MAP Reading Fluency: A Faster Way to Test Students’ Oral Reading

If you know me, you know I love running records! Taking running records of students’ oral reading (and asking them comprehension questions) is a fantastic way to learn about students’ decoding abilities … fluency … comprehension … and even vocabulary knowledge.

All of this information is fantastic and helps us plan instruction. The better we know our students as readers, the more successful our teaching is!

But if you’re a classroom teacher, then you probably know all too well how long it can take to assess students’ oral reading in a one-on-one setting.

Of course, you can make running records a part of guided reading, like I do, but sometimes you need a more formal assessment. Maybe it’s required by your school. Or maybe you just need to see where students are at.

So you start pulling your students, one at a time, for an oral reading assessment. And it takes forever, right?!

You lose instructional time, struggle to keep the other students on task, and maybe the student you’re assessing gets distracted by everything else going on in the classroom.

Assessing students one-on-one is definitely worth it, though it’s certainly not easy by any means.

But what if there was a faster way to test students’ oral reading?

What if you could test ALL your students at once, rather than one at a time?

And what if the results were scored FOR you?!

Sound too good to be true? That’s what I thought when I first learned about the MAP Reading Fluency assessment—a tool that accomplishes all of that and more.

But honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by how useful the assessment is. And my students actually enjoyed taking it, so I wanted to share what I learned about MAP Reading Fluency with you. (This post is in partnership with the assessment creators, NWEA.org)

What if you could test all of your students' oral reading at once? What if the results were scored for you? The MAP Reading Fluency assessment for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade does all of this! Read the blog post to learn more.
Photo Credits: Duplass, Shutterstock

MAP Reading Fluency is an online assessment for Kindergarten through 3rd grade that measures students’ oral reading fluency (or pre-reading skills, depending on your students’ level).

In the assessment, students read a short picture book and complete some timed, silent reading activities. The test is adaptive, which means it uses the students’ performance on that first task to decide what activities to present next.

The test records students’ reading (which is SUPER useful to have; I don’t know about you, but I rarely, if ever, audio record when I’m doing running records).

It scores students automatically and provides data about the number of words read correctly per minute + comprehension results. It also offers ideas for instructional “next steps” for each student.

AND as long as you have a device and headset for each student, all your kids can take the assessment at the same time—in about 20 minutes.

Right now, you might be thinking, “Hmmm…sounds good, but is it kid-friendly? Is it easy to set up?”

I was wondering that too, so I decided to try it out with a student!

The Test

The test itself was very easy to set up and very kid-friendly. It honestly felt more like a game than a test, which makes me especially happy since I work with primary. There’s a talking worm and a talking green dot. Here’s a little screenshot:

I also liked that the layout of the digital text was like a book that students would be accustomed to reading. With primary students, sometimes having a lot of text on one page (like in a digital passage) can be overwhelming for them.

The Bottom Line

As I said at the beginning of this post, I was a little skeptical of this assessment at first.

I don’t believe that any technology can ever fully replace a teacher, and I’d still never completely give up my one-on-one assessment time with students.

I think it’s a bit of a different experience when a student is working directly with you vs. working independently on a computer…some students may even perform a bit differently with a human assessor. And a computer can mis-perceive a word a student read (but then again, so can we as human assessors).

That said, MAP Reading Fluency isn’t trying to replace teachers with robots. 😬 But what it CAN do for us is incredibly helpful. It gives us a quick way to assess students’ oral reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.

And that can be super helpful between assessments—you know, during the stretches of the school year when you aren’t doing a lot of in-depth, one-on-one assessment (because you need to, you know, TEACH!) but you still want to monitor students’ progress.

Another important thing to know is that MAP Reading Fluency is advertised as a screener. And a screener is NOT the same thing as a full-blown assessment.

Screener data is kind of a “first look” at how our students are doing. We can then use that information as a starting point for other assessments and follow-up. For example, seeing students’ performance on MAP Reading Fluency might help you decide what book level to start them on when you do a more comprehensive assessment.

In my opinion, MAP Reading Fluency is a useful tool when used appropriately and as part of a larger assessment plan. The short length (20 minutes!!!!) really can save you time, and time is the one thing we never seem to have enough of!

Try It Out!

If you’d like to share information about this assessment with your administrators, you can find a fact summary sheet HERE.

Or to request a demo, click HERE.

If your school already uses this assessment, I’d love to know what you think of it!

Happy teaching!




10+ Resources and Freebies for Teaching Phonics in Kindergarten, First, and Second Grade!

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written a number of posts about teaching phonics or word study in Kindergarten, first, and second grade.

For today’s post, I created a “collection” of these links for you so that you can easily find what you need! I also made note of posts that have freebies! P

Best Practices and “How To” Posts

Best Practices in Phonics and Word Study Instruction for K-2

How (and Why) I Teach Phonics / Word Study / Spelling In Small Groups

One Simple Way to Easily Differentiate Word Work Activities & Minimize Your Prep Time

The 6 Syllable Types: What They Are, Why They Matter, And When To Teach Them!

How To Teach Students To Divide Words Into Syllables

How to Help K-2 Students Transfer Their Word Work Learning to Their Reading and Writing

A Yearlong Guide to Teaching Phonics in Kindergarten (free scope and sequence for Kindergarten!)

Phonics Activity Ideas

5 Phonics Activities to Keep Word Study Interesting (for K-2) (word train freebie included!)

5 Fun Short Vowel Activities That Only Take 5 Minutes (3 printable short vowel activities included!)

Why I Have My Students Make Personal “Word Part Dictionaries” (free word part dictionary template included!)

Troubleshooting Problem Areas

What to Do When the Letter Sounds Just Won’t Stick

Dealing with Gaps in Students’ Phonics Knowledge: How to Prevent and “Fill In” the Holes (video to watch + a link to a phonics scope and sequence!)

Help! My Students Aren’t Reading Their Words During Word Work Activities!

Want to save this post to come back to later? Pin the image below to your Pinterest account!

This blog post has a TON of resources and freebies for teaching phonics in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade! There are links to phonics games and activities + a phonics scope and sequence!
Photo Credits: Astrid Hill, Shutterstock

Happy teaching!




