Ask me anything: A special education teacher answers your burning questions!

Ever wondered what goes on in the special education resource room? Or how to help your students who are struggling and may need special education support?

In today’s post, I have answers for you!!

Photo Credits: stockfour; Shutterstock

One of my blog readers, special education teacher Krista Perine, has generously offered to answer your questions!

Here’s a little about her:

Hi!  My name is Krista Perine and I’m so glad I was able to help Alison out!  I am finishing up my 7th year as a special education teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada, and still love what I do!  I actually started out my teaching career in the general education setting as a high school history teacher before pursuing my masters degree in special education.  I graduated from Northern Illinois University in December 2012 with my MS.Ed in Special Education with a Learning Behavior Specialist I concentration, all while working full time as a special education teacher!  I have some type of special education teaching experience in almost all grades, from Kindergarten to age 21. In the past, I mostly worked with students with behavioral and emotional needs in different capacities (i.e., in co-taught classrooms, resource, and therapeutic/residential schools), but for the past 2 years I found my passion working with K-2 students with specific learning disabilities in a self-contained classroom.

I’m so grateful that Krista was willing to do this!

I put out the call for questions on my Facebook page and Instagram: what do you want to know about teaching special education? We got some great questions, and here are Krista’s answers!

Question: What are some good activities to strengthen working memory?

Krista’s answer: Great question!  I find that using a lot of hands-on activities and movement is a great way to help strengthen working memory, and it can be used for any subject, including behavior!  For example, I use a program for teaching letters’ names and sounds to my students that incorporates movement for each letter, which gets them moving and connects their learning to a specific movement and increases their likelihood of remembering the letter sound!  For math, my students were struggling with “greater than, less than,” and off the top of my head I came up with a little name for the “alligators” (for example, “Gary Greater Than”).  I then had them make alligator mouths open and shut in the direction of the alligator’s mouth and say “Chomp chomp!” which represented that alligator eating the bigger number, and now my students almost always gets this answer correct!  For behavior, having those call backs are a big help to getting their attention, and it’s fun for them.  Any time you can have your students moving always helps!

Question: Do you have ideas for effective communication between gen/sped in the busy school environment?

Krista’s answer: Become friends with the gen ed teachers!  Honestly, that’s how I get my students’ needs met—you become friends with them, and then they’re more likely to interact with you more and be okay with you interrupting their class to talk to you.  🙂  But in all seriousness, providing them with an “IEP at a Glance” worksheet is really helpful for them. I also have them fill out a questionnaire/progress monitoring sheet about how they’re doing in your class, and that’s really helpful.  I have them fill it out before they have IEP meetings and for the end of the year report cards.

Question: How can I help my students with special needs the most in a full class?

Krista’s answer: Make it easy for everyone—differentiate for all of your students.  You will always have those students who are lower academically but will never receive sped services, but you know they need help, right?  Scaffolding and providing differentiation is the best way to do it; it’s easy because you have to do it for everyone now 🙂  Also, relationships are key!  Get to know your sped student(s) and their family.  Their parents are more likely to help you out too!

Question: How do you teach sight words?

Krista’s answer: Like I mentioned before, I make it as interactive as possible.  I use hand motions to get them to remember what the word is, and I have them practice!  I always introduce them during their morning meeting, and we work with them throughout the day.  Make them part of games (i.e., hopscotch with sight words).  Also, a big motivator to get these students to learn them is to have a sticker chart that they can get for each set of 5 sight words they learn 🙂

Question: Is there a good resource for tracking attention?

Krista’s answer: A stopwatch/timer.  Set it for 5 minutes (or for however long you’d like) and each time it goes off, check to see if the student is paying attention to you.  (An easy tally sheet can help you with this).  Also, check for understanding in simple ways that won’t make them stand out.  You can provide red/green cards, and if your student is having problems, but has difficulty asking for help, have them turn the red card side up, and that can help you determine if they’re paying attention.

Question: How do you support reading comprehension in K students on the autism spectrum?

