Oral Storytelling with Families

Help to support oral language in the homes of your students.

Last month I wrote about our need to build oral language in order to support the reading and writing of our students.  We can do this in so many different ways: routines we establish, lessons that we plan, or the games we play.  But most of the language that students acquire comes from their homes.  How can we help to support families?


I Resolve To Teach Fluency!

Hi! This is Heather from Campfire Curriculum with Helpful Heather.  No matter how well we teach reading some students still struggle with fluency!  Wouldn't you like to have fluency goals in your room that engage the students in a fun and exciting way?   I have personally researched many ways of implementing fluency in a primary classroom and this one is awesome!  Enjoy this post and then go out and buy yourself that well-deserved teacher gift for fluency!  Happy holidays you wonderful teachers of reading!
No matter how well we teach reading some students still struggle with fluency!  Wouldn't you like to have fluency goals in your room that engage the students in a fun and exciting way?   I have personally researched many ways of implementing fluency in a primary classroom and this one is awesome!

Sound Boxes: Listening for Sounds

Sound boxes help students attend to sounds in words to help them read and write them.

One of the things I love to do with students is to help them manipulate phonemes in words.  This helps them to think about the sounds they hear in the words and gain a better understanding of words. As they work with the sounds, they can actually attend to the sounds and make words.


Increasing Motivation with Early Morning Book Club

Do you have a reluctant reader in your home or classroom? This post includes suggestions for turning that reluctant reader into an avid reader in just a few steps.

As a teacher, what has been your biggest challenge to overcome?  Perhaps it's been juggling planning and prep with a busy schedule.  Maybe it's been working with the child in the classroom who never has homework, always needs to use the bathroom or run and errand, and never stops talking. It might even be working with difficult parents. In my situation, the obstacle I lose more sleep over and stress about is reaching what Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisperer calls, "The Dormant Reader".  Yes, I have worked with all reader types throughout my teaching career, but this one is personal.  This one is one of my own in my own home.

Keeping Them Motivated To Write

Looking for ways to motivate your students to write in the weeks before Winter Break?  Read to see a few ways these kindergarten children have been engaged in writing.
This year, my students are struggling with writing.  Most of them do not enjoy writing, but I think for many of them it is because they struggle with it.   With the holidays approaching and interest in school dwindling in favor of all things snow and Santa, I wanted to find ways to make writing exciting in hopes that the excitement will carry over into the new year.

Wants and Needs and Knowing the Difference

Students are asked to determine the difference between basic wants and needs. This can be a fun lesson with easy connections to previous lessons and their lives.

WANTS and NEEDS and knowing the difference is a Kindergarten Standard of Learning in Virginia. It's sounds impossible, but it can actually be a really fun unit for kindergartners.  They understand the concept of "want," so you really just need to help them think about what they need.  I like to teach this unit between Thanksgiving and Winter Break.


A Quick & Easy Way to Teach Vocabulary

 I want to share my favorite vocabulary activity with you!  One of the great things about this Vocabulary Graphic Organizer is that it can be used K-5 and across all subject areas.  There is a free copy of the organizer later in this post.

I want to share my favorite vocabulary activity with you!  One of the great things about this Vocabulary Graphic Organizer is that it can be used K-5 and across all subject areas.  There is a free copy of the organizer later in this post.


Kids Creating: Games For Learning

How can you use games to help students practice literacy skills? In my classroom, students have been creating games to take home based on their needs.

My students love to play games, but I was struggling to keep up with them in terms of differentiation and keeping it fresh.  One morning on my way to work, I had a brainstorm: Why can't they help make games to meet their needs?!?

Encourage Imagination and Oral Storytelling with Spot

Encourage students and children to use their imagination to tell stories.  The Spot app provides a platform to support this.

With each new set of students that we meet each year, one thing has become increasingly evident: oral language needs to be strengthened.  This could be for a number of reasons: more screen time, meals on the go, less playtime (recess too), or other changes in a culture.  But regardless of the reasons, as teachers we have to support language development.  Without oral language skills, comprehension, writing, and math explanations are much more difficult.  So what can we do?


