Sumo Words?

As many of you know, my job takes me all over the United States to train teachers. I teach them the Orton-Gillingham philosophy for teaching children how to read. This multi-sensory approach encourages teachers to engage the multiple pathways to the brain—visual, auditory, kinesthetic/tactile when presenting concepts to their students.

Words can be thought of in two ways—phonetic and non-phonetic, which is just the educational way of saying that some words can be sounded out, and some can’t. I teach a different strategy for learning each type of word.

Non-phonetic words are words that have irregular spellings, and are difficult for some students to learn because they have to be passively memorized. Teachers typically put these types of words on flash cards, which is a strategy that often falls short.

I teach a strategy for non-phonetic words that involves the multiple pathways to the brain. As with any type of learning, the skill needs to be practiced, and again it’s best to practice using one or more of the learning modalities, as opposed to only using flash cards to aid in memorization.

I model the strategy for the teachers, by picking words that many adults don’t know how to spell—colonel, lieutenant, and sergeant. After the teachers learn the strategy, I tell them that the students need to practice the word all week in fun, multi-sensory ways that will help implant the new word into their memory.

To illustrate this point, I have the teachers stand up and take a sumo wrestler stance, and of course this makes everyone laugh—learning should be fun, right? The new word is spelled out orally, with each sumo stomp.

Well—fast forward to my last day of teaching. It was lunch time, and I was sitting at the front table eating, and reading a book. I had just glanced at the clock and saw that I had about two minutes left before class was to begin again.

I heard a slight commotion off to my left and I heard a gruff voice call out, “Come on…stand up! We’re going to practice the word lieutenant!”

I glanced over to see two people in inflated sumo wrestler outfits leading the class in practicing the non-phonetic word that I had taught them earlier in the week.

I burst out laughing and jumped up to take a picture, as the class was being guided through stomping out the word lieutenant. It was already funny, but then one of the costumes started to leak, and the whole thing deflated! I know we use this expression a lot, but…I almost wet my pants because I was laughing so hard!

I LOVE my job! Learning SHOULD be fun!

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