Showing posts with label phonics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label phonics. Show all posts

Decodable is the new buzz word of literacy thanks to the Science of Reading.  Decodable texts are any kind of text (lists, passages, books...) where at least 90% of the words are decodable with the focus sound or sounds previously learned.

I first fell back in love with decodable texts 4 years ago when I was doing a maternity leave in kindergarten.  Kids were using their decoding skills to read, making connections to new phonics skills they learned, and searching for heart words in their texts.  But most importantly, they were GROWING readers.  By leaps and bounds.  In 12 weeks, I saw growth like I'd never seen in 10 years of teaching first grade because it was so widespread with so many kids making amazing progress.

But decodable isn't just a buzz word.  It's a must have in your primary classroom.  If you want your reading instruction to be aligned to the Science of Reading, then you better invest in decodable texts.  And once you get started, you'll find there are SO many ways to use them in your classroom.  Let's talk about just 5 ways to use decodable texts in your primary classroom.

Whole Group Reading

This is how I first started using them during my 12 week job in Kinder!  At the end of our phonics lesson on Wednesday, I pulled out one of our decodable books that focused on the sound we were learning.  I read the book aloud to the kids on the carpet using our ELMO projector.  

Then, we reviewed the expectations.  They were to read their book one time.  Then, go back and highlight the focus sound and circle the sight words listed on the front of the book.  Then, they were to read the book two more times.  

When they finished this routine (read, highlight, circle, read, read), then they could illustrate their pictures. 

While the kids were working, I circled around to each table and listened in on as many kids as I could read the text.  I had a class list with the title of the book and I recorded how the kids were reading that I had listened to on this recording sheet

TEACHER TIP:  If I was listening to a kid who was just copying how the friend beside her was reading, I would ask her to start back at the beginning or a previous page for me. :)

When our time was finished (this took about 15-20 total minutes), the kids would put the booklets in their book boxes to read when they finished other work early.  

Targeted Reading Groups

The nice thing about doing the on grade level decodable book as a whole group is I could quickly see who was thriving or struggling with the on grade level text.   At the end of our reading time, I quickly analyzed the running records and wrote notes for who needed what.

I used our Wednesday small group time to pull kids that were struggling.  Sometimes, we did some extra word work using making words with the focus sound.  

Sometimes, we practice our heart words.  

Depending on what my running record showed they were struggling with.  Depending on the amount of strugglers and the reasons the struggled, I might have 1-3 groups of kids to meet with.

We start with some skill practice (making words or sight words) for 5 minutes or less.  Then, we get our same booklet and reread together.  Then, I let them independently read by stagger starting them and listen in as they each read.  

For kids that read the decodable reader with at least 95% accuracy, but maybe weren't fluent, I would note that during our whole group time and pull them to reread and practice fluency.  For kids who were fluent, I might try the matching passage that is the same text as the book, but in a passage form without pictures!

Each reading group would be 10-15 minutes.  Short and targeted so that I could meet with as many kids as possible.  I was almost always able to meet with all of my kids to reinforce our focus skill, or work on fluency or even comprehension for higher kids.

RTI/Intervention Time

You might be thinking.... isn't that what you just described for small groups?  

And, yes, it is!

But that was just for the on grade level focus sound for that week.

Other days of the week, my small group time is spent filling decoding gaps or extending kids as needed.  I pull kids that maybe are still struggling on last week's skill....or the first week of school's skill.... IYKYK... :)  I keep all of our decodable books close to our reading group area so I can get to the book I need quickly and with little prep!

So how did I keep up with who needed what and how often and who I met with and didn't meet with and, and, and...???  That's all in detail in this nuts and bolts blog post.  

How do I figure all of the groups and their focuses out?   By ASSESSING!!  And that's the next way I use decodable texts in the classroom!

Assessing Decoding and Phonics Skills

Assessing is key to getting the most out of your small group or intervention time.  And if we want to know the decoding holes or gaps students have, then we have to use decoding assessments.

My favorite decoding assessments are these screeners.  I love that they are quick and easy to see the exact phonics skills kids are doing well, and the holes we need to fill.

