Use Word Sorts To Teach Language Patterns
An example of a pronunciation pattern word sort is this one that I made for a newcomer ESL class a couple of years ago. (click here for downloadable pdf)
I put images on the cards because my newcomer ELL students were always curious about word meaning and demanded to know what the words meant as well as how they were pronounced. I didn’t want to stifle this yearning for meaning but vocabulary comprehension wasn’t the purpose of this word sort, so I purposefully chose words that were easily defined by an image so that we wouldn’t have to spend too much time on that tangent. The purpose of this word sort was for students to create a rule for the pronunciation of the letter “C” in text.
Students should sort the words according to how the “C” is pronounced: hard or soft. With some teacher facilitation, they should see that the “C” is pronounced as a hard /k/ sound when it is in front of an “A”, an “O”, a “U”, or any consonant. They should see that the “C” is pronounced as a soft /s/ sound when it comes in front of an “E”, “I”, or “Y”. Notice that the teacher is not just telling the students what the rule is - the students are determining the rule on their own (with teacher guidance and support, of course). This will make the rule much more meaningful for them in the long run.
Other Pattern Sort Ideas
Spelling patterns that could be explored through a sort are the combinations of letters that make the long “E” sound, when to double consonants in a word, or when to use the “silent -e” at the end of a word to make a vowel long.
A grammatical pattern that works well in a sort is the rule for when to use the superlative suffix “-est” vs. the adjective “most.” Why can we say “the happiest woman” but not “the beautifulest woman”? This is a very rule-driven language pattern in English, but most native English-speakers don’t consciously know the rule as part of our explicit knowledge of English grammar. However, we have to teach this rule to English learner students to that they can be in on the secret. Give your students a set of adjectives that would convert to both the “-est” and “most ______” forms. Facilitate discussion with your students as to what seems to be guiding the decision to use “-est” or “most ______”. Help your student determine what the rule is, and then give them time and opportunities to practice recognizing and using the form through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
A language pattern that comes to mind for a sort is having students sort between familiar vs. formal forms. For example, “cause” or “cuz” vs. “because”. ELL students have a very difficult time with learning the different vocabulary involved in informal vs. formal register. Yet this is something that they need to know and understand if they are going to be taken seriously in a formal context. Having students sort these forms could be a good step in showing students how to use both registers separately.
Make Sure You Know Where You Want Your Students to End Up!