5 Fun Activities for Teaching Adjectives in the Primary Grades

Need some fun ideas for teaching adjectives to your Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students? 

Keep reading for some engaging activities!

Looking for some fun ways to teach adjectives to your Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students? These adjectives activities (including opposites and shades of meaning) are perfect for primary grammar lessons!

Activity #1: Have students use adjectives to describe a real object.

When I first begin teaching about adjectives, I like to point out that kids already know a lot of describing words!

I have them practice describing an interesting object (preferably, something related to a science or social studies unit).

Sometimes I give them a checklist for help (like this one from my Kindergarten Grammar Alive pack):

Looking for some fun ways to teach adjectives to your Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students? These adjectives activities (including opposites and shades of meaning) are perfect for primary grammar lessons!

Partners or small groups can share their describing words with the class, and we make a big chart of adjectives that we add onto during future lessons.

Activity #2: Have younger students explore opposite adjectives and what they mean.

With my Kindergarteners, I don’t go too far in-depth with teaching about adjectives.

But I do teach them about describing words that are opposites! We think of real-life examples of things that can be described as hot or cold, large or small, etc.

Looking for some fun ways to teach adjectives to your Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students? These adjectives activities (including opposites and shades of meaning) are perfect for primary grammar lessons!

I also read aloud this “opposites” book to them to reinforce the opposites vocabulary:

Looking for some fun ways to teach adjectives to your Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students? These adjectives activities (including opposites and shades of meaning) are perfect for primary grammar lessons!

Activity #3: Have students sort adjectives vs. non-adjectives.

Once students are beginning to understand the concept of adjectives, I have them practice differentiating between words that are adjectives and words that are not adjectives.

A simple word sort is a great way to practice this:

Looking for some fun ways to teach adjectives to your Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students? These adjectives activities (including opposites and shades of meaning) are perfect for primary grammar lessons!

(An adjectives vs. non-adjectives sort is included in my First Grade Grammar Alive resource.)

Activity #4: Work with adjective shades of meaning.

Once students understand adjectives, we begin to explore shades of meaning. In this ice pops activity, students put together puzzles by looking for adjectives that mean something similar:

This shades of meaning activity has students put together ice pops with adjectives that go together! I do this grammar activity when teaching adjectives to my second grade students.

This ice pops adjectives activity comes from my Second Grade Grammar Alive resource!

Activity #5: Have students add adjectives to their writing!

One of the main reasons we teach students about adjectives is so that they can use them to add details to their writing!

Once students understand what adjectives are and can come up with some examples, I model how to use describing words in writing.

If we’re writing narratives, I model how to add adjectives to describe…

  • A character
  • The setting
  • An important object in the story

If we’re writing informational / nonfiction pieces, I model how to add adjectives to describe…

  • An animal or plant’s appearance
  • Ingredients or materials needed for a how-to piece

If we’re writing opinion pieces, I model how to add adjectives to…

  • Convey an opinion
  • Describe a food, toy, restaurant, movie, etc. that I’m writing about

Once I’ve modeled, I ask the kids to take a piece of writing that’s finished or nearly finished. With a partner, they try to add at least 2 adjectives.

Then, in future writing lessons where we talk about adding more details, I remind them that they can use adjectives to add more detail to their writing.

More Adjectives Activities and Other Grammar Resources for K-2

For these and other adjectives activities (and lots of other grammar materials!), check out my Grammar Alive! bundles for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

I designed these resources to follow best practices for grammar instruction – but also be full of fun, active learning experiences for my kids!

Happy teaching!




5 Fun Activities for Teaching Verbs in the Primary Grades

Looking for some activities for teaching verbs to your Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students? 

Whether your students are just starting to learn about the parts of speech or are well on their way to being grammar gurus, these five activities will make learning about verbs a ton of fun!

Looking for some fun ways to teach verbs to your Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students? Whether your students are just starting to learn about the parts of speech or are well on their way to being grammar gurus, these five fun activities will help you teach verbs.

Activity #1: Play Simon Says with action words. 

Introduce the concept of verbs as action words with a game of “Simon Says!”

First, brainstorm a list of action words with your students to use for the game.

You can also use these ready-made word cards from my Kindergarten Grammar Alive curriculum – just cut them out and make a stack or stick them on a binder ring for easy access:

Use these verb cards in a Simon Says game for Kindergarten or first grade students! This activity helps bring grammar alive through active learning!

This activity works well as part of a mini-lesson about verbs, and you can also play again during transitions.

Activity #2: Have students look for verbs “in the wild.”

In order for grammar to be meaningful, students need to make connections between grammar concepts and actual text.

As a class, we practice identifying verbs in sentences (and acting out the sentences, too!):

Students can also search for verbs in the books they read:

Both of these activities come from my First Grade Grammar Alive program.

Activity #3: Build Verb Vocabulary with Games

Building students’ verb vocabulary is important – both for helping them learn verb shades of meaning (see Activity #4 for more on that) AND for helping them learn to use a variety of verbs in their writing.

