Sunday, December 15, 2019

IPA Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

IPA stands for the International Phonetic Alphabet.

The children I teach know that I have always been interested in alphabets. I very happily learned the International Radio Alphabet a few years ago (a bucket list item) and insist that we all use it when we are playing Battleship. When Montessori teaches the Story of Written Language (Fourth Great Lesson) we get to do a long look at hieroglyphs (something I also taught myself years ago as a kid) and cuneiform and the Phoenician alphabet, etc.

Ox, House, Stick:
The History of Our Alphabet

by Don Robb

So the next one on my list to master is the IPA and I'm not only going to learn it... we are all going to learn it. It is the next step in deepening my understanding of the fourth step of SWI, which is pronunciation.

I love the Truer Words cards by Emily O'Conner. As the fourth step on the back of each card, she breaks the analyzed word down into graphemes and refers us to the Grapheme Deck by Gina Cooke for more information on grapheme - phoneme correspondences. At the back of Gina's 3rd edition of the Grapheme Deck, there are also "key cards" which give you the IPA symbols needed for English. Ta da! (Gina also has an IPA Lexinar as well.)

When we studied < papier-mâché > and < machine > we discussed the IPA symbol for / sh / which is [ ʃ ]. You can find all these symbols at There have been changes in the IPA over time (Wikipedia has an interesting article about this) and even the sound categories are open for debate, so I just take Gina as the ultimate resource and I use her work. The Waldorf first/second grade book Phonic Rhyme Time by Mary Nash-Wortham doesn't use IPA (she explains, "since Phonic Rhyme Time has been designed for wide usage by parents as well as teachers and therapists") but she does have nice diagrams and charts at the beginning of her book. So if you have it on hand, it would be a helpful starting point.

Phonic Rhyme Time:
A Unique Collection of Phonic Rhymes for
Precise Practice in Speaking and Reading

by Mary Nash-Wortham

Mary Nash-Wortham has technical aspects of speech listed on page 6

    Breath Control - its quantity and force

    Voice - rapid vibrations of the vocal cords to create sound waves

    Resonance and Projection - the quality of sound produced and carried

    Tongue and Lips - synchronous, rapid, active movements

    Soft Palate and Jaw Movements - physical control

    Pronunciation - actual formation of consonants and vowels

    Phrasing - linking of words together to make sense

    Pitch, Tone and Stress - to create a flow of words with meaning and interest

    Rhythm and Pace - to provide continuity and feeling

Mary Nash-Wortham has a diagram of speech sounds and their creation on page 8, including the nose, top lip, lower lip, teeth, jaw, tongue (tip blade, middle, back), alveolar ridge, hard palate, soft palate, uvula, pharynx, larynx, epiglottis, and position of vocal cords and air flow.

She also has categories of phonic sounds, both voiceless and voiced, and briefly describes the sound creation. She has the categories plosives, fricatives, affricates, lateral non-fricative, semi-vowels, frictionless continuant, nasal, and vowels. As I have said, I consider Gina to be the expert in this field, so I will be using her categories when I introduce IPA. Gina has

    Sibilant Consonants

    Plosive Consonants

    Fricative Consonants

    Nasal Consonants

    Approximate Consonants

    Tense Vowels & Dipthongs

    Lax Vowels

    Rhotic Vowels

I am NOT a SLP and of my four children only the fourth child ever had speech therapy, so I've only sat in on two years worth of weekly sessions and am by no means an expert. I have the passion to get this right and I have good resources, and that's where I'm at. I did focus on Linguistics in college and got my B.A. in Philosophy (which is where they put Linguistics) from Smith College.

I am now returning to linquistics as a classroom teacher and using the tools of this well-researched field to inform my spelling instruction. SWI does this so elegantly! It is nice to see someone put academic fields together that make sense together. I'm so grateful that Shawna introduced me to SWI, and grateful to all of the experts who have worked together to make this field of inquiry happen in such a robust way.

Now that we want our SWI sessions to include writing each word we study in IPA, so we can more clearly see the phonemes as opposed to the graphemes, it is time for me to teach this to children (ages 7-10). How?

This age group loves sensory play as much as -- if not more than -- the early childhood group. Why? They don't get enough of it. THEY DON'T GET ENOUGH OF IT! I was reading through 20 Sensory Activities for Kids to look for Winter sensory bin ideas for ECE and happened upon Alphabet Car Wash from the Parenting Chaos blog. The idea here is that you fill a bin with shaving cream, put in items that start with different letters of the alphabet, and when you call out a letter the child has to find an item that starts with that letter as quickly as possible. Then you wash it off with a spray bottle of water and it is time for the next letter. You could also have two children race.

Barbasol Beard Buster Shaving Cream Original 10 oz (Pack of 5)


I think this idea is perfect for teaching the IPA symbols! We could go through a set of symbols, then I could fill a bin with shaving cream and put in small objects (the sound could be initial, medial, or final position) and then write a symbol on the board and two children could race to find an item which is a match for that sound. They would have to prove that sound goes with the item, of course, and may even come up with an item that I had not thought of (like I was expecting a shell for [ ʃ ] but they grabbed a toothbrush)!

I cannot wait to try this in the classroom in January and I'm so excited about it that I am sitting here with Gina's Grapheme Deck and my four year old's bins of sensory play animals and objects and I'm ready to make some lists!

Week 1 - January 10th

    Sibilant Consonant Key Card
    snake, cent, zebra, shell, fish, engine, chicken, giraffe, gem

    Plosive Consonant Key Card
    puppy, plane, boat, tapir, parrot, dice, donkey, cap, car, alligator

Week 2 - January 17th

    Fricative Consonant Key Card
    elephant, furry, venom, toothbrush, slither, human, hop, loch

    Nasal Consonant Key Card
    millipede, marble, gnaw, nibble, pink, ring

    Approximate Consonant Key Card
    yellow, whisk, white, lizard, lion, rabbit, dinosaur

Week 3 - January 24th

    Tense Vowel Key Card
    snake, tee, dragonfly, spider, narrow, mule, spoon, loud, cow, ahoy

Week 4 - January 31st

    Lax Vowel Key Card
    ant, cat, insect, pig, wasp, pterandon, crawl, button, cook, banana

    Rhotic Vowel Key Card
    car, bird, fork, orange, poker, digger

Helpful Hint: If you're not entirely sure of the IPA symbols in your word, the Macmillan Dictionary Online has a pronunciation feature which will show you the word written in IPA as it is pronounced in American English.

If you create sensory bins like these for your children / students, I'd love to hear what you put in them!

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