Teaching Phonics to ESL Students.

What is Phonics?

Phonics refers to the sounds of a language and includes how sounds are pronounced, how syllables or words are stressed, and intonation. If students learn early on what sounds each letter or combination of letters makes, it may help them improve their reading, listening, and speaking skills.

In a nutshell, phonics is the study of how to read and write in an alphabetic language. Students must study the relationship between sounds and letters in order to do so. Starting with individual letter sounds is simple, but things become more complicated when you realize that each vowel has two distinct sounds and that some letters can be combined to create new sounds.

Teaching Phonics.

When talking with other ESL/EFL teachers, phonics tends to be a forgotten subject. Phonics is being taught much less or not at all in conventional ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. As a result, deciding whether or not to utilize phonics with pupils learning English can be tricky.

Though much of English adheres to phonetic norms, the exceptions can appear to be more frequent at times. Do the disadvantages of phonics outweigh the advantages?

Is phonetics a superior technique to teach reading and pronunciation? Or will it do more harm than good to ESL students? If you’re having trouble answering the phonics question, here are some of the benefits and drawbacks of phonics to think about while you answer it for yourself.

Benefits of Phonics.

Like most learning and teaching styles there are pros and cons to phonics. Here are some to consider before teaching.


Students who are learning the English alphabet can benefit from phonics.

When learning English, Vietnamese students face an additional obstacle. The Vietnamese language is a tonal language with six distinct tones. Learning a new alphabet and the sounds that go with it can be tough for a Vietnamese ESL/EFL learner.

Phonics can be quite beneficial to these students. Students learn the sounds that each letter or combination of letters produces, which aids them in reading and pronouncing new words.


It can also help the students in spelling. Breaking down the components of a word into phonetically understandable sounds helps the students become better spellers. The student will recognize the sound as it corresponds to the letters.

Different Words.

Students who utilize phonics are generally better at pronouncing unknown or unfamiliar words. They will attempt the sounds that they have learned in relation to the letters that they see.


In the 15 years, I have been teaching in Vietnam I have seen the difference between those students who use phonics to sound out a word and those that don’t. If nothing else, the confidence attributed to the students who use phonics is much higher than those that don’t.

The Downside of Phonics.


ESL pupils who excel at phonics may develop into so-called false readers. When they encounter a written article, they may be able to read aloud and pronounce new and unfamiliar words with ease.

However, they may have problems with comprehension. They can read what is on the page and because it sounds ok they will be held to have understood what they read. But in reality, while they can pronounce the words correctly they have little understanding of what the word, phrase, or article means.

Extra Work.

You as the teacher must put in a lot of effort when teaching phonics. You must continually name and point out letter patterns in words, assisting your students in recognizing and remembering them. If you teach phonics, it will become a part of every day’s material, as well as each class. You’ll have to show your students the phonic breakdown of every new vocabulary word they acquire until they can do it on their own. And depending on age and skill level this may take from 1 to 2 years.

Your Choice.

For ESL students, phonics provides substantial benefits as well as drawbacks, and each instructor must determine whether or not to utilize it in the classroom. In the end, no single approach will be sufficient to teach your ESL students correct English usage.

The majority of ESL teachers, that I know, believe that a balanced approach is beneficial for their students. It’s up to you how you implement phonics into your classroom, or even if you want to. So, if you want to teach phonics, here we go.

Let’s Teach Phonics.

Teaching phonics to ESL students involves four steps. These can be broken down into, learning the letter sounds, learning to write letters, blending sounds, and segmenting sounds. Twinkl is a great resource and I have used them on numerous occasions.

Step 1:

Learning sounds. Students need to learn the sounds and the letters that match them, both uppercase and lowercase (it’s best to start with uppercase), as well as the sound that can be made by joining two letters together. I would recommend spending more time on similar sounds and letters. The letters ‘d’ and ‘b’ for example, can be hard for ESL students to learn.

Step 2:

Blending sounds. Once the students know the sounds that each letter makes, they need to know how to put these together to read words. So, they see the individual sounds ‘d’ ‘o’ and ‘g’, but they need to put those sounds together to read ‘dog.’ This can be really tricky for some students, and others will learn quicker than others.