One easy way to build their vocabulary is to play charades. You or a student acts out a verb, and the class guesses what verb they’re trying to show.

Here’s another verb vocabulary game, where students move around the board and have to name the depicted verbs that they land on:

Play this verb board game to have students in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade practice their verb vocabulary!

Activity #4: Put Verbs in Order to Practice Shades of Meaning

To teach students how to choose just the right verb for their writing, work on verb shades of meaning!

First, model how to put the verbs “jog,” “run,” and “sprint” in order from slowest to fastest.

Then, divide students up into small groups. Give each group their own set of cards to put in order.

Use this small group activity to have students practice putting verbs in order. This is a great way to start discussing verb shades of meaning!

Once students have ordered the verbs, they can present their work to the class and get feedback.

Finally, you can glue the groups of verbs to chart paper. This creates an anchor chart that students can refer back to during writing time!

Activity #5: Play “Parts of Speech 4 Corners

Once your students have learned about verbs and other parts of speech, get them up and moving with a few rounds of 4 Corners! 

To play, label the corners of your classroom as:

Nouns

Verbs

Adjectives

“WILD CARD!”

Give each child a word card. The words on the cards should be a mix of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Several of them should say “WILD CARD.”

Play this game with your first or second grade students to practice nouns, verbs, and adjectives! This is an active, engaging activity for practicing parts of speech.

Students should read the word on their card and then go to the corresponding corner of the classroom.

You or a student leader should stand in the middle of the classroom, eyes closed. The leader calls out a corner (nouns, verbs, adjectives, or wild card) and all the students who were standing in that corner are out of the game and must sit down.

The remaining players trade cards and go to the corresponding corner. Again, the leader calls out “nouns,” “verbs,” “adjectives,” or “wild card,” and the game continues.

Keep playing until only one student is left – that student becomes the leader next!

All the materials to play this game are included in my First Grade Grammar Alive curriculum.

Need more ideas and materials for teaching grammar? 

I hope you got a few new ideas for teaching verbs!

For complete grammar lesson plans and many more grammar activities (including the ones featured in this blog post), check out my Grammar Alive programs for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade:

Happy teaching!




5 Fun Activities for Teaching Nouns in the Primary Grades

Need some fun activities to teach nouns to your 1st or 2nd grade students?

These activities and ideas are great for teaching common nouns and/or proper nouns!

They’ll help students make connections to real reading and writing AND have fun learning about nouns.

Need some fun activities to teach nouns to your 1st or 2nd grade students? These activities and ideas are great for teaching common nouns and/or proper nouns! They'll help students make connections to real reading and writing AND have fun learning about nouns.

Activity #1: Have students identify examples of nouns in real sentences.

Effective grammar instruction involves having students making connections to real reading and writing!

Once my students know what a noun is, I always have them practice finding examples of nouns in sentences.

Activity #2: Have students sort common nouns into the categories of people, places, and things.

To reinforce the idea that nouns name people (and animals), places, and things, I like to have my students do a picture sort, like this one from First Grade Grammar Alive curriculum.

Activity #3: Have students do a “noun hunt” in the books they’re reading.

I like to have my students search for nouns “in the wild!” Again, this is a great way to help them connect grammar concepts to real texts.

Students can search for proper nouns, common nouns, or both. This half-sheet scavenger hunt list comes from my Second Grade Grammar Alive curriculum.

Activity #4: Have students sort common and proper nouns (and categories of proper nouns).

Once my students understand what common and proper nouns are, I have them complete a simple sort, like this one from First Grade Grammar Alive:

I also like to do proper noun sorts, where students sort names of people, names of days of the week, names of places, etc. (like in this “cookie jar sort” from Second Grade Grammar Alive):

First Grade Grammar Alive has its own variation, with a “crayon box” theme:

Activity #5: Have students brainstorm matching pairs of common nouns and proper nouns.

As a class, we’ll brainstorm matching pairs:

Or, in this board game from First Grade Grammar Alive, students give a proper noun example to match a common noun.

For example, if they land on “cereal,” they might say “Cheerios” or “Fruit Loops.”

Need more materials for teaching grammar?

I hope these noun activities are helpful!

For complete grammar lesson plans and many more grammar activities (including the ones featured in this blog post), check out my Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade Grammar Alive programs:

Happy teaching!




Guided Reading Assessments: 2 Simple Ways to Track How Students Are Doing

Guided reading time goes by SO quickly. If you’re like me, you want to make the most of that time – but also monitor how students are doing!

Guided reading assessments can be difficult to implement…but they don’t have to be!

In this blog post, I’ll share two simple ways to track how students are doing during guided reading.

These assessments will give you plenty of useful data to guide your instruction!

Guided reading time goes by SO quickly. Use these 2 strategies to help you track students' progress! These guided reading assessments for Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade are easy to build into your routine!

Method #1: Running Records

At the beginning of each guided reading group, I take a running record of one student’s reading. (If you’re not sure how to take a running record, please read this post.)

Meanwhile, the other students quietly re-read familiar texts. This is awesome for fluency!!