5 Fun Short Vowel Activities That Only Take 5 Minutes

Do your students confuse their short vowel sounds? Maybe they substitute e for a? Or i for e? Or just need more practice in general?!

The short vowel sounds can be so tricky, especially for students who have certain accents. In the South, where I live, sometimes the e and i sound exactly the same!!

Accent or no accent, I find that my students need lots of practice differentiating between the short vowel sounds. They need practice when they’re first learning the sounds, of course, but ALSO later on. Once they learn long vowel sounds, things can get confusing, and we need to come back and review the short vowel sounds too!

In this post, I’ll share 5 short vowel activities that are fun, low prep, and only take a few minutes to implement. Plus I’ve got a bunch of freebies for you! 🙂

These short vowel activities are fun, low-prep and only take a few minutes. I use these with my Kindergarten, first grade, and even second grade students. Read the post for all the details and to download the free short vowel activities!

Activity #1: Short Vowel Craft Stick “Puppets”

In this activity, you say a word with a short vowel sound aloud. Students have to listen, repeat the word, identify the correct short vowel, and hold up the corresponding puppet.

This short vowel activity is simple and fun! Just say a word with a short vowel sound aloud. Students have to listen, repeat the word, identify the correct short vowel, and hold up the corresponding puppet. In addition to holding up the puppet, students should identify the vowel. ("A says /a/.") Read the entire blog post for more short vowel activities for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade - and to download all the free materials!

In addition to holding up the puppet, students should identify the vowel. You can have them say the sound. Or, even better, have them say the letter name and sound: “A says /a/.”

Here’s an example:

You say the word “fish.”

Students say: “Fish.” Students hold up the “i” puppet. Students say: “I says /i/.”

It takes a little time to make the puppets, but once they’re done, you can use them over and over and over again!

You can download the templates HERE!

Activity #2: Sand Writing

Having kids trace a vowel in sand while saying the sound is an easy, engaging multisensory activity!

Just put sand on a paper plate, in an aluminum pie tin, or on a small tray. I like to use colored sand, like this (that’s an Amazon affiliate link), but regular sand works just fine too.

There are a few different things you can do with sand:

Option 1: Say a short vowel sound (i.e. /u/). Students repeat the sound. Students then write the correct letter in sand. While they are writing the letter, they say the letter name and sound (“U” says /u/).

Option 2: Use the same procedures for activity #1, where you say a short vowel word and students identify and write the vowel sound they hear. You’ll still want students to say the letter name and sound while they trace.

If you’re out of sand or want to change things up…try the free Sand Draw app!

Although it’s not quite the same as real sand, kids still get the sensory experience of tracing with their finger while saying the sound aloud.

Activity #3: Picture Sorts

This activity is simple but helpful for students who are having trouble differentiating between the vowel sounds.

Give students a set of picture cards for 2-3 sounds total (i.e., some pictures for a, i, and u). Have them name each picture out loud. Then, have them sort the pictures. When they’re finished, they can “read down” the column of pictures, again naming each picture. Once a student finishes reading down the column, he/she identifies the vowel sound that those pictures all contain.

If you need pictures for sorting, you can grab some HERE!

Activity #4: Vowel Fluency Strips

Even when students know the short vowel sounds, they may not always read them correctly in words!

To help them apply that knowledge, they need lots of practice. In-context practice is important (reading real texts), but isolated practice can be helpful too.

These (free) fluency strips are a great way for students to practice paying close attention to the vowel sound in a word!

These free fluency strips are a great way for students to practice paying close attention to the vowel sound in a word! Read the entire post for more short vowel activities AND to grab all the freebies!

If it helps, students can highlight all the vowels before they read across the strip.

Or, you can laminate the strips and have them use dry erase markers. You can put the strips on a ring, too!

A few of the words in the freebie may be unknown to students, so make sure to talk about what they mean, as well.

Grab the vowel fluency strips HERE!

Activity #5: Short or Long?

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, students tend to experience vowel confusion once they start learning long vowel sounds.

It’s important to go back and review short vowel sounds (and contrast them to the long sounds). Word sorts and picture sorts are great for this. Another fun, simple activity is a game we play called “Short or Long?”

You say a word (or even just a vowel sound), and students have to call out the vowel sound and whether it is long or short (i.e., “Long A!”).

If you have Slinkys or rubber bands, students can stretch or contract them as they call out the vowel sound (i.e. stretching the rubber band long for a long vowel sound).

If you’re working in a larger group setting, you may want to have students write on a whiteboard rather than call out their answer.

Conclusions

I hope these ideas were helpful to you!! Did you grab all 3 freebies? Here they are again, just in case you missed one!

Short vowel craft stick puppets

Short vowel word pictures

Short vowel fluency strips

You can also save this post for later (so you can come back to the activity descriptions) by pinning the image below to your Pinterest account:

This blog post has FREE activities for practicing short vowel sounds with your Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students! Grab these short vowel fluency strips and the short vowel puppets in the post!

To read more about best practices in phonics and word work instruction, check out this post. Or, if you teach Kindergarten and want a scope and sequence for teaching phonics, check out this post!

Happy teaching!




How to Teach Students to Divide Words into Syllables

Did you know that dividing words into syllables is one of the most powerful decoding strategies out there?

If your students are ready to read words with more than one syllable, then it’s time to start teaching syllable division rules!

When readers know the syllable division rules, it A) helps them successfully decode multisyllabic words and B) provides them with clues about the vowel sounds in multisyllabic words!

Knowing how to divide words into syllables gives your kids POWER to attack those longer words!

In today’s post, I’ll explain how to teach students to divide words into syllables!

…And I also have something to confess:

Despite being an English speaker, teacher, and avid reader, I did not know these rules for most of my life.

So if these rules are new to you, don’t sweat it! We’re all learning! All the time!

The 6 Syllable Types

Do you know the 6 syllable types? They are:

  1. Closed
  2. Open
  3. Vowel-Consonant-E (also known as Magic E or Silent E)
  4. Vowel Team
  5. R-Controlled
  6. Consonant-L-E

If you haven’t read my post that goes in-depth on these syllable types, you may want to read that first, and then come back to this post. My 6 syllable types post can be found HERE!

Finding the Number of Syllables in a Word

An important first step in dividing up a word into its syllables is knowing how many syllables the word has.