Step 3:

Segmenting Sounds. This is the reverse of blending; students must learn to break down the words they hear into their individual sounds. They should hear the word ‘pig’ and break that down into the sound’s ‘p’ ‘ai’ and ‘g’. This is how students learn to spell.

Step 4:

Sight words. These are words that often appear in the English language (think ‘and’, ‘on’ or ‘it’). These are words that students should learn to recognize on sight. Mastering these will significantly speed up the progress of reading.


Source; Twinkl.


You will find a large range of resources online, with Twinkl being but one of many businesses that can help you as a teacher. I have done 2 posts about online teachers’ tools that will help in the classroom. “On-Line Teachers Tools”

And, “The Top 10 Websites for ESL Teachers”

MES English, which you will find in the above list has a comprehensive range of materials that cover phonics. They are one of my go-to’s for English worksheets, but there are many online to choose from.

Why It’s Important to Teach Phonics.

Phonics helps with pronunciation. Have you ever played the game, ship, sheep, or shop and seen the mystified looks on your students’ faces? Unless you have been taught phonics the sounds of these words to many students may sound the same.

The ship, sheep shop game is a listening game where you as the teacher start and you have to say the words, and the students write down what they have heard. It becomes more interesting when it becomes the student’s turn to be the “teacher”

Use words with the same vowel sounds but different consonant clusters.

There is a lot more to the game as you add the “extras”. For example, you may ask “where did you see the ship?” The students may mishear the question and answer, “I saw the ship on the farm”. Great for listening and comprehension.

And can be a lot of fun at the same time.


The purpose of learning English is for the learner to be able to effectively communicate with other people around the world in a meaningful and realistic way.

No matter what level your pupils are at, no matter how advanced or fluent they are, if they pronounce certain essential sounds incorrectly, other English speakers will misunderstand them. And that is where phonetics comes into play and what it is all about.

It is up to you as a teacher if you want to use Phonics as one of the tools in your arsenal of teaching weapons to help your students.

However, there are potential drawbacks as discussed, but in my opinion, it is yet another tool that can be used to help English literacy.

Who Am I?.

My name is Stephen and I have been teaching ESL/EFL for the past 15 years in Vietnam. I have traveled and worked extensively around this wonderful country and find myself still being amazed and frustrated, quite often at the same time.

Vietnamese students are generally hardworking and respectful to the teacher. And most schools are professional in the development of their students. However like anywhere there are always exceptions to the rule.

If you ever consider becoming an English teacher in Vietnam, leave me a message and I will help you achieve your goal.

Any or all links on this site may be affiliate links, and if you purchase something through those links I will make a small commission on them.

There will be no extra cost to you and at times due to my affiliation, you could actually save money.

You can read our full affiliate disclosure here.

Technology Tools for the ESL Classroom | Part 2.

Technology for the ESL Classroom.

In my last post, I wrote about the “Essential Tools of the ESL Classroom” In a nutshell, those are tools that I would find hard to do without. Namely, my “Sony blue tooth speaker” with which I could play any recording loud enough for the class to hear, 30 watts RMS.

And also my trusty Aporo headset that saves my voice and stops me shouting in the public school classrooms of Vietnam. Where it is common to have 50 people in a classroom all talking and never being able to hear the “foreign teacher” another 30mwatt output piece of equipment, and protector of my voice.

And my Samsung phone where I store a lot of my lessons on “Google Drive”. Easy to use and I wouldn’t “cry” if my phone was accidentally dropped or misplaced. Unlike a past iPhone that cost me in excess of $1,500 US$. Not a happy day.

In my last post, I also provided information about class sizes and the types of schools, and problems you might come across.

So if you are interested in looking at that information, click on the link “Essential Tools of the ESL Classroom” above.

My Extra Tech.Tools for the ESL classroom.

This post is going to cover the other tools I have and some of the tools I wish I had. Our tech tools make our job so much easier in the classroom and can make it a better learning experience for the students. As well as making it more fun.

Tech Tools I have and Why?

Lenovo ideapad530s i7. Being able to access the various resources online has become vital no longer can you front up to the classroom and be expected to be taken seriously if you can not provide online resources. Also, with Covid still affecting our daily lives, we need to have the option of providing online teaching.

