Teaching Online: Tips for Pronunciation Help in Class
I am Teacher Suzanne, a third-contract Qkids teacher and an online English tutor and teacher for all ages. Though I LOVE teaching pronunciation class, it’s rare that pronunciation is taken out of a speaking class and given its own individual class. Because of that, I am always building tips and tricks for ‘quick and dirty’ pronunciation corrections for on the fly in class. Here are some pronunciation ideas and strategies that I use regularly in Qkids classes.
Tips for Pronunciation Help in Class
First, children learn their first language ‘automatically’ from the native speakers around them by listening and repeating words and phrases over and over. This natural language acquisition is universal. Pronunciation is similar. Parents help their child’s pronunciation with continuous correction until the words sound right. The Qkids platform is rich with built-in and gamified ‘drills’ that help children to acquire the English language in terms of vocabulary, sentence structure, and grammar. But what about pronunciation? How can teachers best deal with pronunciation during a Qkids lesson? Here are a few tips that work for me.
Vowel sounds in words like ‘make’, ‘like’, and ‘ride’ can sometimes be challenging. The kids need to get those cheek muscles in play and smiling is a great way to do it. Smiling corrects a lot of vowel sounds. I often say and model “make a big smile and say the word” to the students to correct their vowels. As Qkids teachers, we are expected to do a lot of smiling in class to create a happy positive experience for the children. But smiling has more value than creating a positive class vibe. Smiling is heart-warming and contagious, but it also helps correct the pronunciation of certain English vowels.
Some people are self-conscious about singing in front of others. I’m not. Ok, truth be told, I did have a previous career as a singer for children, so singing to kids comes very naturally to me. But this tip is not about a good singing voice - it’s about the combination of short and long sounds that make up the rhythm of English. Exaggerating the natural rhythm of English by singing or chanting lesson phrases brings the students closer to the ‘natural’ sound of the language - and that is the pronunciation goal in class. That playground taunt that we associate with “na-na na-na boo-boo” works fabulously with a question like “What is Koby doing?”. I find children can repeat longer sets of words when they are built into a simple melody or rhythmic chant. Borrowing very short melodic phrases from kids' songs like Happy birthday or Old MacDonald or Frere Jacques are great to work on English rhythm and grab students' attention if they drift. Often, I get a perfect choir response in the same tune/rhythm I used! That’s magic.
Break it down!
We all know that many English words do not look like they sound. There’s the whole group of “ough” words to begin with that just need to be memorized, but there are also words like ‘vacuum’. When students are struggling with pronouncing such words, I will type them on the screen with letters and sounds that I think they can more immediately connect to. For example, I might write vac-yoom for vacuum. Similarly, students get confused with the pronunciation of ‘read' in present tense vs past tense. For the past tense, I may write “red” on the screen for the past tense pronunciation. I won't belabor it - I don’t want to encourage misspelling words - but sometimes a quick alternate spelling of a difficult sound helps them get the pronunciation right. Finally, I will break down compound words into their separate words (like snow-man) or make a word like ‘carpet’ easier by typing ‘car-pet’ for the students.
Hand signals for syllable stress
My last pronunciation strategy helps with syllable stress. Starting from a closed fist position, I quickly open my five fingers toward the students (kind of like a high five coming at them) on the stressed syllable of a word (as I say it), raising the volume on the stressed syllable of the word as well. I use this technique for kids snd adults alike when I am working on pronunciation. It’s a strong visual that makes the syllable stress very clear to the learners. Sometimes they mimic me and use their hand in the same way as they practice the word and that’s fantastic to help them with pronunciation.
Sometimes pronunciation in English speaking classes gets short shrift because there are so many other language goals in a lesson. And not every student needs pronunciation correction. It’s best to have some quick strategies at the ready to improve individual English sounds, the stress in words, and the natural rhythm of the language. I hope some of these tips are helpful in your class.
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