Krista’s answer: I have heard great things about Reading A-Z and the Unique Learning System.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of experience with these programs, but my coworkers use them, and they love it.  I have used -Wh questions supported with pictures, and that really helps my students out!

Question:What are the signs that a K student should have a speech assessment or referral?

Krista’s answer: I unfortunately don’t know a lot about this, but I do know that all of my students have difficulty with the letters “l, w, r, s and y.”  For example, if their letter r sounds like a w (i.e., red=wed), that could be a sign to watch for.  My recommendation is to ask your speech pathologist and determine if that is something that you would need to watch for.

Question: What are some key strategies for engaging/distracting children into learning activities?

Krista’s answer: If I understand what you’re saying, is “how can I trick my students into learning?,” well that’s easy.  Make it fun!  Have them play games that involve sight words (memory/match), make it interactive and hands on.  Also, make it relevant to them.  Do they like basketball?  Have a basketball game in which you hold up a letter and they have to give you the sound.  For each sound they get correct, they get to shoot a basket.  Once they see that the activity is fun and engaging, they’re more likely to participate!

Alison’s note: I didn’t know all of the acronyms in the question below, but if you don’t either, don’t stop reading – Krista has some great ideas that you can use to track and monitor behavior for any purpose!

Question: As a gen ed k teacher, what data/ tracking tools could I use easily to look at emotional needs that cannot be met by one teacher? I would want to use the data to bring to the IST table in hopes of getting the student the proper placement of an ICT setting. Hopefully trying to prove OHI as a classification. Ideas?

Krista’s answer: An ABC Chart with times, duration, and/or frequency.  A=Antecedent, B=Behavior, and C=Consequence.  The antecedent is what happens right before the behavior (i.e., you were giving instructions).  Behavior=what they child did (i.e., screaming).  The consequence (and this is the key!) is what was done immediately after the behavior (i.e., you ignored student).  Having a tally mark of what happens during these events in 30 minute increments really helps.  Also, provide an intervention timeline (what you did to help reinforce good behavior) to determine if that helped decrease the behavior (i.e., student would get a sticker for each time they didn’t scream after directions are given).  Behaviors always get worse before they get better, so I always say try the intervention out for 3 weeks before changing to something else.  Keeping data for 3 weeks or more is the best practice!

These were some GREAT questions and great answers, right?! Thanks so much to Krista and to everyone who contributed questions.

If you’re looking to learn more about reading interventions, you can check out this post.

Krista also mentioned that she’s happy to answer reader questions, so let us know if you’ve got one! 🙂 Happy teaching!

Superhero Teachers: Stories of Teachers Overcoming Intense Personal Challenges

Teaching is one of those jobs where you can’t kick back and “take an easy day.”

Regardless of what you have going on outside of school…regardless of if you’re not feeling well…you have a class of little ones who NEED you. They need your attention, your love, your encouragement, your instruction, your support.

Teaching’s hard enough as it is, but when you have other challenges going on outside of school, it becomes all the more difficult.

Normally, my blog posts focus on literacy instruction and teaching strategies. Today’s post is very different.

In today’s post, I’m going to share 2 stories from teachers who faced incredible challenges outside of school.

They struggled to balance school with their personal battles. But they did it. These ladies are so strong, and I’m so grateful that they were willing to share their stories with me and with you.

Story #1:

This story was written by Karen D. In it, she shares how she overcame family addiction and divorce, all while teaching and raising her son. Here’s her story, in her own words:

Divorce is hard. Teaching is hard. Living both simultaneously is a nightmare. Trying to maintain my professional life while going through a very ugly breakup and divorce was extremely difficult.

My ex-husband, who will be named Lee for this blog, became addicted to opiates during our marriage. When our son was 9 months old, I found out about the addiction (which he hid very well) and all of the bad habits that came with it.  Those revelations were the beginning of my change in personality. I began to change from my role of happy mother/wife/teacher to a very stressed, angry and controlling version of myself. I distinctly remember my first incident of controlling behavior in my classroom. I came in from a long weekend and a bulletin board was hung where I hadn’t asked for it to be hung. I was livid, irrationally livid. I just kept saying “who did this?” with an incredulous voice. Another teacher came and took it down quickly to appease me and make me stop. This was just maybe a week after Lee came clean about everything, and I was trying to keep control in one aspect of my life, and it was going to be my classroom.

