Ray Bauer asked:
Quick question. What is your opinion on teaching the alphabet to elementary school students grades K-6? I am personally totally against it. I prefer to pound the CI. Other teachers in my district want to do units on the alphabet and I feel like our time could be spent better. What is your take on it?
Hi Ray –
I couldn’t agree with you more. But, for survival, I go over it once or twice in the fall, and, then, right in the middle of CI, at any moment, ask the kids how to spell some word that I just wrote on the board.
In that way, the kids get exposure to the sounds of the letters and I don’t have to fight a useless war against parents who think that the alphabet is necessary.
I guess it is necessary, if someone in the target country asks one of our students to recite it, or how to spell something. But, chances are, if they are a native speaker, they already know their own alphabet. There’s a lot more sarcasm where that came from.
So, by throwing a bone to the alphabet loving parents, we are able to avoid a little skirmish with them, which is a good thing because we are already fighting such a big, truly unpleasant war with them over the general idea of narrative/input based instruction anyway.
The amount of time lost spent teaching the alphabet is less than the time spent having to explain to parents why we don’t teach it, is my point.
The Problem with CI
Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and
7 thoughts on “Alphabet”
How can you play “Shark Shark, Don’t Eat My Baby”* without the kids knowing the alphabet?
It’s a trick question: if the kids don’t know the name of a letter they need, they ask in TL “How do you say [name of letter here] again?”
*”Shar Shark…” is basically team hangman. I write blanks for letters for a phrase on the board (elicited from students based on a PA question.) There’s a cliff on the left side of the board with a picture of a baby on it, same on the right side. Baby’s are named after kids in the room. There’s a big laminated shark swimming in water drawn between the cliffs. Teams take turns guessing letters. Guess correctly, they can guess the phrase. Guess wrong, and part of their cliff under their baby crumbles away (aka gets erased.) Team guesses wrong too many times before the phrase is solved? Their baby is shark-food. Visceral, ridiculous and in demand.
In Spanish, the only letters that students REALLY need to know the names of are the vowels because the name of the letter is the SOUND of the letter–important. My kids pick up the names of the letters randomly because I’m using them all the time-especially as I write out the phrases for the day.
One of the ways “we practice” letter names is when we are naming characters for stories. The kids will come up with their crazy ideas (not that great sometimes–actually often really boring) and it goes on and on.
To stop the craziness and be able to move on, I will often combine all of their ideas into one: a huge long name on the board which I say out loud toungue-twister style. It’s obviously too long, so I make it short using the first letters of the boring answers as initials.
Examples: PRF Conejo or Conejo de la MST–they like them because they sound like DJ names or musical artist names.
These names always sound really funny; the kids feels as though their idea made the cut; the kids learn the names of the letters; and I get to move on with the “GD story” 😉 if you know what I mean.
One of the things I do is the dictados. I read through the dictado twice, while students do their best to write what they heard me say. Then, I project the dictado word by word and redictate it letter by letter as students correct their mistakes. In this way, I am really focusing on a lot of things: sound chunking being the biggest really. When we speak we actually put words together, so when I break the dictado down word by word, students get to “re-hear” where the word breaks really are. But, I also get to sneak the alphabet in. And punctuation, and capitalization… 🙂 All those things I don’t really want to waste class time teaching the rules for.
My Hispanic kids taught me a name:
I may have mispelled but he shows up in stories sometimes. We’re not even sure if it is a name or whatever. They had to spell it to me while I wrote it on the board. Crazy, like Byron’s sharknacity above. But, it creates bonds between us as we see who can say it/spell it fastest. It builds community. Building community while using the target language all the time in the classroom. If there is one thing that we are in input based language education are into, it is to pull the kids out of their heads into their hearts and bodies using whatever means necessary.
Class, was the boy’s name Will Smith or Parangaricutirimicuaro….?
It’s the name of a volcano in Michoacán, México–can’t believe you can spell it or say it. Impressive.
I worked on saying it real fast on the way home in my car for about a week, and I have a long commute. I can say it fast.
I have a “brain gym” activity which winds up their batteries while they practice the alphabet. Like Ben, I spend only a short amount of time getting it to them, and then just go back to it as an occasional Repasito, or time fillers when we have a couple minutes. Brain gym goes like this (need an overhead or projector). I put up a line, several lines or the entire alphabet. Above each letter, in red, I randomly put a D, I or A. D stands for Derecha (right), I stands for Izquierda (left) and A stands for Ambos (both). The kids say the alphabet letter, but act out the red D, I, A. For Derecha they take the left hand and pass it to the right over their head (you have to clarify that derecha is the direction they gesture or they will think, and learn, derecha is left (hand). For I they take right hand and gesture over their head to the left. For ambos they put both hands over their heads. It is silly, but the kids enjoy it, and I can get them practice in very short bursts, in short time.
Like others, I teach it because it pleases parents–punto. I do agree with the Spanish vowels though. I point out to students that if they know the vowels and a few different consonant sounds, they can sound out most unfamiliar Spanish words. That’s all they really need.