I used to HATE the nonsense word fluency portion of the DIBELS assessment.  Like HATE it.  I thought it was pointless.  Afterall, I didn't care if my kids could read nonsense words.  

I wanted them reading REAL words!

But then, my science of reading journey hit me across the forehead again with another big learning AHA!  

Nonsense words are the building blocks of multisyllabic words.  

Let me say it a different way: Words with more than one syllable often are built by putting two or more nonsense one-syllable words together.

Like COMPUTER.  This word is built with 3 nonsense words.

COM-PU-TER.  So, if we want kids reading longer words, they need lots of practice reading short, nonsense words.

My absolute favorite way to practice decoding both real and nonsense words is playing the Word Chunks Game.

What You'll Need

This word work game is super low prep.  All I need is onset and rime cards and a way to record the words.  This can be as simple as writing sound chunks you are teaching on sticky notes and using dry erase boards to record words.

Or, you can use these premade word building cards that include all of the phonics sounds from short vowels and blends to vowel teams and diphthongs. All I have to do is laminate the onset and rime cards and store them in a bag.  I love using the different themed word building cards each month to make the game fresh and new for the kids!

Once you have the game prepped, you are ready to play this game with kids no matter what their decoding level!  Each of the word chunks game sets are differentiated into short vowel words, CVCe and ending blend words, and vowel combo words.  All sets include consonants and blends and digraphs as the onsets. 

Just grab the bag with the skill cards your kids need to work on and you are ready to play!

How To Play The Word Chunks Game

Lay out the headers "real" and "wacky" words and talk to kids about what this means.  After decoding each word, they will need to determine if the word is a real word or not.

Then, make a pile of the onset words and the rime word cards.  Kids will take turns turning over one of each to build the word.

(NOTE: I put an orange dot on the back of my rime cards so I could easily sort the cards into onsets and rimes)

Once the kid builds the new word, they will decide if the word is real or wacky and move the word card under the correct header.

Then, they will write their word on the recording sheet under the correct header.

You play as long or as short as time allows.  When time is up, the person with the most REAL words wins!

More Word Work Practice

If your kids need more word building practice, there are 3 premade sorts included in each month of the Word Chunks Game.  And they are themed for the month and match the levels included for each game set!

Use the sorts for independent practice, sub plans, morning work, and more!  You can find the October Word Chunks Game here or get the bundle for a huge discount here.

Do you have kids that are struggling decoding CVC words?  Do they know their letters and sounds, but they just can't seem to put it all together to read words with short vowels?  

Kids must have multiple exposures to words in multiple contexts to map words and read them with automaticity.  So, it's helpful to have multiple interventions in our toolkit to help kids decode.

Today, we're chatting about my favorite--Science of Reading aligned--ways to help your kids learn to decode simple CVC short vowel words.

The Blending Slide

Phonemic awareness is the foundation of decoding.  Without being able to blend and segment sounds kids hear, it is next to impossible to blend and segment even the simplest words.

Let's start with one of my favorites: The Blending Slide.  I start this routine whole group from week 1.

I chant, 

Slide, slide, slippety slide.

I say the sounds.

YOU make it glide!

/c/ /a/ /t/

I touch my shoulder, elbow, and hand as I say each sound.  Then, without saying anything else, I slide my hand down my arm from shoulder to hand and the kids blend the sound.

As I'm touching each sound on my arm and blending, they are touching their arms in the same way at the same time.  This Total Physical Response is crucial to helping kids solidify their learning.

The sliding arm is MAGIC!  We use it for just phonemic awareness (sounds only).  And we use it as we begin reading.  And I see those little arms pop out all the time while they are practicing reading.  Especially for my tactile learners.  It is a HUGE built-in manipulative and support for them.  And when they reach automaticity, that arm no longer is needed!

Segmenting on Arms

At the same time we are working on blending, we are also working on segmenting with a chant called, "Break It Down."

I start this routine whole group from week 1 also.  I snap to the beat and chant,

Break it down (snap)

Break it down (snap)

Break. It. (snap) Down. (snap)

I say the word,

YOU say the sounds.


Then, we all stick our arm out in front of us.  We use our other arm to touch our shoulder, elbow, and hand while saying each of the sounds we hear in the word CAT.

/c/ /a/ /t/, CAT!