Here are some of the on-line resources I use.” My Top 10 Websites for ESL Teachers

If you aren’t getting the hours you need, you should look at the service you provide. Good services provided means a happy school and teacher.

The webcam and quality of the image on this computer is exceptional. I have now had this for over 18 months and still run it with 20 tabs open at a time. I have no complaints about the SSD storage and I feel it is as fast as the day I bought it.

The only thing I find disappointing is the battery life, as I have to start thinking about recharging after 4 hours. This may have something to do with the number of programs I run at the same time.

Sony RX100V11 Camera. My camera is used for recording the students in the classroom and playing it back to them so they can learn from interacting with the camera and how they sound and the problems they have when they speak.

Go Pro Hero 4. I use this small Go Pro cube for the same reasons as above but generally for the younger students or in a more robust environment where something more delicate could get damaged.

Canon Laser Printer. This is used for worksheets, gap fills, or any exercise not found in the book that is being used for the class. I also use it for any relevant text or image games that are relevant to the lesson. This is one of the tech tools on my upgrade wish list.

My Schools Tech.

Overhead Projector and Smart screen. and Televisions and DVDs are the tech tools that come standard in my schools classroom, however with the use of other technology, these are becoming outdated and not used as much anymore.

The televisions and DVDs will not be replaced, but overhead projectors that work in with computers and smart screens are becoming more common in the classroom. Well, at least mine.

Tech Tools I would like, and Why?

Go Pro Hero 10 creator edition.

I would like this as an all-in-one vlogging unit I can use to record both students and classroom activities or to replay or upload to YouTube or my website. A simple to use all-in-one unit that is ready off the shelf.

Canon wireless printer.

As a busy teacher who does not have time to rely on schools that do not have the equipment or will not provide it, I prefer utilizing my own gear. And I want to move to wireless as the time taken in hooking up a cable between laptop and printer is wasted time. Also, being able to print directly from a mobile phone will be a big time saver.

Don’t Lose Focus.

Having all these gadgets and tools are great, but they will not automatically make you a better teacher. Your style of teaching, the fun you bring into the classroom, and the quality and skills you provide to your students are still the most important thing.

What you do in the classroom is much more important than what you bring into the classroom. These tools are here to help make life easier for you and ultimately provide a better platform for the student to learn.

Most ESL students are still worried about their listening and speaking activities and there is a lot you can do without using tech. Have a look at my post “How to improve English Speaking Skills” You don’t need a lot of tech to make a worthwhile class, but to make a class more worthwhile it can be of great help.

It’s how you teach, at the end of the day, not what you use. Here are some words on teaching styles that, in my opinion, are more important than most of the other resources talked about here today. We just need to prioritize our classroom content.

Teaching Styles

As you gain experience as a teacher, you will create your own teaching style and classroom practices. T.P.R (Total physical reaction), communicative method, meaningful learning, and old-fashioned rote learning are some well-known teaching styles. Most teachers will pick and choose from the instructional techniques listed below to fit their needs.

Total Physical Response

Professor James Asher, a psychology expert, invented T.P.R, a language acquisition approach. TPR engages students in the language learning process by combining words and physical actions.

The Communicative Method.

The communicative approach is founded on the premise that the most effective way to learn a language is to have to express genuine meaning. Learners’ natural language acquisition mechanisms will be applied when they are engaged in genuine communication, allowing them to learn to use the language.

Meaningful Learning.

Meaningful learning is the feeling that all the parts of a concept, idea, theory, equations, or argument come together to make learning meaningful. Meaningful learning is frequently contrasted with rote learning, which involves memorizing knowledge without considering our relationship to other objects or events.

Rote Learning.

Rote Learning is a more conventional method of instruction. It is centered on students repeating the words and phrases until they recall them. Rote learning is the process of memorizing knowledge through repetition.

So use your teaching style and the methods in planning lessons to accommodate the introduction of technology that will put you firmly in the drivers seat.

You can find out more about teaching styles in my post ” Teaching English Abroad in Vietnam“.


