Phonological Awareness with Tara from Looney's Literacy

We are pleased to have another guest blogger with us today!  Tara from Looney's Literacy Blog is here to help us all with some phonological awareness activities!

Hello, Adventures in Literacy Land friends! My name is Tara Looney from Looney's Literacy Blog and I'm pleased to be a guest blogger here where I can meet new literacy lovin' bloggy buddies!
I'm here today to share a little bit about phonological awareness and the part it plays in literacy learning. Since the National Reading Panel's research on the six basic components of literacy learning and my own personal experience with my child with developmental delays in speech and language and  proprioceptive sensory disorder, I've made it my mission to discover the literacy learning process and share it with others so that we can reach as many kiddos as possible. 

By the time our kiddos reach us in Kindergarten, especially if they've not had pre-school, it is important to teach explicit phonological skills to those who seem to have not mastered them yet. 
Phonological skills are closely related to  language and listening skills (All strong indicators of future literacy learning success).  A quick check at the beginning of the year is simple  and  can be done  within any normal "getting accustomed to school" routines. 

As an intervention teacher, I spend the first 2-3 weeks observing whole group instruction and independent activities. I try to keep record of observations that raise the red flag of possible learning difficulties. Language, listening and phonological awareness are  among the top five "literacy look fors" at the beginning of the year.

What Do We Look For When Checking for Phonological Awareness?

I like to look at phonological awareness as an umbrella. The solid upper portion containing the "developmental" foundation for listening and language. Research states that rhyming awareness occurs around 3-4 yrs of age  and syllable awareness around 5-6 years. One of the first things I focus on is language and listening, which is going to tie into phonological awareness. Kids come to us at the age of five at varying levels of literacy learning. Listening to them them talk is a strong indicator of where to begin their literacy learning with you.

Easy Checklist:

1. Do they speak in complete sentences?
3. Do they hear rhymes?  Teacher says,"Do cat and sat rhyme?"
4. Can they produce rhymes? Teacher says, "Tell me a word that rhymes with car."
5. Can they hear syllables? (In words with 1-4 syllables - 1 syllable words are sometimes the hardest because they want to break the word into phonemes)

How do we address phonological awareness with the whole class and students who still need practice?

Addressing phonological awareness activities with the whole class can be done by choosing books that have a rhyming pattern for class read alouds, including rhyming activities to work on independently during word work time, and discussing how many parts are in a word during shared writing time. This can and should happen throughout all content subjects. For kiddos who need additional, more explicit teaching I extend their learning opportunities into small group time. As an intervention teacher, I've created some extension activities that are based off of classroom read alouds. Just recently, one of our Kindergarten classroom was studying Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse when they were learning about the letter P. So I took that story and created a fun syllable activity to go with it.
Click image to see my post on "Literacy Look Fors" 
It's kind of hard to see but when you close the flaps it makes Lily's purple plastic purse.

*Disclaimer: Remember not to stay on any one literacy component for too long, you can always "spiral," or loop skills back into learning as needed.*

I want to again, thank all you friends over at Adventures in Literacy Land for your generosity by allowing me to share some of my knowledge.  If you would like to hear more from me click on my blog button at the top and you'll be directed to my blog. 


Vibrant Vocabulary--Royal Ways to Help Your Students Become Word Nerds

A big warm welcome to Jennifer from Stories and Songs in Second who is guest blogging today with some fun ways to help your students with:
Hear Ye!  Hear Ye!
Calling all teachers from far and wide, to and fro, hither and yon!
Are you tired of  using the same old worksheets and four-corner graphic organizers to teach your students word meaning?  Are you looking for ways to transform your daily vocabulary lessons into one of the most engaging, productive, and interactive parts of your instructional day?
Then kindly join me for today's royal edition of Adventures in Literacy Land, and listen well, my friends!  It is I, Jennifer from Stories and Songs in Second, here to share some royal and 
"oh so fancy" ideas gleaned from a resource that has rejuvenated my own instructional practice!
Know that I was absolutely thrilled when my request to guest blog here was accepted, and thank Andrea from Reading Toward the Stars profusely for guiding me through the process!  I just celebrated my one-year "blogiversary" in mid-November, and am both grateful for and humbled by the kindness and generosity this community has shown me.  Their friendship and inspiration have made me a better educator and a better person.
It is with great honor and respect now that I invite you to step inside the castle 
with me now to enjoy.....
Reading, spelling, writing, and vocabulary work were always my favorite subjects in elementary and high school.  The rhythm, rhyme, figurative language, descriptive phrases, and the ability to paint pictures with words always fascinated and enchanted me.  My nose was often in a book, or my pen was always being put to paper--writing in my journal, drafting a short story, or composing a poem.  My love of all things literacy-related continues today in my classroom, and I am always looking for new methods, strategies, activities, or techniques to capture the attention and interest of my young students.

