Phonics Project

*to see cute mugshots of first graders and their nicknames, scroll to the end

I never wanted to be a classroom teacher. As I knew it would be, managing a classroom is HARD WORK.

The reason I accepted a volunteer position that spends most of its time in a classroom is twofold:

  1. I enjoy the coaching – my main goal is to empower the current Thai teachers with extra skills to improve their English teaching.
  2. I also enjoy language – exploring how best to learn a language and analyzing language at its most fundamental core.

One thing I am currently enjoying is implementing the basics of Phonics across all the grade levels. I even have my 9th graders learning Zoo phonics (letter name, letter sound and animal movement for each letter) and playing games creating CVC words (C=consonant and V=vowel). I am using a lot skills from the LIPS program I used at my former Educational Coaching position that are multi-sensory and used in speech therapy.

Consider for a moment, what these kids are expected to learn:

  • In first grade, these students start to learn Thai
    • 44 consonant symbols
    • 13 vowels (which make about 26 vowel combinations)
    • each letter has a name, sound and a special position (vowels may go over, under, to the left or to the right of a consonant)
  • THEN these students are learning English
    • 52 new symbols (capitals plus lowercase letters, the former of which they don’t understand the concept since there are no capitals in Thai)
    • although we have 5 vowels letters, there are over 30 vowels combinations
    • learn which letters match (“A” and “a” do not exactly look alike)
    • each letter has a name, sound and with many “rule exceptions” to the latter

Needless to say, this is quite a challenging task compounded by the fact that the Thai teachers do not feel comfortable teaching the fundamentals of English, yet are given a curriculum that does a poor job of setting a foundation paired with standards that are morbidly unrealistic. Yes, children do have minds like sponges, but it’s difficult to soak up a foreign language when the content skips the basics and when your teachers are speaking in your native tongue.

I am lucky that even my counterpart in charge of teaching English from grades 4-9, is on board with starting from the basics. Below are my goals stated in a 2 year plan I must submit to the Peace Corps staff and the Thai government by the end of the month:

  • Year 1, Term 1
    • Phonics across all grade levels
    • Teacher trainings
  • Year 1, Term 2
    • Conversational English at morning assemblies and school-wide participation
  • Year 2, Term 1
    • English leadership roles: Morning English News, English Theater Project
  • Year 2, Term 2
    • Reading program
    • Thai Teachers training other Thai teachers





A wider perspective

The first week of school has passed and in its passing I have a better grasp on the scope of my 2 year long project for helping my 2 counterpart teachers with their English and teaching skills, creating a sustainable Phonics program for each grade and quite possibly revitalizing the school library.

First, a few interesting observations about the Thai school system:

  • students all wear uniforms and must have their hair cut a certain way (otherwise a teacher will pull the student aside and cut the hair correctly right then and there)
  • the first week was spent having students clean the school yard and classrooms, and not much learning; teachers gave review lessons while schedules were still being ironed out by the Admin team
  • Thai teachers dress very professionally – currently every school teacher (and government employee) wears black every day to show respect for the late King Rama IX
  • also, I attended a teacher meeting for many schools in the area that involved a lot of sitting and listening to a lecture about how teachers can become better teachers while many teachers talked to each other and looked at their cellphones


  • teachers roles at school are as educators and second parents, who show quite a bit of affection for the students and serve the school in many capacities: buying food for cooking at lunch, serving the food, eating with the students, running the student store and making sure the students are hygienic/properly dressed

*please remember that my observations are of one school in Thailand, a small sample size of a large educational system and therefore my comments definitely do not reflect the whole picture. Here is a great article by a foreigner who really sums up the issues in the Thai educational system: why-the-thai-education-system-is-running-so-poorly-the-main-problems-and-possible-solutions

I only taught 1 quick lesson on numbers to a group of 2nd graders my first week. The experience was enough to know that we’ve got a lot of practice to do and that the students are enthusiastic about active learning.


I spent most of my time cleaning up a building that is labeled as the “Library” yet has been a storage space for years. I had to find some way to get the students to help the organization without throwing, tearing or jumping on the books, so I made a little competition…

And they succeeded 🙂

I will be helping co-teach English classes from elementary (Pratom) to middle school (Matayom). I also will need to start learning the names of my 300+ students with creative name-tags posted on a murals of the ocean like my counterpart Kru Doll created.



The test scores at my school are low with students not only struggling to meet national standards for English, but for the reading and writing of their native Thai language. I hope to create a safe place for learning languages in the library and ultimately to encourage reading and writing for enjoyment. Spent my Saturday repainting the inside of the building and I am looking forward to decorating the room with learning materials this week (Monday and Tuesday are no school due to more teacher meetings).



It’s been a slow start to the year, with a lot of work ahead, but then a slow pace is the Thai way of life and the much needed work is reason I volunteered here. Work isn’t a burden when you love what you do 🙂