When we say the word at the end, we slide our hand all the way down our arm as we blend our word. You can read more about how I use the Break It Down and Slide Chants for reading intervention here.

Don't skip this practice, y'all.

Let me say it louder for the teachers in the back:  DON'T SKIP PHONEMIC AWARENESS.

Especially for intervention, the Science of Reading tells us it's super important that kids have opportunities to blend sounds together without having to think about the letter-sound correlation.  Don't worry, we are about to talk about connecting it to letters.... that's the end goal after all, right?

Connect It To Letters

In addition to manipulating sounds, we know from the science of reading research that kids should also be connecting their blending and segmenting skills to letters--and as soon as possible!  Sometimes, that comes immediately after manipulating sounds by asking, "And what letter makes that sound?"  

And sometimes it's a stand-alone phonics lesson.

This can be as simple as writing a CVC word on the board and having kids hold out their arms to say and blend the sounds.  

Another way I like to do this is by using magnetiles.  I love this intervention because I can use it for decoding CVC words all the way up to multisyllabic words (read those details here).

No matter how we connect it to letters, I have found that continuing to use the arm as a manipulative to blend the sounds helps kids tremendously!

Making Words

Decoding one word at a time using dry erase boards or magnetiles is perfect for kids starting to decode.

Once kids' decoding skills are increasing and they are in need of LOTS of decoding repetition, we move to making words.  Making words gives us the chance to manipulate and decode more words in a short amount of time so the focus is on automaticity and fluency!

If we do this whole group, I use dry erase markers to speed up the gathering materials process!

But for intervention groups, I still love using magnetic letters and the tactile learning it adds.

Making words is a word building game that makes phonics practice more like a puzzle so the kids are hooked from the first word!  You can read more about how I use this intervention in this post.

And you can find the premade lessons and mats that I use here.

Decodable Texts

Once kids are getting faster and more automatic with making words, they are ready to read in context.  For these kiddos, decodable texts are the ONLY way to go!

I LOVE giving kids authentic ways to practice decoding as soon as they are ready!  These decodable texts give kids passages and booklets to practice CVC short vowel words, but with silly stories that will entertain your kids!

Find decodable word lists, passages, booklets, and checkups for CVC words here!

Setting Reading Goals is vital to reading success for our kids.  And it's not just about using the district grade level benchmarks as a guide and praying your kids can be "on grade level" by the end of the year.

When I first started teaching, I knew all the quarterly benchmarks and expectations for my first graders.  I studied them.  I could spout them off to anyone who would listen.  But I never even mentioned it to the kids I was teaching.

Why?  Because I didn't think they needed to be bothered with all of that.  

Instead, I kept teaching and doing small group interventions as my first graders worked to meet the (secret) goals I had set for them.

And somewhere during that first year, I decided that was for the birds.  It was time to get some help on reading goal setting...

...from the 6 and 7 year olds in my class!

Yep.  I was actually going to let my first graders be active participants in setting reading goals.

And the change was POWERFUL!

Knowledge Is Power

Knowing is the first step.

Knowledge is power.

Know better. Do better.

It was this idea that propelled me into letting my first graders in on the reading goal setting process.

And what I found was POWERFUL.  Kids THRIVE on knowing expectations.  

Like most humans, working aimlessly is not motivating.  But just the simple shift of having a goal in mind gives us internal motivation--something to work for!

We start setting reading goals by telling kids what the end of quarter expectation is.  We do this as a whole class.  We talk about our plans for meeting those expectations.  We will do our best work during independent time.  Mrs. Shaddock will do her best to plan lessons and small group interventions to help them grow.  They will listen and give their best attitude and effort during intervention time.

And we talk about how many kids are below that expectation now because it's not the end of the quarter yet.  That's okay... it just means we have work to do.  

We also talk about how some kids are already at or above that expectation, but that is not a reason to not work.  We will also set reasonable goals for them to continue working towards.

When it's time for me to individually assess each kid, I discuss how well they did after I assess them.  We color in their thermometer to where they are at and identify the end of quarter goal OR what their individual goal should be and star or circle that goal.

When we made the switch from guided reading to Science of Reading aligned skill groups, these thermometers got a makeover and became even more a part of the goal setting process.  Because now our goals were backed by science! :)

Student Ownership Is Key

Knowledge is power, but that's not all of it.  Students have to buy in and own their own learning. 