In addition to sharing favorite read alouds from my beloved collection of picture books, I also like to incorporate music into much of my teaching and am not one to sit down at my desk too often.  I am known to dance, chant, move, and groove as needed to keep my class focused and engaged.  I also have a cupboard full of creative props, puppets, and costumes that I bring out and use as needed. In order to do justice to the content of this post and make this thematic study of BIG words and their IMPORTANT MEANINGS come alive for my second graders, I had to dig deep into my royal treasure box!  
A regal tiara, silver scepter, movie star sunglasses, megaphone, microphone, and cheerleader pom-poms are just a few of the royal tools and tricks of the trade I rounded up!  Alas though, I did not come up with velvet cape or a horse-drawn carriage.....or a dashing prince.  But I digress.....
What follows now is a pictorial description of how the planning for and the actual teaching of  vocabulary lessons in the Royal Kingdom of Room #2 this year has unfolded....
This book and the simple, effective, and easy-to-implement ideas inside of it has been a "game-changer" for me.   After two years of rotating between the same Daily 5 Working with Words activities in Kindergarten and first grade, my second graders were in desperate need of something different this fall.  When I stumbled upon Word Nerds by Brenda J. Overturf, Leslie H. Montgomery, and Margot Holmes Smith at my local bookstore, I was at first taken in by the happy, gesturing children on the front cover.  The second thing that intrigued me was the rhymed title, and the fact that it described me.  I am a WORD NERD through and through!  I LOVE VOCABULARY! Whenever one of my students uses a huge "ten dollar word," either in conversation or in their writing, I "kiss their brain."  I am also forever spouting a list of alternatives for words we encounter in our daily reading.  Needless to say, I scooped it up off the shelf, bought it, and sat down to read it right when I got home.  
One hundred and forty-seven pages later, I might have even kissed the cover, and then cried a little bit.  I was hooked.  I had found my kindred spirits.  The three teacher-authors, who work at a school with a low socioeconomic population and a high percentage of at-risk children just like I mine, had found a way to reach and teach them the magic and power found in words.They had found a way to foster confidence in children who didn't have any.  They still used the tried-and-true methods of close readings and four-corner graphic organizers, but they also introduced an activity called Crystal Ball Words where students look deeply into the prefix, suffix, and root of a word to predict its meaning. They use "themed cycles" of words, instead of lists generated by a basal series, that are based on either a non-fiction text they are reading for a subject area like Science or Social Studies, or a picture book they are studying for Language Arts.
Synonym and antonym charts for each of the words listed in the "themed cycle" are created by the students, written on index cards and put in plastic lanyards.  A weekly "Block Party" is  held, where the teacher calls out the vocabulary word and the child wearing that word on his lanyard needs to invite the children wearing his or her related synonyms or antonyms to the party. Test reviews are called celebrations, and often take the form of a game show like Jeopardy, Deal or No Deal, with students writing the questions and each vocabulary word for the teacher to ask. Sometimes students write a song about their word and sing it American Idol style into a microphone. Sometimes students do the limbo while answering vocabulary questions and then enjoy Hawaiian Punch at a class Luau Party afterwards.  Often times, students will act out their words in a Charades-style game. While these activities are just a few of the ideas shared in this resource, Chapter 5 is entitled "Active Vocabulary Practice and is full of innovative, creative, and kinesthetic ways to help children develop the "velcro" they need to understand words and get their meaning to "stick to their brain."  
Word Nerds also includes a wealth of different formative and summative assessment ideas, planning charts, rubrics, and trade books that can be easily adapted and used in the elementary classroom. Working smarter not harder is something I have learned slowly over my 23-year-career, and I appreciate being able to just pull what I need from the appendix and adapt it as needed.  As I started to map out my own implementation plan, I decided to use Fancy Nancy picture, easy reader, and chapter books as my mentor texts because of their rich, royal, and "tres tres chic" supply of synonyms and antonyms.  I also appreciate the glossary that is included at the back of each story!  They make it easy to create both word and definition cards to use as a before-reading reference in my pocket chart, or to use as a matching review game at a literacy station.
Despite her love for all things pink, feathery, sequined, and "girly," the boys in my group adore Fancy Nancy's  humor, frequent clumsiness, and her long, arduous laments about how the rest of her family is just so "plain" instead of "extraordinary."  My entire group also loves the Razzle Dazzle candies I pass out before we meet the new words in every story!  I use them to remind my students how the language we use to express ourselves when we speak, read, and write should be just like the sweet treats in their mouths--fizzy, juicy, flavorful, fabulous, and fun!