Five Unique Ways to Build Reading Fluency

Students' reading fluency develops just like bike riding skills. Our little ones start off reading word by word with occasional "falls", but with lots of practice, they gain speed and momentum to glide along and make meaning. This post includes lots of help for addressing reading fluency including freebies.

Reading is like riding a bike. You watch little ones beginning to ride a bike, they're wobbling all over the place. But as we practice and practice and practice, we don't even think about peddling anymore. Eventually we can ride with no hands. – G. Reid

Students' reading fluency develops just like bike riding skills. Our little ones start off reading word by word with occasional "falls", but with lots of practice, they gain speed and momentum to glide along and make meaning. The challenge of reading fluently requires several subskills in order for a reading to experience fluency success. What are those skills?

5 Simple Ways to Embrace the Holidays without Sacrificing Content

Check out this post with 5 simple ways to embrace the winter holiday season in your literacy classroom without sacrificing content!

Are you looking for simple ways to embrace (and survive!) the holiday season without sacrificing the content you are responsible for teaching?  My hand is raised!  My students have fun each and every holiday season in my classroom, but I never stop teaching.  You will not find my students and I watching the Grinch on a Friday afternoon...Read on to find out how you can incorporate the holidays so that your students still have fun, but continue to teach at the same time!

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie!

Make your own big class big books using sight words and student pictures.

Up-to-date big books can be hard to come by.  They are expensive and not a priority in many school's budget.  So how can I implement big books in a classroom when I don't have the money to do so?


Summarizing... Getting to the HEART of the Story

Summarizing gets to the heart of the story.  Starting with stating summaries orally, students can be instructed to write independent summaries with ease.


Another Reading Comprehension strategy that can be used in all primary classrooms is Summarizing.  Too often students think summarizing is retelling.  In order to get a quick summary you need to get to the heart of the story.

Reading Ritual: Character Hall of Fame

Encourage an inviting classroom environment with reading rituals.

Reading rituals...they are an integral part of our reading classrooms in order to create an environment for readers to be fostered, grown, and encouraged.  They look different in every classroom and some rituals will have more impact than others.


Make Reading Fun!

Hi! This is Heather from Campfire Curriculum with Helpful Heather.  Can we all agree that students who are motivated and engaged will become better readers?  If we want students to be motivated, we must be too!  If we want students to be engaged in activities linked to reading, we must be too!  I hope that this post renews your love for literacy and puts a little pep in your step!  Happy Fall Ya'll!!!
Can we all agree that students who are motivated and engaged will become better readers?  If we want students to be motivated, we must be too!  If we want students to be engaged in activities linked to reading, we must be too!  I hope that this post renews your love for literacy and puts a little pep in your step!  Happy Fall Ya'll!!!


Why Small Group Instruction Can Not Be Ignored

The Situation

Student one transferred into Lincoln Park Elementary in October from Texas. She is in fifth grade and English is her second language. Her reading level is late third and comprehension is a challenge.

Student two has attended Lincoln Park Elementary since kindergarten. He has always struggled with reading. He struggles with spelling and writing. His reading lacks fluency, and decoding unfamiliar words is challenging.

Student three has also attended Lincoln Park Elementary since kindergarten. She is on grade level, has passed state assessments with a score slightly above the cut score. She struggles with attention at times and is being treated for ADHD. She's very inquisitive, and with some modifications in class, she's kept on task. Comprehension can be impacted when the environment is distracting.

The final student joined Lincoln Park Elementary in second grade. He was identified for the talented and gifted program in third grade. He is an avid reader with a rich vocabulary. He's a quiet child, never complains, and keeps busy with independent reading when other work is complete.


Word Hunts: The Cornerstone of Word Study Instruction

Word Hunts help to ensure that students really understand those features. Make sure they are done right with tips in this post.

For years, I taught third graders, and we focused on word study instruction quite a bit. After learning our features and how they work, the best part of the week was the word hunt. Students would use what they knew and really focused their learning on the features and not just the words.


Effectively Using a Para in the Literacy Classroom

Do you have a paraprofessional in your literacy classroom for part or all of the day?  Check out this post on how to effectively use your para for your students' benefit!
Some of us are lucky enough to have an aide or paraprofessional ("para") in our classroom for one, or maybe many, periods throughout the day.  This may be to meet the needs of special education students, ESL students, struggling readers, or just because.  Sometimes these paras enter the classroom with specific tasks and other times they do not and it is up to the classroom teacher to provide them.  

