It’s true when they say that teaching is full of surprises. In the run up to the PSLE, I have been listening to my pupils read and believe me, it has been full of surprises. I’ve been with the same batch of children for 5 out of their 6 years in their primary school life so I’ve heard each of them read multiple times before, under exam and non-exam situations. I knew that I could not expect perfection as many were prone to certain errors that I kept harping on in class, but imagine how flabbergasted and dumbfounded (to borrow some of the choice phrases used in their compositions) I was when a girl was stumped at the word ‘worm’ and a sizable number read ‘evening’ as ‘even-ing’. After repeated incidences of having pupils stunned into hesitation by seemingly simple words, I was left raving like a person crazed. “I know you know phonics!” I flailed my arms. “I was there! I taught you! Break the word up! What’s the beginning sound?” The horror continued after some picture discussion practice exercises during which I realized that some of them did not know the word for ‘escalator’ and several said the air stewardess in the picture was a waitress.
After recovering from my shock (Surely I would have mentioned the word ‘escalator’ or ‘air stewardess’ in class over a span of 5 years!), I calmed down somewhat and decided to act rationally and calmly. Thinking that perhaps a list of commonly mispronounced words would work, I went online and searched for lists of words deemed as commonly mispronounced. I found several and they all seemed to have the same words (e.g. arctic, cavalry, myriad). After realizing (again with horror) that I tended to mispronounce some of them myself (is ‘forte’ really meant to be read as ‘fort’?), I condensed the words into a list of age-appropriate words to bring to class. Then, it was time to calmly and rationally address their lack of vocabulary regarding common objects and people. They need visuals, I thought, since most of them only know the names of common things and occupations in their mother tongue language, which is probably understandable, seeing how more than half are international students. I got them into pairs and showed them pictures of various common surroundings such as a home and a school canteen and got them to think of and find out the English equivalent of 15 things associated with those places. I’m intending to get the class to share this vocabulary through a gallery walk activity. I’ve also hunted down the Reader’s Digest Visual Dictionary in the school library and have shown them diagrams and pictures to attempt to fill in the semantic gaps.
This, on top of ongoing class discussions and reading aloud in class as well as oral practice using past exam passages.
Will all these help their reading and ability to name people and objects so that their interpretation of the picture will be that much clearer? I’m not sure, but I sure hope so. Oral strategy ideas are welcome!