I also developed this List of Top Ten Royal Vocabulary Rules based on important precepts outlined in Word Nerds to launch or introduce my unit.    Please humor my use of alliteration.  It just spills out of me, and I cannot help myself.  I also decided to emphasize how exploring new words and understanding their meaning is just like unwrapping a present by packaging the words from our first story, Fancy Nancy Sees Stars, as well as the Royal Vocabulary Rules in gift bags.  This task of removing the tissue paper and ribbon to "dig deep" inside the bag to  unearth the word cards really helped my group grasp how there are often lots of layers or multiple meanings to words that have to be discovered or unearthed!

Each morning,  my class gathers in our group time area to review these 10 V's OF VOCABULARY and go over directions for their partner or small group work choices.  I keep these definition cards on 
a large ring near our "Thinking Chart," and call student volunteers to come up and read them to their peers.  After each rule is read, the entire group shouts out, "Let's make our words fancy!  Just like Nancy!"

Once we've gone through our rule review and warm-up, student pairs or cooperative groups break off to enjoy a variety of practice activities that are easy for me to prep, and designed to expand and extend their knowledge of the words we are studying.  I use little gift bags tied with tags to designate the work areas around our classroom, designate royal helpers to distribute the materials needed for each one from my supply shelves (clipboards, highlighters, Crayola markers, finger trackers, Post-It notes, fun Flair pens, sentence strips, chart paper),  assign children to their Word Nerd Work Stations for the day, and then sit back on my royal throne to eat bon bons! I don't actually eat bon bons or sit on a throne during this time, but I do maintain a "I am just going to walk around our royal kingdom in my tiara and watch, listen, wave royally, help if needed, and shower children with praise and compliments" demeanor!

Each station has lists of our current vocabulary words and definitions that I've copied and laminated, as well as all of the supplies the students will need to be successful Word Nerds.  A short description of each one follows.  Please note that it took a LOT of whole-group modeling and practice for each of these activities before my crew was able to work independently during a 20-30 minute time frame.  My students take their three-ring binder that is pre-loaded with Handwriting Without Tears paper to their daily station, and then use it as a lap desk if they choose to sit on the floor and work.

Worn Out Words--Students generate alternatives for words that are overused in their writing and use chart paper or dry erase boards to generate lists of new ones.  For example, a pair of my students came up with this short list of words to use in place of "big"--huge, mammoth, gigantic. 

Fancy Schmancy Words--Students choose books of interest to them, either non-fiction or fiction, from our classroom library, and use finger flashlights to scan the pages to find interesting or new words inside of them!  They then write their favorite words on Post-Its and add them to our Wall of Words to share with the entire class later.  Dictionaries are also available at this station for students to look up word meanings.

Snazzy Jazzy Synonyms--Students wear star-shaped sunglasses and use bright flourescent-color
sentence strips to write synonyms for our featured words of the week.

Awesome Antonyms--Students sit across from each other knee-to-knee, and gently toss a small Koosh ball or bean bag back-and-forth while calling out an antonym for each word of the week.  For example, the first child says "Alfresco means outside."   The second child then responds "The antonym for alfresco is inside!"