Slowly, the chaos of his addiction began affecting me, and it slowly bled into dealings with co-workers. At one point, I was asked to chat with my principal. Another teacher on my team had complained extensively about my attitude and frostiness toward the other teachers. I remember bursting into tears and letting it all spill out. This was the day before Lee was heading to a treatment center. He had been caught stealing meds from customers while on the job and was being charged with theft. Coming clean to my principal allowed me some grace in dealing with this co-worker. She stood by me in our meeting, and I apologized to my co-worker while still giving no more details outside of having some “personal struggles.” I was not ready to share what was really going on. Throughout his time in treatment, I continued about my business.  I trained a new teacher and helped her set up her classroom while also helping a long-term sub manage her assignment. I had two different lives happening, and I was determined to keep them separate after the meeting with my principal and co-worker.

I was only able to keep this juggling act up for so long. As Lee’s addiction worsened, I resorted to hiding cash and credit cards in my desk. I had to call in because Lee wrote a bad check for daycare, and I was turned away at the door. I had to call in when his car was repossessed from lack of payment. It was never ending; seeing notices of him getting into my bank account to send himself a check, getting overdraft charges and calls from my credit card companies because he had maxed them out when I thought I had hidden the card well enough. He was arrested for multiple speeding tickets and was blowing up my phone during a parent meeting to bail him out. I somehow stayed the course while students were in my room. During this time I was chosen as Teacher of the Year. I detached as soon as those kids were in my care, and I could focus on them and them only, and shut out the chaos. I think back and don’t know how I managed to do it.

I finally had two major breakthroughs; I filed for divorce and came clean to my team, all in the same week. I was tired of the chaos and of lying to people. Some had noticed my wedding ring was off, and all I did was stop the gossip. This was when things began to change. Little treats would show up on my desk overnight along with notes of support. For my birthday I was given a very nice movie gift card to give me something to do for myself. My demeanor improved too; I was happier and more relaxed. Through it all I had always kept my cool with the students; working with them was its own type of therapy. Unfortunately, my fellow teachers felt the brunt of all my emotions.

It’s crazy to reflect back on all of this. There was so much that happened. I think I tried to forget about all of it. I never lost my passion for teaching, and it drove me to focus so much on work. Teaching was an escape; confiding in my co-workers made the pain bearable. Teaching kept me afloat during this tumultuous time in my life.

I’m so moved by Karen’s story. Isn’t her strength incredible??

Story #2:

This story is written by Pamela G. It’s her story about battling cancer—which she’s still in the midst of. I think we can all learn from her comments about priorities and keeping challenges in perspective. Here’s her story, in her own words.

I’ve been a teacher for 19 years. During that time I have put my heart and soul into my job. It has been my everything! I have worked hours creating, making, and developing things for my students in my classroom. I’ve taught kindergarten and first grade.  I’ve been in charge of committees, programs, training, PLC’s, grade level events—you name it, and I’ve probably done it. There have been so many opportunities and challenges in the past 19 years, but nothing compares with the news I received on December 27, 2017. I was told I had colorectal cancer. Needless to say, my world changed in an instant. I was referred to an oncologist, had a port surgically implanted, and began the process of chemotherapy within 2 weeks. I hadn’t even processed all this information. I had been dealing with cancer in my family for a long time, so it wasn’t unfamiliar water. My mom has a mutated form of ovarian cancer and has been fighting for over 15 years. So I had some knowledge, but nothing prepared me for the journey that lay ahead. I continued to work, only taking time off for chemo and then carrying the 48 hours of medication with me to school. I worked as much as I could. By March I had a reaction to the medication, so chemo was halted. Things were going well until I developed anemia and ended up in the ER. I was taken in for a procedure and had stints placed in my large intestine. Eventually, I ended up back in the ER and this time in surgery. I had a hole in my abdomen to clean my large intestines out so I could have surgery on the tumor. Naturally, my time at work was done for last of the school year.