I have one student sit next to me while the others are reading. I hand them the book that we read during the previous guided reading lesson.

I have the student read all of the book to me (for lower level books only) or some of the book (about 150 words).

I then ask the child to retell. I try and ask one inferential (higher level) comprehension question, too.

I record the child’s fluency on a scale from 1-3 (1 being disfluent, 3 being fluent).

And that’s it! This whole process only takes about 5 minutes.

I stick the running record form in my binder, and get started with the rest of the students.

Later, on Thursdays, when I plan for the following week of guided reading, I review the running records.

If I haven’t had a chance to calculate accuracy and self-correction rates, I do it then.

I may not have a running record for every single student from that week, but I’ll have a couple of running records from each group. (I rotate through students, so I get a running record for each student about every 2-3 weeks.)

From my running records, I can make decisions about:

  • What books to choose for upcoming lessons
  • Phonics patterns that students need to work on
  • Which strategies to focus on
  • Whether or not any students need to change reading groups (read this blog post to help you figure out when to move students up a guided reading level)

Method #2: Level-Specific Checklists

In addition to taking that running record toward the beginning of my guided reading lesson, I like to take notes and make observations during the rest of the group time.

However…I’ve often found that REALLY HARD to do! Even with the best intentions, I don’t end up taking many notes. I’m busy supporting students in the group!

So I ended up creating my guided reading checklists.

These guided reading checklists make assessment MUCH quicker and easier! Small group time passes by so quickly, but these checklists allow you to take guided reading notes while still remaining involved with your group. These checklists are designed for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade guided reading.

These checklists list out skills that students are focusing on at each individual level. Rather than having to write out complete sentences, I simply make checkmarks or ratings

I usually work on 1-2 checklists per group each time we meet. In other words, I’m not trying to fill out a complete checklist for all 5 students! Sometimes I don’t even complete a full checklist for one student.

These guided reading checklists make assessment MUCH quicker and easier! Small group time passes by so quickly, but these checklists allow you to take guided reading notes while still remaining involved with your group. These checklists are designed for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade guided reading.

Just like the running records, these checklists can help you make instructional planning decisions and adjustments to your groups.

Download Assessment Forms

If you’d like to use the same guided reading checklists that I do, you can grab my Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade set here:

And if you’d like to download a free running record form (and other guided reading goodies), click HERE.

Happy teaching!




How to Make a Guided Reading Schedule

Wondering how to make a guided reading schedule for your Kindergarten, 1st grade, or 2nd grade classroom?

You’re in the right place!

In this post, I’ll walk you through my step-by-step process. I have example schedules and freebies for you too!

Wondering how to make a guided reading schedule? This blog post walks you through it, step by step! There are example schedules and freebies for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade guided reading, too! You'll learn how to set your daily guided reading schedule and weekly guided reading schedule.

Step 1: Form your guided reading groups.

First, of course, you’ll need to determine how you want to group your students.

For guided reading (not all small group instruction – just guided reading), I group students by reading level.

If you need some help forming your groups, check out this blog post! In it, I explain what to do if your students’ levels and group sizes aren’t coming out to be nice and neat. 🙂

Step 2: Set your daily and weekly schedules.

Next, answer the question, “How long will my guided reading block last?”

Sometimes schools determine this time block for you, but sometimes not.

If you’re setting your own time block, here are some things to take into consideration:

  • Length of each group (I recommend 10 mins for Kinder, maybe 15 by the end of the year; 15 mins for 1st grade; 15-20 mins for 2nd grade)
  • Number of groups you want to see (I recommend 2-3 per day)
  • Transition time (2-3 mins for clean-up and rotation)

Write out your daily schedule, like this:

Rotation 1: 9:30-9:45

Rotation 2: 9:47-10:02

Rotation 3: 10:04-10:20

(Yes, I know the last rotation contains an extra minute! This is just in case anything gets pushed back during the first 2 rotations. :))

Then consider your weekly schedule. Will you follow this same schedule, 5 days per week?

Or will you incorporate other types of small group instruction a few days each week?

For example, you might want to incorporate strategy groups, which you can read about in this post.

Create a grid to represent your weekly schedule (a simple spreadsheet works great for this). Here’s an example:

This guided reading schedule template will help you build your daily schedule! This blog post is full of examples that work well for guided reading in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade

Step 3: Determine how often you want to see your lowest 1-2 groups. Set aside those slots in your schedule.

If possible, see your lowest group every day. Fill that into your weekly schedule template (I labeled my lowest group as “Group #1).

This guided reading schedule template will help you build your daily schedule! This blog post is full of examples that work well for guided reading in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

In this example, I chose to see my lowest group 4 times per week, because they were also receiving extra support during an intervention block.

Step 4: Count the number of slots remaining in your schedule. Divide them up evenly among your other groups, perhaps making an exception for your highest group.

This guided reading schedule template will help you build your daily schedule! This blog post is full of examples that work well for guided reading in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

In this example, I saw my lowest group 4 times per week. That left 11 spots for other groups.