Having been an ESL teacher, most of the positions I have held allowed for a para to be in my classroom for about 30-60 minutes per day.  Of course if there were assessments occurring, staff absent, or anything special going on this did not occur.  BUT, having an extra person for even just a small amount of time can be very useful!

Reading Centers: A Couple Ideas

We are in the full swing of literacy centers in my kindergarten classroom.  I'm always looking for new ways to make reading instruction and skill practice exciting for my kiddos.

I downloaded these free CVC/CCVC cards on TpT, but you could use any picture cards to cover skills you are working on. My students use magnetic letters to build the words on a magnetic board.  I purchased the magnetic boards at JoAnn Etc. 3-4 years ago.  I only have 3, so any additional students use a magnetic dry erase board.  They take a photo and upload to the Seesaw app for me to see and to share with their families.  They are excited to use the magnetic letters, and I feel this is something we can use throughout the year to practice many different skills (CVC, CVCe, sight words, etc).



In Kindergarten, the first few weeks are all about our ABC's!!

Each day, we introduced a new letter and it went a little something like this:

We start our morning with a letter review. We introduce the letter and its sound. Then we practice stretching some words with that sound.  I find it helpful to have the kids applying their sounds as they are learning them.  It gives them a purpose rather than just rote memorization.  After we blend a few words, we sing some songs.  My kiddos LOVE Heidisongs and we sing them every day. 


Celebrating Columbus Day

Celebrating Columbus Day with kindergartners can include reading, singing, writing and making a ship. Here are a few ideas for teaching our early learners.

In 1492...Read a Book

One of my favorite books for Columbus Day is In 1492 by Jean Marzollo.  The book is written in rhyme and engages the students.  We read the entire book Monday, but return to the text for a variety of facts during the week.


Homework: The Great Debate

As I'm sure you've all seen, homework has been in the news. The teacher from Texas sent a letter home to her parents, someone posted it, and it went viral.  There has been more publicity with homework because of this, but I have struggled with it for a while. As the RtI coordinator in our building, had a teacher refer a student for academic difficulties, but blamed the issue entirely on incomplete homework. Really? Should homework hold that much power?
Homework is a hot topic.  Here are two options that allow for independent practice AND student choice.  It's just one idea for homework.


Repurposing OLD Literacy Materials

If you are a new teacher, you might walk into your new classroom and find the closets and cabinets full of literacy curriculum materials from the last twenty years (literally).  And if you are an experienced teacher, you might be the one filling those closets!  Or maybe you just inherited some piles when moving classrooms.  Either way, we all know the sight of the hallway just full of books and workbooks lined up next to the doors waiting to be picked up by the janitorial staff.
Have you inherited a mess of old curriculum materials and workbooks?  Here are some useful ways to repurpose old basals, workbooks, and readers in your literacy classroom.
Have you ever thought about how you could repurpose SOME (not all!) of these materials?  Here are a few suggestions.  


Let Me Finish!

At about 4 years old, my daughter started to ask me if we were in a book.  What an interesting question.  At almost 8 years old, she continues to get lost in books, is constantly connecting personal experiences to events in books, and must be reminded often to close the book and brush her teeth!  This love for books is something that we wish for all of our students.

At Nerd Camp this year I met Minh Lê, the author of Let Me Finish.  I realized this book was written for my daughter and all of the other children that we want to get "sucked" into books. This is Minh Lê's breakout book and my, oh, my...there is a lot that we (as teachers) can do with it!


Finding Joy in Everything We Read!

In the final chapter of Reading Wellness, we learn that joy must be a part of the reading experience for it to be meaningful to our students.

As a mother of two children, I know the struggle of helping my children as they learn to read. When my son was in kindergarten and first grade, he would bring home the most mundane and boring books that were meant to be easy to read. Sure he could read them, but there was little to no excitement in those milestones. It was the reading we did each night before bed. We would read together some of his favorite books, and the joy on his face as he read the words brought joy to my heart as well. In the final chapter of Reading Wellness, the authors remind us that progress is not always a result of hard work, but that sometimes if we "work less", we all enjoy reading more!


