J is for January, June, or July

By Lynn King

The “J” months provide an opportunity to develop a minor theme that can be integrated throughout one of the chosen months. It includes many possibilities for added interest and student interaction and can be used as a “starter” after the December break; as a “filler” at the end of the year when regular studies have concluded; or as part of a summer school session. Tutors may also be interested in using some of the ideas. Although originally created for my Adult Education intermediate level ELLs, most of the suggestions can be adapted for other age groups and English levels.

The “J” theme first focused on the pronunciation of the sounds /j/ and /g/, their location in many words, and their many spellings. The theme continued with other “J”s that included vocabulary, conJunctions, interJections, Jokes and riddles, a blue Jeans reading selection along with conversation practice on buying jeans, a discussion and writing topic on Games, and word games.

Basic pronunciation practice started with repetition of individual words such as those found in The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists, which groups the sounds according to initial, medial, and final positions. These positions are very helpful to students because each person can concentrate on the one where difficulty occurs. Over the course of the month, pronunciation practice and spelling covered the following:
           a) words with j in initial and medial positions (jump/enjoy)
           b) the two sounds of g (good/general); also blends of gr, gl, and silent gh
           c) other combinations (large, bridge, graduate, soldier)
Fluency and breath control practice was fun and useful to do because it helped students produce and control a greater number of word groups and phrases that carry correct meaning and content, thus making their English more comprehensible. We practiced with the nursery rhyme “The House That Jack Built.” J for Jack, of course, and students enjoyed the challenge.
Listening discrimination practice for ch and j (change jobs) and for ch and dg (much fudge) contrasts can also be found in the short helpful lessons in the book Pronunciation Pairs. Then, as students progressed, they moved from repetition to using the words to write funny sentences or word combinations and presented them orally in class. Several quick competitive team games of Tic-Tac-Toe using different combinations either for pronunciation or for spelling additionally aided in the retention of pronunciation, spelling, word meaning, and listening discrimination.
Vocabulary, throughout the “J” month, was enhanced by having students identify and categorize j and g words for U.S. states, cities, countries, food, animals, clothing, school subjects, actions, etc., and words from the pronunciation lists. They also used the words in sentences. And the students enjoyed learning male/female first names in English, both formal and informal, that begin with J or G.
Also interesting was a discussion of the various meanings and usages of the “J” word just as fair/right (a just cause); or as nearly, barely (just two hours away, just married); or as an intensifier (I’m just tired, She’s just a child.)
The “J” in grammar and punctuation focused on “conJunctions” and “interJections.” In the first exercise, students practiced sentence combining and, but, either/or, and neither/nor with current or familiar past class work. In the second, they had fun practicing expressing emotions with exclamation marks (Wow! Stop! Yes! Please! No Kidding! I love it! I’m NOT going!, etc.) We especially paid attention to stress and intonation patterns of exclamations for happiness, surprise, anger, refusal, etc.
Again, the “J” for Jokes provided another opportunity for students to learn a little about American humor and understand the term “punchline.” We read some jokes and voted on the funniest, the worst, etc. Riddles also fall into the joke category, so we practiced intonation in riddle questions so students could try them out on friends and family.
Reading suggestions include two selections about “blue jeans,” both with short exercises about Levi Strauss and the creation of denim jeans during the Gold Rush era in San Francisco, California. I usually chose one of them depending on the group’s level and time constraints. Linguapress.com has intermediate English articles that teachers may copy on the history of blue jeans. The other book sources are listed in the bibliography.
Added reading and conversation practice included looking at ads for blue jeans and naming styles, prices, and where and how to buy them. Students could then practice a customer/sales clerk conversation about trying something on, asking about price, or returning a previous purchase (wrong size, wrong style, wrong color, flawed merchandise).
With this theme, teachers can do as much or as little as they want. The idea for me was to create something that could spark interest while also helping students improve their skills in pronunciation and spelling and to give them opportunities to use a wide range of vocabulary in a variety of ways. Other suggestions include the following:
1. If the “J” month is July, perhaps a reading about the history of the Pledge of Allegiance would be appropriate for some groups along with a review of words that contain dg.
2. A writing topic that students of all ages and levels enjoy is “Games,” so have students write about a) a favorite game in their country or b) their own favorite game. A discussion before writing and then sharing their writing with classmates is always a good way to maintain a warm and participatory classroom environment.
3. A final suggestion for the “J” months is: Talk about game shows on TV or perhaps have your own Jeopardy game in class using not only the J theme but also all other current or earlier content you want to review.
And, oh yes—don’t forget to do some jumping jacks in the gym!

Baker, A., & Goldstein, S. Pronunciation Pairs, Student Book. Cambridge University Press, Sixth Printing, 1994. [Units 26 & 32]
Collins, S.H. Prepositions, Conjunctions, and Interjections. Straight Forward English Series. Garlic Press, Eugene, Oregon, 1992.
Collis, H. 101 American English Riddles: Understanding Language and Culture Through Humor. Passport Books (a division of NTC/Contemporary Publishing Company), Lincolnwood, Illinois, 1996.
DeFilippo & Skidmore. Skill Sharpeners 2, Second Edition. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994. [“Only Joking” P. 62.]
Fry, Kress, & Fountoukidis. Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists, Third Edition. Prentiss-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 076621. [Section Five: Phonics]
Kitao, K. American Vistas: Acquiring Cultural Awareness and Reading Skills. Addison-Wesley Publishers Japan, Ltd., 1985. [Chpt. 1, part 4, Grab Bag, News From Everywhere, “Blue Jeans,” p. 29.]
Spargo, E. Timed Reading Plus, Book 3. Jamestown Publishers, Lincolnwood, Illinois, 1998. “Birth of the Blues—Blue Jeans, That Is,” Pgs. 111-112.
“The House That Jack Built.” Many versions are available on Google.
Grammar Reference:
Bland, S.K. Intermediate Grammar: From Form to Meaning and Use. Oxford University Press, 1996. [ISBN 0-1 9-434366-9] (Answer book is separate.)

Lynn King is a retired ESL Instructor in Secondary and Adult Education. She currently lives in Springfield, Illinois.


Spring 2023 - Volume 51, Issue 1