This wasn’t an evenly divisible number, so that’s why my highest group (Group 5) is only seen twice a week.

However, some weeks I did see them 3 times per week! I replaced Group #4 with Group #5, or just tacked on a bonus group at another time of the day.

You can also adjust this schedule by seeing your two lowest groups 4 times per week. This means that you’d have 7 slots for other groups. Those 7 slots can be for Group #3 (3 times per week), Group #4 (2 times per week), and Group #5 (2 times per week).

But you know your students best; adjust this example as needed!

Step 5: Try it out! Make adjustments as necessary.

Once you’ve set a schedule, don’t spend too much time worrying about whether it’s perfect or not! Just try it out and see how it feels! You can always make changes later. 🙂

Guided Reading Freebies

Want some free schedule examples and lots of other guided reading freebies?

Download my free guided reading toolkit by clicking on the image below!

Get free guided reading lesson plan templates, guided reading schedules, guided reading materials, and more! These freebies are great for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

Happy teaching!!




How to Help ALL Your Students Read Grade-Level Text (Even If They Aren’t Yet Reading at Grade Level!)

Do you work with any students who aren’t yet reading at grade level?

In my previous blog post, I explained that we can help lower readers bridge the gap by having them read challenging text (including grade-level texts).

(If you haven’t read that post yet, you may want to start there!)

But as I said in that post, we can’t just hand them grade-level text and expect miracles.

We need to provide careful scaffolding in a small group setting.

In today’s post, I’ll explain exactly how to create that scaffolding!

These strategies are flexible too. They can:

  • Help your lower readers successfully read challenging text
  • Support students who are learning English
  • Help ANY students (not just your lowest readers) tackle more challenging text

Even struggling readers should have opportunities to work in grade-level text! These strategies will help your lower readers tackle more challenging text. They'll support your Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade students with decoding, comprehension, and fluency.

(Sidenote to my first & second grade literacy club members – this post will also help you use your monthly passages even when you have students who don’t fall precisely at one of the provided passage levels!)

—-

There are many different strategies you can use to help lower readers successfully decode and comprehend grade-level text.

In this article, I’m going to focus on strategies for primary students (Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade).

But you can also adapt many of these concepts to help more advanced readers!

And, as I mentioned earlier in this post, you can use these strategies to help any reader tackle text that’s above his/her independent or instructional reading level.

Strategy 1: Discuss and break apart tricky words before students read.

Before the lesson, read the text. Make a list of words that you anticipate students will struggle with.

Typically, these will be words that they’ll struggle to decode. But they can also be tricky / new vocabulary words, or a combination thereof!

Write the words on index cards or on a piece of paper (make sure the print will be large enough for all students in the group to read). Or you might even type up a list of the words for your students.

Then, toward the beginning of your small group lesson, go over all of or most of these words with students.

Write each word on the whiteboard, one at a time (or show one index card at a time).

Model how you break up the word to read it. Depending on your students and what you’re working on, you might model:

  • Saying the sounds of the word and blending it together
  • Looking for a word family and using the word family to read the word
  • Looking for known word parts or chunks (like “-ing”)
  • Breaking up the word into its syllables

Keep your modeling quick. This is not an all-out decoding lesson! If you’ve selected a word that doesn’t follow phonics rules, point that out to students.

After you read each word, have students read it. Then, once you’ve gone through all the words, have students read them all again, preferably two times.

If you're using a challenging text with a group of students, have them practice reading tricky words from the text. And read the complete post to learn how to help your Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade struggling students with decoding, comprehension, and fluency.

(By the way, if you end up with way too many words to discuss in a few minutes, consider shortening the amount of text students will be reading during the lesson!)

Strategy 2: Pull out a few challenging sentences to have students practice beforehand.

In addition to discussing tricky words, you might also help students become “masters” at reading a few sentences in the text.

Choose 2-4 “tricky” sentences in the text. These sentences may be longer than other sentences in the text, contain tricky words, or include important vocabulary words.

Type up the sentences or write them on sentence strips. (You can also just highlight or use a sticky note to mark them directly in the texts that students will use.)

If you're using a challenging text with a group of students, have them practice reading a few sentences from the text before they begin reading. And read the complete post to learn how to help your Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade struggling students with decoding, comprehension, and fluency.

Then, during the lesson (after you’ve used Strategy 1), direct students’ attention to one of the sentences. Model reading it aloud. Then, read it chorally with students. Then, have students read it on their own.

If you discuss anything about the sentence, keep that discussion brief. Your main goal here is simply to get students familiar with the sentence so that it’s easier for them to decode once you give them the text.

Repeat this process with the other sentences you chose.

This activity increases their confidence going into the text. It also helps with fluency and high frequency word learning.

Strategy 3: Provide background information on the content of the text.

A reader’s ability to comprehend a text (and even decode it, to a small degree) largely depends on his or her background knowledge.

The more the reader knows about the topic, the easier it is for him/her to comprehend the text.

We usually think about background knowledge for nonfiction text. But I think it applies to fiction too!

