Fun With Phonics
I remember interviewing for a primary level teaching position about 20 years ago. The principal told me she noticed how I answered all ELA questions with a liter-ary focus. (as opposed to a liter-acy focus). I must admit, I am still more of a literary person. I love themes and big ideas – I always have. But, a student’s ability to read and communicate those big ideas relies on those literacy skills. For 2 years (about 10 years ago now) I was lucky enough to teach first grade. What an eye-opening experience that was! Talk about a crash course in teaching literacy!
Fortunately, we had a thorough reading program providing direct instruction in every aspect of literacy. Unfortunately, if taught the way it was designed, not only would you be teaching the program 6 hours a day, but your students would also be fast asleep. Arts to the rescue! Truth be told, what I did then was not really arts integration. Rather, it was arts enhancement. So, I am challenging myself to generate some theatre and dance arts integration. This way I can teach aspects of literacy like phonemic awareness and phonics skills. If I come up with any good ideas, I’ll be sure to share them!
One game I liked to play with my students was the “sit down, stand up” game with the song “My Bonnie.” The initial sound /b/ is repeated many times in the song. Every time that sound is sung, you must change your position. For example, if you stand for the start of the game as soon as you sing the word “Bonnie” you must sit.
My Bonnie (sit). Lies over the ocean
My Bonnie (stand). Lies over the sea
My Bonnie (sit). Lies over the ocean
Oh bring (stand) back (sit) my Bonnie (stand) to me.
Get the idea?
When you start repeating “bring back” your thigh muscles get a good workout! If you do the activity along with your students (which I highly recommend), you might want to sit on a tall stool! It’s a wonderful warm-up for any work. Plus, it’s a great way to loosen everyone up. The silly quotient is high on this one!
There are lots of great tongue twisters out there to help students warm up their mouths before a speaking theatre activity. But, they are also great examples of alliteration or repetition of the initial consonant. Even though they are not sung, they can be used in a similar fashion as the “My Bonnie” activity. If you are focusing on space in dance and specifically shape and level, every time you say the targeted initial sound, the students must change shape and/or level (low to middle to high back to middle and then low rather than sit and stand).
If the targeted sound has a sharp sound or is represented by a letter with straight lines like /t/ the students might make a shape with sharp angles or straight lines but if the letter can have a continuous smooth sound or is represented by letters made with curved lines like /s/ (s and c), the students could make curved shapes.
Encourage the students to find different ways to make angled or curved shapes and draw student attention to different representations of those shapes to focus on the arts objective. During such an activity you can clearly see which of your students can easily identify that initial sound as well as those who can find multiple ways to represent different kinds of shapes at various levels.
Have fun with these theatre/dance activities (“My Bonnie” is fun with adults as well as children) and stay tuned for more to come!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.