I was slated for surgery in May. The tumor was removed, but within a week I was very sick. My blood pressure sky rocketed; my JP tubes were contaminated. I ended up back in surgery and had an illeostomy. At the same time I developed MRSA and was very sick. I was in and out of ICU for three weeks. I kept thinking I would return to work. I eventually ended up leaving the hospital six weeks later. I had lost 75 pounds and was very weak. During the summer I did PT and worked at home to regain my strength. I went back into surgery in August to reverse the illeostomy. Things went so much better! I was able to return to work at the end of August, but not without some challenges. I had no stamina. I couldn’t lift things or climb on a ladder. Setting up my classroom was a challenge, because I never packed it up. The entire staff boxed up my room. So I was cleaning and setting up at the same time. When I started on my closet I saw my blue bag. I had left it there, thinking I would be back the next Monday for it. There were still papers in it. It was kind of creepy. But I got my room set up and began the school year.

In this brief period I learned so much about myself and being an educator. First, this is my career and I love it, but I put it ahead of my family. No more! My family is way more important, and I cherish the time I spend with them. Second, there will always be challenges in teaching. They are unavoidable. But they aren’t the end of the world. At one point in the hospital I was on death’s doorstep, so the challenges of teaching are nothing compared to fighting for your life! Third, always treat everyone with kindness. I tend to be so type A I forget about the importance of building those solid relationships with people. This is what is most important. Please understand that in no way am I saying that teaching isn’t the best and toughest job in the world. It’s all about perspective. And mine has shifted 360 degrees!!

While times may be tough and my battle with cancer continues, I still know within my heart that everyday I wake up I am blessed! I am blessed with the people I love, my fur babies, the children I am fortunate enough to be teaching, and the connections I make with others. None of us knows what lies in our future, but what we do know is how we can embrace the challenges and enjoy those blissful moments of life.

I’m so grateful that Pamela was willing to share her story! We’re all pulling for you, Pamela!!

Pamela also mentioned that if you’re going through something like this right now, she’s happy to chat. Contact me (Alison) via email if you’d like to get in touch with her.

So many thanks to these strong ladies for sharing their stories with us. If you’re going through something difficult of your own, I hope these stories resonated with you.

If you have a teacher friend who’s struggling, feel free to share this post with them. Here’s an image you can pin:

Teaching's hard enough as it is, but when you have other challenges going on outside of school, it becomes all the more difficult. In this blog post, teachers share their stories of intense personal challenges they faced and overcame while teaching at the same time.
Photo Credits: Dean Drobot, Shutterstock

Five Ways to Use Epic! in the Classroom (That You May Not Have Thought Of!)

If you’ve heard me talk about literacy centers before, then you probably know that I think the website Epic! is amazing for the listening center!

Epic! is free for teachers, and it gives you and your students free access to fantastic books that they can listen to and read.

Epic! is a digital library of children’s books, and I love the way that the site presents book choices to students. Kids can choose their interests, browse by category, and see eye-catching book covers. Epic! makes listening to and reading books incredibly appealing.

Even though I usually recommend Epic! for use in the listening center, there are SO many other great ways to use it. In this post, I’m sharing five OTHER ways that you can use Epic! in the classroom!

Epic! is great for a listening center in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade. But this educational technology also has SO many other uses! Read this post for 5 great ways to use Epic! in the classroom.
Photo Credits: NIRUT RUPKHAM, Shutterstock

Note: This post was written in collaboration with Epic!

#1: Research Projects

Every year, my students LOVE the opportunity to do mini-research projects. They read about a nonfiction topic and then write about what they’ve learned.

However, a big problem has been a lack of nonfiction books at lower reading levels. Maybe I can find one book at the library that’s at a reading level appropriate for some of my students, but a true research project requires more than just one book!

Epic! makes doing research easy, even for students who are beginning readers. They can listen to books on Epic! to help supplement any print books you can find for them.