For example, if a student is reading a book about a girl who rides horses, the more the student knows about horses and stables, the better she’ll be able to comprehend the text.

So when it comes to helping our students tackle challenging texts, we often need to build their background knowledge.

There are many ways to do this, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Show a quick YouTube clip that relates to the text
  • Engage students in a discussion (you might launch the discussion by showing them a photograph or image about the topic)
  • Read students a different text (something short, like a free article from ReadWorks.org)

Strategy 4: During the first read, read part of (or all of) the text with the students.

If you feel that strategies 1-3 will provide your students with enough support, great! Let them begin reading.

However, if you still think that students will struggle — or you have them start reading and discover that they’re really struggling — you can still provide more support.

You can read all of or part of the text to them and/or with them.

Use these strategies to help your struggling readers be successful with grade-level text! And read the entire post for more tips about supporting lower readers in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade.

If students need a LOT of help, consider an echo read. In an echo read, you read a chunk of the text, and then students read it. (This can be a page, for shorter, simpler texts, or a paragraph, for longer texts.) Once you’ve “echoed” the entire text, or part of the text, students go back and read it completely on their own.

For a little less support, try a choral read, where you and the students read aloud the text together. After the choral read is finished, students go back and read the text entirely on their own.

For even less support, try a teacher pre-read, where you read part of or all of the text aloud to students, and then have them read it on their own.

Strategy 5: If you’re working with a longer text, break it up into smaller chunks. Read and discuss just one chunk at a time.

If a text is challenging for students, consider tackling it over more than one lesson! OR if you’re working with an article or something that you print out, consider removing parts of the text completely.

Comprehension is easier for students when you work with smaller amounts of text. You may need to have students read a chunk, then discuss it, read more, discuss it, etc.

This is especially helpful with nonfiction texts, where multiple ideas are contained in just a single sentence.

For example, take this sentence: Hippos are large, semi-aquatic mammals.

The author is telling us that hippos:

  • Are large
  • Are mammals
  • Are semi-aquatic — which requires the reader to know what “semi” and “aquatic” mean

That’s a lot for a simple sentence! So imagine what it’s like for students to read many of those sentences in one text.

Break up the text, and they’re more likely to be successful.

Strategy 6: Have students reread the text multiple times!!

If you’ve helped students get through a text once, great. But that’s not enough!

Your students need a chance to feel comfortable with the text! And confident!

So have your students re-read the text several more times.

Some of the re-reads can take place in your small group, but they can also take place during independent reading, centers, Daily 5, etc.

Re-reading is great for helping improve reading fluency too!

Conclusions

These strategies might seem like a lot to squeeze into one small group lesson! But remember…

  • You don’t have to use all the strategies with every text
  • You can read just part of a text during one lesson

I hope these strategies help you support your students with challenging texts — and help your lower readers “bridge the gap!”

If you’d like to learn more about supporting struggling readers, check out this post next.

Happy teaching!




Why Instructional-Level Text (Usually) Isn’t Enough for Lower Readers

Do you have any students in your class who aren’t yet reading at grade level?

Even if those lower students are making progress, they still may not be “bridging the gap.”

(In other words, the higher readers are making progress, too. And the lower readers are still behind, even though they may be getting better every day.)

So how do we bridge the gap?

That’s exactly what I’m going to tackle in this blog post!

We often have students read instructional level text during guided reading. That's not a bad thing! But it's usually not enough for lower readers to bridge the gap and catch up to their peers. In this blog post, I explain a simple strategy to help struggling readers catch up!
Photo Credits: Tom Wang; Shutterstock

Years ago, when I was getting my master’s degree in literacy leadership (at the University of Illinois at Chicago), I worked in the university literacy clinic.

At the clinic, we served struggling readers in elementary school and high school. We were tasked with having students read grade-level text, even though the students’ independent reading levels were significantly lower.

This approach was a bit different from what I’d learned about teaching reading, especially to struggling readers.

Before that, I’d always been told to use instructional-level text.

What is instructional-level text?

Instructional-level text is text that’s slightly harder than what a student can read independently. The idea is that the student can be successful with that challenging text, given teacher support.

In theory, instructional-level text can help bring kids forward in their reading. They’re being challenged by the text, but not so much that they’re overwhelmed or unable to grasp the text.

Going beyond instructional-level text

At the reading clinic, however, we were going over students’ instructional level. In some cases, we went way over!

Our professor (Dr. Tatum) explained that if students are always given instructional-level text, then they may not ever “bridge the gap” and catch up to their peers.

That idea made a lot of sense to me. (And I also saw that it really worked! The 7th grade student I worked with really did improve in her reading!)

Still not enough…

Yet…I also don’t believe that reading grade-level text is always enough to help lower readers “bridge the gap.”

My experience has shown me that students who read below grade level (and all students, really) should read texts at a variety of levels, not just instructional-level and/or grade-level text!

This concept is similar to the act of climbing stairs.

If some students are currently at the “bottom stair” (aka reading far below grade level), working in grade-level text likely won’t help them magically leap up the stairs.

