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EIKEN 5 reading

Robert Langdon is a fictional character in Dan Brown’s books who deciphers symbols to reveal their meanings. To some extent, in teaching children to read English, we are training them to become symbologists. How do you do it in your school? Do you take a phonics approach to the teaching of reading? It is a fact  that phonics rules break down beyond CVC, th sh ck digraphs, and the magic e rule. It is also a fact that children learn naturally by associating the shape of a whole word with its sound and or accompanying image. Since these facts are true, it is sensible to adopt both methods to cultivate little readers, because we can get good mileage out of phonics before its engine sputters and comes to a halt.




If six-year-old children have been taught to associate sounds with letters, they can use this knowledge to predict how a novel word is read. If their prediction proves wrong, such as ‘knock’, they can be taught using the whole word method. It would be pointless to try and teach them a ‘rule’ such as k is silent when it is the first letter of a word and precedes n. The i before e if the sound is ee rule has exceptions, such as weird Keith seized weird protein. At the age of six years, they may lack the required cognitive skills to remember and process additional rules and exceptions.




In our school, children learn to read and write their names by traceable letters printed on lines such as the one below. This is developmentally appropriate for children as young as 36 months. I kid you not. You can make your own traceable worksheets for free at this site.  I don’t like the yellow starting dot on the letter a but we have been using such worksheets for years and have had no problem.


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Kids the same age quickly learn to recognize and put in order the names of the months of the year and their ordinals by the whole word method. The words are on view while they set out cards in correct order on the table. They  then ‘read’ the cards. I say ‘read’ because at age three years they have merely associated the sound with the word. It is a precursor to reading, because they can only accomplish this task in this specific context.


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Ditto colours and shapes. After sorting the cards they read them aloud, as in this video here.



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Reading words can be reinforced by wordsearch exercises. You can make your own wordsearch worksheets for free at this site.


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When the kids decide they want to, they move from ordering the months and days cards on the table,  to writing them on the whiteboard. The whiteboard is set 1.5 m beyond the written words forcing the children to move back and forth to read a word or part of it, remember it,  and carry the memory back to the whiteboard in order to write it. Over time, with repetition of this activity, they learn to avoid shuffling back and forth by remembering the spelling of all of the months and their ordinals. They perform the task just once per 1 h lesson per week. They are set no time limit. It never takes more than 10 min. When they have mastered the task they are tasked once a month instead of weekly. At this stage they can usually finish it within one minute. I ask them to erase days in random order until only 3 remain, then I say ‘clean day, day, day’ and they say day, day, day, as they erase.


For larger classes, or lessons in rooms where moving back and forth to read, remember, and write a word is impractical. The ‘look/say/cover/write/check’ method could be used. Children must look at the word and study its shape and or phonics, say the word and recognise how many syllables there are, cover it and write it. Then uncover and check to see whether they are right. We give them homework. Free worksheets on days, months, ordinal, and question words are available from this link.


The ordinals are included to prepare them for a question that often appears in EIKEN 5 Part one.


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The task of matching colours and shapes to their words follows the same method apart from writing. The children decide themselves when they wish to attempt the matching task at a table from where the wall charts cannot be seen.


The same method (match learn, write/spell on whiteboard & remember) is used for question words.


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Question words are included to prepare them for the EIKEN 5 listening section. They are taught to match place with where, person with who and whose, money with how much, time with when, etc. You can download free EIKEN past papers, and answer keys at this site.


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This skill is practised and reinforced by playing an interactive game. We also encourage the children to look up words using a dictionary to practise reading, spelling and prepare for EIKEN 5 reading section as in this video clip.


For the teaching of phonics we have pasted decodable words from Oxford Learning Tree Floppy’s Phonics onto postcards, laminated them and sorted them into cases by increasing levels of complexity as determined by the authors. We read words aloud and the children are tasked to write them on the whiteboard to develop spelling. In each case of words there is a set of corresponding flashcards to review the phonics before spelling. In another variant, we have each student read a word and the others try to spell it.


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After the words have been spelled (written on the whiteboard by the children) the postcards on which the words are written are scattered face-up on the floor and the kids sit around them to play the grab the card when word is heard game. We vary how we play the game competitively, teacher vs students, boys vs girls, individuals etc., or cooperatively, depending on age, ability, and psychological characteristics among the kids. In the competitive version each child in turn reads a word which the other kids race to grab. Whichever child or team has grabbed the most cards is the winner. We reinforce and extend reading skills by reading Floppy’s Phonics books, available here.


To recap, many times, phonics as a decoding method does not work. In these cases, children learn to read by the whole word method. However, the whole word method is also not infallible. For example ‘I will read a book’ vs ‘I read a book.’ So we should teach children to read  and spell words in context. Despite its shortcomings, knowledge of phonics is not detrimental to children learning to read. In fact we find that it sometimes helps them to remember how words are spelled. We can say pa ra chu te to  remind them how to spell parachute, and Wed nes day to remember the correct spelling of Wednesday.


Often kids start learning to spell the months by writing Desember. When we remind them that Christmas is in December they soon learn to write December. Other tips to help kids remember, include phrases such as ‘don’t believe a lie’ and ‘add your address’. With JHS, HS, and returnee elementary kids, we often practise spelling words with common silent letters or common endings. So, in tandem, we teach kids to read using both phonics and whole word method. To do otherwise would be to deny them a useful tool. Phonics may not be perfect, but we feel it is better to give the kids a complete toolbox.


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In addition to ‘look/cover/say/write/check’ for learning to read and spell by the whole word method, mnemonics can be taught to help them remember the spelling. For example ‘one coat and two shoes are necessary’ or ‘Miyajima is land surrounded by water’. We also have several interactive games to help children learn to read. A free site for interactive ways to teach children to read, which we find very useful, is here.











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