Astroboy started his second iteration of zhuyin class this past week, and this one it is me teaching it all the way. I need to document what we’re doing. I realized as I was prepping for week 1 that I already did not remember all the tips and tricks I learned in our summer zhuyin class in regards to teaching. Obviously my brain doesn’t work without a lot of caffeine, which I’m weaning myself off of.
Since I’m the one teaching, I’m trying to add some Montessori-eqsue phonics exercise into the lessons. It’s really the way I’m most comfortable with teaching the children. I’m going to bypass all the theory for now in this post…it’ll make it way too long. I did do a bunch of research again last week on teaching phonics since I’m doing English phonics right now and it helped clarified some things and introduced new questions for me when it comes to teaching zhuyin.
Where we were at in regards to zhuyin
I feel like Astroboy’s zhuyin journey is kind of funky. Even though he only learned his zhuyin through Ciqo Hu and me doing some classic Montessori presentations last year, this year he was able to pick up the zhuyin symbols pretty fast, and pick up the blending pretty fast. Lots of kids can blend, but it’s the way he’s blending. It’s clear that he’s on the younger side when he sounds things out, because he’s very slow and methodical. Yet at the same time, he was able to sound out himself many of the words, even the ending sounds, after 6 weeks of zhuyin class. Because ending sounds are hard for a lot of kids. For me, either it means that the way I taught him to blend worked last year, or zhuyin class 3 days a week made the difference.
Anyways, after 6 weeks, that is where we’re at. Writing-wise, Astroboy can sound things out pretty easy if it’s 2 zhuyin word, he has a harder time with 3 because we didn’t cover all of them. And lastly he has problems with tones. Reading-wise, at the end of our summer class, he was able to read words (2 Chinese characters) well, but got tired easily when he read sentences.
First week of Class
This session we’re going to cover the same textbook, at the rate of 1 chapter per week, same as before. But since it will run for 15 weeks, we should be able to actually cover all 10 chapters.
The first week, ㄅㄆㄇㄉㄧㄠ are officially introduced. This ㄈ is sometimes added by the tutor as well and she also likes to throw in other characters into the mix as they’re shown in the flashcards we use. After the last class, one thing I thought I would try is to introduce the vowels first, then tones, then consonants. Because the hardest part children have is always the tones, which is typically taught with the vowels. Like, ㄠ, ㄠˇ, ㄅㄠˇ. However, this is counter-intuitive when you’re teaching beginning sounds first as well. So I’m not quite clear which way works better.
The first class is really about setting the tone of the class, the routines, the teacher expectations of behaviors such as raising your hand, sitting well, etc. I forgot all about that until the zhuyin tutor showed me again. After all of that is done, the 6 zhuyin characters are introduced.
After some review of the zhuyin, including practicing blending, we sing a welcome song, and then either a short break where they listen to a song that is related to the zhuyin we’re learning this week. For example, chapter one has cats in them, so the kids listened to a song about cats:
Game #1 – Hot/Cold (identifying zhuyin characters)
Of course, the first step in any zhuyin class is to associate the sound with the character. We played a game where 1 child hides a zhuyin flashcard, and the other child has to find it by listening to the hot/cold prompt. So the hider say the sound either louder and louder the closer the finder gets to the hidden card and softer the farther away they are. The kids super loved this game.
Class #2 of first week, we played about 4 games because we had a smaller group of people in class and the games are shorter this way.
Game #2 – Write zhuyin with your body (identifying zhuyin characters)
For this game, each child has to blindly pick one of the 6 zhuyin characters we’re studying. Then he has to write it with his body (namely his behind) while the other child has to guess. I was quite amazed at how kids can guess even the not too easily recognized characters!
Game #3 – Memory match (identifying zhuyin characters)
This game is super simple but it requires children to remember the character from memory. It’s basically the memory match game. I don’t think I need to explain the rules. The only thing is that I ask the children to always say the zhuyin that they flip over.
We played this 3 times!
Game #4 – Beginning and ending sound game
Once a child can identify the symbol, the next step is always to make sure they understand the concept of beginning sounds. This is where zhuyin differs from English, where a letter can be anywhere. If I teach the consonant, it’s always first. If it’s a vowel, it’s always ending sound, unless it’s the 3 special ones: ㄧㄨㄩ. Because of this, I’m not doing the Dwyer system of introducing all sounds first aurally. There’s really no need since part of the reason for that is to be able to identify the sound in any position in an English word.
All I did was to have the child categorize the picture cards against the 6 zhuyin characters we’re learning this week. I didn’t focus just on beginning sounds first this time because Astroboy already knows it. And also because of what I said previously about trying to introduce ending sounds earlier this time around. As I suspected, Astroboy had to think about it just a bit more when the picture card has to be sorted by an ending sound.
Game #5 – Word Building (writing)
Continuing with the picture cards used in Game #4, I had Astroboy pick a zhuyin and all its associated picture cards. For each one of these picture, we moved onto Word Building. I whipped out my zhuyin moveable alphabet boxes and for each picture card, we attempted to spell it with our moveable alphabet. Astroboy got to practice his tones by having to spell and they actually did pretty well. For the tones he couldn’t get, he is finally automatically doing the hand gestures to figure out, and looking at our zhuyin wall chart when he doesn’t know what the symbol is. We use the hand gestures to signal the 5 tones. It adds some physicality which hopefully helps the children remember. The tutor taught me to have the kids sing a zhuyin song at the beginning of each class, following a wall chart, then when they are looking for the symbol they can’t quite remember, they can sing the song while looking at the wall chart to find the symbol.
I was really happy with this game because we’re finally word building! And the zhuyin moveable alphabet coincidentally fit the picture cards just perfectly when it’s a 2 zhuyin spelling. I couldn’t have planned it better. The good thing about using a moveable alphabet is that it’s so much faster than having to wait for Astroboy to painstakingly write everything out. It allows for mistakes. And moving with your hands helps with learning. I’m always surprised to see that even Thumper, at 8, likes moving concrete materials.
After having Astroboy get frustrated with me several times in the summer because I had given him booklets to read, I realized I needed to back track and focus on words and short phrases. I noticed that for the picture cards whose vocabulary he learned in class and through repeated reading, he had sometimes moved onto reading zhuyin as whole word instead of phonics spelling. It made me think that maybe what kids need is repeated practice with reading words so that it’s second nature and they don’t have to sound out to read. This makes it much easier to read phrases when they can read words in it fast. I will have to test out my theory.