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The difficult I’ll do right away; the impossible may take me a little longer.

I encounter many obstacles in my journey as a first grade teacher. One of the biggest is the variety of ages in the classroom and the many completely different levels the kids are on. Somehow, I’ve got to make it interesting for them all – I have to be able to capture the attention of students ranging from five to twelve years…which is a challenge to say the least.

One of our biggest problems is reading. The kids all learn to read with the Ladybird Peter and Jane readers, but that is only sight-reading. Phonetic reading is an entirely different subject – learning to hear and recognize sounds and blend them together – and one most of them struggle with. There was a solution to this problem, because I often taught phonetics while teaching ESL in my home country, and had built up something of a program.

There was one draw back; It required a board.

I am a board type of teacher, but school policy here does not allow the use of a board and I have to find ways to teach without it. Another limitation is due to expensive internet I am not able to watch or download videos or attend online webbinars and seminars. To add to that, ink is expensive here, so printing out a host of extra materials is out of the question. Since I have come to this school, I have not printed a single thing.

My biggest obstacle is that I am a volunteer with no outside support. The school provides for my room and board, and anything extra comes from the funds I saved up before coming here. But they are limited and I have to be very stingy, as there is no way for me to obtain more while living here.

Yes, folks, I had really hit a brick wall: an abyss, a dead-end, an impossible situation!

Or had I?

One of the most amazing things God has gifted humanity with is a brain and the ability to come up things that no other creature on earth would be able to even think of. Imagination is something so beautiful and so wonderful – a real life-saver. I prayed, I thought, and researched a bit, and I found my way out. And here is how I did it:
No fancy store-bought materials, no colorful downloaded resources – just paper, scotch, glue, and colored markers.

To make it easier for the kids, I color coded all the words we are meant to read. Green is for consonants, purple is for vowels we hear, and yellow is for silent vowels.

Then I went through the one and only phonic reader and wrote out all the words the kids need to read. At the moment, we are working hard on recognizing short and long vowels. I cut up lots and lots of papers and wrote down word after word after word, being sure to change markers.


After this, I cut some more paper and prepared some envelopes, all with the vowel sounds.

To finish it up, I taped four A4 papers together and glued the envelopes to it, so I had them all nicely together in one place.

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Learning to read can be boring, but I have turned it into a game.

Before we start, we go over the rules of the word. For example, when we were learning about long vowel e, we discussed the different ways to make it: put e and a together, e is talking, a is silent. Another way is to put e and e together, one speaks, the other listens. I pull out some of the words and we discuss what the green letters are, how the purple one talks and the yellow one doesn’t.

Once the children get the point, I say we are going to play. It’s a magic word. The lesson stops being a drag and becomes something everyone wants to participate in. I get out my stack of words and place them nicely in front of me. My students take turns choosing a paper, reading the word and deciding which envelope it goes into. If they struggle, we pause and break down the word, remembering the rules we just learned. After we have done this for about fifteen minutes I pull out the reader and have the kids read some of the same words, but this time without the color code.

Due to a setup that I am not allowed to change, it’s a bit of a juggle to get the poster with the envelopes out. I can only stick it to the wall during the reading lesson then I must take it off. It does create a bit of chaos while I’m pulling everything out, but the kids are always very helpful, wanting to help stick and unstick the letters. They love the reading game so much and always beg for it to be longer.

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But that is not the highlight of the lesson.

When the children have mastered a new phonics rules, we get to glue a little wagon on our Phonics Train.

What is the Phonics Train?

I shall be sure to write about it in next week’s post. So stayed tuned.

As a teacher, my goal is to make children love learning. Reading is not supposed to be a drag; reading is supposed to be an adventure. Above all else, a child must learn to read, for that is the basis of all other schooling. Even in arithmetic, you need to be able to read: how else will you solve word problems, or know what the textbook is telling you to do?

Of course it’s not all fun and games. We have reading drills (which the kids honestly hate) and reading tests (which they only love if they get 100 percent), but because I include some fun into it, the children are truly beginning to thrive. We’ve progressed by leaps and bounds. Consonant blends are next, meaning I will spend another Saturday cutting and writing a new set of words and making new posters and envelopes. I work by hand, with just paper and marker, glue and scotch. They are my little helpers, my teaching aids, the only thing I really have to work with; and with their help I’ve been able to give the kids this adventure.

This is the twenty-first century: we are used to clicking a button and having the world at our feet. Even as an ESL teacher, I browsed and downloaded and printed. Now I can’t afford that, but that doesn’t mean I am stuck. When we lose modern inventions, we discover our imagination is so much greater than we thought. We are able to come up with things we probably would have never come up with before.

I am in no way downplaying modern inventions; I would love to have access to so many of those resources. I am simply saying that no matter what the roadblock is, there is a way out of it. If you think you are stuck with an impossible situation, think again. There is a way out. You just have to learn to be flexible.

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Do you have any experiences where it felt like a dead-end but you found a way out? Feel free to write about it in the comment section. I’d love to hear abput how you invented a way out of your problem.

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