The Language of Christmas
The holiday season brings an assortment of objects and activities. Objects depicting the Nativity story which include - Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, angels, shepherd, a manger, stable, donkey, sheep, star, wise men from the east - can be easily purchased at local department stores.
We celebrate the season of love, joy and peace by decorating our homes with evergreen trees decked with lights, bows, candy canes and tree ornaments. We deck the halls with boughs of holly while we enjoy the sights and sounds of winter: jingle bells, snow, sled, sleigh, snowmen, ice. We make a gingerbread house. We send Christmas cards to friends while children write letters to Santa Claus. We give each other gifts wrapped in colorful paper tied with red, green, silver or gold ribbon. We sing carols and recite the poems. On our dining tables we light candles while we enjoy cookies, plum pudding and fruitcake.
Christmas is in the air and Christmas is everywhere. Why not capitalize on the abundant supply of high interest sights and sounds to help students learn phonics? Most of us teach our students the phonic sounds of the 26 letters of the alphabet and how to build words with short vowels like man, cat, bed, cup, pin and pot. We often neglect to teach the rest of the 44 sounds of the English language represented by two-letter combinations. With these holiday objects within easy reach, lessons on the long vowels, phonograms, digraphs and silent letters follow spontaneously after introducing the object and talking about it.
We can start with any object. The procedure is simple. We take one object like a gingerbread house. We name the object; match the word label to it, read the label while pointing with the finger from left to right. We bring to attention that gingerbread is a compound word made up of two words, ginger and bread. It is a house made of gingerbread. We point out that the “g” in the word does not sound like “girl.” It has the sound of “j,” as in “gem,” (like a diamond) or “gym” (place to play and exercise). An animal with a long neck is called a “giraffe.” It is spelled with a “g” as in “j.” One story we have read was about Jack and his encounter with the “giant.” We also had a story about a “gentle giant.” Word cards for each of the words presented are laid out in a vertical column.
The student then builds the word, “gingerbread” with the printed movable alphabet using red letters for “g” with the sound of “j” and blue for the rest of the word. After recording the word in one’s notebook and drawing a simple gingerbread house, one returns everything to its proper place and finds other work. For an art activity, a gingerbread house may be made out of Graham crackers glued together with a thick powdered sugar paste.
The following day, the student may be encouraged to continue the activity with other words containing “g” with the sound of “j” like angel or manger. Sentences containing these words may be prepared on sentence strips. The student points out these words. The student may construct original sentences with these words.
One word leads to another. A chain of lessons follow. Introducing angel and manger as words with “g” with the sound of “j” leads to introducing the long vowel sound of “a.” The “a” in angel does not have the sound of “a” as in “apple.” It has the long “a” sound as in “angel.” We build the word “angel” this time using a red letter for ”a” and blue for the rest of the word. Similarly, we spell “manger” as noted below. We might use the dictionary at this point to find out the meaning of “manger,” eating trough for animals.
Three objects also have the long “a” sound similar to angel and manger: Mary, baby and stable.
Mary had a baby in a stable.
Stable leads us to words ending in le where the e is silent. Table, cradle, candle, little jingle, twinkle and dimple are other examples.
You will find a donkey in the stable. Mary rode the donkey in her journey to the city of Bethlehem. The word chimney is spelled using the same pattern.
Mary rode the donkey in her journey to the city of Bethlehem.
Mary and baby both end in “y” with the sound of “ee” as in candy cane.
We now build multi-syllable words ending in “y” using red letters for “y” and blue for the rest of the word.
Nearby, in the same country, shepherds watched their flock of sheep by night. An angel told them good tidings of great joy, “Unto you a child is born in the city of David, our savior. You will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.”
The word “wrap” introduces words with silent letters.
Three wise (silent e) men from the east,(ea as in ee) guided by a star found the baby in the manger. They worshipped him and brought him gifts of frankincense, (c as in s) gold (o with long o sound) and myrrh.
The word “wise” opens the door to words with the silent “e” marker giving the vowel a long vowel sound. Thus we have a…e, (long “a”) e…e, (long e) i…e, (long i) o…e (long o) and u…e (long u).
We can continue building vocabulary in like manner using songs, poems, literature associated with winter, the Nativity and holiday celebration. Let us not forget Santa Claus in our study. The “au” as in law or Paul is easy to remember when we associate it with the image of Santa Claus.
Studying high interest words in this manner builds on the excitement of the season to strengthen phonics skill and word study skills. When one sees a candy cane, one would first associate it with spelling words ending in “y” with the sound of “ee.” Words thus studied will stay longer in one’s consciousness and would most likely be recognized in one’s reading and will be used in speaking and writing.
Here’s hoping that this little lesson on building vocabulary and spelling through the holiday theme shed light on your path to give you love, joy and peace this Christmas and the New Year.