Last week, we chatted about why decodable texts are essential in the primary classroom.  Missed it? Catch up here and come on back.  I'll wait for ya! :)

Now that we are clear on WHY we use decodables, let's talk about HOW to use them and what the routines look like in the classroom...and I'll share a big freebie, too! :)

Decodable Readers

Decodable readers are used at the end of the Super Phonics lessons in my classroom as an extension and independent practice time.

On Tuesdays, I show the digital reader and I model read the book.  Then, we go back and choral read together if we have time.

On Wednesdays, students get a paper reader and take it back to their desks.  The first thing they do is read the sight words on the title page...

...and then find them and highlight them in their book.

After they finish highlighting, they go back and read the text to self.


As they are reading, I walk around and listen to each child read at least two pages to me.  Yes, this takes time (about 7-10 minutes in the kindergarten class I did this in), but it is a wonderful way for me to see who I need to spend more time with during small groups.  During this time, I make notes of struggling readers and pull them back for additional support with this reader or other decoding skills during our small group time.

Once I have listened to them read, they continue reading, going back to reread if they finish early.  Once I've listened to everyone read, I give them a few minutes to color/illustrate the pictures if we have time.  Then, it goes in their browsing box to practice when they finish early. 
   

Thursdays, we buddy read the decodable readers by sitting, "Elbow to elbow, knee to knee, book in the middle so both can see."  Then, with each page they take turns with I read, You read, We read.  We model this a LOT in the beginning so they know what to do.

As they buddy read, I walk around and listen in again and make any new notes!

Decodable Passages

Decodable passages are for additional practice in small groups.  If I have noted that some students need extra practice decoding, we use the passages.  One of the passages in each resource is the same as the reader.  The other 2 are new texts with the same focus sound.  These are great for kids who just need to practice the fluency with decoding.

In our small groups, we start by reading the sight words together.

Then, they highlight the sight words...just like in the readers.

Then, they read the passage independently as I listen in.  After I've listened to each one in my small group read and taken notes or running records, we all choral read together.


Assessing Decoding

On Fridays during our small group time, I can use these checkups to see how kids are doing decoding with the skill we practice during the week.  I make one master copy of the checkup for the students to use.

And another one for me to make notes on...just like this sample below!  This is great to keep as additional data for RTI purposes or for parent conferences!

You can find these short a decodables FREE here and the bundle of decodables for 36 sounds HERE (this bundle is set to be completed by May 2020)!
  
When I started teaching first grade almost 15 years ago, I had a stack of decodable readers in my classroom that just collected dust.

Why?  Because they weren't meaningful texts.  They were boring to read.  There was little picture support.  And I was a teacher determined to emphasize reading comprehension, not robotic readers.

So the phonics readers just sat in the back of my cabinet because I would've gone to teacher jail if I'd thrown them away.

But I began to notice a shift in my own teaching about 2 years before I left the classroom for a mom-break.  That year, 2014, the district I was in purchased a phonics curriculum.  An actual phonics curriculum.  And I was reluctant at first because in my book.
Phonics = Boring

At least to 2014 Whitney.

But they asked us to teach it so I tried.  I really tried.  And by the end of the second year, I had found a rhythm with phonics.  I had taken what worked from the curriculum, with what I also had found to work in my own classroom, and developed a 20 minute phonics routine that was engaging to my firsties and....

Wait for it...

MAKING A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN THEIR READING!

Fast forward 3 more years and I started doing some personal research while out of the classroom on my mom-break on the Science of Reading and the RISE initiative in my state, Arkansas.

And what I found between that research and my experience as a long-term resource sub and long-term kinder sub last year is that decodable texts have an important place in the primary classroom.

Why Decodable Texts?

The evidence based data that I found in my research of the science of reading showed that when we teach students strategies like "look at the picture," and "skip the word and come back" along with other MSV cues, we are teaching them to guess using skills that aren't actually reading skills.

Think about that for a minute.  If I ask my ELL kiddo to look at the picture for a clue to read the word, I'm asking him to use language skills that he may or may not have.  And even if she can guess the word from one picture clue, does not mean that she can guess it from the next one....it all depends on his vocabulary.  Not his decoding skills.

Instead, if I front load my learners with decoding skills and teach them the 44 sounds in the English language, that is transferrable.  If I can crack the decoding skill, I can read any book....regardless of my language skills.

Decodable texts remove the language comprehension requirement and give kids an opportunity to just practice segmenting and blending to gain fluency and become automatic readers who can THEN focus on comprehension.

But What About Comprehension?


Do not.  I repeat DO NOT hear me say that comprehension is not important.  I'm a reader who struggles with reading comprehension.  Who can decode quickly and read 5 pages out of my favorite chapter book at night before realizing I have no idea what I just read.