You may already know that 1 vowel sound = 1 syllable. If a word has 3 vowel sounds, for example, then it has 3 syllables.

(Notice that I’m saying vowel sounds, not actual vowels. The word “cupcake,” for example, technically has 3 vowels. But the e is silent. It only has two syllables because the vowel sounds we hear are the short u and the long a, 2 total vowel sounds.)

Syllable Division Patterns

There are only 6 syllable types, and there are even fewer syllable division patterns!

The syllable division patterns are as follows (V = vowel; C = consonant):

VC/CV

If you have two consonant sounds between two vowel sounds, divide the word between the consonant sounds.

In the word “sunset,” the vowel sounds are the short u and the short e. The two consonants in the middle, n and s, get divided up.

Want to teach your students the syllable division rules? This post explains all of them and also has a link to the 6 syllable types! This is must-know information for first grade, second grade, and on up!

In the word “bathtub,” the vowel sounds are the short a and the short u. The two consonant SOUNDS in the middle are /th/ and /t/. The word gets divided up between the h and the second t.

Want to teach your students the syllable division rules? This post explains all of them and also has a link to the 6 syllable types! This is must-know information for first grade, second grade, and on up!

If there are 3 consonants between the vowels, rather than 2, there’s going to be a blend in there. The sounds that get blended together stay together in one syllable.

For example, in the word “complex,” we divide between the m and the p.

V/CV

Moving on…sometimes there’s just one consonant sound between the vowels, rather than 2.

If this is the case, the first syllable division rule that we try is V/CV (dividing up the word BEFORE the consonant).

For example, in the word “robot,” we divide up the word before the b. This creates an open syllable, “ro,” that ends in a vowel. As a result, the o in that syllable is a long o.

Want to teach your students the syllable division rules? This post explains all of them and also has a link to the 6 syllable types! This is must-know information for first grade, second grade, and on up!

VC/V

However, sometimes the V/CV division rule doesn’t work. This is where it gets a little tricky.

If we try the V/CV rule but discover that it creates an open first syllable that should NOT be open (aka it should not have a long vowel sound), then we have to revert to the VC/V pattern.

For example, let’s think about the word “comet.” It’s pronounced with a short o at the beginning, right? It’s not CO-met. But if we were to apply the V/CV division pattern, that would make the o sound long. Instead, we have to revert to VC/V in order to reflect the fact that the o has the short o sound.

Want to teach your students the syllable division rules? This post explains all of them and also has a link to the 6 syllable types! This is must-know information for first grade, second grade, and on up!

Another example is the word “seven:”

Want to teach your students the syllable division rules? This post explains all of them and also has a link to the 6 syllable types! This is must-know information for first grade, second grade, and on up!

V/V

Last but not least, we have the V/V syllable division rule! When there are two vowels next to each other that do NOT work as a team, then we divide the word between those two separate vowel sounds.

For example, we divide the word “diet” between the i and the e:

Want to teach your students the syllable division rules? This post explains all of them and also has a link to the 6 syllable types! This is must-know information for first grade, second grade, and on up!

However, in a word like “coat,” we do NOT divide between the o and the a. There is only one vowel sound, the long o. Therefore, it’s a one-syllable word, and the o and the a work together to make a single sound. They cannot be divided up.

Tips for Teaching Syllable Division Rules to Students

Okay, so….that’s not too bad, right? Once you understand the four syllable division patterns, then you can teach them to your students!

As you probably noticed from the photos in this post, I have my students circle and label the vowels with red, underline and label the consonants with blue, and then cut or draw a line to divide the words. (Scroll back up through the photos in this post and have a closer look at what I did, if that helps.)

Here’s the procedure:

  1. Look at the word. Circle the vowel sounds with red.
  2. Underline the consonants BETWEEN the vowels (don’t worry about the other consonants).
  3. Determine which syllable division rule (VC/CV, V/CV, VC/V, or V/V) applies. (Students may have to attempt to read the word to choose between V/CV and VC/V.)
  4. Cut or mark the word accordingly.
  5. Read the word.

You can also have students code the syllable types after Step #3 (closed, open, VCE, vowel team, r-controlled, or CLE—read more about the syllable types HERE!)

When we’re learning about syllable division and syllable types, we use strips of paper. Students can copy a word I write on the board (or I prepare the word strips for them ahead of time).

I don’t read the word to them, because the purpose of the division exercise is to get them to break up the word and read it.

Once they’ve copied the word, then we go through Steps 1-5 listed above, and students can cut the word in half.

The ultimate goal of this exercise is to get students to break up multisyllabic words as they read. So, as a bridge between this activity and reading, we use whiteboards or sticky notes to divide up tricky words they encounter in texts.

If I’m working one-on-one with a student and he/she comes to a tricky word, we can write it on a small whiteboard and then break it up.

If students are working on their own, they can write a tricky word on a sticky note, divide it up, read it, and then continue reading.

This does slow down the reading process a little, but I’m telling you…kids feel SO powerful when they can break up words and determine what types of syllables they have. This process also makes it easier for students to figure out the vowel sounds in a word too.

When to Teach This Stuff

You might be wondering, “When should I teach these rules? At what developmental stage or grade level are these appropriate?”

When to teach the VC/CV rule:

Whenever kids have mastered CVC words, they can read 2-syllable words!

Simple compound words are a great place to start. You’ll want to use words like “sunset” and “pigpen” that are 2 CVC words “put together.” At this point, you can teach students the VC/CV rule. You can also explain that both of the syllables in those words are closed and have short vowels.

I don’t normally teach this in Kindergarten, but if I have more advanced students who are truly proficient with CVC words, then it makes sense to give them “access” to these simple 2-syllable words.

Of course, if you give students words with consonant digraphs or blends in between, then it becomes a little more complicated—early first grade may be a better time for those more complicated VC/CV words.

When to teach the V/CV and VC/V rules:

I teach the V/CV rule first, because we always try the V/CV pattern before reverting to VC/V.

You can teach this rule once students know about the long vowel sounds.

They don’t need to have completely mastered long vowels and all their spelling patterns. But they at least need to understand the concepts of open and closed syllables (and how short and long vowels relate to open and closed syllables).

