Monday, December 22, 2008

What is the Orton-Gillingham Approach?

What is the Orton-Gillingham approach? Learn about the Orton-Gillingham methodology, who are good candidates for learning the Orton-Gillingham approach, and who Orton and Gillingham were. You can also view a video of a teacher employing an Orton-Gillingham approach here.

See also my blog post about a free webinar on the Orton-Gillingham methodology here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

ESOL Teacher Resources - Minimal Pairs for ESOL Students' Pronunciation (Part 3)

In Part 1 of this series of posts on Minimal Pairs, I shared minimal pairs exercises that practice consonant sounds in English. In Part 2 of this series, I shared minimal pairs exercises that practice vowel sounds in English. In this post, Part 3, I will share more minimal pairs exercises that can be used to practice murmur diphthongs and special vowel sounds.

Contrast the following sounds:
long and short vowels with r-controlled vowels
/ar/ with /er/
/or/ with /er/
/oo/ (as in “look”) with /oo/ (as in “zoo”)
Special vowel sounds
had hard
lad lard
bid bird
fist first
fen fern
pet pert
am arm
ham harm
con corn
sot sort
hut hurt
cussed cursed
cub curb
luck lurk
gill girl
gem germ
cave carve
stoke stork
far fur
shark shirk
star stir
hard heard
barn burn
heart hurt
cart Kurt
dart dirt
farm firm
park perk
for fur
store stir
born burn
short shirt
form firm
warm worm
torn turn
bored bird
court Kurt
pork perk
full fool
pull pool
skull school
look Luke
soot suit
wood wooed
could cooed
hood who’d
should shooed
crone crown
sit sight
fool foul
crowed crowd
calf cough
boot bout
hack hawk
frock frog
stack stalk
hat halt
suck sulk
nuke nook
wooed would 
soul soil
tack talk
laughed loft

Note: Information adapted from the Decoding Strategies for Literacy Development manual published by Reading Horizons.

Friday, December 12, 2008

ESOL Teacher Resources - Minimal Pairs for ESOL Students' Pronunciation (Part 2)

In a previous post, I shared examples of minimal pairs that can be used to help students practice consonant sounds in English. In this post, I am sharing minimal pairs that can be used to practice vowel sounds in English. (See also Part 3 for minimal pairs practice with murmur diphthongs and special vowels sounds.) 

                           Contrast the Following Sounds:
/ă/ and /ĕ//ŭ/ and /ŏ//ĕ/ and /ā//ĭ/ and /ĕ/
bag beg
tan ten
fan fen
pat pet
bat bet
sat set
ham hem
rad red
pan pen
mat met
and end
man men
sad said
gas guess
had head
hut hot
sup sop
gut got
nut not
mud mod
sub sob
rub rob
cup cop
cub cob
cut cot
dug dog
hug hog
jug job
pup pop
bus boss
miss mess
bucks box
duck dock
bum bomb
but bought
putt pot

bet bait
gel jail
let late
pen pain
pest paste
sent saint
shed shade
test taste
west waist
wet wait
fell fail
let late
get gate
sell sale
tell tale
fed fade
wed wade
less lace
shell shale
chess chase
bit bet
him hem
lid led
pig peg
sit set
tint tent
will well
miss mess
lift left
gym gem
spill spell
knit net
chick check
did dead
bid bed
big beg
hid head
pit pet
/ē/ and /ĭ//ŏ/ and /ar/
teen tin
heap hip
heel hill
peel pill
eel ill
deep dip
green grin
greet grit
sleep slip
meet mitt
sheen shin
sheep ship
cheap chip
sleeper slipper
wheat whit
deeper dipper
jaw jar
dock dark
lock lark
mock mark
pock park
shock shark
box barks
hawk hark
knock nark
laws Lars
hot heart
cot cart
clock Clark

Note: Information adapted from the Decoding Strategies for Literacy Development manual published by Reading Horizons.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful for Literacy

