Introductory Challenge

Herman is a Kindergartener who arrived at the beginning of the year without being able to spell his name. Sometimes he mixes the letters up, sometimes he forgets the letters altogether. But on the first day of school, when a teacher tells him, “Sherman, it’s time to work on your writing,” he immediately responds, “Hey! My name is Herman, not Sherman.” He notices phonemic differences when they involve his own name. Later in the day, though, his teacher asks him to think of some words that rhyme with “cat.” But he has trouble doing so even though he uses words like “rat” and “bat” in everyday conversation.

Herman’s friend Xi has similar experiences. His family speaks Mandarin Chinese at home, and he can write his name in Chinese characters. Writing English is harder for him. A teacher writes down two guesses at how to pronounce Xi’s name: Chee and She. Looking at the words on the page, Xi can’t tell whether the Sh- or the Ch- letters are the correct ones. But when he hears the teacher say both, he can easily tell the teacher which is correct: “It’s pronounced like She.”

What are the differences between Herman’s and Xi’s mix-ups? As you complete the unit, think about some other examples of the way students notice phonemes.