Picture Perfect Words--Students choose a word or two from our list to illustrate for our
Art Gallery of Great Words display!  This then serves as a reference place for the whole class to have a visual clue for each word.  I usually cut white construction paper in half for this station, and the students use their own art supply boxes.  You could also have your students work collaborative to create a colorful Picture Perfect mural on large chart paper!

Picture Perfect Words--Students choose a word or two from our list to illustrate for our
Art Gallery of Great Words display!  This then serves as a reference place for the whole class to have a visual clue for each word.  I usually cut white construction paper in half for this station, and the students use their own art supply boxes.  You could also have your students work collaboratively to create a colorful Picture Perfect mural on large chart paper!  Imagine the possibilities, and encourage them to use the brightest crayons in their boxes!

Lights! Camera! Action! Words--Students act out, sing, chant, rap, cheer, or dance to their words.
They can clap, tap, or snap the syllables as they say each word out loud.  They can make up a jingle to help them remember the word meanings  like "I am a constellation!  I am a shiny sky sensation!"
They can play a game of Charades, where they act out each word for their partner or group to guess and state the meaning.  Because this particular set of activities can get L-O-U-D, I recommend that you play it as a whole group in order to maintain decorum and avoid chaos in your royal kingdom!

Razzle Dazzle Related Words--Students work together to brainstorm a list of other words that relate to the topic or theme of the word study.
Wonder Words--Students "read the room" with a partner--book titles, anchor charts, our Word Wall, labels, etc.-- and write down four favorite words.  They then either "turn and talk" to their neighbor about their words, and state the reason they like each one.  After that, they must "show what they know" by writing "superhero sentences" for each word.

What are "superhero sentences" you ask?  Why, they are sentences that are NOT full of  plain, unassuming, everyday, run-of-the-mill newspaper reporter Clark Kent words!  They are sentences full of vivid, visual, voracious, vast, very fun, vocal, vibrant, vivacious, and effervescent can-leap-tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound Superman words!  They are sentences that include great detail and infused with figurative language that leaps off of the page and literally sparkles!  They are sentences that are full of....

If you'd like to take your students for a magical ride in my royal vocabulary carriage, I will have this FREE starter kit uploaded to my store very soon! It will include the word power cards, anchor charts, and posters described in this post.

or on the picture below to grab your copy!

In closing, I'd like to share one more piece of information that is connected to my personal vs. professional life.  It served as the thematic inspiration for this post, and is "tres tres" good news that I just simply must share!  Thank you in advance for indulging me!

Beginning in late January 2015, my daughter will be performing 
onstage at the 
Emerald City Theater in ......

Know that I cannot wait to applaud her performance as she helps bring skits, songs, and dances about one of my favorite books characters to life!  It honestly makes my teacher and Drama Mama heart swell with pride!  
As I have always told her, I will remind you of the same advice now.  Reach for the stars.  Do what is best for yourself and your students.  Trust your instincts.  Teach them creatively.  Feed their imagination.  Celebrate their shining moments, and .....


Thankful For Reading Resources


Hi everyone! Who's Thanksgiving break has started? I was polling my page fans on The Reading Tutor/OG yesterday, and couldn't believe how many of you get the whole week off! Lucky! I always got Thursday and Friday off and that was it. However many days you get, I'm sure it is well deserved.

I have another question. Who loves finding online teacher resources? Here's a round up of five great resources to bookmark or share with a work colleague. I have to thank my fellow teacher bloggers for helping me with this one. It was so funny how they came up with the same ones I was thinking of when I polled them for ideas. You may not have seen some of these, so you'll definitely want to give them a try while you're on Thanksgiving break. Unless you're one of those people shopping on Black Friday, Yikes! Those crowds can be pretty fierce for some holiday deals.