In this example, there are multiple steps in between the student’s current reading level and grade-level text. (This image shows two steps, but obviously, the actual number of steps would vary.)

I propose that we give students opportunities to read books at a variety of levels.

For lower readers, this means having them read texts:

  • At their independent reading level (on their own)
  • At their instructional level (with teacher support…or maybe even on their own sometimes!)
  • At grade-level (with teacher support)
  • At levels BETWEEN their instructional level and grade level

Whoa. That’s a lotta levels!

But this actually isn’t very difficult in practice. It just means that we choose texts at different levels for our small-group reading instruction / guided reading.

(By the way, if you’d benefit from having passages at a variety of levels so you can make this happen, check out my First & Second Grade Literacy Club. Members get new passages every month!)

When we give students a more challenging text, we also have to provide them with appropriate support. We can’t just hand them grade-level text and expect magic to happen!

In my next post, I’ll explain specific strategies to help any student successfully read challenging text. Stay tuned!




Why Guided Reading Isn’t the ONLY Type of Small Group Reading Instruction I Use

Earlier in my teaching career, whenever I was teaching reading to a small group of students, we were always doing guided reading.

I thought…

guided reading = small group reading

(That they were basically the same thing!)

Here’s what I’ve learned, though:

If I only do “true” guided reading for EVERY small group reading lesson, my kids miss out on:

  • Opportunities to read grade-level text (with my support) — this can help lower readers bridge the gap!
  • Small group discussions with peers at different reading levels
  • The chance to participate more fully in certain literacy routines — like shared reading or a read-aloud — that English Language Learners or quieter students may struggle with in a whole group setting

So now I try to include a variety of small group reading activities, not just guided reading!

In this post, I’ll explain why (and how) I use the following types of small group instruction, in addition to guided reading:

  • Strategy groups
  • Supported reading of grade-level texts (for lower students)
  • Small-group shared reading and read-alouds

Is guided reading all you do in your Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade classroom? In this post, learn how to use reading strategy groups and other types of reading groups to better support your students!
Photo Credits: Robert Knischke; Shutterstock

Strategy Groups

Have you heard of a strategy group before?

Strategy groups:

  • Teach students a reading strategy that will help move them forward as readers
  • Often use students’ self-selected books rather than teacher-selected books
  • Give kids a chance to interact with peers at different reading levels
  • Provide an opportunity for you to bring the focus of your whole-group reading instruction into your small groups
  • Help students bridge the gap between what they’re learning in whole-group reading (and even guided reading) and their independent reading

To explain why strategy groups can be helpful, let’s look at a concrete example.

Let’s say I’m teaching second grade reading. In our whole group lessons, we’ve been working on character traits.

During shared reading and read-alouds, my students are doing well with identifying character traits and supporting them with text evidence.

Additionally, during guided reading groups, we’ve also been working on character traits. When prompted, they can identify a character’s traits and use text evidence to justify them.

But I find that 6 or 7 of my students are NOT applying this knowledge to their independent reading. They’re all at different reading levels.

So I could meet with each of these students individually, as they read independently.

But that’s not very efficient, is it? When you have multiple students with the same need, it doesn’t make sense to teach the same thing over and over.

Instead, I can bring them together in a strategy group. (It’s okay that they’re not all at the same reading level!)

I ask each student to bring a chapter book that they’ve been reading (most are reading beginning chapter books, nothing too lengthy).

I begin the group by saying: “We’ve been working on identifying character traits together. Today I want to show you that you can identify character traits while you’re reading, too! I’m going to show you how to stop after a chapter, review the character’s actions, and see if you can brainstorm a trait for the character.”

Next, I take out a chapter book that the kids are familiar with (something I’d been reading in class). I quickly review the chapter with them, reminding them of what the character did and said.

Then, I say, “Based on this chapter, I think the character is ______ because ______.” Model how you write that on a sticky note.

Next, have students read the next chapter (or part of the next chapter) in their own books — the books they’ve self-selected for independent reading.

Provide students with sticky notes and ask them to write a character trait word on it (either when they finish the chapter or when you have them stop).

After students are finished (maybe 5-7 minutes of reading time, while you’re briefly touching base with each student as they read), they might share their character traits with the group or share with a partner.

Then, you wrap up by reminding them to continue doing this as they read on their own.

Strategy group complete!!

There are lots of great ways to teach strategy groups, but in this example, note how:

  • Students at different reading levels had a chance to come together and discuss a strategy.
  • I helped my students bridge the gap between whole group instruction and their independent reading (they directly applied the lesson to books they had chosen to read).
  • I had an opportunity to very quickly touch base with each student individually, as they read without having to dash around and complete individual reading conferences.

Supported Reading of Grade-Level Texts

In a traditional guided reading lesson, students read instructional-level text. (This means they’re reading text that’s a bit harder than what they could successfully decode and comprehend independently.)

In my experience, having students read instructional-level text is helpful. They have the feeling of being successful, thanks to teacher support. But they’re also being challenged a bit.