So I understand the importance of the end goal in reading...to understand, learn from and enjoy what we are reading.

Comprehension is still very present in the primary classroom.  But it is done whole group through read alouds and VERBAL comprehension.  It's doing what we tell parents to do with their kids at home...read and talk about the story.

And this is exactly what my 12 weeks in kindergarten last year as a long-term sub taught me.  Comprehension early on is VERBAL.  It's studying vocabulary words through read alouds and text talks.  It's reading stories together and asking questions and retelling together as a whole group.  And it's modeling thinking aloud about stories.  All of those things still exists in the primary classroom. And are ESSENTIAL.

But another essential part of reading in the primary grades is decoding.  After all, if I can't decode as an adult (or 3rd grader) you can just forget about comprehension anyway.

Independent reading in K & 1 is the time for kids to practice their decoding skills.  And what the evidence shows (both formally from the Science of Reading data and informally from my observations in the classroom) is that as our decoding skills and verbal/language comprehension skills grow, they meet together to form reading comprehension.

Let's Talk ELL Kiddos


Decoding + Verbal Comprehension = Reading Comprehension

Think about that for a second.

That was a lightbulb moment for me for my ELL kiddos when I began to see this in the classroom.

I spent so many years early on asking my ELL babies to use their English Language skills (which by the way were basically zero) to "read" or guess words.  What a HUGE disservice!

Instead, I should have spent my time building up their verbal language comprehension skills and teaching them decoding skills during their small group intervention times...knowing that formula would eventually produce reading comprehension.  I was trying to make them swallow the whole apple (decode and comprehend) instead of cutting it up into smaller pieces.

So now what?

As a result, I've created decodable texts that align with my first grade Super Phonics Curriculum.  And I'll be blogging soon about how I used these in the classroom!


We just started a brand new unit in our preschool Sunday School class.

Elijah!

I love the story of Elijah and the idea that his life teaches us that God will never leave us!

Our first week started with the story of God sending ravens to feed Elijah and we played Feed Elijah.  Here's a look at how we set up this game and how we played.

Materials & Set Up

I cut out Elijah's head, the "Feed Elijah" sign that I copied on red cardstock and the bread and ravens...all of these are included in the unit.

Then, I glued Elijah's head to cardstock and cut out the hole for the mouth.  I used some mini-ritz crackers as the "bread" when I tested this out with my own kiddo.  But when we did this in class last Sunday, I forgot to bring the crackers so I grabbed croutons from our church kitchen....which I actually think I liked better because they are harder to break!

To set up the game, I just propped the Elijah face cardstock page on a storage box and leaned it against the wall when I tested this out with Cooper.

In class, I decided to use a chair to lean it against and I liked this better because it was a little higher!

How To Play

When we played this, they sat in a line behind player one.  Each player got 3 crackers to through to try and feed Elijah.  After their 3 pieces were thrown, they went to the end of the line and let the next person play.

We played this altogether as a group game after our Bible lesson on God sending the ravens to feed Elijah.   It was a HUGE hit and they begged to keep playing!

We will also continue to leave this game set up as an exploration station throughout the entire unit for the kids to explore on their own during the first 15 minutes of our Sunday School class!

You can find the materials and the 6 week unit to go along with this game in this Elijah Preschool Unit.

You've got a great hands-on, standards aligned activity that you've planned and prepped for.

Everything's ready to go and you're so confident that it's gonna be that good that you secretly hope your admin walks in during the activity.

And as you are explaining the project to your sweeties, you realize you totally forgot to think about who their partner or group would be...

Sound familiar?  This has been me time and time again. #realtalk  I even once forgot about this during an informal observation and had to come up with partners on the fly like I knew what I was doing the whole time...

I swore I'd never do that again so I came up with a system to group my kids in multiple ways with very little prep!  Let's chat about grouping students today!

At the beginning of the year when I am finished with ALL THOSE ASSESSMENTS, I sit down and make my grouping lists.  I have 3 lists I make:  literacy skills, math skills, and behavior skills.

On each list, I order my students from most support needed to least support needed.

When it's time for an activity, I pull out my lists.  (I have them on a ring hanging on the inside of one of my cabinets.)

I find the topic I need.  When I first started this, I had a separate list for reading and writing.  You can certainly do that, but I found that it really was of no benefit to separate them out.  And it was easier to think of the kids with literacy as a whole in mind!  I added a behavior list later on as well.  I use this one for content projects that aren't necessarily literacy based...like science experiments.

Once I have the list I need, I have a ton of options for grouping right at my fingertips!

Grouping Homogeneously (Similar Ability)

If I want kids in like ability groups, I simply think about how many I want in each group and go down the list.  For example, if we are ordering sentence words and I want to differentiate this, I'll use this grouping.  Let's say I want 3 kids in each group.  Then, numbers 1-3 will be together, 4-6, 7-9, etc....

