Monday, March 6, 2017

Pot of Gold $400 Giveaway!


Hello friends!
Are you feeling lucky this week?
I've teamed up with some blogging friends to make SEVEN lucky winners very happy!  (And that's no Blarney!)

Simply enter this Rafflecopter giveaway as many times as you can to increase your chances!  We will randomly select SEVEN lucky winners at midnight Tuesday night (so you only have two days to enter!)


Best of luck to 'ya!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

16 Insanely Simple Word Work Tricks You Need to Know



I have an embarrassing confession to make.  Not long ago, (I won't say just how long ago or I might give myself away), I had a big secret.  It was one of those secrets that kept me up at night, kept me searching for solutions in books and on the internet.  I would have loved to just ASK someone for help, but I couldn't bring myself to admit this secret out loud.   No matter what, I couldn't let my coworkers know.  I couldn't let my students know.  I couldn't let my classroom parents, and I certainly  couldn't let my principal know. 

 I was a fraud.

I didn't know what I was doing.

I had no idea  how to teach students to read.  

Lord, that is hard to say out loud.

Did I just lose you?

Are you so shocked at my secret that you stopped reading?  I hope not, because I have learned over the years that I WAS NOT ALONE. 

There were other teachers out there that struggled with the enormity of this responsibility and felt completely unprepared for such a task.  As a first grade teacher, the thought that I might fail my students terrified  me.

Because it is important.

Especially in first grade.

Reading is THE most important thing we need to teach our students in first grade.  This is the year that makes it or breaks it for a lot of kids.  Either they are set up for success in future grades, or they struggle.  For years , many of them.  My ability to teach them how to read in 10 months would determine their success in school for the rest of their lives. If I failed to do my job, they might think that they were the problem.  They were not smart.  They  just weren't cut out for reading.  Their parents might know better, my principal might know better, my coworkers might think of me as the weak link on the team, but my students?  They would not blame me for failing them this year.  
They would think the problem lied within them.

And I couldn't stand the thought of that.

It kept me up at night, believe me.

You see, when I was struggling with this, there were no teacher blogs.  No PLC's.  No Facebook groups or instructional videos on the web.

It was sink or swim for me.  And my students.

Don't get me wrong- I learned about reading in college.  I student taught in Kindergarten and 3rd grade.  I learned about teaching letters of the week, shared reading, literature study groups, and all of the theory behind the teaching of reading.  But the day-to-day "Do this, not that"?  For first grade?
I had no idea what to do.
No experience with guided reading.
No idea what that really was or looked like, if I was honest.

And so I went on a quest.  I read as much as I could.  I searched high and low for answers to questions I didn't even know to ask.  And then, I dove in.  I got started.  I just TRIED.  The easiest thing to start with was Word Work.  Yes, yes, I also used books with my groups, but I didn't feel confident enough yet to make the READING the concentration of my guided reading time.  I knew that if I could strengthen my students' ability to read words and word chunks, sound out words, see connections between words they know and those they don't.... I knew that would help them as readers.  That much, I knew.

So I started with Word Work.  I only had a few ideas in my back pocket at the time- only a few things that I knew to do with my students at the table, but gradually, my bag of tricks grew.  And I grew more comfortable with what I was doing.  Simplicity was the key for me.

I tend to stay away from cute gimmicks at my table- you won't see adorable finger lights in my room, for example.  Not that there is anything wrong with finger lights and other cute tricks that engage readers.  It's more about my preferences.  I'm just a simple gal, myself.  I have a drawer of magnet letters, Upwords tiles (from a garage sale find), whiteboards, and my supply of word cards (from my Chunky Monkey Phonics series), and that's enough for me.  Simplicity is the key for me.  I need to keep things simple or I get overwhelmed with the planning and searching for supplies and I end up not enjoying the whole process.  

Maybe you are like me, maybe you are not.  Maybe you came out of college super-prepared to teach the mystery that is reading to young, impressionable minds.  If so, you probably don't need these tips.  But, if you are like me in any way, if you have ever felt inadequate to handle this huge responsibility, you might be thinking, "I could use a few more ideas, myself".    

All I can say, friend, is welcome aboard.  I am glad you are on this journey with me.  It's no fun to be up at night worrying alone.  I want to share with you some of the word work activities I do in my classroom. Take what you can, try some of these ideas in your own classroom, or don't.  Hopefully you will come away with at least one new strategy to try with your students.  I am in no way an expert, obviously.  This is just a compilation of ideas I have found elsewhere.  Very few of these ideas are original.  Some activities are designed for early emerging readers, and others are more advanced for my emerging or developing readers. I don't discriminate, though.  They usually get to try them all out at some point through the year.  