And that’s great. But what if a student is reading far below grade level?

If they’re only ever working with text that’s a little bit hard…how will they bridge the gap and eventually catch up to their peers?

I’ve come to believe that it’s important for kids to have reading experiences with texts at a variety of levels, not just their independent and instructional levels. We have to get them “closer” to reading at grade-level, so that means they should have experiences working in grade-level text.

Years ago, during my master’s program, I worked in a university reading clinic. I worked with elementary and middle school readers who were reading below grade-level, and we used scaffolding to help them be successful with grade-level text.

And guess what? It worked!

If you’d like to try out this type of small group instruction, it doesn’t require a lot of re-arranging. (Yay!)

You can keep students in their same guided reading groups for this type of lesson. You can even – more or less – follow the same guided reading lesson outline.

However, you adjust the text introduction and other elements of the lesson so that students can successfully decode and comprehend the text.

I’ll go over this type of small group lesson in more detail in an upcoming blog post! In that post, I’ll explain exactly what to do so that a challenging text is accessible to a group of students who don’t read at that level yet.

Small Group Shared Reading and Read-Alouds

Strategy groups and supported reading of grade-level text make up most of my “not guided reading” groups.

However, sometimes I’ll throw in a shared reading or read-aloud in a small group. (Learn about the differences between these two instructional practices in this post.)

I do a small group shared reading if:

  • I need to teach students a skill / strategy, but I need to do more modeling than a typical guided reading lesson includes.
  • My whole-group shared reading lessons aren’t quite hitting what a certain group of students need (typically because they’re at a lower or higher level than most students).

I do a small group read-aloud if:

  • I have some English Language Learners who would benefit from hearing a book read aloud before I read it aloud to the class (or afterward, for a second shot).
  • I have some quieter students, students who have speech/language disabilities, or students who struggle to participate during whole-group read-alouds for whatever reason.
  • I have some reluctant readers who just need to be reminded that reading can be fun! (I love this “quality time” with them, spent enjoying a book that I know they’ll love.)
  • I want to challenge my higher students with some really thought-provoking comprehension work.

Honestly, I don’t do shared reading or read-alouds in a small group setting often.

But once in a while, they can be just what I need to support my students!

So this is your friendly reminder that taking these activities to your small group is always an option! 🙂

Picking and Choosing Among Groups (While Staying Sane!)

Oh boy, this might feel like a lot…right? It’s hard enough to make a guided reading schedule, let alone incorporate several other types of groups!!

First, take a deep breath! 🙂

Remember that, if you want to use guided reading, your schedule can still stay the same most days. Maybe you set aside 1 day a week for strategy groups.

If you want to support your lower readers in grade-level text, you can do that within your normal guided reading schedule and groupings.

What helps me the most is staying grounded in my goals for my students. I always keep a list of the reading skills / strategies I’m teaching on my clipboard — something like this:

Small groups help us meet those goals; they’re not an end within themselves.

I hope this post was helpful to you! If you need materials for teaching reading in a small group setting, check out my interactive guided reading mats.

Happy teaching!




How to Teach Blending: 5 Tips for Success

Are your students struggling with blending?

Or are you looking for some new, fun ideas to practice blending?

Or maybe you’re not sure how to teach blending at all?!

You’re in the right place! Today’s post has 5 tips to help your students learn to blend.

Blending is a super-important reading skill, and these strategies will help your students become stronger readers!

Blending is a super-important reading skill, and these strategies will help your K-2 students become stronger readers! This post covers phonological awareness, blending with visuals, blending with movement, and scaffolds to help struggling students.

Before we get started, let’s get clear on what blending is.

Blending can refer to a student’s ability to merge three sounds together and come up with a word (no alphabet letters involved). Example: You say /h/ /a/ /t/, and a child says “hat.”

Blending can also refer to a student’s ability to say each sound in a written word and blend the sounds together. Example: A child sees the word “gum” and says “/g/ /u/ /m/ — gum.”

Tip #1: Focus on phonological awareness first.

Let’s think about what’s required when we give students a word (like “dot”) and ask them to blend and read it.

The reader must:

  • Recognize the alphabet letters
  • Remember to read the sounds left-to-right
  • Recall and say the sounds quickly enough so as not to distract from the blending
  • Remember all 3+ sounds in order to blend them together and read the complete word

This stuff is all easy for us because we’re adults! But for beginning readers, that’s not the case. A lot of brainwork is required to read even a simple CVC word.

If a child is struggling with blending to read, I want to make sure that their ability to blend sounds (no print letters involved!) is really solidified.

This means that we do a LOT of phonological awareness practice!

I’ll say the sounds in a word (like /t/ /o/ /p/) and the child has to say the word (“top”). (If this is still too difficult, even without letters involved, see Tips #4 and 5.)

Tip #2: Try practicing with and without visuals.

Visuals and manipulatives can be a big help for students who are learning to blend. I like to practice both with and without visuals. If a child is really struggling, I might try a few different visuals to figure out what works best! Here are a few examples:

Visual #1 – Elkonin or sound boxes

You may have heard of these before! Students touch each box as they say a sound in a word, and then blend the sounds together. You can also have students push a counter into each box to blend.

