Published on:
April 9, 2019

by: Will Perrins

5 Activities your Kindergarten ESL Students will Love!

Lauren Wilcox has a degree in English from the University of Portsmouth, and is teaching at a language centre as part of the 2017 Teach China Graduate Program. Lauren’s been in China for over a year, and over the coming weeks she’ll be sharing some of her China experiences to date, both at school and on her travels.

Check out her personal blog here, and follow her adventures on Instagram @theblondeoverseas

I never thought I would say it, but I LOVE teaching kinders! When I was training to be an ESL teacher, I also swayed more towards teaching adults as I assumed you could get more of a conversation going (this isn’t true!) However, after teaching a range of classes throughout the past 14 months, I have concluded kinders might be the best. More specifically, teaching them phonics.

Chinse phonics and English phonics could not be more different. When I first started teaching, I couldn’t understand how all of my children were putting ‘uh’ on the end of each sound, or turning short sounds into long sounds. Then, I had my first Chinese lesson and it all fell into place. We started with phonics and it answered all of my questions. In Chinese lots of phonics have an ‘aw’ or ‘uh’ sound on the end, whereas in English – they don’t.

From there, I’ve grown with my students and helped them learn English phonics as best I can, so they find reading and spelling easier. Here are my top 5 phonics activities for kindergarteners…

1. Whisper Whisper

Whisper the letter sound to half of your students class and the letter name to the other half. Students have to walk around the room whispering their specific letter sound / letter name. Once they’ve found their partner, they come up to you, tell you what they are and then give them a different sound / name. This is a great warmer activity to put your students into pairs too, without making it seem too obvious!

2. Boat Race

Students sit in two lines, facing each other, with the teacher standing behind one of the lines. The teacher holds up a letter or grapheme, and the students facing the teacher tell their partner what it is, the students with their back to the teacher write what they think it is on a mini whiteboard, hold it up and say. (A grapheme is a letter or a number of letters that represent a sound (phoneme) in a word.)

3. Grapheme Race

Get your students in two lines, on behind each other, facing the white board. Write up the target words for that lesson, on the board. One at a time, students need to underline the grapheme / phonic and say the sound it makes, until all the words have been underlined and sounded out!

4. Go Fish!

Attach a paper clip to some string and lay out a pile of magnetic letters. Students are in small teams and take turns to ‘fish’ a letter out of the pile. The student who did the ‘fishing’ says the sound and the other students race to shout a word matching the sound. The first student to say correctly, wins the letter. If your students are able too, get them to count how many magnetic letters they won at the end and award stickers or points for the winners.

This game is great for letter and sound recognition! I find quite often with my students, they’re great at sounding words out and creating nonsense words, but they struggle to recognise the letters.  You could also adapt this game so students also have to write the word that matches the letter. This would help develop spelling, handwriting and critical thinking skills in the classroom.

5. Grapheme Bug

This one is a favourite with my phonic classes. Print out pictures of bugs and stick the target grapheme on their backs. For example ‘a_e’ ‘o_e’ ‘a’ ‘e’. Then print out (or get your students to make) mini flashcards with a drawing and the word, using these sounds. Put them face down in the middle. Students take turns turning a card over (don’t show anyone!) and say the word on the card.

The other students in the group race to put their hand on the correct sound on the backs of the bugs and say the sound too. The winner both puts their hand on the correct bug and says the sound. Much like Go Fish, the winner keeps the card, and count them up at the end to find the winner of each team.

This activity helps letter and sound recognition, listening, critical thinking and letter practice.

I love using these activities in my classrooms, and they’re all really easy to prepare for – hopefully they’ll give you some inspiration for your own classes.

Learn more about the 2019 Teach China Graduate Program, and start your China adventure!


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