When we’re working on the V/CV rule, I intentionally only give them practice words that follow that rule.

After they understand the V/CV rule, then I explain that sometimes we have to use the VC/V rule instead.

I then give them VC/V words to practice.

Finally, I give them mixed sets of words where they have to choose between V/CV and VC/V.

When to teach the V/V rules:

I wait to teach V/V until students really understand vowel teams and diphthongs.

If students don’t understand vowel teams, then they may try to divide up words like “train” into two syllables, between the a and the i. If they don’t understand diphthongs, they may try to divide up words like “loud” into two syllables.

Once they know the vowel teams and diphthongs, however, they’re more likely to recognize that words like “fluent” have two vowel sounds, not one, and we divide up the word accordingly (flu/ent).

Conclusions

I know this was a lot of information, but I hope it was helpful and that I explained things somewhat clearly!

You may want to pin this post to your Pinterest account so you can come back to it later:

Do you teach your students the syllable division rules? If you teach first grade, second grade, or higher, these are must-know rules! Knowing how to break up words into syllables helps students with decoding and understanding vowel sounds. Learn all about the syllable division rules in this post!

Happy teaching!




The 6 (or 7) Syllable Types: What They Are, Why They Matter, And When To Teach Them!

The English language is a little crazy.

I mean, just read these words: through, tough, though, thought. Same spelling pattern, four different sounds! 😱

But. As weird as our language can be, it’s also predictable and consistent in many ways. In fact, did you know that there are only 6 different types of syllables in English words?

Yup, only 6! (Or 7….but I’ll get to that later.) My point is that there REALLY AREN’T THAT MANY!

Why do the syllable types matter to us, as primary teachers? Because it’s essential that our students understand how English sound and spelling patterns work, and syllables are a big part of that.

Plus, knowing the 6 syllable types….

  • Helps kids divide words into syllables to decode them or write them (We’ll talk more about how to teach syllable division in my next post)
  • Helps kids predict the sound a vowel makes
  • Makes it much easier to break up multisyllabic words

In this post (which is part of my blog series about teaching phonics), I’ll explain what the six syllable types are and when you might teach them to your students.

This post is relevant for first grade and up!

What are the 6 syllable types? How and when should I teach them to my students? This post answers these questions and more!

Okay, hang on. Before we get into the syllable types, let me define the word “syllable” for you:

A syllable is a unit of pronunciation that has one vowel sound.

Words can be made up of one syllable (i.e. chair) or several syllables (i.e. rhi/noc/er/os).

Syllable Type #1: Closed Syllable

What it is: A closed syllable is a syllable that ends with a consonant. The vowel has a short sound.

Word examples:

  • hat (ends with a consonant, t, and has a short a sound)
  • pigpen (this word has two closed syllables, “pig” and “pen,” both with short vowels -> pig/pen)

When to teach it: I usually teach this toward the beginning of first grade. Students should have lots of experience with CVC words. You can introduce 2-syllable words with 2 closed syllables (like “sunset” or “bathtub”) and explain what a closed syllable is. (By the way, in the “bathtub example, the division is bath/tub. Even though the first syllable technically ends with t AND h, they’re a digraph and therefore make one consonant sound, /th/.)

Syllable Type #2: Open Syllable

What it is: An open syllable has one vowel and is NOT “closed in” by a consonant. The vowel is “free to shout its name” (it’s a long vowel).

Word examples:

  • me (no consonant at the end; the vowel is long and “says its name”)
  • robot (the first syllable is “ro” and is open; the second syllable is closed -> ro/bot)

When to teach it: It works well if you teach the concept of an open syllable along with or shortly after teaching closed syllables. Again, the beginning of first grade is ideal for this – but you can also cover this concept at the end of Kindergarten if you’re introducing long vowel sounds. Words like “we” and “me” are great examples to use with Kinders, since they probably already know them by sight.

Syllable Type #3: Silent / Magic / Sneaky E / VCE

What it is: Whatever you wanna call it, the VCE (vowel-consonant-e) syllable type has a silent e at the end and a long vowel sound!

Word examples:

  • bike (the silent e makes the i “say its name” – aka gives it a long vowel sound)
  • mistake (the first syllable is “mis” and is closed; the second syllable is VCE -> mis/take)

When to teach it: This is a good concept to address during first grade, after students know their short and long vowel sounds. They should be familiar with the concepts of open and closed syllables. When you teach this syllable type, you can have students practice changing closed syllables to VCE syllables (i.e. taking “rid” and turning into “ride”).

Syllable Type #4: Vowel Team Syllable

What it is: A vowel team syllable contains two vowels that come together to make one sound. Some people divide up this syllable type into vowel digraphs and vowel diphthongs for a total of 7 syllable types.

Word examples:

  • steam (the vowel team is the e and the a coming together to make the long e sound)
  • soapbox (the first syllable is “soap” and has the vowel team “oa;” the second syllable is closed)

When to teach it: I usually teach this in first grade – after students are very comfortable with open and closed syllables, as well as silent e. I always have to review this in second grade, too.

Syllable Type #5: R-Controlled Syllable

What it is: In an r-controlled syllable, the letter “r” follows a vowel. The vowel doesn’t make a short OR long sound – rather, it’s “controlled” or “influenced” by the r and makes a different sound altogether.

Word examples:

  • star (the a is controlled by the r)
  • lobster (the first syllable is “lob,” a closed syllable, and the second syllable is “ster,” an r-controlled syllable -> lob/ster)

When to teach it: I teach this in first grade. I feel like it’s a toss-up between r-controlled syllables and vowel team syllables – either concept can be taught after kids learn open syllables, closed syllables, and silent e. I definitely review this concept in 2nd grade. And there are some more complex r-influenced spelling patterns that can be covered in later grades.

Syllable Type #6: Consonant-L-E Syllable

What it is: In a CLE syllable, a consonant + the letters “l” and “e” come at the end of the syllable.

Word examples:

  • table (the first syllable is “ta,” an open syllable, and the second syllable is “ble,” a CLE syllable)
  • example (ex/am/ple – the first two syllables are both closed, and the last syllable, “ple,” is a CLE syllable)

When to teach it: This is usually the last syllable type that I teach, and we typically address it in second grade.