After teaching for 15 years across various schools and regions, I have come to the conclusion that a little money spent saves me more in the long run. And it provides a more seamless environment for teaching in the classroom. I control the flow of the class whether it is in my own school a public school or another private school

My name is Stephen and I have worked in Vietnam for over 15 years. I have my own school and also provide ESL teachers to those schools that need quality.

Affiliate and privacy policy

Any or all links on this site may be affiliate links, and if you purchase something through those links I will make a small commission on them.

There will be no extra cost to you and at times due to my affiliation, you could actually save money.

You can read our full affiliate disclosure here.

Lesson Plans for ESL students | Cooking in the Classroom.

Feed their stomachs then feed their brains.

As an ESL teacher, I am always looking for different ideas and ways to get my teaching ideas out there.

One of the joys of being a long-time ESL teacher is you are never stuck for an idea to use in the classroom. After 15 years I can walk into just about any classroom and have a fallback lesson plan. 

However, for me, it is not something I would want to do continually. To have an informative, fun, and interesting lesson you need prior preparation.

Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

You can only follow your student and teacher class books for so long until you need to mix things up a bit to keep your students and yourself motivated and your lessons fun and focused. 

In Vietnam, you will quite often see “Mum” walking down the street with a bowl of rice or other breakfast for her child. 

A slightly different attitude from where I was brought up. My mealtime option was, to eat it now or have it again for lunch.

So my amusement level was kicked into overdrive when I saw this, and I wondered if I could do something similar with my students?

No, not to chase my class down the road, but to get them to cook,( under my directions) and then sit around talk and eat.

It’s Time to Pre-Plan our Pre-Planning.

Pre-planning has not changed much over the years and it still comes down to these concepts for the classroom.

Lesson plans use a variety of tactics to engage students, measure progress, and encourage learning and understanding.

At the same time as keeping the students at the top of the teachers mind. It’s a time when teachers see all the teaching resources and consider how they’ll fit together to create a successful learning experience.

Teachers who plan lessons ahead of time arrive in the classroom each day fully prepared to explain new concepts and conduct important conversations, rather than winging it.

Without a lesson plan, students may lose concentration rapidly, and teachers may find themselves trying to figure out what to do next.

Getting the culinary vocabulary in order.

Decide on what you are going to teach, and what is your focus of the day. Don’t feel bound to teach just one thing, you may want to teach vocabulary first, followed up by the color, size, taste, smell, and feel/texture of their food. Students can share their work with the rest of the class.

When teaching ESL the points we want to cover are listening, speaking, reading, and writing, in that order. I try to cover at least 2 of these areas in every class. Listening is the first skill and you can find out more here at ” Listening Skills


And as unpopular as it is, I will try to cover at least one grammatical point along the way. I will do this by pre-reading some grammatical points.

For Example; Countable and Uncountable nouns and can we make uncountable nouns countable by adding a countable word before the “noun”.

  • A bottle of water. There are three bottles of water on the table.
  • A cup of tea. I want three cups of tea, please.
  • A bowl of rice. I often have a bowl of rice for dinner.
  • A bar of chocolate. Can I have a bar of chocolate,?
  • A piece of pizza. Here is a piece of pizza for you.
  • A jar of jam. How many jars of jam should I make?

There are many things you can cover when teaching “cooking in the Classroom” here is a great website that I have used on and off for years. ESL Kidstuff. They cater more to the younger student.

Or you may wish to have a look at a previous post that shows you my top 10 websites for anything from Vocabulary to videos, songs, and Language Learning. “My Top Ten Websites for ESL Teachers“.

Keep it Age Relevant.

I wouldn’t do a class 100% focused on cooking for kindergarten. However, I have done it for younger students with simpler recipes and no sharp utensils or plates and bowls that can be broken.

If there is a chance for students to drop bowls, plates, etc, it will happen. Make sure you have replaced your “fine china” with plastic and you have a mop and rags on hand.

Keep it culturally appropriate and check for Allergies.

Some of the students in your classroom will have allergies or will be unable to eat certain foods due to religious or cultural restrictions. So consult with their parents and the school before making any final decisions about what you want to cook in class.

You may have to alter your plans, but it is well worth the effort if it means that everyone can fully participate and that there is no risk of anyone becoming ill or unable to consume the food.

Younger Students.