With it being Thanksgiving this week, I thought it would be appropriate to share a letter I received from an individual I met when visiting an adult literacy site last year. The words capture gratitude for something I feel passionate about that I think we often, as literate individuals, take for granted: literacy. Following is a major portion of the letter as I received it:

Thank you Reading Horizons

In 2006, at the age of 55, I started the Adult Education program at Holland College to continue my education and get my GED’s. I was only able to attend for a few months before I had to return to work. My experience was a good one but very hard. As a child I didn’t have a very good beginning when I attended the smaller grades in the regular school system, so when it came down to the crunch, I got used to faking it. It became a way of life, so automatic.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What Does Research Say about Phonics for ESL/ELL/ESOL?

In another blog post entitled, "Why Phonics for ELLs/ESOL Students?", I shared quotes that provide an impetus for teaching phonics in ELL/ESOL contexts. But what does the research say about teaching phonics to ELLs/ESOL students?

We know that the National Reading Panel (NRP) asserts that instruction in explicit, systematic phonics assists native English-speaking students in the development of literacy skills.

The NRP states that "overwhelming evidence strongly supports the concept that explicitly and systematically teaching phonics in the classroom significantly improves students' reading and spelling skills."

The NRP also reports that "surveys conducted on early reading have repeatedly concluded that word recognition is best learned when it is taught according to three principles..." Word instruction should be: 1) explicitly taught by the teacher; 2) systematically planned and organized; and 3) sequenced in a fashion that moves from simple to complex. So what about phonics for ELLs?
Some may dispute that because these findings are specific to native English-speaking students, they do not apply to ESOL students.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Literacy Resources- The International Public Library

A colleague shared a website with me this week called The International Public Library that serves as a great resource and provides a wealth of information. You can click on listed topics to access several links on the topic. There is also a section for kids called KidSpace that provides information on high interest topics appropriate for their reading level.
This website could be shared with students to use as a resource for obtaining information for in-class assignments. In addition, student use of this website could be adapted for use as a research activity to develop reading skills.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Web-based Tool for Vocabulary Development

In a previous post, I mentioned a couple of online tools that I am using in some curriculum projects I'm currently working on. This week as I was using the vocabulary profiler link mentioned in my previous post, I visited the home page of which this link is part, and I found several additional links to a variety of other vocabulary tools relating to morphology, spelling, and high frequency words (to name a few). This web tool, developed by Tom Cobb at the University of Québec in Montréal, extracts detailed information about vocabulary used in text. Not only did I enjoy entering text from some of the curriculum I'm developing to see what interesting information I could extract, but exploring the links on this site also prompted some ideas regarding how these concepts might be adapted in the classroom to promote ESOL vocabulary.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Language Learning Strategies for ESL Students - Links

I had the opportunity to chair the annual Intermountain TESOL Conference this past weekend in St. George, Utah where attendees were privileged to hear plenary addresses from two world-renowned experts in language learning strategies for ESL students: Dr. Andrew Cohen and Dr. Anna Chamot. Dr. Cohen discussed the development of a website for helping students learn to develop grammar strategies while learning Spanish. Dr. Chamot discussed how to help K-12 students become good language learners by using language learning strategies. I want to share a couple of links that were provided in their presentations.

- Dr. Cohen's grammar strategies website:

- Dr. Cohen's personal website, which contains other helpful links:

- Dr. Chamot's Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA): For a list of strategies developed by Chamot, see

- Links to Cohen's and Chamot's handouts, as well as other presenters' handouts, will be available at shortly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is Your Child Dyslexic? - Dyslexia Symptoms and Signs

I came across this checklist in a 2003 issue of Time magazine that lists questions to ask yourself if you have suspicions that your child has dyslexia. I do not suggest that if you answer any of these questions in the affirmative that your child has dyslexia. I am simply passing along this information to be used as you see fit.

