Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nonsense Words and Group 2

I have a great class for my school's literacy program, Sunlit. Five delightful, hard-working students, all but one of whom is an ESL student and the fifth of whom still has an accent.

One of the things we're required to do, after going through three lists in the textbook, is a so-called nonsense word list. The idea is that if they can pronounce it in a real word, they should be able to pronounce it even if they've never seen it before. And I can see the point, but my students are still learning English and it's hard enough for them to get the real words let alone being confused by nonsense words. I have my own ways of fixing their problems. When a list is too hard, when one word is confused with another not on the list, I prepare a special list that places the confused words side by side and gives them the chance to pronounce both. That works. Sometimes I make a game of the nonsense word idea by handing them a bag of consonants and one of vowels. They choose two consonants and a vowel, which are written on the board as they sound it out, forming - yes - a nonsense word. But it's THEIR nonsense word. This works.

However. Here I am with one of the official nonsense word lists and tomorrow will be our third day on this and some of them have gone and learned them off by heart, which is not the point of the exercise. Others are still adding a letter to the word - say, an r - that isn't in the word and I have to ask them, gently, just to read what's there. Remember - much of the time it's the accents that are the problem.

Today, the problem with most of them was the nonsense word "shass". They kept saying "shash" or "sash".

So we put down the nonsense word list for a while. I asked them to think of as many words as they could ending in "ss", which they did. Then we had some good old-fashioned tongue-twisters, which a couple of them said they did in language school. There is something hilarious about five students reciting "She sells sea shells by the sea shore" to which I added, "and sits on a see-saw she saw".

By the end of the period they were in tears of laughter - but they got "shass".

Let's hope it lasts till tomorrow, when I will get them to do the tongue-twister before the nonsense list.

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