Phonetics Spelling

Can you spell out words using the phonetic sounds? It’s a great skill to have, one that I’ve finally mastered after a few years teaching phonetics. It’s not that difficult, and once you know the symbols and sounds you’ll be able to teach your students to as well. They’ll also be impressed by your dazzling skills and vote you for ESL teacher of the year.


Alien sounds…how to do spell ‘I’m a weird green alien?’ in phonetics? Photo by TRP

As usual, this activity is for those students who know the sounds and symbols, so if they don’t know check out this blog on how to teach them phonetics.

I normally do this straight after teaching these alien sounds and symbols, just to check they have understood them, and to demonstrate the usefulness of learning phonetics.

Here’s how you do phonetics spelling.

  • Get yourself a phonetic chart by the side of your board, or alternatively use this one on the web.
  • Pick a word that they have recently learnt.
  • Tap your pen on the chart, or on the board, and just spell out the word you want, but without making the noise. This forces them to work out the words, spelling, and pronunciation in their head.
  • Make sure they hold their hand up before answering, giving the whole class plenty of time to register the word in their brain, otherwise the slower ones will never get it. There’s always a couple of smarty pants in the class.
  • Repeat with several words you’ve taught until they give you a dazed look or ask you what the time is.

This can be used as a recap of words you’ve just taught, or even to pre-teach words before a reading or a listening, or even to demonstrate the correct pronunciation of a word after hearing them balls it up in a speaking activity.

Interactive activities

  • Once you’ve provided each student with a phonetic chart, they can spell words out to each other. This is a lot trickier, so you have to go around the room monitoring properly, being available for them to ask you certain sounds.
  • You can either get students to spell words to each other, or say a word so their partner spells it in phonetics.
  • Getting a couple of students up in front of the class to spell out words too on the interactive board is a great activity. You could even do like a pictionary style game where they have to guess the word, but instead of drawing they spell the word out on the phonetic chart (can you tell I just made that up?)

These are great ways to enforce the sounds and symbols and apply them to memory. I find that doing this once a lesson each week greatly improves their knowledge and ability to identify and produce the correct sounds.

Why not give it a bash? You could even link it somehow to one of my phonetic songs sheets, by pre-teaching words from the songs, or practising the pronunciation afterwards.

Have you tried this before? Let me know if you give it a go.

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