Conclusion

If you didn’t know about the 6 syllable types until you read this post, you’re not alone!! I didn’t learn about this in my undergraduate education program, nor in my reading specialist master’s program! I learned this stuff after becoming a teacher – but boy, it sure has made teaching phonics easier!

In my next post, I’ll go in-depth on how to divide words into syllables.

Happy teaching!




A Yearlong Guide to Teaching Phonics in Kindergarten

Teaching phonics in Kindergarten is unique because our students grow and change so much during the school year!

As a result, the way I deliver my phonics instruction changes throughout the year too.

So I wanted to share with you a “big picture” guide that takes you through the entire Kindergarten year, showing you how my instruction shifts to meet students’ changing needs.

This post has a lot of info in it, so I also want to give you something you can take, print, and keep! Before you start reading the post, go ahead and grab the freebie by clicking the image below. It’ll be a great companion to the post and give you something to refer back to later!

One important thing to keep in mind is that, while students tend to learn phonics skills in a predictable order (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2015), they don’t all learn these skills at the same pace.

So although this is generally how I teach phonics throughout the year, I tweak this plan every single year, based upon my students’ needs.

Wondering how to teach phonics in Kindergarten? This post takes you through the entire YEAR and has a freebie you can download!

Schedule for Teaching Phonics Throughout the School Year

Below is a general timetable of how things work in my Kindergarten classroom:

Weeks 1-9: Initial Alphabet Instruction + CVC Word Introduction: whole group; can begin small group toward the end of this phase

Weeks 10-15: Alphabet Review + Digraphs: brief whole group review / instruction + differentiated instruction in small groups (topics will vary by group)

Weeks 16-31: Word Families / CVC Words: brief whole group review / instruction + differentiated instruction in small groups (can begin word sorts toward the middle/end of this phase, for those who are ready)

Weeks 32-36: Long Vowel Sounds (if required to teach) + Review CVC Words, Digraphs, Word Families: brief whole group review / instruction + differentiated instruction in small groups

Again, this timetable will vary—and the content of what you teach may vary too! Every Kindergarten class is different; always do what’s developmentally appropriate for your kids.

Next, I’ll go over each phase in more detail. I’ll explain what it looks like and what we’re working on.

Weeks 1-9: Initial Alphabet Instruction + CVC Word Introduction

For the first 8-9 weeks of school, I teach several letters each week.

We go through the letter name, letter sound, and how to properly form the letter. We also brainstorm words the begin with the target letter.

We have a whole class minilesson each day, and then the kids have some type of follow-up practice.

The follow-up practice might be a picture sort, a letter tracing/writing activity, or something along those lines.

I do a couple of letters each week so that students who are ready can begin using those letters and sounds in their reading and writing as soon as possible. On the other hand, if I were to do one letter per week, it’d take 3/4 of the school year to get through them all.

During this introduction phase, my goal is not 100% mastery of all letters and sounds by all students. I mean…that would be nice. 😉 But the point is to familiarize them with the letters, and then I follow up with differentiation during the next phase.

If you have a Kindergarten class with a big range of needs (i.e., some strong readers and some kids who can’t yet identify the letters in their name), you might be wondering, “Is this whole group instruction a good idea?” And you might know that research has shown that it’s important to differentiate when teaching letters and letter sounds (Stahl, 2014).

However, at the beginning of the year, unless you happen to have a class of all advanced readers, I think it’s important to make time for this whole group baseline instruction.

Here’s why I do this whole group:

  • Whole group activities at the beginning of the year build community and lay out a common foundation for the entire class.
  • My students just aren’t ready to work independently, at least not for an extended period of time! If I put them in centers the second week of school so that I can pull small groups to differentiate my alphabet instruction, it’s probably not going to go very well.
  • All students benefit from this “baseline instruction.” Even Kinders who are already reading might need to learn proper letter formation. Or they could use a review of the basic letter sounds before they move onto more complex sound patterns.

(If you do have a class of strong readers, you can always speed up the pace at which you introduce the letters.)

Of course, even though we do these letter activities in a whole group setting, there’s still some built-in differentiation.

For example, with the picture sorts that we do frequently, students can stretch out and write the word under each picture. Some kids may only get the first letter (if that). Others may be able to write the entire word correctly.

Oh! I also want to mention that I actually start working with my students on CVC words during this first block of time. After 5 or so weeks of school, they’re going to know about 10 letters, including two vowels (a and i, if you use my scope and sequence, which is included in the freebie).

That means that we can start blending! I display three letters and model how I say each sound aloud. Then, I blend the sounds together. After this, we blend as a class, and then I’ll have them try on their own. (I do – we do – you do).

And since they know a few letters by now, we can start manipulating the cards to make different words!

At this point, I’m not asking all of my students to read CVC words on their own. This drill simply familiarizes them with the blending process, and students who are ready for it will take off.

Separately, we’re also doing a lot of phonological awareness work, because kids need to be able to blend 3 sounds you say aloud before they can read CVC words with much success.

And although we do a little blending, the focus is still on learning the letter names and sounds (and other phonological awareness skills).

So that’s the first chunk of the year! In the free download that goes with this post (see below), I included a suggested order for teaching the letters.

At the end of this time period, I make sure to assess students’ letter knowledge so that I know how to differentiate my instruction as we move more into small groups.

Weeks 10-15: Alphabet Review + Digraphs

By now you’ve covered all of the letter names and sounds! At this point in the year, I shift to a little bit less whole group phonics instruction and a little more small group phonics instruction.

I still think it’s very helpful to have some type of whole group review or teaching activity…but I keep it brief.

During this time period, we typically review some of the letters that have been tricky for students. And eventually we add on digraphs (ch, sh, th, wh, ck)—although I wait until most students know most of the letters before throwing in digraphs in a whole group setting. We definitely work on digraphs in small groups—for those students who are ready, if any are ready at all!

Speaking of small groups, I mentioned that my instructional mode for teaching phonics shifts at this point in the year. We start doing more small group work, and I differentiate as much as possible to meet students’ individual needs. The assessment data I gathered at the end of Week 9 helps me decide what letters students still need to work on.

However, I don’t usually have dedicated phonics small groups. I usually integrate phonics instruction into guided reading/small groups.

You can read more about what small group looks like for pre-readers in THIS POST.