My students always feel so proud to share what they’ve learned—and Epic! is a great help for giving them access to information.

#2: Fluency Practice

Epic! is also a great tool for developing students’ fluency. When they listen to a book read aloud on Epic!, they’re hearing strong fluency modeled.

Then, students can read the SAME book a couple of times (clicking through the pages without turning the audio on). Rereading the same text repeatedly builds fluency.

Students can then read the books to a partner or to their parents at home (if they have access to technology).

#3: Teaching Visualization and Listening Comprehension

Epic! now has a section for “audio books.” These audio books include a text read aloud, but you can’t see any pictures or inside pages of the book.

While you can always find a print version of the book and show students the pictures as you read, an audio book by itself is a GREAT tool for working on visualization.

You can give students a little background on a story, start the audio book, and then pause it periodically. Students can discuss and/or draw what they’re visualizing (you will want to model this first).

Although I love picture books for readalouds, these audio books are super useful for practicing visualization and working on listening comprehension.

#4: Engaging Your Reluctant Readers with Comics

Some reluctant readers are hesitant to read “regular” books but love reading comics! Epic! has quite a few comic books available.

I also teach my students to make comics as part of the writing center or our writing units. Speech bubbles, thought bubbles, and other components of comic writing can be easily transferred to “regular” writing. Kids love making these comics, but they also need to see some examples first. Epic! has a number of examples that you can use as mentor texts!

#5: Narrow Reading

Vocabulary knowledge and background knowledge play a huge role in a reader’s ability to comprehend a text. The more we can develop both of these areas, the better our students become at reading comprehension.

Narrow reading is a great way to develop students’ vocabulary and background knowledge. Narrow reading is reading about the same topic across multiple (usually nonfiction) texts.

Narrow reading gives students multiple exposures to some of the same vocabulary words, which makes it more likely that students will actually learn the words.

Narrow reading also exposes students to similar content, which builds deep background knowledge of the topic.

But it can be difficult to get access to multiple books on the same topic—especially if you’re looking for books at certain reading levels or appropriate for a certain grade level.

I’m always requesting books at the library, searching through my own stacks…that takes a lot of time, and sometimes I just can’t find the books I need.

I’m thankful that Epic! gives me access to many more books, and all I have to do is log in! Epic! is a great tool for having your students engage in narrow reading, because there are usually a couple of books available on a topic, and you can supplement with print books of your own.


Do you use Epic? If you have other suggestions for how to use this awesome site, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

And if you’re a teacher who hasn’t signed up for a free account yet, what are you waiting for?! 🙂Sign up for your free account HERE.

Happy teaching!

A Surprisingly Easy Process for Planning and Prepping Your Lessons on a Yearly, Monthly, and Weekly Basis

I’m a reading specialist, but I actually have a math-oriented brain. I love logic, organization, and breaking things down.

So it probably comes as no surprise that I ADORE lesson planning! The process of planning is fun and exciting to me. (Does that make me a huge dork?)

Here’s what I like about planning: I like staying organized. I like getting ahead. I like doing long-term planning and looking at the big picture. And I like the fact that I actually have control of my written plans…because we all know that we definitely don’t have control over whether our plans actually go how we want them to. 😬😬😬

I do think there’s so much value in carefully planning your lessons and doing long-term planning—even if you don’t share my strange love of organization. 😉 If you have a set planning routine in place, you’ll feel less overwhelmed and less likely to fall behind!

So in this blog post, I’m going to share my exact process for long-term and weekly lesson planning. I’m going to break it all down and explain how I stay on-track and ahead of the game!

If your brain doesn’t love organization like mine, I hope this post gives you a place to start. And if your brain does love organization and you’re already a lesson planning master, I hope this post gives you some new ideas and inspiration—and I’d also love to hear your tips in the comments! 🙂

Want some lesson planning tips to help you stay on top of your classroom teaching? This post gives lots of detail about how I do my long-term and weekly lesson planning!

Yearly Planning Process

First, I want to mention that I’m a reading specialist. My planning process looks a bit different now that I teach mostly reading intervention. What I’m sharing here is the exact process that I used as a classroom teacher (before I became a reading specialist).

