Review Essay: A Lesson Plan on Ghoti and Its Others

The amount of research on reading is voluminous. Even after reading what I consider and exhaustive (and occasionally exhausting) amount of this material across a period of 15 years, I still barely scratched the surface of this body of literature. At the classroom level, however, teaching practice demands keen attention to two things: decoding–i.e. recognizing the correspondence between letters and their sounds, known as phonemic awareness, and comprehension–i.e. understanding the meanings of words and applying that understanding, in synthesis, to the entire body of a text to understand it.

English is a tough language to decode. One person who recognized this and wanted to do something about it was the Irish playwright and Nobel Laureate George Bernard Shaw. Shaw was sufficiently concerned about the odd vagaries of English spelling that he actually bequeathed money in his estate for spelling reform. Indeed, there is a form of orthography known as the Shavian Alphabet (Aside: Shavian is both an adjective and a noun meaning, basically, related to George Bernard Shaw and his writings.)

In any case, one of the well-known representations of the challenges of English phonics, often erroneously (it first appeared, apparently, in a letter from Charles Ollier to Leigh Hunt) attributed to Shaw, is the word ghoti. It is possible, using English phonics, to pronounce this word as fish: take the gh from tough (i.e. f), the o from the plural women (i.e. short i), and the ti from action (i.e. sh).

Over the years, when I had a few minutes left in a class period, generally at the beginning of the school year, I would trot this out for the struggling readers and English language learners I served. After explaining–in summary of course–much of the foregoing in this essay, I would point out to students that if they struggled with English phonics and their representation in orthography, they were in very good company: George Bernard Shaw, Nobel prizewinning author whose plays are still routinely performed today.

This year, I finally wrote out this lesson plan on ghoti for use in a full class period. Here is the accompanying worksheet and the teacher’s copy of same. I added a few words, which I grabbed somewhere along the line. Now it’s yours if you can use it.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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