  1. Newsela-This site is a collection of high interest non-fiction articles for grades 3-12. This can be one of your go-to sites if you're searching for close reading passages. You can create an account, and assign articles to your students to read. One nice feature is you can change the reading level to suit the needs of your students. Then assign questions on the article to monitor their comprehension. This is one of the best online reading tools for differentiating your reading instruction.
  2. Read To Me-LV- This site is a lot like Storyline. Famous actors and actresses read picture books aloud for your students or child to follow along. Any opportunity a child has to hear more a proficient reader other than their own teacher or parent read to them is a good thing.
  3. Into The Book- I love this site when I introduce comprehension strategies. The videos show real students trying the strategy out and modeling it for your class. Into The Book supports you and your students. You can print out mini-posters and lesson plans for each comprehension strategy.
  4. FCRR- The Florida Center For Reading Research has a search engine for all areas of literacy. Once you enter what you're looking for by skill, strategy and grade level, you'll find incredibly useful lesson plans and ready to print student materials. I always recommend this one to teachers, who really don't have a lot of money to spend on classroom materials, but need quality lessons.
  5. Starfall- For all you early childhood educators out there, Starfall is a goldmine. Do you have your families use it? I find to be a nice alternative if you can't afford the subscription at home. You'll find plenty of early childhood literacy skills and much of it is narrated or has audio components. The cheerful graphics always appeal to younger readers.
Now you have 5 resources that truly span grades Pre-K to 12! Are there any you'd like to add? Please comment below. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. See you back here in December!


10 Ways to Motivate Your Readers

Do your students love book projects? Check out this post for 10 ideas you can use to spark reading motivation!

What do you think of when you hear the word, "Project"? Maybe art supplies (or the lack of them), creativity, or perhaps, "There goes my relaxation time!" Well, I have students who are incredibly excited to share their enthusiasm for reading whenever it's time to make a project, and today, we'll explore ways to motivate, celebrate, and increase reading with your students through projects and other motivational techniques.


Teaching Cause and Effect

Hi! It's Bex here from Reading and Writing Redhead to talk a little about cause and effect. I don't know about you but my students always find cause and effect challenging - especially when I ask them to think in reverse-given an effect, what is a cause that could have led to it.

Cause and effect is a type of analytic thinking that is so important for students to understand. It helps them understand why things happen the way that they do. Did you ever think about how many people grow up and take on careers in which they spend tons of time thinking about cause and effect? Some of the most obvious are detectives, doctors, psychologists, but what about electricians who try to figure out why the fuse keeps blowing, meteorologists who are determining why it is raining so much, entrepreneurs trying to figure out why their product is not selling, or how about us teachers trying to figure out why Susie is struggling with reading fluency when she has all her phonics skills down pat?!

Understanding cause and effect  is a lifelong tool. Students will not only need to understand it in school, but they need to be able to recognize it so they can understand what is happening in their personal life and the world at large-to understand actions and consequences and to describe what is going on in deep detail.

Are you looking for some ways to teach cause and effect with your students? I rounded up some ideas from around the web for us. Take a look and please also comment and let us know how you like to work on this in your classroom!
  • You can create a cause and effect chain link with your students. Cut out construction paper strips and have students write a cause from a book they read on one color of construction paper and an effect on another color, then join them together to for a chain. Students can connect a series of events from a story or book they read or something they wrote themselves.

  • Some great ideas for teaching cause and effect involve manipulatives where students can move around causes and effects so they match up. Check out the great ideas and a freebie to use with the fabulously funny Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type over at the Applicious Teacher here. 
  • If you like to do crafts with your kids you might like a cause and effect project like this one for Diary of a Spider at the blog Tattling to the Teacher. Students would need to illustrate 4 causes and effects that relate to story events and then glue them onto the spider craft. Check that out here.
  • I have a freebie you might like, too. It is a simple match up activity and you can grab it by clicking here or on the image. 

  • Anchor charts are really useful for students when they are trying to figure out new concepts. There are all kind of terrific anchor charts for cause and effect you could check out for ideas.
  • This one has some great information and you could use it as a model for one you do with your own class. one It's origin on the web is unclear.

  • Here is another one with mystery origins - it is an anchor chart using Angry Birds to help illustrate cause and effect. I think this could be very successful! Or what about Minecraft?  My students are obsessed with it and I think could talk to me in great detail about cause and effect in the game.

  • And finally there are some terrific videos out there that can be springboards for lessons on many  so many concepts. I found a video from Pixar called For the Birds  that would be great for teaching cause and effect. Take a look!