So let’s start at the very beginning—the very beginning of the school year! Or actually, the summer. I don’t even attempt to do long-term planning at the very beginning of the school year, to be honest! I’m too worried about setting up my classroom and keeping myself together for the first day, back to school night, etc.!

Over the summer, or at least a few days before I start working on my classroom, I lay out the units that I want to teach. (I typically teach all subjects in units—reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.)

I take a list of my units and the length of each unit, and I lay them out over the school year. Using a monthly calendar (like this free one from Scattered Squirrel), I write the unit name or number next to each week. I also build in about 3 extra days for each unit, if I can. I like color coding, too!!

Want some lesson planning tips to help you stay on top of your classroom teaching? This post gives lots of detail about how I do my long-term and weekly lesson planning!

(I’ve sometimes used small sticky notes in the past, instead of writing in ink; this enables you to move them around as necessary.)

Honestly, I don’t always end up sticking to this calendar 100%. Sometimes units finish a bit later or earlier than I intended.

But I do feel that it’s best to start the year with some kind of plan. Otherwise, you can accidentally spend too long on a unit and feel rushed for the rest of the school year.

This process is pretty easy—unless you don’t have defined units or any kind of curriculum with a pacing guide! Then it gets a bit tricky.

If you’re starting from scratch, I recommend deciding on your units before the school year begins.

For reading and writing, I like to cover each genre at least twice during the year. For example, if a fiction reading unit comes second in the school year, we might revisit fiction reading again in the fourth or fifth unit of the school year. The skills in the units grow in difficulty, but this gives students more than one chance to be successful with a genre. (If you don’t teach in genre units, you can still apply this principle by making sure that students revisit each skill or strategy multiple times throughout the school year.)

Anyway, if you’re choosing your units, make a list of the standards and/or topics covered in each unit. This will help ensure that you cover all of the necessary standards or topics.

Don’t feel pressured to list out every lesson or activity at this point; you’re just doing some general, long-term planning to keep yourself on track. Once you have a basic outline of each unit, try the weekly calendar mapping procedure that I described above.

And that’s it—that’s about all I do before the school year starts! But then, as soon as I can, I begin my monthly planning process…

Monthly Planning Process

Okay, so to be completely honest, my “monthly” planning process is not all that monthly. Sometimes it coincides with the beginning of the month, but often it doesn’t.

I usually go through this routine shortly before I begin a new unit of instruction, maybe a week or two in advance. So it’s usually more of a “unit” planning process than a monthly one—but again, you can adapt it to meet your own needs.

This “chunk” of procedures is all about staying ahead and knowing what’s coming up next. Here’s what I do:

  1. I list out the lessons I intend to teach during the upcoming unit. I make a few notes about the content of each lesson and what materials I might need. (If I have a defined curriculum resource to use, I’ll just read through the materials I already have and highlight anything that needs to be prepped, located, or purchased.
  2. I take that same planning calendar (where I wrote the units out by week) and note when I intend to teach each lesson—making sure to account for days off and special school events. I don’t typically write in the full lesson title, just the number of a lesson.

Want some lesson planning tips to help you stay on top of your classroom teaching? This post gives lots of detail about how I do my long-term and weekly lesson planning!

Once I’ve done that, I can then take any necessary steps, like requesting books from the library, preparing heavy-prep materials, etc.

When I first started teaching, I really only planned for one week at a time. But that created these problems:

  • Certain projects and activities required me to go purchase materials, order something, request books from the library, or do a lot of cutting. I wouldn’t always have time to do that when I planned only a week out.
  • When a volunteer came in unexpectedly, I wouldn’t always have something for her to work on. I wouldn’t know what we’d need in a week or two, so I couldn’t make the best use of her time.
  • When I want my students to do an activity independently during centers / Daily 5, I typically need to have them practice with me—whether it’s in a whole group or small group setting—before I “unleash” them to do the activity on their own. But if I don’t know what centers activities will be coming up, then I can’t adequately practice with my kids before I assign a task as an independent activity. (This used to be a big problem for me, and you can read more about that HERE.)