If you have decided to have fun with your younger students, well done. Most teachers will put this in the too-hard basket and revert to the book. However, it is not impossible or complicated to have a successful “cooking class”.

A little preparation will go a long way. Think about what you want to teach (Easy Vocabulary) and in a way that is the least messy. A simple “recipe ” to use for children is “fairy bread”

Fairy Bread.

You can have everything pre-prepared in your classroom or Kitchen. ( More on this soon). This is so simple that all you need is the bread, hundreds and thousands, and margarine or soft butter.

You can butter the bread, sprinkle on the hundreds and thousands and then “iconically” cut it into triangles for that perfect shape.

Teaching Goals for the younger student.

My major goal for the younger student is to develop and nurture the joy of wanting to learn. In this case, it happens to be ESL or English as a Second Language.

The secondary, although some say it’s the primary goal, is to increase the vocabulary and pronunciation skills of the young learner. But if you have instilled the joy of learning, vocabulary and pronunciation will be a breeze to teach.

Getting your student to talk and communicate in English is the ultimate outcome for the ESL Teacher.


There are many enjoyable songs about food and cooking that can be learned and sung. Make sure you have at least one of these for your class.

Songs make learning vocabulary for younger students much easier, especially if there is an amusing video to go along with it or funny gestures to follow in the classroom.

Here are some more…” Tips for Using Songs in The Classroom

Classroom or kitchen.

I count my blessings, as one of my schools is within a house. So I have ample room to bring out 15 to 20 chairs for my students to sit, watch and join in with the cooking experience.

And directly behind me, there is seating for up to 25 people with, the all-important, air conditioning.

So I am lucky to be able to provide a flexible environment where the students can learn. However, for those who do not have the same flexibility as me, you can still do a lot in the classroom.

My lesson Plan for Students in the Kitchen is as follows.

1. Vocabulary.

  • Food Nouns.
  • Food Utensil Nouns.
  • Food preparation verbs.

2. Food preparation Instructions.

  • Introduce the recipe and make sure the students understand the different terminology used in cooking.
  • Break the students up into groups and get them to perform the different activities needed to make a meal.
  • Don’t forget to get all the students to perform the more onerous tasks like washing the dishes and cleaning up.

3. Cook, Eat and Talk.

Discuss with the students what they found the hardest things to do. Turn the conversation into a general English-speaking free for all. Have a backup list of prepared questions that you can introduce to keep the conversation flowing.

Recipes; Use a recipe that is not too difficult. Or with words and phrases that may overwhelm the students. But I have certainly gone beyond “eggs on toast”. Introducing foreign food is a great way to stimulate conversation.

Basic Questions.

  • Do you like this meal?
  • Is there any part of the recipe you would change?
  • What are your favorite dishes?
  • Can you cook?
  • Who does most of the cooking in your house?

Add your own questions.

Example of Utensil Nouns.

Think outside the square (table). Food challenges in 2022.

Although not strictly within the category of cooking in the classroom, it does introduce another area for talking about food that could be used to start debates about the ethics of binge eating while there are people dying from starvation.

Like all lessons and lesson planning, we are only limited by our own imagination.


Laugh and learn.

When you’re in the middle of a classroom with “hundreds and thousands” ( The candy, not the students) rolling around the floor and your dog is greedily eating their 5th piece of bread, Relax.

Even if everything appears to be a train wreck, keep laughing and try to stay calm and enjoy yourself.

And you will probably be amazed at how much your students learned through that lesson.

They will remember it for a long time because they had so much fun even if it went off the rails a bit.

A great lesson is a lesson with a lot of laughter and learning!

Who Am I?

My name is Stephen and I have been teaching ESL in Vietnam for over 15 years. It has given me equal measures of joy and frustrations, sometimes at the same time.

One thing it has never given me is boredom. If you are looking for a satisfying career in helping others attain their dreams, reach out to me and see if I can help you find a job in Vietnam or Thailand.

You can check me out on my YouTube channel below.

TET 2022

Any or all links on this site may be affiliate links, and if you purchase something through those links I will make a small commission on them.

There will be no extra cost to you and at times due to my affiliation, you could actually save money.

You can read our full affiliate disclosure here.