Monday, February 8, 2016

President's Day Activities

Years ago I create this unit for President's Day. I wanted to give my students some real "meat" during social studies. I was guilty of teaching social studies in a very shallow way. I wanted to help my students really understand what the president does. I wanted to up the rigor a bit too and make it cross-curricular. I recently gave this unit a little facelift (it was originally created in Word-EEK) and it's been a long time since I first blogged about it, so I thought it was time to show it again. My students loved this unit! 

We start by filling out this anticipation guide before reading the book If I Were President.
After reading about this book, we fill out the right side of this page. As the unit progresses, we dive deeper into these questions. 

This is a favorite from the unit. There are two different versions of this: a country version and a classroom version. In both, students are given money and must decide how much to give to each group. Then you can follow up with a writing activity where the students need to articulate why they chose certain groups over others. Opinion writing- Boom!

Next, students discuss what makes a good leader. Students will write about a person who they believe would make a good leader for their "cabinet" or for another leadership position in the country. 

Here, students learn that a president doesn't make the laws in our country. This is always eye-opening for kids because they see the president as the person who can do anything they want. With this activity, they learn that a president has a role to play in creating laws but cannot do it alone. 

This next activity serves two purposes: to show the president as a diplomat and to exercise their problem solving skills. :)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Consonant Blends

Step 1:Building consonant blends and words using letter tiles
When I introduce consonant blends, I usually start with the letter tiles. I build several different consonant blends and model how to read them. I compare them to digraphs by showing them how consonant blends have the two blue tiles, each making a different sound while the digraphs are just one tile because they are two letters that make one sound.  

Next I build words. I model how to "chunk" the word to accurately sound it out. I read, they read.  After several words, I pull back and let them read the words first. After reading several words, they get their own boards with tiles and I say a word for them to build. We practice listening for the blend first to make sure we don't miss a sound. If you don't want to hastle with all those letter tiles, Whizzimo is a great app to use. (More about that app next week!) You can find these letter tiles in my Tutoring Toolkit and/or my short vowel packs. 

You don't have to be fancy though! You can use regular notecards as letter tiles. :)

Step 2: Printable Intervention Books
After a few days of reading, building, and manipulating words with blends, we are ready to move on to our blend books. My students love getting these books! They each get their own during small group instruction. I love it for planning purposes. It's all ready to go to use with multiple groups. 

This unit is packed with activities, giving your students plenty of much needed practice reading and spelling words. You wouldn't need to use every single page in your blend book, but it's nice to have options. Some groups may only need a handful of pages, while others might go through the entire thing before mastering the skill of reading and spelling blends. 

Step 3: Building and reading sentences
For sentence fluency, my students love using this Sentence Spin. Sometimes it makes silly sentences and sometimes it makes real sentences. Either way, they are reading words with consonant blends. I also use it as a mini-comprehension activity. Beginning and struggling readers often end up sounding out words but not thinking about what is being read. When using this activity, I always ask, "Who is the sentence about? What is the character doing?" Sometimes I ask them to describe what they are visualizing. 

Step 4: Increase fluency with short stories
 For the first year I ended up writing short stories on the fly. I'd write them on chart paper so we could practice them together as a shared reading experience. 

I still do that, but now I mix in these story cards too!

Now for my newest resource

 A few months ago, I blogged about my short vowel and long vowel story cards. For some reason, the blend cards took longer to finish! 

There are 20 stories total, all phonetic with a  focus on consonant blends. There are also 4 different versions of these stories:
~There are the original story cards to laminate
~An easier version of the story cards to allow for differentiation
~A printable version with comprehension questions 
~No-color story cards 

I use these cards in my reading groups. The kids love being able to use dry erase markers to interact more with the stories. 

The printable version is nice to use if you wanting to use it with your whole class or send home as a homework assignment.

I also use these mini graphic organizers with the story cards in my small groups.