Weeks 16-31: Word Families / CVC Words

This next “block” of time is somewhat similar to the previous one, in that we continue to work on phonics mostly in a small group setting. Kids who are ready can begin doing some simple word sorts (in addition to picture sorts).

When we do quick phonics lessons in a whole group setting, I tend to focus on CVC words and word families, as long as most students in the class are ready for that.

At the same time, some students are still working on letters and letter sounds, and that’s okay! (And on the other hand, some students may be far ahead, even working on long vowels.) That’s why I do most of my instruction in that differentiated, small group setting.

Sometimes, depending on my schedule and the students, I start dedicated phonics small groups. These are separate from guided reading. It makes sense to do this if your students’ reading skills are really taking off and you need that guided reading time mostly for reading. Otherwise, you can just incorporate your differentiated phonics instruction into the small groups you’re already seeing.

Weeks 32-36: Long Vowel Sounds (if required to teach) + Review CVC Words, Digraphs, Word Families

These last few weeks of school are kind of a medley of things!

If I’m required to teach long vowel sounds to the whole group, I usually do this then.

We also do a lot of review of CVC words, digraphs, and word families. Again, most instruction happens in a small group setting.

Schedule for Teaching Phonics Throughout the School Year

The thing about teaching phonics in Kindergarten—in any grade level, really—is that it’s going to vary from year to year. Although students’ learning usually follows that predictable trajectory, kids just develop at different rates.

All the same, I hope this post was helpful in giving you a “big picture” look at teaching phonics throughout the year in Kindergarten!

Don’t forget to download the freebie so you have this information for the future!

Happy teaching!

References

Bear, D. R., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2015). Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (6th ed.). Pearson.

Stahl, K. K. (2014). New insights about letter learning. Reading Teacher, 68(4), 261-265.




Dealing with Gaps in Students’ Phonics Knowledge: How to Prevent and “Fill In” the Holes

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Hmm…he should know that already…” when listening to a student struggle to decode a word, or when you notice that a student misspelled a word?

Gaps in phonics knowledge (students’ understanding of and ability to apply sound and spelling patterns) are super common. For example, sometimes you end up with fifth graders who are decent readers but can’t spell long vowel patterns they should have mastered back in second grade!

Unfortunately, these gaps can create big problems for students. They can create decoding challenges that slow down their reading. Slower reading can then lead to poorer comprehension.

Gaps can also result in poor spelling abilities. And sure, spell check is great, but everyone needs to write by hand sometimes—and not having any idea how to spell a word will definitely slow you down!

However, the good news is that we CAN take steps to prevent gaps and to address them when they show up.

I recently chatted with Kelly Hoover, from Ascend Learning / Smarter Intervention, about what we can do about these gaps. She and the Ascend team are experts at working with students who struggle with skills like phonics, and she had some great tips (and freebies!) to share with me!

Check out our interview here:

Isn’t Kelly awesome?! I hope you enjoy the interview! Below are the links we mentioned:

Ascend Learning blog: https://www.ascendlearningcenter.com/blog-highlights/

Freebies (scope and sequence, assessments): https://www.ascendlearningcenter.com/primarypond

Want to save this post to come back to later? Pin the image below:

Gaps in phonics knowledge are super common but can cause some big problems. This post has a video with tips for preventing and addressing gaps in students' phonics knowledge!
Photo Credits: Yoganov Konstantin, Shutterstock

Happy teaching!




5 Super Important Things about Teaching Phonics that I Wish I’d Learned in College

When I found out that I had to take a Spanish linguistics course in college, I was pretty annoyed. Linguistics sounded mind-numbingly boring, and…it kinda was. 😛

But what I didn’t know is that—years later—that course would actually help me become a better reading and phonics teacher!

Let’s back up a little. My undergraduate majors in college were Elementary Education and Spanish. The Spanish major required that I take all kinds of history and literature and language courses—hence the linguistics class that I dreaded so much.

Somehow, I passed the class. 🙂 And I graduated and started teaching Pre-K  and then Kindergarten (in English).

I knew embarrassingly little about teaching phonics in English (sorry, kids!), but I stumbled and fumbled my way through. Somehow those Kinders learned how to read!

After a couple of years, I moved to a new school for a bilingual Kindergarten position, where I was teaching reading in Spanish. And all of a sudden….DING! The lightbulb went on. I felt much more confident teaching phonics in Spanish because I knew the ins and outs of the language. I understood how words were divided up into syllables, where the accent marks should go, what diphthongs were, and all that good stuff. It turns out that the linguistic course wasn’t such a waste after all! 😉

Anyway, you might be thinking, “Okay…so what’s the point of all this?” Here’s what I’m trying to show:

When I had a deeper understanding of the structure of the language, I was a better phonics and reading teacher. When I didn’t have a deep understanding of the structure of the language (even though I’ve spoken English all my life), I wasn’t well equipped to provide strong, clear phonics instructions.

Although my undergraduate reading education program was good (and so was my graduate degree in reading/literacy leadership), in hindsight, I wish that I’d learned more about the structure of the English language and how to teach phonics to my students.

I’ve had to figure out a lot on my own. I’ve also taken 30 hours of Orton-Gillingham training. I wanted to do all this to become a better teacher, but wouldn’t it make more sense if this information was shared with EVERY elementary or early childhood teacher during their degree program?

If you’re in the same boat that I was and would like to learn more about the structure of English and teaching phonics, then you’re in the right place! This is the first post in my new phonics series. In today’s post, I’m going to share 5 essential things about teaching phonics that I wish I’d learned in college!

Do you know these 5 things about teaching phonics? If you're a Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade teacher, these concepts are essential for successfully teaching reading!Photo Credits:  Joaquin Corbalan P, Shutterstock

1. One in five students NEED explicit, systematic phonics instruction (that uses multisensory techniques) in order to become proficient in reading.

Systematic, explicit phonics instruction is important for all students. But at least 20% of our students show signs of dyslexia. Many of those students will not become fully proficient readers unless they have clear, systematic, and explicit phonics instruction. This means that we need to teach sound and spelling patterns in an order that’s developmentally appropriate, incorporate frequent review, and show students how to apply that knowledge to reading and writing. Students with dyslexia also benefit from multisensory phonics instruction (instruction that incorporates multiple senses; for example, tracing a word in the air while simultaneously spelling it aloud).