 Sometimes I do the same activity with each group but use different words.  Sometimes each group does a different activity with the same word chunk we are learning that week.  We like to mix it up.  Keeping to these 16 activities and simple materials means I can provide variety and differentiation for my students without making myself crazy.  

So, without further ado, 16 simple word work activities for guided reading:



Match 'Em Up
Have students match the picture cards to their word cards.  For additional challenge, add in word cards that don’t have pictures, or use two different sets together.  You can just lay them out on the table or play a game of concentration to match up the cards.

Why it works: Students practice reading words with word chunks they are learning.  Matching words to pictures gives them support and builds their confidence.




Sound Sort
Using two or more sets of cards, have students match the picture cards with the headers.

Why it works: Students have to really sound out the words and hear the vowel sound or sound chunk in order to be able to place the picture correctly.  This helps strengthen their auditory discrimination.





Word Sort
Using more than one set of cards, sort the words by their phonics/spelling pattern.

Why it works: Students practice visual discrimination- really checking all the way through the word to sort the cards correctly.







Super Sort
Use several sets of cards and sort them all!

Why it works: Students practice visual and auditory discrimination simultaneously to sort the cards correctly.




Sound Boxes
Sound box cards have specific words or spelling patterns students are working on.  Start with the cards that only add the targeted sound and then progress to the cards with all blanks. Use magnet letters or dry erase markers to fill in the missing sounds.

Why it works: Students focus on the target sound and/or combining the target sound with other letters to create whole words.

Onset/Rime Foldables
Practice getting started with blends, etc.  Use index cards and write the words, then fold them in half after the onset.

Why it works: Students practice getting their mouths ready-focusing on the onset before blending it with the end of the word.  This is especially helpful for students who struggle with getting started with unknown words.



I Can Top That!
Build and change words using Upwords tiles.

Why it works: Students practice changing letters to create new words- they focus on word similarities and differences.



Word Work Warm Up
Practice writing three words they know how to read.
”Is that the way it looks in a book? Check it"

Why it works: Writing words is the reflective opposite of reading them- being able to do both cements the word and makes the reader feel more confident when encountering the word.







Sound Box Practice
Write/spell words using blank sound boxes on whiteboards or paper
“Check it.  Does it look right/  Does it make sense?”

Why it works: Students practice writing the letters and/or sounds in a word in each box.  Providing the number of boxes gives them support.  The student practices segmenting the word into sounds/letters.


Mix It & Fix It
Give students only the magnet letters or letter tiles needed for specific words.  Have them repeatedly mix up the letters and fix them up to spell the word quickly.

Target Practice
Write  the target word on a whiteboard.  Review several times with students.  Erase some letters (esp. at end of word).  They will tell you how to finish the word. Pass out magnet letters for just this word. Have them Mix it and fix it fast 3 times. Have students write the word on the table with their finger, then write it on their whiteboard.

Why it works: Students practice building the words quickly to develop fluency and search for missing letters or word parts to develop visual discrimination.


Anchor Words
List two easy words at the top of a whiteboard, then list bigger words that use those sounds.
(i.e. CAR & SEE- star, keep, parking, steep, etc.)

Why it works: Students work on identifying common elements in words, especially targeted phonics chunks.  They also get to practice adding word endings and exchanging letters to make new words.



Word Connections
Similar to Anchor Words, have students write a simple word on their whiteboards (i.e. jump).  See if they can use the small word to write bigger words (bumping, dumped, etc.).

Why it works: Students practice adding prefixes and suffixes, identifying rhyming words, etc.





ABC Order
Have students put word cards in alphabetical order and record their work using a recording sheet or whiteboard.

Why it works: Students work on isolating beginning letters (and second or third letters, if necessary) and putting words in alphabetical order.  This helps them develop reasoning and logic skills.







Mystery Word
Write down the first two letters and see if students can guess the word.  Add one letter at a time until they get it (use Word Banks, Challenge Words, or a sentence for context clues).
Why it works: Students practice making predictions based on beginning sounds.  As more letters are added, they must choose whether the visual evidence supports or discounts their predictions, and they should be allowed to change their predictions as new letters are revealed.  



Quick Change
Give two words from a word bank.  See how many steps or transitions it takes to get from one word to the other (adding or subtracting one letter is one step).  Students can work together at first, eventually working toward indepedently creating a "word ladder".

Why it works: Students practice letter substitution and connections between related words.  They will naturally distinguish between real and nonsense words.





Okay, okay.  I know you may be thinking, "How does she keep track of all of these activities?"
It's simple (remember- that's how I like things!).  
I keep a handy list of them close by:

If you would like a copy for yourself, all of these activities are listed
for your convenience in my freebie, 



I simply keep the print-outs handy in a basket and pull it out if I am looking for fresh inspiration for my groups.  It is more automatic for me now, though.  I feel more confident teaching reading.  My knowledge base and experience have grown and grown, and I have several years of successful first grade graduate readers to show for it.  I've learned how to tackle the other aspects of reading, too, which I will address in future posts.  But word work was first.  It was my baby.  It was my beginning.  It was the first stage of my own growth as a teacher of reading.  And so it has a special place in my heart.