Is Your Child Dyslexic?
You can often spot the symptoms of this learning disability even before your child starts to read,
if you know what to look for.
From the July 28, 2003 issue of Time magazine
By Sora Song
Sources: Overcoming Dyslexia, by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.
Straight Talk About Reading, by Susan Hall and Louisa Moats

Ages 3 to 5: Does your preschooler…
1. Seem uninterested in playing games with language sounds, such as repetition and rhyming?
2. Have trouble learning nursery rhymes, such as “Humpty Dumpty” or “Jack and Jill”?
3. Frequently mispronounce words and persist in using baby talk?
4. Fail to recognize the letters in his or her name?
5. Have difficulty remembering the names of letters, numbers, or days of the week?

Ages 5 to 6: Does your kindergartner…
1. Fail to recognize and write letters, write his or her name, or use invented spelling for words?
2. Have trouble breaking spoken words into syllables, such as cowboy into cow and boy?
3. Still have trouble recognizing words that rhyme, such as cat and bat?
4. Fail to connect letters and sounds? (Ask you child: What does the letter b sound like?)
5. Fail to recognize phonemes? (Ask your child: What starts with the same sound as catdog, man, or car?)

Ages 6 to 7: Does your first-grader…
1. Still have difficulty recognizing and manipulating phonemes?
2. Fail to read common one-syllable words, such as mat or top?
3. Make reading errors that suggest a failure to connect sounds and letters, such as big for goat?
4. Fail to recognize common, irregularly spelled words, such as said, where, and two?
5. Complain about how hard reading is and refuse to do it?

Ages 7 and older: Does your child…
1. Mispronounce long or complicated words, saying “amulium” instead of “aluminum”?
2. Confuse words that sound alike, such as tornado for volcano, or lotion for ocean?
3. Speak haltingly and overuse vague words such as stuff or things?
4. Have trouble memorizing dates, names, and telephone numbers?
5. Have trouble reading small function words, such as that, an, and in?
6. Guess wildly when reading multisyllabic words instead of sound them out?
7. Skip parts of words, reading conible instead of convertible, for example?
8. When reading aloud often substitute easy words for hard ones, such as car for automobile?
9. Spell terribly and have messy handwriting?
10. Have trouble completing homework or finishing tests on time?
11. Have a deep fear of reading aloud?

Click for more signs and symptoms of dyslexia and dyslexia resources.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Parts of Speech - ESL Grammar Skills

The following information serves as a quick reference to parts of speech. The information provided is certainly not comprehensive, but it touches on basic grammatical principles that go hand-in-hand with the learning of English vocabulary in your course. This information can be referred to and built upon as needed while teaching vocabulary. Doing so can enhance your students’ capacity to use English vocabulary beyond the word level.

A noun names a person, place, thing, or idea.

The horse galloped across the field.
The speaker talked about happiness.

A common noun is a noun that names a general person, place, thing, or idea.

The dog wagged his tail.
A horse eats hay.

A proper noun is a noun that names a specific person, place, thing, or idea. Proper nouns are capitalized.

The Nile River flows through Egypt.
Mary is flying to St. Lewis.

Compare common nouns with proper nouns:
common nouns - City, Girl, Store, Teacher
proper nouns - San Francisco, Sue, Macy's, Mr. Smith

A singular noun is a noun that names one person, place, thing, or idea.

The camel sniffed the air.
Dad rode in a car.

A plural noun is a noun that names more than one person, place, thing, or idea.

Camels carry heavy loads through the desert.
Can camels travel through sandstorms?

Compare singular nouns with plural nouns:
singular nouns - camel, desert, dress
plural nouns - camels, deserts, dresses*

* Notice that if a singular noun ends in s, z, x, ch, or sh, the suffix –es needs to be added to the end of the word to correctly form the plural.

A possessive noun is a noun that names who (or sometimes what) possesses something.

The king’s crown glittered with jewels.
Jill’s bag fell off her bike.

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of one or more nouns.

Mr. Hall climbed the rocky cliff. Angie and Tyson flew to Florida.
He carried a camera. Abbey watched their children for them.