Strength: Productive Effort and Building Reading Muscle

Reading Wellness Book Study:  Read about how Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris explain the 4 different “weights of texts” and how these texts grow us as readers.

At the beginning of the chapter, a story is shared about a mom who pushes her son.  She left him home alone for the first time feeling that he was ready while she attended a workshop and her husband was teaching.  At one point he contacts her upset and says there is an emergency.  After her initial panic, she finds that the “emergency” is that he spilled the gallon of milk and now has a mess and no breakfast.  She tells him where the towels are and pushes him to clean up his mess and find himself breakfast.  He protests but she tells him she’s going to have to do it and says goodbye.  He is proud of himself 30 minutes later when he texts her that he did it!

Life with our students can be much like this; if we don’t push them to try it on their own, they will rely on our support more than necessary.


Practicing Mindfulness while Reading

Do your students practice mindfulness while reading?  Chapter 4 of Reading Wellness provides a fun, concrete lesson to teach your students how to slow down and think deeply about their reading.  Great for making inferences.
This is Jessica from Literacy Spark here today to share with you Chapter 4: Mindfulness from Reading Wellness by Jan Miller and Kim Yaris.  Be sure to check out all the posts from this week if you are just joining us (I posted about each chapter on my blog as well) and don't forget you can access the book online (currently for free!) from Stenhouse Publishers.
Do your students practice mindfulness while reading?  Chapter 4 of Reading Wellness provides a fun, concrete lesson to teach your students how to slow down and think deeply about their reading.  Great for making inferences.

Reading Wellness: Alignment

Reading Wellness...Wow!!  Sarah from Simply Literacy and Em from Curious Firsties here today to discuss Chapter 3: Alignment.  We hope that you are enjoying this book as much as we are.  It has led us to some great conversations about our own students and what we can do a bit differently this year.  Below you will see a conversation that Sarah and Em had about the alignment chapter.

What does this mean to us?  Well in our own lives it means aligning our values with our day to day constraints.

I feel like alignment in my life is coinciding my school life and my home life.  My day starts and ends with my home life, all while my school life is intertwined. Aligning those two lives is an ongoing learning process and essentially a balancing act that I am still trying to figure out.

I know for me, alignment in my life is integrating and balancing my love for reading, blogging, teaching, and parenting.  It is easy for one to overpower another but I am always working to find that balance.

The authors, Burkins and Yaris, explain that the same alignment must occur for readers but through print and meaning.  Both must be attended to and in alignment.

I teach third grade and I tend to focus my teaching on meaning.  Of course with some students, I need to focus on both print and meaning.  When a student struggles with print, I tend to focus mostly on certain skills and leave meaning on the back burner.  I love how this chapter reminded me the importance of aligning print to meaning and meaning to print.  They go hand-in-hand, not separate.

Since I teach first grade, I find that I do tend to focus my teaching on the print.  Meaning is talked about and I always ask "does it make sense?" but I would not say that my teaching of print and meaning is in perfect alignment and harmony.  I could use some work on that.

The importance of print and meaning is comparable to a puzzle: the pieces versus the puzzle.  Which one is more important.  Both.  They are essential and important to the activity of putting a puzzle together.

I love this analogy.  You can't have one without the other.  And it makes me wonder if this would be a good analogy to help the kids understand the essential connection between print and meaning.

Whenever I read, I tend to comprehend better when I make connections to the text.  I love the puzzle and learning to dance example (pg71). These analogies immediately made me think of when I teach young girls how to fastpitch.  For years, I have taught several girls how to pitch and every time, girls immediately want to jump into full motion pitching before learning the basic drills.  This reminds me of aligning print with meaning.  Girls are not going to be able to throw strikes or throw with speed and accuracy if they don't align it with the proper techniques.  

The authors go on to explain that even the best readers make errors or misunderstand text but they have the alignment of print and meaning to resolve and cross check these errors.

True...I cross check constantly as I'm reading professional and personal books.  But this doesn't happen naturally and the kids cannot see exactly what is going on in my head.  It would be helpful if I did more think aloud modeling to help them see the connection and alignment.