In case you don't like to print any color, there is also a no-color option. I printed them on bright paper, but you could also print them on white card stock. :)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Close Reading Tip

Happy February! Welcome back to our monthly link-up.

Today I'm hear to share a quick idea to use during you guided reading groups. After the first read, I give each student a half laminating sheet to place over the book we are reading. When I want them to find evidence in the text to support an answer, I have them highlight using dry erase markers over those laminating sheets. That way, I can reuse the books. This strategy involves all group member- they all have to find something in the text that supports their thoughts. I can quickly see who is on the right track, or better understand their thoughts by asking why they chose to highlight something. 

I also use these if a student wants to chunk, or break up, a word. They might highlight suffixes or other familiar word parts. 

I hope you can use this simple idea to help make your guided reading groups more interactive without using all your sticky notes. :) 

Check out these other ideas using the links below!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Guided Reading Word Work

This week, I used these penguins with my kindergarten small groups. They are just starting to sound out words. I would build a word and they would sound it out using their whisper phones. Then I would call on one of them to read it to the group.  I left the vowel spot blank, so you could write any vowel in, including vowel pairs, so I could use with my older students too. 

Sometimes I would ask things like, "Which penguin should I change to make rip?" or "I want to change the vowel to a. What is the word now?"

Then I pass out a blank word making board to each student in the group. I place it in a plastic sleeve protector. I call out a word and students stretch the sounds. Then they write one sound in each penguin. 

You can pick this freebie up here

It will be free for the next couple of days. Then you can get it with my  Winter Guided Reading Pack. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

RTI in Kindergarten: ABC and Phonemic Awareness to Phonics

Happy Tuesday everyone! I hope you all enjoyed your three day weekend. :)

Now that we're back from Christmas break, I'm switching gears with my kindergarten groups. Earlier in the year, I was focusing on alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness. At this point in the year, most are ready to take that next step and use these two skills to move on to phonics. Yay! I thought this was the perfect time to look back on what I did earlier in the year to get them to this point. Keep in mind, that I work with students who are identified as needing some level of intervention. What I love about working with kindergarteners is that early intervention really makes a difference.

The first step in September is determining who will be in my groups. We do a basic alphabet assessment (how many letters and sounds they know) and a phonemic awareness assessment. My first two goals with my students are to accurately identify letter names and sounds and to be able to hear and identify rhyming words.  For some kids, learning all the letters in the alphabet can be difficult and time consuming. I've had students who took all year to truly master all the letters, even with consistent intervention efforts. When a 5 year old has trouble learning the letters and their sounds, this could be a sign of bigger issues, like dyslexia. That's why early intervention is so important!

Here is what my lesson plans look like early in the school year with these kiddos.  As you can see, I focus on two main areas: alphabet and phonemic awareness. I add my goals for that week under each section.

1. Alphabet Recognition
If I'm being completely honest, I think alphabet recognition is the hardest thing to teach. Let's be honest, it can get boring. I mean, how many ways can say and show, "This is an A." I look for different ways to practice so I don't get too bored. Because if I'm bored, they are bored. Depending on the student, we may need to practice one letter for a week or even two. Sometimes they just don't stick right away.

I've looked into it and I haven't found one sequence that is the right way. It seems like there are some conflicting things out there, so I will share with you what has worked for me so far. If you have a sequence that you think works best, let me know! :)

Here are a few things that I've learned over the years:
1. Try not to introduce two letters in a row that look alike. Lowercase b, d, and p are very similar. I try to put a few weeks between these letters to make sure that they really know one before introducing another.
2. Use the letters that have sounds that are easier to stretch (m, s, a, l, r)
3. I begin the year with 3-4 letters, not just one. I started with a, m, s, and t. Week one I just did a and t, then I added in two more the next week. After that, I actually only added one at a time because we were reviewing the old ones. Some weeks I did not introduce any new letters because we needed more time to get them to stick. Some weeks I was able to add two or three because they were starting to stick. My point is that I was totally basing it on my students and how well they were picking up on these letters.
4. Choose the letters that mean something to them: For kids who really struggle to remember the letters, making the letters meaningful does help. Start with the letters in their name or  the letters that start their friends' names. I did this with one student who was having a particularly hard time remembering them. This seemed to help get some momentum going!