There is still a lot of magic in teaching reading for me- when those students suddenly have everything "click" and take off.  Or when a student struggles with every task you put before him but then starts to be more successful with word sorts or sound boxes and it transfers to his reading.  Wow.  Magic.  I kind of hope I never get so used to the process that I fail to be amazed when that happens.  Those are the highs for me.  The moments that make all of this effort worth it.  

That let me sleep at night.  

That let me know "I have not failed them."  

I hope that never goes away.






Friday, December 9, 2016

Taking Back My Joy

This season, my joy is under attack.  Attack from many angles, and I’ve had enough.  I’m done feeling stressed.  I’m done feeling defeated.  I’m done feeling like I’m not enough.  Just DONE.

I’m taking back my joy.

This month I am making a conscious decision to not succumb to feeling overwhelmed.  If something is stressing me out, I’m going to find a way to walk away.  It won’t always be easy, but reaching my breaking point is just not going to work for me. 

I choose joy.

You see, you might not know this about me, but I have an inner warrior.  Divinely inspired, I like to think of her as a kind of warrior princess.  Most of the time, she is hidden away.  All most people can see when they look at me is normal, average, everyday me.  Nothing that would make most people look twice.  But I know she is there.

She’s arisen before.  When my dad died when I was just a teenager, she put on a brave face and pulled me through.  When I had to send my husband off to war as a young bride, she was there.  When I had to send him off again years later, this time with 4 kiddos needing EVERYTHING from me, she was there again. She got up everyday with a smile and did what needed to be done.  For a year.  When I had to help my mom fight through a messy divorce, she was there for both of us. She’s really something, this woman of strength.

Most days I don’t need her.  Most days I am good on my own.  Most days I will let her lie in wait- resting up for the times she is truly needed.  I know someday I will really need to call on her- when I face a real challenge.  When I or someone I love gets sick, or when I lose someone I love very, very much.  It happens.  It will happen.  And I will call on her strength then.

For right now, though, I need some of that strength to fight for my joy. It might seem small to some, but when your joy is under attack and you feel yourself getting discouraged or overwhelmed, it is a serious problem.  Especially when it is such a wonderful time of year and your family is depending on you.  My emotional tone sets the tone for my family, and I refuse to let anyone ruin their holiday, especially me.

Now that my inner warrior has risen and rallied, here is what we have decided to do:

Overwhelming to-do list?  I’m tearing it up.  I’m going to enjoy my time with my kids and hubby, and after everyone is asleep, I’m going to take a bath (maybe even with a glass of wine).  Ahhhh- that is just what the doctor ordered in this crazy, fun-filled holiday season. I’m taking care of me.

Too much dirty laundry?  Everyone pick out one or two things you desperately need for the next two days, and I’ll wash one load.  Just one.  Then another load tomorrow.  It will work itself out.  I promise.

A zillion assessments need to be done before break?  Ok.  We’ll take it one step at a time.  I’m not going to stress about it, and we are NOT going to stop enjoying each other’s company.  Sometimes we will even just stop, drop, and enjoy a good holiday story together. 

Christmas gifts for my students?  Let’s keep it simple. A book, a fleece scarf, and a candy cane.  Nothing fancy or inspired by Pinterest, but that’s ok.  My kiddos know I love them.  That’s what really matters. And anything wrapped in festive paper is some serious fun when you are six.

Personal holiday shopping needs to get done?  Amazon, here I come.  What can’t be ordered online will be lovingly hand-selected when I shop BY MYSELF on Saturday. I try to plan just one day and make it a marathon.  I love the hustle and bustle (and it is even better if we have snow!), but one day is the limit for my sanity.  Then I wrap all at once while watching my favorite Christmas movies.  Because that is what I like to do.  It fills my bucket, and I really need a full bucket right now.

When I put it like that, I am actually looking forward to this wonderful holiday season. 

Are you?


What steps can you take to take back your joy?


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Stress-Free Guided Reading


Is guided reading stressful to you?  Are you unsure what you should be doing on a weekly or daily basis with your young readers?  Worry no longer!  I am here to give you some simple steps to make your guided reading time meaningful, intentional, and easy to plan!

How often should I meet with my groups?
You will get a lot of different responses from different “experts” on this, but I will tell you I meet with all of my groups each day, 4 days a week.  Guided reading is simply one of the stations in our daily literacy center rotation, as outlined in my post here.
If you choose to set up your guided reading in a different manner, please, please, PLEASE make sure you are meeting with any student who is reading below grade level on a daily (or almost daily) basis.  That should be non-negotiable.