It's not enough for me to just tell them what their goal should be.  It's important for me to ask the kids.  And put it on them.  

So, after assessing and coloring in their current level, I look at the kid and say, "You are reading words with blends really well!  By the end of the quarter, you should at least be reading CVCe words well too.  What do you think your goal should be for the first quarter?"

Most kids answer with the quarterly goal.  Some kids go a little higher... and that's okay!  A few kids will just point to the top of the thermometer and say that's their goal.  And so we have to talk about what "reasonable goals" are and I may need to guide them a little more.

But the idea is the same.  Help them feel a part of it.  And like this is their goal and their reading progress.  The more they feel in charge, the more pride they will feel in their work and the effort they will give.  And that helps everybody! :)

Once we agree on our goal, we fill out the goal sheet together.  (We will color in the correct face when I assess them the next time before moving on to our new goals!)

Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork

Once the goals are set, we are ready to get to work!  It's as cheesy as can be... but it's also true.  Teamwork really does make the dreamwork!

Your kids need you and your best interventions.  And you need their buy in and effort.  Setting reading goals TOGETHER helps encourage all of these things and puts the focus on teamwork.

As one of my friends says a lot, "Everything is better in teams."

So, if you haven't given your kids a chance to set their own reading goals and be active participants in goal setting, this can be the year!  You can find all of these goal setting sheets and thermometers that I use for K-2 here if you need an easy way to get started!

The first two weeks of back to school are a unique experience. :)  We are excited, nervous, and spewing rules and procedures in every other sentence.  It's mentally exhausting.  And I sometimes I don't have the head space to plan out fancy activities.  So, I go to what works.  

And my first two weeks look basically the same every year until we can get rules and procedures established.  Ain't nobody got time to reinvent the wheel those first 10 days.  Am I right?  

So, if your head is spinning too, here are my 5 tried and true back to school activities for first grade that I ALWAYS include during the first two weeks!

Counting Collections

Counting Collections is a routine that I use throughout the entire year.  And we start it early.  I introduce it during the first 10 days and give kids time to count collections.  

Why do I love it?  Because it's backed by loads of math research and is a solid math activity that we will continue throughout the year.  And the sooner I start it, the sooner they will become independent so I can pull math intervention groups! So, I'm happy to put in a little extra effort on this up front.

So why start it during the first 10 days?  If you've taught first grade long, you know that independent work is hard to come by during those first few weeks.  But this simple routine for counting collections is something kids can do independently almost immediately... and all first grade teachers said, "Amen!"

You can read more about our routines and procedures for counting collections here.

And grab the resource here! (Struggling with math at the beginning of the year?  I've got all my detailed plans for the first 10 days for FREE here!)

Time Capsules

First grade is such a fun year for me because the kids grow by leaps and bounds!  It is so amazing to watch how far they come.

That's exactly why we do time capsules!  I have themed ours with Olaf and Frozen.  So we have a cold tub that "Olaf" puts our papers in to keep them, "Frozen in Time."  

At the end of the year, Olaf delivers our time capsules and we remeasure our handprints and height and our writing skills!  It's the best day because the kids are always surprised at how far they've come during the year!!

School, School, What Do You See?

One of the the must-dos for the beginning of the year is finding your way around the school.... learning where to go, who you'll see there, and what is expected. 

We use the book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, to do this.  We make a similarly patterned book called, School, School, What Do You See?  I have it in a digital version that we read together.  

Each day, we talk about a new helper in our school and what their job is.  We write about their job and then talk about how we can help!  

Then, the kids make their own paper booklet as we write and have their own book by the end.

How We Go Home Graphs

This is a first day of school MUST!  One of my biggest fears is not getting one of my firsties home the right way on day one.

Of course, I always have parents write down how they will get home at Meet the Teacher night and on the first day of school (looking at you Moms who change your mind 20 times about how your child will go home)! :)

But I like to go over this with the kids on day 1.  And day 2, and literally for the first two weeks.  We make a giant pictorial graph using car, bus, feet, and bike diecuts.  And then, if we do this independent graph as well!

Graphs are an amazing beginning of school math activity.  Here's a set of all my "get to know you" back to school graphs!

Read Alouds

Books.  Books.  Books.  Just read more books.