2. Students are better equipped to decode words when they know syllable division rules.

For a long time, I didn’t know the syllable division rules for English. Nor did I understand that knowing the rules can help readers figure out vowel sounds and decode words! I’ll address the syllable division rules in a future post.

3. There are 6 different types of syllables in the English language.

That’s it—only 6! Students benefit from learning the 6 syllable types and knowing how to use them to decode words. In a future post, I’ll explain more about the syllable types.

4. Multisensory phonics instructional techniques (that are sometimes deemed “for special education”) are fun and useful for ALL students.

In #1, I mentioned that 20% of kids show signs of dyslexia and need multisensory phonics instruction. You may not know (at least not at the beginning of the year) which students fall into this 20%. However, ALL students benefit from learning phonics in a systematic, explicit way, through multisensory techniques. So you can use this “stuff” with everyone!

5. We can predict (some) reading difficulties at a rather early age.

This one’s for you, Kindergarten teacher friends! (And probably first grade teachers too.) If you notice that some of your students are really struggling with phonological awareness skills, this is an indicator that they may struggle with reading in the future. Researchers now believe that people with dyslexia have weaker phonological processing abilities than their non-dyslexic peers. Tasks like rhyming or segmenting words can be more difficult for students with dyslexia. But here’s the good news: when you know this, you can start providing extra support and interventions right away (like more phonological awareness instruction and practice).

What’s Next?

This post is just the tip of the iceberg. I have lots more planned for you! I hope that this series will help you feel more confident in teaching reading and phonics. And I’d love to hear from you in the comments if this is an area in teaching that you feel/felt under-prepared for!

See you next Saturday for the next post!




5 Tips for Creating a Classroom Environment Where Kids LOVE to Read

I’ve always loved reading—as a kid and as an adult. I also want my students to develop a love of reading, and if you’re reading this post, you must feel the same way!

Unfortunately, not all our students love reading when they enter our classrooms. Maybe they’ve struggled with reading in the past. Maybe reading isn’t valued at home. Or maybe they just haven’t gotten hooked on a good book yet!

Whatever the case may be, I try hard to create a classroom environment that celebrates reading and supports reading engagement. In today’s post, I share 5 strategies I use to create this atmosphere. I’m guessing that you probably use some of these strategies already, but I hope you’ll find at least one good reminder or inspiration!

Want your kids to enjoy reading? This post has 5 ideas for creating a classroom environment where kids love to read!Photo Credit:  weedezign, Shutterstock

#1: Watch your language. 

The words we use to talk about reading are SO powerful! I think the best way to explain this is to give some examples of things I say to my students:

  • “What do you love to read about?”
  • “I thought it was so interesting how the author…”
  • “I think you’ll love this book because…”
  • “What book in your bag/bin are you most excited about?”
  • “I can tell you really enjoyed that book.”
  • “Reading that book really helped you learn about _____, didn’t it?”
  • “Last night before bed, I was reading…”

#2: Get them talking about their reading!

I’m in a book club, and I LOVE it! It motivates me to read and try new books. Most kids love it when we make reading a more “social” activity! Here are a few ideas to try:

  • If your students’ nightly homework is reading, have them chat with a partner about what they read (i.e. during your morning meeting)
  • Incorporate partner reading into your reading workshop, literacy centers, or Daily 5 time
  • Have students recommend books to each other (you can make little postcards available, students can write book reviews or letters, or even just hand each other books to read)

#3: Let them choose books.

My students don’t get to choose every book that they read; for example, in guided reading, I’m the one choosing the texts. But when they’re reading on their own, I do want to give them a choice. Choice is so motivating!

At the same time, letting kids choose their own books can cause some issues. I’ve had students who consistently chose books that were way too difficult for them to read independently. They just sat there, pretend-reading, during independent reading time.

So here’s how I’ve dealt with this issue: I give each student a book bag for keeping his/her books. When the kids go to the classroom library, they know that they can choose half of their books from anywhere, and half of their books have to come from a color-coded bin. The color-coded bins correspond to their guided reading groups, and in each bin, I place familiar texts or texts that I know will be easy for them to read. This way, even if students choose some way-too-hard or way-too-easy books, half of their books should still be at their independent reading level.

On top of that, we regularly discuss choosing “good fit” books. I talk about how it’s much more fun to read a book that’s a good fit.

One other thing—if you feel like students aren’t enjoying the books in your classroom library, see if you can incorporate additional types of texts. Try comic books or kids’ magazines. Search for books at yard sales, create a DonorsChoose project, or ask your principal for funds to purchase books.

#4: Incorporate novelty.

The human brain LOVES novelty! My kids’ interest is immediately piqued when I mention that something is “new.” Here are some ideas for incorporating novelty into reading:

  • Don’t put all your books in the library at once. Rotate in new books periodically.
  • Display books attractively, and rotate the displays. Try a rotating shelf (like you might see in a bookstore or library).
  • Check out books from the school or local library and make them available for students to read. I usually get a bag of “special” books each month. During independent reading time, I draw names and allow students to borrow books from the bag. Students can return them at the end of independent reading, so I don’t worry about losing them.

#5: Focus on intrinsic (rather than extrinsic) rewards.

I’m not completely opposed to incentivized reading programs that give rewards (like food, or free tickets to something) for reading. Once in a while, I think that they can motivate a child to read more…and in doing so, the child learns that he loves reading!

That said, I’m still not a big fan. In my classroom, I don’t provide extrinsic rewards for reading. If there’s something that’s going on school-wide, I have students handle it at home, and I don’t make a big deal of it.

I’d much rather send the message that…

  • Reading is fun
  • Reading is interesting
  • Reading can help us learn about people and things we never see in our everyday lives

So I avoid saying, “If you read x, then you get y.” Being able to read is the reward!

The Big Picture

I wish I could say that ALL my students ALWAYS leave my classroom with a deep love of reading. That’s not the case.

will say, though, that very few of my students leave saying “I don’t like reading.” I think this is the case because I make it my mission to help them find books that interest and engage them.

So are all of your students going to fall completely in love with reading? Maybe not. But I think we can at least get them to be engaged readers, and that will set them up for success in their future school years.