An adjective is a word that describes a noun or pronoun.

Mother cooked a delicious meal.
She served fresh vegetables.

An action verb is a word that names an action. It may contain more than one word.

Small boats carry people up the river.
The cat is climbing the tree.

Transitive verbs
are followed by an object.

Jon answered the phone.
Aaron hit the ball.

Intransitive verbs are not followed by an object.

The children laughed.
A crowd gathered.

A linking verb is a verb that connects the subject part with a noun or adjective in the predicate part. It tells what the subject is or is like.

Joel is my brother.
The flowers are pretty.

A helping verb helps the main verb to name an action or make a statement.

The Smith’s have arrived in Florida.
Barbara was helping her sister.

The present tense of a verb names an action that happens now.

My students ask many questions.
Linda leaves for California today.

The past tense of a verb names an action that already happened.

The boys entered the theater.
Harry waited on the sidewalk.

The present perfect tense of a verb names an action that happened at an indefinite time in the past. The present perfect tense also names an action that happened in the past and is still happening in the present.

The workers have started the machines.
Father has returned to his job.

The present progressive tense of a verb names an action that is continuing now.

The music is playing loudly.
The couple is dancing happily.

The past progressive tense of a verb names an action that was continuing at an earlier time.

My sister was building a table.
My brother was reading his book.

An adverb is a word that describes a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Adverbs sometimes end in the suffix –ly.

Jane silently walked into the room.
She whispered softly to Brad.


A preposition is a word that shows the relation of a noun or pronoun to another part of a clause. The following words are commonly used prepositions:

about - at - for - of - through

above - before - from - on - under
across - behind - in - onto - with
after - below - inside - to - without
around - by

The moon travels around the earth.
My cat is under the table.

A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition and ends with a noun or pronoun.

The president of the company gave a speech.
Jane’s bird was in the cage.

NOTE: Information adapted from the Decoding Strategies for Literacy Development manual published by Reading Horizons and is used by permission.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Teaching Reading "Fundamentals" to Older, Struggling Readers

My colleague gave a presentation recently about the importance of not neglecting to teach the fundamentals of reading to older, struggling readers who need it, even though you may fear that going back to the basics would turn these older learners off. Going back to the basics, including instruction in such skills as phonics, when teaching older, struggling readers is important in order to locate and fill the gaps in these students' reading skills. Of course, it is crucial to match your reading instruction to these specific students' needs. It is also important to convey to these older, struggling learners why you are going back to the basics so they can see the purpose of doing so. My colleague (previously mentioned) suggested one effective way to do this is by sharing an excerpt from Randy Pausch's book, The Last Lecture, that relates the importance of going back to the basics--learning fundamentals. I've included her reference to Pausch's experience here:

Randy Pausch's experience on the importance of fundamentals

Randy Pausch is the professor who last fall gave the “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon and has a book published with the same title. He recently passed away from pancreatic cancer. He loved football, but he did not start with much enthusiasm since he was a “naturally wimpy," small kid. He was very intimidated by his hulking, six-foot-four coach, but he said he learned some of his greatest lessons from that man. This is an excerpt from his lecture:
“On the first day of practice, we were all scared to death. Plus he (the coach) hadn’t
brought along any footballs. One kid finally spoke up for all of us. ‘Excuse me, Coach. There are no footballs.’

And Coach Graham responded, ‘We don’t need any footballs.’

There was silence, while we thought about that…

‘How many men are on the football field at a time?’ he asked us.

Eleven on a team, we answered. So that makes twenty-two.

‘And how many people are touching the football at any given time?’ One of them, we said.

‘Right!’ he said. ‘So we are going to work on what those other twenty-one guys are doing.’

Fundamentals. That was a great gift Coach Graham gave us. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. As a college professor, I’ve seen this as one lesson so many kids ignore, always to their detriment: You’ve got to get the fundamentals down, because otherwise the fancy stuff is not going to work.”
(Pausch, Randy. 2008. The Last Lecture (pp. 35-36). New York: Hyperion.)