When I'm teaching alphabet recognition early in the year, I want them to be seeing it, feeling it, building it, writing it, and hearing the corresponding sounds. Every day, we are reviewing the previous letters we have learned. I remember at one point in the year, we had gone over around 10 letters, but when we reviewed them together, they were not quite automatic with recognizing and identifying their name and sound. So, I spent that week reviewing those letters, redoing some of the activities from earlier in the year.  

Here are some ideas for each part of the Alphabet section.

For every letter, I start with Simply Kinders Alphabet posters. I looooove them. They give a great visual and a fun poem for the kids to learn that helps them remember the shape of the letter. I highly recommend picking up this pack! 

I always have magnetic letters and boards ready to go. On their boards, they have the newest 6-8 letters. I'll say, pull down the letter that says /a/ or pull down the letter A. (I want them to be able to do both so I go back and forth.) After they pull it down, we always say it and trace it again (run fingers along the magnetic letter while saying the letter name and sound) before putting it back to the top. 

For the "Find it" part, you can use sentence strips as shown above or search in a book, or use one of the many products on TPT . I really like this part and always include some form or "searching" for the letter to give them opportunities to see it over and over.  Here, they are looking for all the S circles in the picture. You really don't need to get this fancy. You could just write or type the letter S (mixed with other letters) on a page and have your students highlight or cover them. Easy peasy!

This is always a big hit. I use my projector and quickly type up some letters we've practiced. Kids magical pick up the letter we are focusing on. 

There are many ways to practice forming the shapes of these letters. Every day, I choose one or two. My favorite is to use WikkiStix but the kids love the sand.  Any chance to use the sand makes them happy. 

This year I made these alphabet mats with  a place to feel the letters, build the letters, trace the letters and write them. You can read more about them here. 


Homemade gel boards are always fun too. You need cheap hair gel, gallon plastic bags, and food coloring. :)

After introducing the new letter, searching for it, building it, and writing it, we put all the letters together that we've worked on previously. This can be as simple as flashcards. Like I said, I only use the letters we've work on. I also like to use sentence strips. I simply write the letters we've worked on in random order (and more than once) on a sentence strip. Each student gets their own sentence strip. Then they "whisper read" their letters on their own for practice. After  they've practiced, they "read" their letters to the group. The goal here is automaticity and fluency with identifying the letter. The same can be done with the letter beads. I put the letters we've worked on in mixed order. Each child gets a pipe cleaner with their letters in different order. Practice first by moving the letters as they say the names or sounds. Then they "read" to the group. 

We created this game on the spot. I had sentence strips with a few letters we have gone over. They wanted to play with dice and I wanted to spice it up. So, throw in some dice and a witch's finger and you have a "game" that makes them read the letters over and over and over. 

A photo posted by @snippetsbysarah on

2. Phonemic Awareness

There is so much research out there supporting the use of music. I would start with Heidi Songs because she uses music with movement. My students love those songs! There is also a lot out there on youtube. Just type in "letter T song" and a bunch will pop up. 

Another side to "hearing" sounds is listening for the initial sounds in words. You can teach this as a skill separate from the alphabet or you can merge the two. Two ways to merge the two are:
1. Picture cards: If you are teaching the letter B, gather several  picture cards that start with the /b/ sound. Mix in several that do not start with that sound. Have students say the word, listen for the first sound, and give a thumbs up or down if it makes that sound. Between each card, remind kids, B says /b/. If a picture card does start with /b/, have your students trace the letter in the air while saying the sound. You can find a ton of picture cards in my Phonemic Awareness Pack. There are cards for every letter.  

