Foundation Phase Approaches and Activities


Find out how a Bow Valley College instructor used a poster making activity in her CLB Foundation Phase classroom.

Foundation Phase learners often have a highly developed oral cultural background and are typically good oral language learners, although they may arrive in the classroom speaking little to no English. No matter what level of English they have when they begin class, they desperately need to become more proficient in order to function in their new country. They must learn this new language without the literacy skills needed to take notes, review their schoolwork at home, or learn new vocabulary from reading. The instructor's challenge in this class is to keep things easy enough not to overwhelm the learners, varied enough to be stimulating, and, most importantly, relevant to their lives, all the while recycling everything so that the learners have many opportunities to learn. It is a challenge for the learners and the instructor alike.

There are a number of effective approaches and activities for the Foundation Phase classroom:


Provide many opportunities for classroom review in the form of repetition and recycling of material into new activities.

Oral practice

Learners need oral language before they begin to read and write. Give learners repetitive vocabulary-building exercises to develop their word banks. Build in plenty of repetition and recycling of oral vocabulary.


Use teaching methods that, instead of relying on the written word, rely on oral methods like repeating and chanting.

Clapping and singing games

Simple songs teach vocabulary and provide an opportunity to improve fluency. Clapping is a good way to teach multisyllabic words, with each syllable getting a clap. Clapping games can reinforce the new vocabulary. Stand in a circle. Everyone claps three times, and then one person says a word from the theme. Everyone claps three more times. The next person says a different word, and on it continues until either the theme vocabulary is exhausted or everyone has had a chance to say a word.

Whiteboard work

Use a whiteboard for many different things. It can be erased so mistakes are readily corrected, leaving no trace. Write words or sentences on the board and have the class read them chorally. Ask individual learners to circle or underline particular words. Write sentences and read them aloud with the learners a number of times. Erase a word or two and have the learners chorally read the sentences and supply the missing words. Even simpler, write a few sentences and then pass out flashcards with some of the words from the sentences on them. Learners match the words on the board with their flashcard using magnets or sticky tack.

Walks to nearby places 

Walking around the school or nearby streets is a good way to create an awareness of print. The instructor and learners can point to various signs around them.


Begin with picture flashcards. Teach learners to divide pictures into categories such as food, transportation, and animals. Practice the vocabulary. Make columns on the board. Hand out picture flashcards and have the learners use magnets or sticky tack to put the flashcards in the correct column.Learners can help each other. Reshuffle the cards and repeat the activity many times. Introduce word flashcards, once learners have mastered the activity with picture flashcards.

Language Experience Approach

Language Experience Approach stories are useful ways to teach. Learners dictate their experiences and the instructor writes the words. Read the story chorally several times and then use it as a source for further activities and worksheets.

Listen and point

This simple exercise does not involve a pencil. Learners listen and point to the picture of the word that the instructor says. Any mistake is easily corrected resulting in the learner meeting success. This is a quick exercise to do between other activities.

Personal information practice 

Learners need to be able to locate and state their personal information, so regular practice is necessary. Make a personal information card for each learner and tape it to the inside of his or her binders. Complete simple drills with the learners by asking the learners their phone number or the spelling of their name. Initially, learners may echo the instructor or simply point to their personal information. Later, as they become more skilled, they will need less help from the instructor. They can have envelopes containing cut up cardstock of their own personal information to use as a matching exercise on simple instructor-created forms. When they are ready, they can copy their personal information onto the forms.

TPR (Total Physical Response) 

This technique allows the learners to demonstrate their understanding without the risk of speaking. Say a word or command. Learners act it out together at first and then individually. For instance, the instructor says, "Stand up" and all the learners stand up. This is a good exercise to do at the beginning of the day. It also gets learners moving, which is very important at this level.

Sitting game

To play this game, have all the learners stand. Tell learners to sit if they fit into certain categories. For instance, learners can sit if they speak Farsi or to sit if they have seven children. It continues until all learners are sitting. It is a good way to check for understanding and get learners moving.

Copying exercises

Learners copy a word below a picture using instructor-made worksheets. Make the same set of a dozen or so vocabulary items into several variations of the same exercise for learners to complete over the course of a week or two. If the learners are higher-level, make a worksheet with the same set of pictures in a different order and without words, where the learners use the first worksheet as the model for the second worksheet. This gives additional practice and teaches the strategy of looking back to past work for help with current work.


Use flashcards to match two identical pictures or to match a picture and a word. Use flashcards to play concentration or simply for oral practice.

Bingo games

Instructor-made bingos of pictures or the alphabet are very useful for vocabulary development. Learners get a chance to hear the vocabulary repeatedly. Some very simple commercial bingos can be used as well.

Learner photo stories

Make booklets using a photograph of every learner. Below the photo put a simple repetitive story stating some basic information about the learner such as his or her name, country of origin, number of children, or favourite food. Use this story as text for the next several lessons. Since the story is formulaic, learners get the opportunity to hear the language repeated many times. The learners can circle or highlight repetitive words and the instructor can make cloze exercises from the stories. Learners can also take this booklet home so that their families can see who else is in the class. Learner photo stories are particularly effective because they are about real people familiar to the learners.