See also the following posts about teaching "fundamentals":

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"If You Had $100 Billion to Give Away, How Would You Spend It?" - Literacy Video Clip

I was introduced to a website today that I thought was worth sharing: The website shows short video clips of experts in a variety of fields sharing "ideas" by responding to a question posed to them. Some of the video clips have transcripts provided as well. You can peruse by topics, or you can conduct a keyword search for a topic or person of interest. Also, viewers can post responses and reactions to the experts' views.
I clicked on the "philanthropy" topic and then did a keyword search for "literacy" and came across a video clip I really enjoyed. This particular video clip shows Jim Barksdale, former president and CEO of Netscape, responding to the question, "If you had $100 billion to give away, how would you spend it?" His response regarding the idea of using money to solve problems of the world (and how he would spend the money) is insightful, especially in light of the fact mentioned in his biography that he donated $100 million to fund literacy efforts for individuals in his home state of Mississippi. View the literacy video clip.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Using Interim Tests Effectively in an ESL Curriculum

I was reading an article in this month's edition of Phi Delta Kappan: The Journal for Education and came across an interesting article entitled "Interim Assessments: A User's Guide." I am currently in the process of writing several interim tests as part of the ESL curriculum for the reading software program I am working on, so I took particular interest in this subject.
The author of the article, Kim Marshall, mentions ten guidelines to consider when using interim tests, and I thought they were worthy of mentioning. Again, this information is attributed to Kim Marshall, not myself.
10 Guidelines to help schools exploit the full potential of interim assessments (according to Kim Marshall):
1) Build understanding and trust.
2) Clarify learning outcomes.
3) Set a multi-year target and annual SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, Time-bound).
4) Get good interim assessments.
5) Schedule assessments and time for immediate follow-up.
6) Involve teachers in making sense of the assessments.
7) Display data effectively.
8) Hold candid data meetings and planning for action.
9) Involve students in the process.
10) Follow up relentlessly.
For more information, see the full-length article entitled "Interim Assessments: A User's Guide" in the September, 2008 issue of Phi Delta Kappan: The Journal for Education, pp. 64-68.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ESOL Teacher Resources - Minimal Pairs for ESOL Students' Pronunciation (Part 1)

Minimal pairs are two words that are similar in sound but have one phonemic difference between them. Minimal Pairs exercises are used to help students practice and improve their pronunciation of distinct sounds in English. Because some English phonemes are difficult to hear and pronounce, minimal pairs exercises can be used to provide extra practice with particularly difficult phonemes. This practice is helpful for ESOL students because they are able to concentrate their pronunciation efforts on areas of difficulty.
There are different ways that minimal pairs exercises may be used. Teachers may choose to review minimal pairs with their students as a whole class. Other teachers may choose to have their students work with a partner and “quiz” each other by having one student read one of the words in the minimal pair and having the partner point to the word that he/she hears pronounced. Caution should be taken, however, to ensure that students are not required to decode words that are beyond their skill level. Therefore, it may be best to use Minimal Pairs exercises initially in a teacher-guided format where you, the teacher, read the words on the list aloud and your students listen for the differences. You can also use these lists as a guide to create Minimal Pairs exercises that contain words your students can decode.
If you would like to use the Minimal Pairs exercises as a vocabulary development exercise simultaneously, you can create pictures that represent the words in each Minimal Pair to teach or reinforce the meaning of vocabulary while practicing the pronunciation of the words. Students can also put words in meaningful context sentences.

Following are a few example lists of minimal pairs. (See also Part 2 for minimal pairs practice with vowel sounds in English, and Part 3 for minimal pairs practice with murmur diphthongs and special vowel sounds.)