As part of my ABC mats, I have this section for every letter. They say the picture and determine if it makes the sound you are focusing on. They don't need to identify any other sound. They are simply listening for that one initial sound, so it's a simple yes or no. 

My son loves this activity! 

2. Orally say two words and have kids determine which starts with the sound you are focusing on.

3. For more resources on finding initial sounds and listening for rhyming, check out this phonemic awareness post. 

By November or December, the phonemic awareness portion of my lesson plans had changed a bit. I was still teaching the alphabet to my students. They knew several letters but still had several more to go. To assure they are ready to sound out words once they have mastered these letters, I keep chugging along with the phonemic awareness skills. By now, they can rhyme and identify the initial consonant. After this, I start listening for the final sounds in words. Then we can move on to segmenting and blending sounds. I've blogged a lot about this already and I swear by it! My students only knew half their letters, but they were ready to move forward with their phonemic awareness skills. So.. I keep on keeping on with those letters and make progress with phonemic awareness. The result? They are ready to sound out words once they master those letters! Yay! What often happens if you only focus on letters and forget the phonemic awareness? You spend months trying to figure out why they can't sound out words! Some may pick it up, but why not give them a little boost where they need it?

Phonemic Awareness skills after Initial sounds and rhyming:
Once my students can rhyme and identify initial sounds and final sounds, I'm ready to move on to the next steps in phonemic awareness: blending and segmenting. This usually happens around November or December. 
I start out with mostly modeling blending and segmenting before asking the kids to do it.  I like to start by showing them a picture and cutting it up into parts to show how many sounds. I model how to say it as one whole word, then how to break it up. This visual really seems to help.

This is from my printable Phonemic Awareness pack.

You could do this without a picture card. Just think of words with 2-4 phonemes. Grab pennies, pom-poms, or circular counters. Say the word, model how to segment it.

I only spend 5-10 minutes on these activities. It really doesn't take much, but it is SO valuable.

Here is a peek at my plans now:
I'm happy to say that all the hard work with phonemic awareness and alphabet recognition has paid off. We are now ready to sound out words! Here are my plans now:

Click on the picture to download pdf and get hyperlinks to these products. 

Okay, I know that looks a little overwhelming, so here' s a blank one. :)

To download this blank editable template, click here.

Notice I still have alphabet practice in my plans. My students still have just a few letters that aren't quite sticking. I want them to  master all letters. They should be able to go through flashcards with automaticity and ease. The more I review, the better. :) We only spend about 5 minutes on alphabet recognition now. I just choose one of the pictures in that section each day. I do continue to practice writing those letters, forming them correctly.

We are very slowly introducing sight words now as well. Notice how I have both phonemic awareness and phonics in my plans.

At this point, my kiddos can blend and segment three phonemes pretty well. I'm keeping them in my plans because I want them to continue to practice without the letters to further strengthen their phonemic awareness. Sounding out the words with the letters takes a lot more work for them. Blending and segmenting still doesn't come with ease for my kiddos so I want to continue to model and give them opportunities to practice. Right now the phonics that I'm doing has picture clues with them. I lay out the pictures for them to see as they are sounding out words. Each day we also spend a few minutes building words. I control the letters that are used here. We build different words using the letter tiles and start to manipulate the letters as well (change one letter to turn mat into cat.)  I always have some time in there for kids to practice writing the words as well (spelling.)

Around December, I introduce Build a Sentence. I  started with the words I see a.  At this point, I used this more for the last picture card. I wanted them to practice using the picture and the initial sounds. They would read, I see a bear. I picked cards with only the letters I knew they knew. Very controlled :) Later in the year, we introduce more sight words and this activity becomes more about the sight words then about the initial consonants. At this point (January) with Build a Sentence, I am switching sight words to change the sentences. I see a bear becomes We like the bear. You can read more about how to use this here.  

I hope this post helps you think about about how to plan out your small group intervention time. I've found this works well for me. :)