These boxes can also be used to work on segmenting (the opposite of blending).

Visual #2 – Dots & arrow

This is one I created to help my students. They touch a dot as they say each sound, and then slide their finger along the arrow to blend.

Visual #3 – Color-coded fingerprints

This is another one I created to help my students. They know to start on the green square because “green means go.”

There are fingerprints that they touch each time they say a sound.

(Note: These visuals are only currently available to members of my Kindergarten Literacy Club. Members can find them in the “Intervention Central” section.)

Tip #3: Incorporate movement!

I’ve learned a few different ways to have students practice blending. The first one is ideal for Kindergarten students (or any students who don’t have great fine motor control yet).

Strategy #1 (great for 3-sound words): Have the student extend one arm. As they say one sound, they touch their shoulder with their other hand. As they say the next sound, they touch their elbow with one hand. As they say the last sound, they touch their wrist.

Like this:

/m/ (touch shoulder)

/u/ (touch elbow)

/g/ (touch wrist)

mug!

Strategy #2: Teach students to blend on the fingers of their non-dominant hand. They touch their thumb to their index finger as they say one sound, their thumb to their middle finger as they say another sound, and their thumb to their ring finger as they say another sound. (You can also involve the pinky for 4-sound words.)

See how to do it in this very basic video:

Tip #4: Leave less “space” between sounds at first.

If a child is having a tough time with blending sounds (phonological awareness), leave less “space” between sounds.

For example, instead of making the sounds in “man” choppy, like this: /m/ /a/ /n/, make it sound more like this: “mmmmaaaaannnnn.”

Of course, with some sounds (the continuous sounds – a, e, f, i, l, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, z) this is easier to do than others.

Tip #5: Start with 2 sounds rather than 3.

I tend to jump right to CVC words when having students practice blending. However, whether you’re practicing phonological awareness or actually reading words, you can always start with 2-sound words, like…

at

in

on

up

go

etc.!

Also, when you move onto 3-sound words, have them blend two sounds together first, then add the third.

Like this, for the word “fan:”

/f/ /a/ -> “fa”

/fa/ /n/ -> “fan”

Start small, and then build from there!

Read Next

If this post was helpful to you, you might also like this one (and look for the freebie in it!):

Happy teaching!

References

Blevins, W. (2017). A Fresh Look at Phonics, Grades K-2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.




Read-Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading: What’s the Difference?

There are TONS of terms and acronyms in education! And when it comes to literacy instruction, there’s no shortage.

For example, you may have heard of these 3:

  • Read-aloud
  • Shared Reading
  • Guided Reading

They kinda sound the same, right? But they’re not!

There are subtle — but important — differences among these 3 instructional practices.

Each instructional practice can help your students grow in a different way. When you understand the differences, you can better utilize them to help your students become stronger readers!

In today’s post, I’ll explain the differences through some simple, easy-to-read charts!

Whether you’ve been teaching for 10 weeks or 10 years, it’s always helpful to revisit these concepts and reflect on your teaching!

How are a read-aloud, shared reading, and guided reading all different? In this post, I use simple charts to show the differences between all 3 literacy instructional routines! This post helps K-2 teachers better utilize these practices to support their students.

I think it’s helpful to compare these instructional routines in a few areas:

  • Timeframe (how long they take to implement)
  • Skills to address
  • The teacher’s role
  • The students’ role
  • Text difficulty

Let’s look at each area individually:

Timeframe

In a nutshell, a read-aloud typically takes the least amount of time (because you’re doing most of the work).

Always pay attention to your students’ attention spans and adjust accordingly!

Skills to Cover

To sum it up, read-alouds are great for working on skills that don’t require students to be able to see and read the text.

With a read-aloud, you can engage students in higher-level thinking. By reading aloud, you’re giving students access to more challenging text (that they often can’t yet read on their own).

Shared reading and guided reading are great for working on all skills. They’re “closer” to independent reading, so you’re getting students ready to use these same strategies on their own.

Teacher’s Role

Out of these 3 instructional practices, the teacher does the most work during a read-aloud. She does the least work during guided reading. Shared reading falls somewhere in between.

Students’ Role

Out of these 3 instructional practices, the students do the least actual reading during a read-aloud (their job is not to decode, but simply to listen and comprehend). They do the most work during guided reading, as they should be reading the vast majority of the text. Shared reading falls somewhere in between, as the teacher and students share the work of decoding and comprehending the text.

Text Difficulty

Together, these 3 practices give kids opportunities to work with texts at a variety of levels.

Learn More

If you’d like to learn more about these instructional practices, check out these additional posts that go more in-depth:

What Is Shared Reading, and Why Is It So Important?

3 Reasons Why It’s Okay to Do a Readaloud (Just for the Sake of Doing a Readaloud)

What are the components of a guided reading lesson in a Kindergarten, first, or second grade classroom?

Happy teaching!