Designing silent letters activities without doing away with the drills is quite a challenge, especially when rote practice is the traditional way to go about mastering reading words with silent letters. However, why let students suffer during daily oral drills that include words they may never have heard? The way to approach teaching silent letter words is to help students understand that this knowledge is meaningful to their everyday survival.
First, find out where your students hang out after school. Do they play sports? If so, come up with a list of sports-related words that contain silent letters and encourage them to be "cool" by using these terms with friends. Do they accompany their mothers to the grocery? Present a list of grocery items with silent letters, especially the names of vegetables, spices, sauces, and canned goods. Ask the parents to encourage their children to name the grocery items as they hand them to the cashier. Make words with silent letters come alive in their everyday routines so the kids get fulfillment and affirmation on their mastery of these words.
An activity that you can do in the classroom for mastery purposes is the Word Puzzle challenge. The teacher dictates a set of words with silent letters. For instance, the set of words includes bright and aesthetics. As the students listen to their teacher, they identify what letters are silent in each word. For the first word bright, gh are the silent letters; they write gh on their paper. Proceeding to the next word aesthetics, they also are to write down a on their paper. The list of words may include as many as five words.
Once all the words are given, and all the silent letters are determined, the students analyze their list to what word they can form out of the letters that they listed (gh and a). With gh and a, they may come up with the word hag, which is, for instance, the name of the next station where they will go to decode another set of words, and find another clue to the station. The first team to arrive at the final station wins the Word Puzzle challenge.
A loud and highly competitive game is the silent letters face-off. Divide the class into groups for this activity. The objective of the game is to shout out words with silent letters depending on the teacher's instructions. For instance, if the teacher asks for words with silent gh, each group alternately shouts a word with silent gh. The first group to run out of words loses, giving the point to the other group. The teacher then gives another silent letter category, and the group comes up with their next set of words. This is a game of quick thinking and strategy and something which the students generally enjoy and are extremely competitive in.
If after weighing the pros and cons, you deem it important to go back to the oral drills, make sure to do this after your fun silent letters activities so that learning is not dampened by the pressure oral drills usually bring about. Tweak your oral drills to veer away from the usual stand-and-recite-these-words procedure. You can have pronunciation relays, pronunciation quiz bees, and reader's theaters using a fun piece with silent letters to disguise your drills with elements of fun and excitement.
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