Weekly Planning Process

The yearly planning and monthly / unit planning help me stay ahead of the game, but I wait to make my final plans until the Thursday before the following week.

I typically plan for next week’s lessons on Thursdays. Thursdays work well for me because at that point in the week, I can usually guess what we’ll be able to finish during the current week.

Also, if we started a new skill during the current week, waiting until Thursday to make future plans gives me a chance to see how students are doing with the skill. I can then plan for re-teaching during the following week, if necessary.

So on Thursdays, I type my lesson plans into a planning template. I don’t have a specific tool or planner that I use. I usually just create a simple spreadsheet-type setup that follows the order of my school day. I’m constantly tweaking what I use!

In addition to typing up my lessons, I keep a whiteboard with recurring tasks that must be done every week. Each week, I make a checkmark once I’ve completed the task for the following week. On Friday afternoons or Mondays, I erase all the checkmarks and start all over again.

This weekly whiteboard contains all my teaching to-dos for the week and helps me stay in track! Want some lesson planning tips to help you stay on top of your classroom teaching? This post gives lots of detail about how I do my long-term and weekly lesson planning!

You’d think that doing the same things every week would mean that I remember them all without this checklist. But…I don’t! Plus, I feel like having this checklist frees up “mental space.” I’m not worrying about what I’ve forgotten to do, because it’s all there for me.

If you prefer to use an online re-usable checklist, you can use a free tool like Trello.


That’s my whole process right there! It’s nothing fancy or complicated, but it works really well for me.

If you’re looking to make planning easier or quicker, I have many resources to support you! My writing lessons, reading lessons, and guided reading lessons are all written out for you and ready to use. Having those complete lessons on hand will drastically reduce your planning time and help you stay on top of your planning!

And if you have any planning tips to share, I’d absolutely love to hear them in the comments. Happy teaching!

Can I share your story on Learning At The Primary Pond?

As I’m writing this, in 2019, it’s been 7 years since I started this blog. I can’t believe it’s been 7 years already!! Can I share with you the story of how I got started?

Seven years ago, I was teaching Kindergarten, and I really enjoyed my job. I had the sweetest students and families. I was fortunate to have autonomy to do what was best for my students.

However, I felt like I wanted to do more….I wanted to share what I was doing with other teachers.

I knew how much *I* loved visiting different classrooms and learning from other teachers, and I hoped to give back in a similar way.

But let me tell you—it wasn’t that there was anything truly extraordinary happening in my classroom that made me feel called to share. I mean, let’s be honest. Many days it was a real circus in there. 😝

Circus and all, I decided to try out blogging as a way to share with other teachers. I had no idea what I was doing and my site didn’t look great. But I went for it anyway!

Here’s what the site looked like way back when:

My classroom at the time was frog-themed, so I carried that over to the blog.

Now, 7 years later, the site looks a liiiiitle different and I’ve written over 300 posts (holy cow)!

I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunities my blog has given me—opportunities to share and connect with YOU!

But now I’d like to pay it forward a bit. I know that not everyone has the time to create their own blog. So here’s my question to you:

Could we use my blog to tell your story? To inspire other teachers? To teach other educators? 

Maybe you…

  • Overcame a big challenge related to being a teacher or balancing school / home?
  • Teach in a unique school setting or outside the U.S. and would like to share a “day in the life” at your school?
  • Have a special area of expertise, like speech/language pathology or occupational therapy, and you’d like to share tips for general education teachers?
  • Use my teaching resources with success and want to share how you’ve adapted them to meet your kids’ needs?
  • Are struggling with something and want others to know they aren’t alone—and even seek ideas from my blog readers?

Or something else entirely?

I would love to share your story on my blog. If you’re open to it, please fill out this form to let me know you’re interested:

Submission Form

Your story is more important than you may realize, and it can impact other teachers in a big way. Hope to hear from you soon. 🙂

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,

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.


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):


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.


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!


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!


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).


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.


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!