Middle Elementary Language Arts Class : Pronunciation Activities

Sachiko Flippo 

Current trends in international school populations worldwide show a marked increase in the number of Low English Proficiency students being enrolled and a decrease in native English speakers. Research in the US and Canada also suggests a period of from five to seven years may be necessary for these LEP students to become academically competitive with their native English speaking counterparts in the classroom. Our experience show that this period is reduced to as little as one to three years by the unique language learning situation offered in the internationals school setting, but the fact remains that non-native English speakers are expected to learn difficult concepts and express complex ideas in a very short time using their second, or sometimes third or fourth, language (Erwin & Niesluchowski, 1992)
As I complete my third year of teaching at an international school, I observe this trend affecting my school and have concern for ensuring the quality education for LEP students. This has become the one of the major Language Policy Across the Curriculum implementation objectives of this school next year. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills is administered each year in order to project some guidelines to our students academic achievement levels compared with the American educational systems and with the other international schools. The majority of non-native English speakers in Third grade at this school score an average of 1.7 to 2grade levels higher in Reading comprehension and in the Language skills sections of this test. Yet, they consistently show low scores, especially the non-native English speakers, in the areas of the vocabulary and spelling. Although the test does not measure the achievement areas of writing and oral reading, a serious concern and the awareness for instructional activities to strengthen these areas of weakness in LEP students are discussed and considered.

Also under consideration is the need to supplement and to teach with mini-lessons certain language skills e.g. irregular verb tense, subject-predicate matching, and some sound-spelling relationships. This need is discussed and considered important because the whole language approach to Reading this school practices in the classrooms does not seem to improve poor English usage in writing done by the LEP students. The whole language approach to reading uses the authentic literature and believes in learning to read by reading, learning to write by writing, and recognizes that listening, speaking, reading and writing are intrinsically entwined and should not be separated. This approach is as highly appropriate to the ESL or LEP students as it is to the native English speakers. However, this is not to say that the middle elementary grade LEP students of this school can immediately and completely benefit from the whole language class lessons designed for the native speakers. As with any student, the teacher needs to be aware of the student's previous experience, from which he/she will derive a reference to understand new concepts, and of the student's English proficiency level, in particular vocabulary and comprehension levels.

Students learn the best when it makes sense and when the whole picture is seen: the whole language approach.

Students learn the best when something new is bridged from something old: the mini-lessons in the whole language class.

Students retain the most when they are directly involved in the learning: student-centered learning.

With the needs of my LEP students, e.g. the vocabulary enrichment and the sound-spelling relationship in mind and with the knowledge about practices that result in maximum learning for students, I have come up with three activities.

Activity 1. Spelling words with igh pronounced /ay/ as in right.
Students will brainstorm and generate a list of words they know that spell with igh and sound as /ay/. Teacher will add to the list and post the list in the classroom.
igh /ay/ as in:

bright blight fight flight fright frighten frightful high

knight light might night right sight slight

Students will use their dictionary skills to find the meaning of each word on the list. Teacher and students together will write one sentence each, for each word on the list, to show how effectively that word can be used.

Example: When I turned a page and saw a very scary picture in the Goosebumps, the sudden fright made my heart stop for a second.

Students will practice reading each sentence and become familiar enough to be tested, or students will be assigned to use two or three words from the list in their daily journal writing.

Activity 2. Spelling Rule: i before e, except after C (then ei) for the sound /iy/ as in MEET.
Students will recite the above rule a few times. Teacher will give a handout worksheet that has sentences which include one word that spells with ie or ei. In the word, two spaces are left blank for students to fill according to the rule.
Example: There was a big wasp on our kitchen c_ _ ling.

Pocahantas' father was the ch_ _f of the Pawatan tribe.

The words used on the worksheet and any others that students can contribute will make up a list.

ie or ei /iy/ as in chief or ceiling

belief, believe, brief, chief, ceiling, diesel, grief, grieve,

niece, priest, receive, siege, wield, yield

but: weird

Students will use their dictionary skills to find the meaning of each word on the list. Teacher and students together will write one sentence each for each word on the list to show how effectively that word can be used and make a reference to the sentences on the worksheet.

Students will practice reading each sentence and become familiar enough to be tested, or students will be assigned to use two or three words from the list in their daily journal writing.

Activity 3: R /r/, YE /iy/, BL /bl/pronunciation practices through poetry reciting.
Students will perfect the pronunciation of trouble-some sounds (for LEP students) as they practice them in familiar words.
Teacher will introduce the book, Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color by Mary O'Neill. Selected poems from the book will be read, enjoyed, and discussed. Students will be given opportunities to read aloud in class to become familiar with the poems.

What is Blue? 
Blue is the color of the sky 
Without a cloud 
Cool, distant, beautiful 
And proud. 
Blue is the quiet sea 
And the eyes of some people, 
And many agree 
As they grow older and older 
Blue is the scarf 
Spring wears on her shoulder. 
Blue is twilight, 
Shadows on snow, 
Blue is feeling 
Way down low.
What is Red? 
Red is a sunset 
Blazy and bright. 
Red is feeling brave 
With all your might. 
Red is a sunburn 
Spot on your nose, 
Sometimes red 
Is a red, red rose. 
Red squiggles out 
When you cut your hand. 
Red is a brick and 
rubber band. 
Red is a hotness 
You get inside 
When you're embarrassed 
And want to hide.
What is Yellow? 
Yellow is the color of the sun 
The feeling of fun 
The yolk of an egg 
A duck's bill 
A canary bird 
And a daffodil. 
Yellow's sweet corn 
Rip oats 
Little throats 
Summer squash and 
Chinese silk 
The cream on top 
Of Jersey milk 
Dandelions and 
Daisy hearts 
Custard pies and 
Lemon tarts. 
Yellow blinks 
On summer nights 
In the off-and-on of 
Firefly lights. 
Yellow's a topaz, 
A candle flame. 
Felicity's a 
Yellow name. 
Yellow's mimosa, 
And I guess, 
Yellow's the color of 


Students will be assigned to memorize one of the three poems and will recite it in front of an audience. Teacher will work with each student and give him/ her assistance, so each student will be able to recite the poem with a good publish speaking manners. Students will recite the poem with:

  • Fluency and clear enunciation
  • Good posture and poise
  • Strong voice projection and expression


  • Erwin, M. & Niesluchowski, M. (1992). Closing the Circle: Mainstreaming Activities for ESL Students. Prague: Eastern European Schools Association