I agree 100%, Emily.  I feel like with most things in life, modeling is an essential.  Integrating the language and ideas from this chapter during think-alouds will help readers to align print with meaning.

Burkins and Yaris say that by offering explicit strategies such as "get your mouth ready" or "look for a small word inside the big word," we are not allowing students to be decision makers or problem solvers.  They state that we are "...telling them how to solve a problem rather than supporting them in solving the problem themselves." (p71)

Typically I use specific prompts to help them use strategies:

Yikes!  I have been doing it all wrong!!!! When print and meaning aren't aligned, my teacher instinct has always been to prompt and help the reader to solve the problem.  My prompts, such as "look back at that word carefully", basically tells the student how to solve the problem rather than supporting them in solving the problem themselves. This part of the chapter was so informative and eye opening.  

Also, while reading this part of the chapter, a past student popped into my head.  I wish I would have read this chapter three years ago.  This past student's reading process was out of alignment.  He was constantly inserting a or the in front of words in a text, and other print cues. The miscues made sense on a sentence level, but his insertions were changing the meaning.  I was always saying "does that make sense?" which led  me to telling him how to solve the problem rather than supporting him in solving the problem himself.  

Oh geez!  This is totally me!  Being a first grade teacher I prompt a lot during guided reading.  But I noticed that later in the chapter the authors do say that some students still need this specific strategy prompts.  I want to reread and explore this.

In the lesson "Does It Match," the authors offer a lesson and extensions to support the alignment of print and meaning.

I love the way the lesson does really help the students to have more independence in their reading.

I particularly like the vocabulary and prompts that are suggested for guided reading, shared guided, and independent reading.

Agree completely!!  But it is stated that some traditional prompting may still be key for some students.  I can see this for a new reader--but overall I want to foster more independence.

Yes, my students spend a lot of time reading independently.  The chapter gave an easy example of what to say to your students during that crucial reading time.  As the students settle to read, simply say, "Raise your hand when you solve a problem.  I want to hear about how you solved it!" (pg. 85)  So easy and so powerful!

When checking for meaning, I like to use "S-T-P" with my students.  This is from Jan Richardson's The Next Step in Guided Reading.  My students hear "S-T-P" (which means Stop-Think-Paraphrase) a lot throughout the year.  While students are either reading during guided reading groups, with a partner, or independently reading, students will read a page, Stop and cover the text with their hand, Think about what was read, and Paraphrase by softly telling themselves what was read.  If students cannot retell the page that was read, then a reread must be done. I think when using S-T-P, students are practicing the constant back and forth of checking and cross checking which will hopefully help readers move along the continuum of proficiency in reading.

I can't wait to try out the lesson and discover the impact that it has on my students.  When reading this chapter, what stands out to you and your readers?


Motivating Students to Embrace Hard Work

How do we motivate students to embrace hard work?  This question pops up frequently in conversations among teachers. With the recent push to raise rigor in reading, teachers are wondering how to encourage students to persevere through complex text. 

Today we'll take a look at Chapter 2, "Posture", from Reading Wellness to find some possible answers.   

Ignite passion and instill confidence in your readers with Reading Wellness, a summer book study. Today's topic: mindset and hard work.
Reading Wellness by Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris

Developing Posture 

Posture is the way in which students demonstrate a sense of empowerment about a task, according to Burkins and Yaris. 

How students do their work depends largely on how they feel about doing the work. 

Many times, students believe that they can't do something, and therefore they are unwilling to try. However, we can teach students to think differently about their work.  

Chapter 2 provides lessons to develop posture.

Leaning In/Leaning Out Lessons

Leaning In and Leaning Out is the metaphor used in this chapter to teach students that even when a task seems difficult, they can still tackle it. Students can Lean In, or embrace a task rather than Lean Out, or resist it.  

We can teach students that they have power over their learning.  We can teach them that their words, thoughts, and feelings impact their learning.  

We can use picture books to model and teach the Leaning In/ Leaning Out language.  Students can examine how characters lean into or away from a learning experience.  

We can model Leaning In through our own words and actions in the classroom.

Reading Wellness Intentions

Here's a look at the connection between Posture and the four Reading Wellness Intentions.

 Ignite passion and instill confidence in your readers with Reading Wellness, a summer book study. Today's topic: mindset and hard work.

Pin for later:
Ignite passion and instill confidence in your readers with Reading Wellness, a summer book study.

The book is available for purchase or to read online for free through Stenhouse.

How do you encourage students to embrace difficult tasks? We would love hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below!


Love - Real Reasons to Read Informational Texts

Finding a love for reading informational texts can be a challenge, but this lesson helps children find their passion and love it!

As the shift in reading has moved toward informational texts, we all seem to have to find a way to entice students to want and love to read those informational texts. Buy why would they want to read them if they have no interest in them, especially if someone tells them they have to read them! But with a special lesson called "Heart, Head, Hands, and Feet" students will want to read informational texts and learn from them!


Is Your Classroom Your Happy Place?

Hello everyone!
 This is Laura from  Where the Magic Happens Teaching Blog.  Can you believe that I started school this week? Second grade is surely very different from 1st grade.
I spent the summer reading and learning the new set of standards, creating new materials, and visualizing what my new classroom was going to look like. I love the feeling of an empty classroom, the idea of a new beginning, and the potential and possibilities. More than anything, I kept on thinking (it was more like day dreaming), about a productive, brain friendly, and homey classroom.

It really starts with my classroom library. I have spent years (and tons of money and time) collecting the right books to reach ALL of my readers year after year. I truly believe that the concepts of classroom community and individuality begin with literature.  It is my  first goal, to show and provide my students with the opportunity to explore their own reading interests free from any constraints. 

Or like my little G would say: "for the fun of it!"

I try to build momentum by not opening the complete library to my students on the first week of school.  Instead, I open it gradually:
First the themes
Then the series
After this the nonfiction section
and so on...
 Since we have such a large classroom library, our books are displayed all over the room in colorful tubs that I got from the Target dollar spot!

Having an organized and quality classroom library makes me think that if nothing else, I am attempting  to create the right conditions for reading by my students.

Think about it! A strong classroom library:

  • Supports your literacy instruction in and out of your classroom.
  • Helps your students to learn about books and author's craft.
  • It also provides a central location for classroom resources... hello shared research!!
  • Serves as a place for students to talk about and interact with books
And you might think...
But how does she come up with the money to buy the books?
Well, let me just tell you: Scholastic points, yard sales, and The Goodwill are my friends! Last weekend for example, my local Goodwill had really great books for .50 a piece! It takes creativity and energy!!

Because my classroom is also really small this year, I had to become really creative too on finding a comfortable reading spot:

Two beach chairs, a lamp from the Goodwill, a cute rug from Walmart, some wooden letters and Voila! There you go!

Now, this is something to be really jelly about:
My school librarian is so fabulous and awesome. As this is my first year in 2nd grade, she has given me tons of suggestions about transitioning my students from easier picture books to  a bit-more-challenging chapter books.
One of the greatest suggestions that she gave me is to  do a classroom library scavenger hunt. This, in order to teach my students to identify different series, authors, themes, and topics.
Oh! And also to help my students keep books and display materials orderly!

So I do different types of  scavenger hunts:

Click HERE to download!

Click HERE to download!

Click HERE to download!

Click HERE to download!

Or all of them!

I give the students one bookmark and they explore the classroom library, once they find a book that matches one item on their bookmark, they bring me the book and they get a punch! These bookmarks match my classroom library book bin labels.

What is my goal with this?
I, more than anything, want to get my students motivated to read... and to read for fun. Throughout the year, I want to introduce them to authors, great series, themes, etc. Instead of giving them or leading them to a leveled book, I want them to be able to freely express about their  reading choices and pursue them.

They each will have their own book box. With the book boxes there are a couple of whole group lessons that need to be addressed:

  • Differences between picture books and chapter books
  • Choosing "just right" books (blog post and anchor chart on this coming up next week)
  • Keeping a balance in your book box
  • How to return books
  • Giving book recommendations

I would love to hear and learn from all of you! How do you organize your classroom library? What routines and mini-lessons do you teach to help your students be successful? What things do you do to foster reading motivation??

I can honestly say that there are many happy places for me: my mom's house, my boys' arms, the beach, the mountains, my own classroom!

Until next time!