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Start in the Middle to Get to the Finish: Phonics Tricks for Strugglers

About This Session


While some students–children and adults–slide seamlessly into word-sounding and independent reading mere months after they are taught the phonic code of English, others struggle endlessly. Many of these strugglers are older children and adults who “never quite learned” how to sound out words and thus have developed counterproductive guessing strategies.

Some are students with undiagnosed dyslexia. A good many are English language learners who are speakers and readers of languages with different writing systems, such as Arabic, Farsi, or Chinese. The title “Start in the Middle to Get to the Finish: Phonics Tricks For Strugglers” was inspired by my student Saeed, a twenty-something young Saudi Arabian man who started classes with NO English at all and who, by dint his persistence, learned SOME English–fairly competent speaking, even, but unable to read well. I was tasked with tutoring him after he had been at the language center off and on for two years, continuing to struggle mightily with reading.

I noticed that whenever he came to a word he hadn’t already “learned,” i.e., memorized, he would pronounce the first few consonants and then guess the rest, wildly and usually incorrectly. For example “strategy” might morph into “streetlight,” “Brad” into “bard,” “grill” into “girl.” Often, the pronunciation that he hit upon was one that disregarded the vowel sound, e.g., “tan” for “town.”

As he continued to struggle I discovered that it made all the difference when I directed him to pronounce the vowel sound FIRST and then tackle the word. One day, as he was getting the hang of it, he exclaimed joyfully, “Teacher! When I start in the middle, I can read the word!!”

What we'll cover:

This presentation will demonstrate techniques that helped Saeed and other struggling readers:

(A) teaching sound patterns that govern vowel pronunciation;

(B) teaching the students to focus on the vowel sound FIRST, in order to then read the word or syllable; and

(C) helping them apply the technique as a matter of course with any and all words they do not know, such that what begins as a conscious process becomes, with time and practice, an automatic one.

Attendees will be encouraged to ask questions and to “channel” their students as they participate in demonstrated lessons which they will be able to apply in their own teaching situations.

Topics & Focus

Primary Topic Area
topic - English Language Learning, ESL, ELL
Session will also cover:
topic - adult basic literacy, abe, hse
topic - volunteer support & management

Handouts & Materials

No handouts or materials available at this time.

Martinez, Elizabeth

Presenter: Elizabeth Martinez
Organization: ESL Imprinted

Visit ESL Imprinted in the conference exhibitor area!

ROLE classroom instructors
LEVEL intermediate
Case study?
Other info:

I’ll draw from my 3-book series, PHONICS FOR READING AND UNDERSTANDING, as well as from RUN FOR THE BUS: A PRIMER FOR YOUTHS AND ADULTS, to illustrate many of the techniques that I’ll model.

My company (ESL Imprinted) provides the aforementioned books, as well as online and in-person trainings.

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