I always have a stack of back to school books to read during the first two weeks.  There always seems to be an awkward 10 minutes left here and there during those first few days and weeks as we all figure out our new schedule and before all the normal routines start.

I fill that space with books.  Most of our read alouds at the beginning of the year go with our citizenship unit and are all about building classroom community and good character traits.

You can read more about all of my favorite back to school read alouds in this post!

Elementary phonics aligned with the science of reading looks like tubs of manipulatives, sound box cards, pointers, poem posters, and dry erase boards with markers, and, and, and... :)

All. The. Things.

And then if you are going to do phonics intervention during small groups, you either need to have a separate stash, or you need to remember to move all the things back and forth.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  Digital phonics changed my life for this very reason and more.  So let's chat about the 4 Reasons I started teaching phonics DIGITALLY!

1. Digital Phonics Means No Prep

Don't get me wrong... I have my stash of phonics materials.  But it's organized neatly in my small group intervention area. 

I never worry about gathering all the things as my kids are rushing to the carpet.  Or rushing to my back table to grab one more thing in the middle of the lesson!

Can you relate?

One of the things I love about digital phonics is that all of the manipulatives and supplies are digital and a part of the powerpoint file.

By making it digital, I don't have to sacrifice hands-on or the interactive experience that we know kids need to map words!

For decoding practice, the slides play one phoneme at a time.  

Elkonin boxes are on the spelling pages.

There are plenty of sorts with moveable photos or words.

And there are plenty more interactive parts of the digital phonics lessons that you can see in this video.

2. Digital Phonics Means Putting Down Scripts

If you've been around for a while, you may know my story about getting stuck in the script and HATING it!  I couldn't memorize the script that changed each day.  And I also couldn't read from the script and teach effectively AND manage my squirrely first graders.

That's the exact reason I created digital phonics.  Because I needed to look up and teach while still being confident that what I was doing was backed by the Science of Reading.  

Having prepared slides helped me look up at my kids and focus on teaching them better.

Each of the slides has a notes section (in normal view) for me to refer to in case I forget what we are focusing on for that slide.

But I rarely had to glance at the notes section after the first week or so because of reason #3...

Digital Phonics Means Consistency

Consistency is HUGE for me.

And it's even HUGER for kids (Yes, I know that's not a word.... but it should be!)

Consistency in digital phonics instruction means that we are doing the same routine every week, just with a different skill.

Poems will always be introduced on Tuesdays for first graders.  And we will do the same things with them each Tuesday... just with a different poem!

The content changes.  The routines do not.  And that's where the magic happens.

Kids have a finite amount of space in their brains to learn.  If half of that space is used up learning new routines every day, then only half of their brain power is available for actual learning.  Actual science of reading aligned phonics skills.

Let's pause for a story for a moment.  When I interned in kindergarten, my mentor teacher (whom I LOVED) planned 10 centers every week.  And they were different centers every week.  Like we just found 10 random activities that tied into what we were learning that week.  

On Mondays before centers began, we spent about 20 minutes showing the kids how to do all of the centers.  And what do you think happened the rest of the week during centers?  We got constant questions on what they were supposed to do.  They couldn't remember.  Or it wasn't blatantly obvious.  Or they were absent on Monday.  Or they were spinning circles during directions.  Or, or, or... :)

That's the problem with inconsistency.  And that's exactly why I was adamant about keeping Super Phonics consistent from week to week.  Consistency is one of the things I hear over and over from teachers who use my Super Phonics digital curriculum.

Digital Phonics Means Online Flexibilty

Anyone heard of a little thing called CoVid? :)  Phonics instruction was unaffected by teachers who were using a digital phonics curriculum.  My teachers continued to teach Science of Reading aligned phonics over zoom calls and even assigned phonics lessons for kids to go back and do on their own in Google classroom.

Super Phonics comes as a PowerPoint download, but it can be uploaded into Google slides.  Some of the automatic timing on the decoding slides is lost because Google Slides (at the time of this blog post) doesn't yet support those tools, but it is closely the same.

If you still aren't sure if digital phonics is the way to go, try it out!  For FREE!  Just click the image below to get an entire week of digital phonics for either kindergarten, first grade or second grade sent straight to your inbox!

Are you confident and ready to jump in with Super Phonics?  Grab the entire year for kindergarten, first grade or second grade below.

kindergarten super phonics 

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