find out when registrations open, and get in quick.

It’s first come, first served, and in 2017 the MSL Club was booked out in 24 hours.

Photos in this blog post are from the MSL Club website and Facebook page, the Dyslexia Victoria Support Facebook page, Kate Bertoncello, Rosemary Fazio, Heidi Gregory, and Sarah Asome.

Alternative facts about phonics

I’ve just read a new e-book called Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning, edited by Margaret M Clark OBE, a UK Visiting and Emeritus Professor who the About The Editor section says “has undertaken research on a wide range of topics and has developed innovate (sic) courses”.

Its announcement elicited some e-eye-rolling from members of the Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy Network, and jovial suggestions that others buy, read and comment on it, but apparently I’m the only one with nothing more important to do (sigh).

Also on my reading list at the moment is The Influential Mind, about how to persuade people in the face of Confirmation Bias, our tendency to ignore or dismiss evidence that’s not consistent with what we already believe. Confirmation Bias is why presenting scientific data to the climate sceptic in your life never works. You can watch a video about it here.

Reading the Clark et al e-book thus also became an interesting exercise in thinking about my own thoughts. I’d set aside time to read the book in order to write what I hoped would be a thoughtful, informed response, but my brain kept coming up with other ideas. Did it keep switching off because of my own confirmation bias, or because of the standard of what I was reading? Continue reading

Write this word backwards

Looking for a fresh early-level spelling activity? Inspired by the old board game “Backwords”, lately we’ve been having competitions to write words backwards.

For example, I say “write nip backwards” and learners have to write “pin”. This requires and builds awareness of the sounds in words (phonemic awareness) which is crucial for spelling.

Sometimes we use paper and pencil, and sometimes mini whiteboards, which are often somehow more exciting (novelty, I guess). For the hardline “I’m not picking up a pencil” brigade I also have an embarrassment of colourful and novelty pens and pencils, and coloured paper.

If working on four sound words, words like “spin” (nips) and “nuts” (stun) can be reversed. Continue reading

Pip and Tim decodable books from Little Learners Love Literacy

Before I buy a book, I like to pick it up and look through it properly myself.

I also like to hear about it from independent reviewers, not rely on information from those  selling it. They’re hardly going to tell me if there’s something wrong with it.

Unfortunately, a lot of excellent books and other resources to help kids learn to read and spell aren’t readily available in mainstream shops.

They’re only available online, or from specialist shops that aren’t always easy to visit. So they’re hard to leaf through, and it’s also difficult to find independent reviews of them.

I’m thus using this blog to help get the message out about good resources I use and recommend from publishers and specialist stores without huge marketing budgets.

I hope this helps more learners get access to them, plus helps those selling them compete with huge companies peddling nasty look-at-the-picture-and-guess books and other dross.

Here’s a video I’ve made about the Pip and Tim decodable books from Little Learners Love Literacy, which I think are perfect for Aussie 4-6 year olds. I use them with some 7-year-old strugglers too. They’re cute, funny and designed to help kids learn to sound out words quickly and well. They’re also available very affordably as iPad apps.

No, I don’t sell these books or get paid any commission on them. I just like them a lot, and hope that (if you have 4-7 year-old literacy learners in your life) you do too.

Balanced Literacy: phonics lipstick is not enough

The ACARA media release on the latest NAPLAN data says, “compared with 2016, there is no improvement in average results across the country that is significant”.

Sigh. So many teachers working so hard to improve results, and still 10% of Australian kids are not meeting basic minimum standards. Add to that the many strugglers who didn’t even sit the NAPLAN tests. Sigh.

Teacher-blogger Greg Ashman writes, “The blame for this situation lies squarely with a widespread adherence to bad ideas“. Whole Language – the idea that literacy is “caught not taught” – was a massively bad idea, inculcated into almost our entire teaching workforce at university, but now thoroughly discredited.

What-works-in-education expert John Hattie even puts Whole Language on his pedagogical “disasters” list, see slide 11 here, whereas Phonics Instruction is on slide 21’s “winners” list.

However, the Whole Language pig still has not been put out to pasture where it belongs. Our literacy education brains trust simply applied a bit of phonics lipstick, changed its name to Balanced Literacy, and carried on much as before. Continue reading

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