Phonics in ESL?

Hello colleagues, We've had some fairly robust discussions in our community about the need for phonics instruction for learners who come to us with limited formal schooling. I came across this interesting Teaching Channel video in which a high school teacher uses a split dictation activity to teach phonics.

The text used in this video seems to have been selected based on the specific phonics elements the students are learning. What are your thoughts about selecting materials based on phonics elements? Pros and cons? Do you think some students--perhaps-- benefit more than others?

For those who might be interested, previous discussions that have dealt with teaching phonics can be found at the following links. You'll find links to great resources, too.

In addition, LINCS offers an excellent free online course on Teaching Emergent Readers, which you can find in the Learning Portal at

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


Susan, in my opinion, phonics should be taught from the beginning, "weaving" it into other lessons. Most of us do not realize that, for adult English learners, English is very difficult to pronounce, and may be the most difficult language in the world to pronounce!!! I have been teaching phonics for more than 25 years and have seen the results. For one thing, I tell my students: When you improve your pronunciation of English - you also =

1. speak better
2. understand better
3. read better
4. feel better!

I have found it useful to focus on the most difficult sounds first, such as the G/J, short i, Th.., V, short U, etc. And a review of the alphabet and the numbers offers a good introduction to English pronunciation.

Most importantly I use a lot of humor.

Pumarosa is very useful in teaching pronunciation, and, although it is designed for Spanish speakers, other students can also benefit.



Susan, thanks for sharing the excellent example of good instruction. We've talked about dictation in these discussions recently, and that is an innovative way to do it.

What do others here think about the pacing and level of language used by the instructor? He appeared to be working with more beginning learners than his fast instructions could reach. I know we live at high speed. I also know that timing students is essential in completing activities. It keeps them focused and alert. However, I wonder if our speech as instructors also has to be high speed. Hmmmm... Leecy

Hi Paul, Leecy and all, In this video, English learners are engaged in a partner dictation activity focused on specific elements of phonics, in this case the consonant blends GR and GL. Here are  the sentences the students  are dictating:

  1. Glare at the glass that glows grey.
  2. The gloomy group was glad to grab groovy gloves.
  3. Glance at the grand and glossy green grapes that glisten.
  4. Glen grabs a glob of grub from the grill.

In my own practice, I use partner dictation frequently and in a variety of ways. However, I always use authentic language and language that students are already familiar with.

I'd be interested to hear what members think about using language such as these sentences that are focused on a specific element of phonics.  In your view, what might be the pros and cons?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Susan and group members, I begin with the alphabet - and focus on  G/J, L, R, and V. Then lessons on the numbers, focusing on short i, Th and the endings ...een....and....y. Then I review the vowels and the silent e rule plus words that begin with S followed by a consonant- Spanish speakers need to  practice NOT putting an e in front. .  

The practical application of these lessons is found in learning to spell, count and to greet people.

Then I introduce my tongue twisters, and tell everybody how I learned how to roll my RRRs and to say the word Refrigerador in Spanish.

I encourage people to learn the phrase - Please speak slowly! 

Dividing words into syllables is also an important exercise.

Learning pronunciation goes through stages, and it is necessary to explain that only with practice can a student learn how to pronounce English well. I am not a fan of accent reduction, and actually wish I spoke English like Antonio Banderas.

My lessons are popular and can be found on and on 20 YouTube videos which are also on my page



Susan, I just want to add one more comment - I write my own texts and all the students receive copies to own. The first texts include a list of bilingual vocabulary words, with the English word written twice, the first time as it is spelled and the second time as it would be pronounced by a Spanish speaker. For example, Good (gud) bueno/a, afternoon (aftiernoon) tarde....In this way the very first lessons all my students study focus on a basic vocabulary along with the pronunciation, which is then reviewed as a whole in lesson 15 of, which groups letters and combinations into "families". All in all this level in my course usually lasts a month or less.