When I first started teaching literacy for lower secondary Arabic speakers, one of my biggest challenges was lesson planning. Literacy learners usually work at a slower pace but lower secondary students are different. They tend to be impatient and get bored easily, so lessons benefit from being fast paced. While games can be good, it is really important lessons are more than a series of unrelated games. With this in mind, I sought to develop a structure that I could keep coming back to when planning lessons which would motivate the students and enhance their learning.
I needed an approach that took students on a journey from discovery to play and finally assessment with a planned ‘creation’ stage, during which I could monitor students and determine if they had grasped the phonics or the skills I was teaching them.
Moving with the pace of the students is crucial to successful learning, and continuous assessment enables this to be done successfully. With higher levels, there may be more flexibility when deciding how much more time to spend on a language point 20% of the class have not yet acquired. With literacy learners, it is impractical to move on if 20% of the students are having problems. It may result in a tremendous decrease in the motivation of students who have not acquired the language, affecting their overall performance.
Lower secondary literacy learners struggle with self-confidence, especially at an age where their identities are still undergoing sensitive changes. They constantly have to remind themselves that they are capable of successful learning, and we as teachers can help them with this. Knowing what to expect at each stage of the lesson can go a long way in making their learning environment feel safe and familiar.
Variety is important but so are routines, so a predictable structure makes things manageable for both teachers and students. Once students are used to the teacher’s demonstration techniques, they can focus their attention on the material being taught. This in turn leads to more autonomous learning, although it does require learner training and takes time.
You will find that some activities do not work the first time round. Keep coming back to the complex activities, rethinking instructions and materials to ensure clarity. You will see that the students gradually learn how to use the activity to enhance their learning.
Constant recycling of the language, both within each lesson, and in between lessons is important. With phonics, this is quite practical as each lesson builds on the last, with a different set of phonics being introduced each time. The activities I suggest below help literacy learners acquire self-study skills, which is an area they may lack confidence in.
To understand how this plays out in a lesson, below is an example of a lesson plan for literacy learners, focusing on the vowel sounds a and i. Note that at this stage, students have already learned at least some of the easier consonant sounds, like s, t, p, etc.
Review: Write the consonant sounds already taught in previous lessons on the board in large letters. Ask students to identify them as a whole class.
Pairs of students sit facing each other. Give Student A a card with words on it, and give Student B paper and a pencil. A is not allowed to show B her / his words. A reads them out loud to B, who listens and writes them down. When they have finished, swap roles with different words. To check, have students share their lists and tick off the correct ones.
This kind of activity will give the teacher time to monitor and determine whether students have acquired the sounds or not. From here, the teacher can decide whether more time needs to be spent on the same sounds in the next lesson, or if students are ready to move on.
You will notice in the lesson that students move back and forth from discovery to play, until they have enough for ‘creation’ using multiple skills. i.e. reading, recognizing, listening, etc. This gives them what they need to achieve lesson aims in a structured manner, builds their confidence and helps them with those all-important study skills. My students enjoy these activities, I hope yours will too.