Contrast the following sounds:
/b/ and /d/ /b/ and /p/ /p/ and /f/ /t/ and /d/ /l/ and /r/ /g/ and /k/ /y/ and/j/
bad dad
bean dean
bark dark
bib bid
beep deep
bunk- dunk
big dig
bump- dump
cub cud
robe road
rib rid
brag drag
sob sod
brain- drain
web wed
bribe bride
bait date
stub stud
bay day
buck duck
rib rip
mob mop
gab gap
lab lap
big pig
bet pet
sub sup
but putt
pan fan
past fast
pat fat
paint- faint
pig fig
gulp gulf
beep beef
cheap- chief
leap leaf
cop cough
pace face
copy coffee
pact fact
pale fail
pile file
bat bad
ate aid
fat fad
fate fade
hat had
set said
pat pad
knot nod
pot pod
hurt- heard
ten den
heart- hard
tip dip
tent dent
coat code
lock rock
liver- river
lake rake
light- right
fly fry
blue brew
glass- grass
flea free
flute fruit
long- wrong
got cot
clog clock
grab crab
tugged- tucked
glad clad
ghost coast
bag back
gripped- crypt
bug buck
grew crew
lag lack
haggle hackle
peg peck
rig rick
tug tuck
yam jam
yard- jarred
yet jet
use juice
year jeer
yacht jot
yoke joke
yak Jack
yes Jess
yell gel
/sh/ and/ch/ /s/ and /sh/ /b/ and /v/ /r/ and /w/ /v/ and /w/ /v/ and /f/ /s/ and /th/
bash batch
she’s cheese
hash hatch
hush hutch
lash latch
mash- match
marsh- march
mush much
mass mash
crust- crushed
sake shake
fist fished
same- shame
rust rushed
save shave
sack shack
seat sheet
cell shell
sip ship
sock shock
plus plush
said shed
self shelf
sigh shy
sell shell
base- vase
bend- vend
bent- vent
best vest
boat vote
bail veil
bow vow
berry- very
ray way
crest- quest
rent- went
raise- ways
rate wait
rich- witch
rave- wave
rail wail
raid- wade
rage- wage
rest west
raced- waist
vet wet
vow wow
vest west
viper- wiper
vent went
vary- wary
vend- wend
vine wine
Vic wick
verse- worse
vat fat
have- half
vast fast
view few
vest fest
veil fail
save safe
vine fine
veal feel
leave- leaf
strive- strife
lived lift

mass- math
tense- tenth
moss moth
force forth
pass path
sigh thigh
seam- theme
gross- growth
sin thin
mouse- mouth
face faith
saw thaw
sank thank
worse- worth
sink think
some- thumb
sick thick

Note: Information adapted from the Decoding Strategies for Literacy Development manual published by Reading Horizons.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ESL Webinars - "Developing Fluent Readers" by Neil J. Anderson

Developing reading fluency is currently receiving a lot of attention. Dr. Neil Anderson of Brigham Young University just presented an excellent ESL webinar for teachers and parents on the topic on August 14, 2008. Listen to his  his webinar presentation and view his powerpoint, as well as download a copy of his hand-out on reading fluency.

For a list of other informative webinars, click here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sight Words Vocabulary List

Sight words are words that should be easily recognized by sight because either: 1) they are not decodable, so they must be memorized; or 2) they appear so often in reading that students should not have to stop to decode them. The latter is of particular importance because if students can easily recognize the most common words in a language, they will have fewer words to decode. Overall, memorizing sight word vocabulary helps improve fluency.
There are several different sight word vocabulary lists that could be taught. The following list* was generated by averaging the frequency of words found on a few different popular high frequency word lists, including Dolch's list, Frye's list, and Paul Nation's list. Some high frequency words that are decodable were removed.(For ideas on how to teach sight words, visit my post entitled, "Ideas for Teaching Sight Words".)

List 1
List 2
List 3
List 4
List 5
List 6
List 7
List 8
List 9
List 10

List 11
List 12
List 13

(*This list is published in the Decoding Strategies for Literacy Development manual produced by Reading Horizons and is used with permission.)