If I want to meet with a small group of 6 to do the activity with me, then I'll call numbers 1-6 to the back table and then go down the list in groups of 3 after that.

I don't call their numbers, I call names.  In fact, the kids don't every really realize that I have a list like this.  I just simply grab the list when I'm calling groups and tell them who I want where!

Grouping Partners Heterogeneously

If I want kids to be in partners by mixed groups, I will split my list in half.  So, for example, with this list of 20 kids I would split it into 1-10 and 11-20.

Numbers 1 & 11 will be partners, 2 & 12, 3 & 13...

The reason why I do it this way is I want to make sure I'm NOT pairing the lowest kid with my highest kid.  When these kids are grouped together, the high kid does all the work and the low kid does a lot of staring off, right??

I want my lowest kid with an average kid.  That way they are strong enough to help my low kids, but not so strong that they take over.

Also, in this scenario, some of my average kids (numbers 8-10) will be with my highest kids.

Again, if I want to meet with a small group, I just take off the first 6 to meet with me and then split the remaining 14 in half and pair 1 & 8, 2 & 9, 3 & 10....

Grouping Heterogeneously

When grouping kids into mixed ability groups of 3+, I do the same thing I talked about with partners, but I split the list up more.

For example, if I want groups of 4, I would divide my list of 20 kids into fourths (1-5, 6-10, 11-15, and 16-20).  Then, I would put numbers 1, 6, 11, and 16 in a group and so on.

In this grouping, I have a solid balance of low, average and high students.

#REALTALK
As I'm putting kids in groups, if I see partners that should be together like numbers 1 & 11 but those kids are like oil and water (you know the ones I'm talking about, right???), then 1 & 12 will be partners and 2 & 11 will be partners.  WHY? Because...ain't nobody got time for that business, LOL!  But seriously, this is a tool, NOT the law...so use your noggin' and make it work for your kids! :)

Why Use This Grouping Strategy?

I have found this strategy to significantly help engagement in group or partner activities.  It's well thought out, it allows for small group intervention if needed, and it is so flexible that they are rarely with the same partners. (Anytime a student is absent, it changes up the grouping enough so that even if I mostly use heterogeneous partners they will be different most of the time because of absences!)

Aside from engagement, it's just plain simple.  Do the work at the beginning of the year when you assess and then you are set for any group activity.  Make new lists after you reassess if you want to keep you lists fresh!  I usually change my lists at the beginning of each quarter!

And last but not least, this strategy is SURE to impress your admins during a formal or informal evaluation.  It's well thought out, but easy to use "on the fly" too!

Want to use this tool?  Find the digital tool for FREE here!

As we've talked about many times in this corner of cyber space, I refuse to make teaching phonics a drag anymore.  I've been there and done that and it. is. miserable.

We've chatted about how I turned my phonics into a predictable and engaging routine that's quick and interactive using this interactive digital curriculum.

And we've talked about the emoji stories I use to teach the phonics sounds and engage kids.

Today let's talk about a piece of both of these things I've mentioned here and there, but never fully explained or shared: Vowel sound motions.  I've had several people ask about what motions I have my kids do for the sounds.  Let's talk about that today!

When I first introduce a sound, I tell the story about the letters and attach a motion to it.  For example, when I teach about ir, er, and ur, we talk about how they are teenagers just learning how to drive.

"IR, ER, and UR are teenagers that are learning how to drive.  BUT they are TERRIBLE drivers.  So every time they get behind the wheel to drive they end up driving crazy and going too fast and they have to slam on their brakes.  Guess what sound they make when they slam the brakes?  "ERRRRRRR" and I put my foot out like I'm pushing the brakes and hold on to my pretend steering wheel and say, "ERRRRRRR!"

We have motions for our most common vowel sounds.

The vowel sounds on our vowel charts that follow the long vowel sound (ea, oa, ie, etc...) we do not have motions for.  Those follow the "When 2 vowels go walking, the first one does the talking" rule.  We use this video's catchy tune when introducing these and all that is needed when they are decoding is the prompt, "When 2 vowels go walking..."

The vowel sounds that have motions are mostly vowel digraph sounds that cannot be decoded otherwise!

As we learn the sounds, we do the motions as we read our chart!  You can find a description of the stories I use and photos or videos of the motions I use in this resource!  The awesome thing is watching my kinesthetic learners moving to the vowel motions as they decode new words!!
(Note: if you have my Emoji Stories, some of the stories were changed slightly to match the emoji on the anchor chart.  The stories in this resource are the ones I originally used...no, it doesn't matter which stories you use!  Just use what engages your kids!)

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