Once everyone has a pair of paper lips in place, take all the time the children need at this point of the exercise--this is the fun part! Videotape is helpful, though not required. If you can get some close-up footage from a front or side view, you and the children will later be able to see the production of the sounds you are looking for, and perhaps to catch one that you missed.
The ultimate goal is to have the children discover for themselves the consonant sounds of English that are produced at the very front of the mouth, using the lips and teeth. The letters of the alphabet that usually--but not always--represent them are the following: p, b, f, v, and m.
We say “usually” because of words like phone, climb, and psychic. This is why we at ioE put our trust in sounds and not letters! Sometimes the letter ‘p’ combines with the letter ‘h’ to make the sound usually ascribed to the letter ‘f,’ and at other times, the letters ‘b’ or ‘p’ just don’t make any sound at all.
From the list of words whose pronunciation requires the most movement, you can isolate some individual sounds. Take some care here not to talk about letters but about sounds instead. For example, the name of the letter B includes a vowel sound, usually described as “long e” (BEE). But actually, we are concerned to separate that vowel sound from the initial consonant sound, which is really just /b/. Click in the sidebar to listen to the sounds the students will be looking for.
You can check this with students in the group who happen to speak other languages. Ask for the names of the equivalent letters and compare them for what is the same and what is different. The comparison chart to the right may help.
Student observation and data collection
It’s important to let the children make the observations and generate the list. In fact, even if their list of observed lip-movers is missing a front consonant sound, your activity will be the richer for it. In the following example, two digressions, one for rhyme and one for whispering will help you meet the four objectives for this exercise, which can be found in the sidebar.
The children in any particular group will not accomplish all four objectives in a single session, and they may not be able to separate the names of the letters from the sounds of those letters. Objectives 1 and 2 are enough to begin with; Objectives 3 and 4 are reinforced will be addressed in detail in two other exercises that identify the middle and back consonants.
Student-led further inquiry
You can also challenge the children to recite the alphabet or recite a nursery rhyme that everyone knows so that the pieces of paper don’t move, and videotape the results. Here is one of those opportunities to seek help from the sound system of another language. In Miami, for example, the children decided to write out the alphabets of Spanish and Kreyòl along with the English alphabet, in columns. They left spaces wherever one alphabet didn’t have a sound that appeared in either or both of the others. Once we could see the holes in the patterns (no ñ for English or Kreyòl, no h for Spanish, etc.), we had some very interesting discussions, including: