Increase Student Engagement during Testing Season

There is an illness going around my school right now.  I think more than 1/2 of the teachers caught it.  Some of the symptoms include insomnia, headaches, and some of them have had stomach aches.  Yes, they have "testing fever"!  The kids?  The kids have droopy eyes, blank stares and are feeling sluggish.  You guessed right...the kids have hit the wall with "test prep boredom".  

Hello Literacy Land Friends!  I'm Deniece from This Little Piggy Reads.  Today I'm going to relieve some of the stress that comes along with state testing by sharing a few tips to engage students during test prep.

I'm very competitive and so are most children.  They love playing games, so incorporate learning games. Create heterogeneous groups and let them use white boards (yes, it does increase engagement).  

ClassTools is a great website that allows you to create a QR Code Scavenger Hunt.  
SCOOT is a fun game that gets kids up & moving.  You can put test prep Q's (eg: task cards) at each desk in the classroom.  Give students an answer sheet and have them move every 2 minutes.  ClassTools also has a huge timer that would work for this game!

If you're at a school where you have to use test prep workbook days, then I would suggest using testing buddies.  I would make the students work alone and then after they are finished allow them to collaborate with their buddy.  Just be sure to set ground rules that students can't simply tell each other the answer/s.    

Finally, I would highly suggest little breaks.  Last year, I tried using Minute to Win It games and they were a hit!!  Kids won peppermints and they were super psyched! Shhh....peppermints help get the brain going.  

Now that we've taken care of the kids, let's move on to you, the teacher.  I would suggest to keep Excedrin in your purse during testing season, keep track of your data and make your copies early (just in case the copy machine gets overloaded & stops working).  Personally, I would highly suggest a pedicure, a new haircut and making sure you keep a plug-in with a pleasant smell in your classroom!  The last one might sound strange, but it does make a difference when you feel like you live in your classroom. 


Five {Freebies} for Friday

If you visited Literacy Land yesterday, then you already had a sneak peek at today's topic.  In yesterday's {post}, we discussed the differences in phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics.  I promised to be back again today with a follow-up post to share five fabulous freebies.

Freebie #1 is being offered by Em from Curious Firsties.  She wrote a guest blog post for Reading Toward the Stars describing how she makes the most out of the phonological awareness portion of her guided reading lesson.  Em has 3-5 precious minutes to develop PA, so her instruction must be meaningful and effective.  You can read all about the fun her students have with nursery rhymes and pick up this rhyming {freebie} while you're at it.  

Sound Boxes can be a great tool to use for teaching phonemic segmentation. Freebie #2 is being offered by Lori from Conversations in Literacy.  This set has four different monster themed sound boxes.  As you say a word, students slide tokens into a sound box for each sound they hear. Click on the picture to download.

Who doesn't love coloring Easter eggs?  These Dippin' Eggs take sound boxes to the next level.  Students will learn to segment and write words in a super fun way!  Freebie #3 comes to you from Jennie @ JD's Rockin' Readers.  If you like this activity, be sure to pick up Jennie's other free holiday themed sound boxes.

Update: This freebie has expired.
Emily from The Reading Tutor OG is offering her Phoneme Segmentation Cards as a freebie for a limited time only.  

Build and strengthen phonemic awareness with this awesome product, but's only free through Sunday. 

Update: This freebie has expired.
Phonemic awareness is essential in the development of spelling and phonics skills.  It's important for teachers to make the connection between phonemes and graphemes.  Carla from Comprehension Connection is offering our final freebie of the day.  This making words activity pack has color-coded letter tiles for students to manipulate.  Students can sound-stretch words, spell them with tiles, and write them on white boards.  It's yours free only through Sunday.

Over the course of the last two days, I hope I've offered you a few ideas that you can add to your teacher's toolbox.

If you download a freebie and love what you see, please leave the author some friendly feedback as a token of your appreciation.  :)

Have a fabulous Friday!

Freebie Fridays


Phonemic Awareness

Hello out there in Literacy Land!  This is Wendy from Read With Me ABC here to talk with you about Phonemic Awareness.  

Phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, and phonics are closely related and often misunderstood.  Let's sort it all out...

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate individual sounds, or phonemes, in spoken words.  Phonemic awareness is a subcategory of phonological awareness.

Phonological awareness has a broader focus.  It is the ability to identify and manipulate larger units of spoken language, such as words, syllables, and rhymes as well as phonemes.

Phonemic awareness is not phonics.  Phonemic awareness is the ability to understand that the sounds of spoken language work together to make words.  Phonics is the ability to understand the relationship between letters (graphemes) of written language and the sounds of spoken language.

According to the National Reading Panel, phonemic awareness is an important component of effective reading instruction.

Children who have phonemic awareness skills are likely to have an easier time learning to read, comprehend, and spell than students who lack phonemic awareness skills.
Most children develop phonemic awareness naturally through experiences with poems and nursery rhymes.  Phonemic awareness can also be taught.  Children can learn to notice, think about, and work with sounds in spoken language.  

The most effective instruction occurs in a small group setting and takes just a few minutes each day.  Teachers use a variety of activities to build phonemic awareness skills.

  • Identifying phonemes - What sound is the same in all three words: bat, ball, bun? /b/
  • Categorizing phonemes - Which word does not belong: map, mat, bag?  bag
  • Blending phonemes to form words - What word is /b/ /u/ /s/?  bus
  • Segmenting words into phonemes - Say each sound in frog.  /f/ /r/ /o/ /g/ 
  • Deleting or adding phonemes to form new words - What word is star without the /s/? tar  What word do you have if you add  /b/ to the beginning of lock?  block
  • Substituting phonemes to make new words - The word is bun.  Change the /b/ to /s/.  What word do you have? sun

Teaching students one or two types of phoneme manipulation - specifically blending and segmenting words - is likely to have greater impact on students' reading.

Sometimes my students and I play oral word games like the examples above.  Other times we manipulate pictures or tokens when working with a particular skill.

In this photo, I scattered picture cards out on the table.  Students sort the pictures into two groups by their beginning blends /cr/ and /fr/.  

The student in this picture is sliding a bear into a box for each sound he hears in a word.  We use a variety of themed sorting mats and buttons, glass beads, legos, etc. as the tokens.  

Pictured above are two of my favorite books for teaching phonemic awareness with engaging, meaningful activities.

These are just two of the many great CDs from Jack Hartmann and Heidi Songs to reinforce phonemic awareness skills.

Do you have a favorite activity for teaching phonemic awareness? Please leave a comment below and share your idea with the Literacy Land followers.  We love reading your comments!

Stop back tomorrow for Five for a follow-up to today's post, I'll be featuring five freebies for you to use as part of your phonemic awareness instruction.

Special thanks to EduClipsLovin' LitAshley Hughes and KG Fonts for the graphics used in this post.

Inspiration for Multi-Sensory Phonics Activities

Hi everyone! It's Bex here from Reading and Writing Redhead. While working on phonics during RTI, I try and make the repeated practice as interesting and varied as possible, while still being effective. There are so many ways to teach phonics in a multi-sensory way and it can make such an impact on your students, I thought I would share some of the things I have tried, some tried and true strategies, and a couple new ideas with you.

Multi-Sensory Phonics Activities

The definition of multi-sensory activities from the International Dyslexia Association: "Multisensory teaching is simultaneously visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile to enhance memory and learning. Links are consistently
made between the visual (what we see), auditory (what we hear), and kinesthetic-tactile (what we feel) pathways in learning to read and spell."  To put it in simpler terms, it is teaching to read or spell by making connections between the visual, auditory, and tactile (what we see, hear and feel/touch). If you use a multi-sensory approach to teach phonics, children are at an advantage because they are learning by tapping into all three pathways, not just the visual as they would if you only used pencil and paper - plus it is much more engaging and interesting to children!

I have a great deal of suggestions for you of activities and materials that incorporate the kinesthetic into teaching phonics and phonemic awareness. Many of these ideas have been around for a long time, so I don't know who originally thought of them but if I saw anything new (to me) recently, I include a link to the blog post or website where I saw it.

Playdoh: Roll the letters to make words but you can also flatten Play Doh into pancake-type pieces and "carve" the letters in them.

Craft Sand, Flour, Salt, Sugar, Rice, Spaghetti: Use them at your own risk because they can be quite messy - but also quite effective! Different teachers have tried different things, like putting the sand into a dish washing tub or a large baking pan to contain the mess. Regardless of how you use it, making letters in these materials is great for making kinesthetic connections.

Plastic Screen/Red Crayons: Plastic screens can be bought in craft stores or stores like Michaels and AC Moore in the yarn sections. Place paper over it and use red crayon (I suppose that you could use any color but it was introduced to me by a colleague as "red words")  to write letters and words. When done, the words have a bumpy texture and can be read letter by letter or a whole word at a time.

Shaving Cream: make letters in the cream with your fingers. For easier clean up you can use the shaving cream on a tray instead of a desk, although I have heard the cream also cleans surfaces well (and leaves a nice scent).

Chalk: On the chalkboard, or even better, get everyone outside and use sidewalk chalk to write your words!

Foam Alphabet Stamps:  alone or dip in paint

Alphabet Cookie Cutters - with cookie dough  or play dough

Phonics Pebbles: I had never heard of these until recently but you can buy them at places like Really Good Stuff or Amazon. They look like a neat idea! But they are fairly pricey.  If you have the time, patience and lots of pebbles nearby you could make your own.

Balloons: Write words you are working on on the balloons, toss them, and whichever word your hand is touching, you read aloud. For a different twist on this, use balls instead. No Time for Flash Cards has an awesome post on how she did this with ping pong balls!

Glitter Glue:  My second graders love these for art projects so why couldn't you use them to help with phonics and phonemic awareness instruction too?

Pipe Cleaners: bend and shape them into the letters you need.

Wikki Stix or Bendaroos (I have heard Bendaroos are less expensive): Bend those wax covered sticks into the letters and sounds you are working on like you would with pipe cleaners.

Twister: Instead of playing with colors write words with different word families you are working on on the mat with dry erase marker (you can wipe it off and write new ones later). When the spinner lands on red, fox example, you would put a foot on a "ack" word or a hand on a "ike" word. You can also tape index cards with words on them onto the twister board.

 Mom to 2 Posh Lil' Divas has a terrific post on how she uses this.

Hit The Word: Tape word cards to wall (scattered) and toss a ball. Whichever word you hit, say, or  you can do the opposite, read a word, then hit it with the ball. You can do the same with words on the wall and a fly swatter, or just use words on paper at a desk, easel or white board  and hit with a fly swatter after reading it.

Wilson (or other brand) magnetic tiles: If you are using regular letter tiles or Wilson tiles you can use them on the table just fine, but also try using them on an old cookie sheet. Ask parents to send in cookie sheets they don't need any more.

Block Towers: For each word with a particular phonics sound such as short i, or each rhyming word, the child adds a block to the tower. What child doesn't like making towers? It sounds fun to see how tall it can go and it is fun when everything falls down, too. Admit it, you've smiled and laughed even as adult when you or your child or student knocks a tower over!

There are many more ways to get the kinesthetic  sense  involved with learning. It is a great way to help your struggling readers learn phonics skills while having tons of fun!  You also may want to head over to Emily's blog: The Reading Tutor/OG because she has tons of terrific phonics suggestions, among many other literacy ideas. What other suggestions do you have?


Inferring Strategies

It is Jessica here, from Hanging Out in First, and I am so excited to be back with you today.  I have come to share with you some fun strategies that we have been discussing in our school reading committee.

Making inferences is one of the most difficult things to teach.  We so often receive questions on best approaches for getting kids to make inferences while reading.  Recently, I made this the focus of our reading committee meeting with my faculty.  Today I am here to share with you some of the many resources and strategies that we discovered!

First I will share with you this definition that I found:

I thought that this was an appropriate and simple definition for such a complex concept.

I am going to share with you some ways that you can teach inferring across all grade levels.  The first one is a great one for primary and something that you are probably already doing, and that is picture walks!

At my school we use the Superkids reading program in K/1 and Journeys in 2-5.  My first suggestion to my colleagues was to do picture walks with the weekly story before actually reading it. I have done this by scanning the book and removing the words or by simply using my smart document camera and covering the words so that the students can focus on the pictures.

One of my favorite books to use for inferring is called No Mirrors in my Nana's House, by Ysaye M. Barnwell.  

In this story, the characters in the images do not have any faces.  The whole story is about how there are no mirrors in Nana's house because it does not matter how you look, it only matters what kind of person you are. Therefore, the characters have no faces (no mirrors to see their faces).  This is one of my favorite ways to get students to infer, plus teach them an important life lesson.  It also is based on a wonderful, catchy song.  You can listen to the Nick Jr version on YouTube.

You can also give students just one picture (a photo, a picture from a magazine, a sales ad, an old calendar picture, etc) for making inferences.  For this activity, I like to glue the picture to the middle of a piece of chart paper.  Then I will put students into groups and have them brainstorm what is happening in the picture on the chart paper surrounding the picture.  Older students could even write a story using their picture!

Here is one of my favorite pictures to use for this activity (found on Pinterest).

You can also have students infer feelings.

I think that this is one of the most difficult concepts for my first graders.  Each time I ask them how a character feels, I get one of three answers: happy, sad, or mad.  It is so frustrating!  As a class, we created a list of feelings that people and characters may have.  After a bit of prompting, they finally got the hang of it and let me tell you how proud I am of some of the words they came up with!

We then wrote stories about times that we felt one of these particular feelings.  The most common stories were written about feeling special, loved, and invisible.  What amazing stories!  This has truly helped us with inferring how a character feels in a story.  I no longer get the answers happy, mad, and sad.  I get frustrated, annoyed, embarrassed, invisible, independent, proud....

Using riddles is another fun way to get students to infer.
Playing games like Who am I? and Headbandz is a great way to keep students engaged and thinking!

For more fun ways to get students inferring and for some wonderful resources, you can check out my entire power point here!