What should I focus on in each group?
Early emergent readers will be naturally concentrating on getting through the text- your focus with them should be on sight words, phonics, making predictions about and finding the pattern in the text, and above all, READING STRATEGIES (what to do when they get stuck on a word).

Emergent readers will work on fluency, reading with expression, making sense of the text, and comprehension.  Developing readers will focus more on digging deeper with the text. 

I always try to continue the focus of our Reader’s Workshop mini-lessons in the guided reading groups, when possible.  If we are learning about problem/solution in whole group, continuing that focus in the small group really helps cement the concept for them.  They are practicing at an individual level what we have been practicing with our whole group read-alouds.

Where should I get the books for guided reading?
Anywhere you can!  Hopefully your administration supports guided reading and you have sets of leveled books either in your classroom or in a shared space.  I have some book sets in my classroom and more in the library that I can check out.

I have also purchased non-fiction units on TPT (Lyndsey Kuster and Stephanie Stewart have fabulous ones) that have books on 3 levels.  These are good fits for my groups.

Don’t think that you have to always work with BOOKS, either.  I have created non-fiction visual vocabulary units that start whole group with great visuals on the SMART Board, then use leveled text passages with small groups, like the following:


Many of my customers have even used my Close Reading packets (see my post about those here) in small groups with great success.



How long does it take to plan for guided reading lessons?
If I tell you it takes me very little time to plan for groups, you might not believe me.  I used to spend HOURS planning for my groups, but I have found that it is just not necessary to do that!

Don’t get me wrong- you will need to plan. 

The bulk of your planning time for each group should be in the text selection- make sure you are choosing quality texts for each group that are not only the correct level, but also neatly fit into your purpose for them.  Keeping your text selection very intentional is vital to quality instruction.  Everything else will fall into place if you have the right text.

I know that many guided reading sets have lesson plans that go along with them, but you should be very careful here.  Maybe I am just an outside-the-box thinker, but I have rarely found that those lessons line up with my vision for teaching a text.  Definitely check it out for ideas, but think carefully about what YOU want your readers to gain from a text.

What should a daily lesson look like?

Warm-Up
Your students should be warmed up and ready to go when you start your lesson. Some teachers achieve this with reading a familiar book first, some start with sight word review. 

I have found it easiest to have students at a Fluency Center right before coming to the guided reading table so I don’t have to spend precious minutes getting ready to read.  The Fluency Center contains familiar books they have already read (kept in colored baskets that match their reading group), One Breath Boxes and Fluency Phrases (from my Chunky Monkey Phonics series), their Poetry Notebooks, familiar big books, and the weekly phonics poem (from Chunky Monkey’s Spelling units).  Students are highly engaged in this center and come to the table excited about the reading process and ready to tackle a new challenge.

We usually tackle Word Work next- check out my post HERE to see 16 simple activities you can easily do with any of your groups.

Check out my freebie packet below (at the end of this post) to get more specifics on the following pieces in a lesson:

Reading the Book
Purpose, Before, During, and After the Book
Reader’s Response

I don’t always have time for all of these components in one day, but we do make sure to do them weekly or with the rotation of one text.

How long should we spend on one book?
I like to spend 3-4 days, depending on the book.  Some of the lower leveled books don’t have a lot of depth to them, though, so for those I find two days to be sufficient.  If I do spend 3 or 4 days on a book, that will include our word work and reader’s response to the story, too.

How often should I take a running record?
I take informal running records every day. I try to listen to two students read.  I take notes in a binder (each child has their own tab and I use simple notebook paper to take notes).  After listening to them read for a few minutes, we discuss their strengths and address one simple teaching point quietly while the others read.  If possible, I try to give them an opportunity to put the teaching point in practice- by listening to them read further, giving them a few words to try out their new strategy, etc.

How do I decide on a teaching point?
Teaching points can be something the student is doing ALMOST right, or a strategy that would help them be successful with something they are struggling with. 
I have common teaching points for young readers listed here:


What are some possible Reader’s Response ideas?
Students can pose questions to each other (or to me- they love that!) or they can respond with writing.  Depending on the level of the group, we respond in different ways- cut apart sentences, interactive writing, collaborative writing, exit tickets, etc. 

These ideas can be found in the following freebie in my store:


All of the Word Work and Reader’s Response ideas use simple materials you probably already have in your toolbox.  Simply keep this little packet close by at your guided reading table, and you will have everything you need to keep your groups moving along quickly with minimal planning needed from you!

I hope you have found this little post to be helpful!  I would 
love to hear your comments on this topic...I love to hear from readers!!!

Also, if you haven’t already done so, please follow my blog, Facebook, Instagram and/or TPT store to keep in touch!


Much love, 

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