Do you have any tips for fostering a love of reading? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Happy teaching!




How Saying NO Will Make You a Better, Happier Teacher

Do you often feel like you have TOO much going on in your life? That you’re constantly on the go? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max?

Teaching is a crazy, time-consuming job in itself. And many of us have lots of other responsibilities at home—as well as things that we want to do for fun and to stay healthy!

It’s difficult to balance it all. Honestly, I feel out-of-balance more often than not.

But I’m working to correct that. And one thing that’s helped me is to learn to say NO!

What I mean is this: I’m learning to think more carefully about whether an opportunity or activity is aligned with my goals—for myself, for my family, and for my students. If it’s not, then I turn it down or eliminate it.

When you say NO to something, that means that you’re saying YES to something else. For example, if you say NO to an after-school responsibility, you might be saying YES to more time for your own kids, time to exercise, or even just time to relax!!

In theory, this sounds pretty easy. But in practice, it’s not that simple. In today’s post, I’m going to take you through a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Photo Credits:  vgstudio, Shutterstock

Step 1: Make a list of everything you’re involved in and responsible for.

Okay, I know, this can seem like a giant task in itself. 😱 But keep it relatively simple. Here’s my current list:

  • Reading specialist job (part-time)
  • Running an early literacy preschool program (once/week)
  • Learning At The Primary Pond (blog, TpT store, etc.)
  • Book club
  • Women’s social club (I’m the organizer)
  • Taking care of the house
  • Taking care of our cats
  • Food prep

Step 2: Take a sheet of paper and create “webs of responsibilities.”

Draw small circles or bubbles on your paper (1 for each item on your list from Step #1). It’ll look something like this:

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Next, create a little “web of responsibilities” for each item. For example, for my reading specialist job, I’m responsible for lesson planning, finding materials if I don’t have them, prepping materials, assessing students, and communicating with staff/parents.

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

You can get as general or as detailed as you like.

Step 3: Analyze your webs.

Once you finish your webs, take a step back.

THAT’S A LOT OF STUFF YOU’VE GOT GOING ON THERE!!!!!!!!

It’s no wonder we’re all so stressed out—we have a LOT to handle! All of that takes up time and mental space.

So now it’s time to step back. Turn your paper over, and on the back, jot some notes about things that you really value. For example, here are mine:

  • Time with family & friends
  • Helping my students become successful readers
  • Supporting other teachers
  • Being healthy and active
  • Free time

After you’re done with that, look back at your web. Are there any responsibilities you have that don’t align with what you value? If so, think about how you might eliminate them. Could you get help from someone else? Could you just QUIT doing them entirely? Could you cut back on the amount of time you spend on them?

Sometimes, though, your responsibilities seem like they DO align with your values. However, if you’re doing too much and constantly feeling stressed, then something’s got to give—even if it’s something that seems important at first glance.

Is there anything you can start saying “no” to? Here are my own examples:

Things I say “no” to at school:

  • Extracurricular / other responsibilities that are outside of my regular work hours (I still spend more time than I’m paid for at school, but only when it’s something that’s directly related to my students’ success)
  • Seasonal bulletin boards (this is more from when I was still in the classroom, because I don’t have any bulletin boards as a reading specialist—but what I did was create bulletin boards that last all year long and are simple to change out, and you can read about how to do that HERE)
  • Teaching activities that take a ton of time to prep, but that aren’t reusable or that students finish very quickly (trust me, I spend plenty of time prepping, but I very rarely spend hours on something that the kids will do once for 20 minutes!)

Things that I say “no” to at home:

  • Being responsible for all the housework and cooking (when I was first married, I took on too much, but now hubby definitely does his share and sometimes more!)
  • Making homemade food for our book club brunches. Everyone loves the store-bought stuff just as much!
  • Running frequent errands (I use Amazon Prime and a Prime subscription box that brings us things we use consistently each month!)

Sometimes we feel like we HAVE to do something, but in reality, it’s an internal expectation that we impose on ourselves rather than something that others truly expect of us. Do you HAVE to do a super cute and Pinteresty “thank you” gift for your room parents? No, you don’t—unless that brings you a lot of joy AND you happen to have time for it. (A heartfelt thank-you note takes less time and is just as meaningful.)

This feeling that we HAVE to do something is super relevant to planning lessons and activities for our students. Through the internet, we have access to so many different ideas and options. But that doesn’t mean we can or should do them all.

As I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of activities that require tons and tons of prep and then students finish them in 15 minutes. If I’m going to invest a lot of time and effort, I want to create something that will last a while, or that I can at least re-use.

I want my students to learn and have fun, but I can make that happen with even the most mundane lessons. My students love having choices, developing relationships with me and their peers, and becoming competent with what they’re working on. I can accomplish all that without always having the most outrageous, over-the-top lessons and activities.

Now, I’m not saying that you should eliminate EVERYTHING in your life that’s not necessary for survival. Sometimes those “unnecessary” things are what make teaching (and life) fun, and sometimes you want to go the extra mile to show love for others!

All I’m saying is this—you have more control over your time than you might think. If you choose your activities wisely and align them with your values, you’ll likely be happier and less stressed.

Step 4: Do it! Say NO!

By now, hopefully you’ve identified at least a couple of things that you can say NO to. But I think that’s the easy part; the hard part is actually doing it and following through, especially if you’re saying NO to someone else.

My friend April likes to say, “No is a complete sentence.” (She’s much better at saying “no” than I am. Maybe someday I’ll get to her level. ;-)) Anyway, what she means by that is that you DON’T have to explain yourself or justify yourself when saying “no.”

If someone asks you to do something and you want to decline, try saying, “I’m not able to do that,” or “Sorry, but I’m not able to help.”

If you’re an “impulse yes-person,” then you can also ask for some time to think about it. And then say “no” later. 😛

What are you going to say NO to?

I hope that this post and process help you make some decisions about how to simplify your life a little.

It can be really hard to say NO, especially if you’re someone (like me) who enjoys making other people happy. If it helps, think about it this way: when you’re happier and less stressed, everyone around you benefits—your students, your family, your friends.

So what are you going to say NO to this year? I’d love it if you’d share in the comments. Happy teaching!!