I also assess our current focus skill on Fridays during small group time using these decodable checkups that come with each set of decodable readers.

Take Home Reading

The last way (I'm chatting about in this post anyway!) to use decodable readers in the classroom is to send them out of the classroom....HOME!

I've sent books home for parents to read after reading with them in class or in a group so that parents can stay involved.  

And I've also heard from many teachers who love sending the books or passages or wordlists home to parents who are asking for extra work!

So where can you find a TON of targeted decodable readers for kindergarten through second grade?  Shop all of the individual sets here!

If we want kids to read and spell fluently, then we need to give our K-2 students adequate time for word building during phonics instruction.  The large body of research for the Science of Reading tells us that kids need repetition with word building for a focus sound so that they can map the spelling and sounds in their brain. 

One of my favorite first grade phonics activities to do is making words.  (And it is a must-do activity for kindergarten and second grade too!)

Making words is a word chaining activity which targets a specific phonics skill or sound.  During a making words lesson, kids are building and manipulating words by changing one sound at a time.  For CVC words, they might start by spelling bat and then change one sound to make the word sat.  

This makes word building accessible to all learners because you are just changing one sound at time.  It's less overwhelming and it allows us to really focus in on that target sound or sounds.

I LOVE using making words in my classroom.  The routines stay the same and the sounds change to make the activity feel like more of a game.  Let's chat about 3 low prep ways to implement making words in your kindergarten, first grade, or second grade classroom.

Print Mats & Magnetic Letters

My first year teaching was in 2006, which doesn't seem like long ago at all, but it does when I remember that an overhead projector was the highest form of technology in my classroom. :)

Anyone besides me remember these pretty things???

"It's a beaut, Clark!" :)

Anyways... when I first started teaching, we used magnetic letters or letter cards for word building.

The GREAT thing about magnetic letters with our printable word building mats is that it is very tactile.  It gives kids something to hold, manipulate, and move.  And that is SUPER important.

The downside to letter cards or magnetic letters is time!  I ended up doing word building like this in small groups only because the time it took to pass out letters was about as long as the lesson itself!  

In small groups, I had baggies with the correct letter cards for each lesson with the coordinating mat and that definitely minimized the passout time, but it also took up some extra space!

Print Mats & Dry Erase Markers

The second way I've done making words is with dry erase markers.  This was the main way I did making words when I first started teaching because it took very little pass out time.  There are no letters to pass out.  Kids just have to grab their dry erase markers and a mat and they were good to go!

These printable mats already have the corresponding letters for the lesson on them with the correct number of Elknonin sound boxes so it's ready to go.

But while these printable making words mats are nice and cute, they aren't necessary!  I've used dry erase boards only in a pinch and had kids make lines for the number of sounds in each word!

Digital Mats & Google Classroom

Eventually, the overhead projectors went into the storage closets and the Smartboards were installed.  And then came Google Classroom.

And suddenly, making words was an EASY way to do word work with absolutely zero prep!

Now, kids can open the digital making words mat that corresponds with our lesson and focus sound on an iPad or on a laptop in Google Classroom and they can immediately build words.

Or, we can pull up the digital making words mat on our smart board and do the word building lesson together as a whole group by clicking and dragging letters into the Elknonin sound boxes.

I LOVE this way because it takes so little prep and cleanup time!

Whether you want to save prep and cleanup time and go digital with making words, or you want to pull out the tactile magnetic letters and go old school, word building is a must-do in your primary classroom to help kids map words permanently in their brains!

Have you ever heard old proverb, "How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time."?

The same is true in spelling multi-syllable words.  Stay with me...

The science of reading changed so much of my literacy instruction and all for the better.  Last year, homeschooling my 2nd grader allowed me to think seriously about spelling.  

By second grade, kids are ready to perfect the letter combinations for almost all 44 sounds.  The transition in 2nd grade is beginning to spell multisyllabic words.  And sooooo many kids start struggling with spelling because keeping up with all those sounds in those big words is HARD!  So, how do we make that transition a smooth one?  How do we help kids successfully go from spelling CVC words to 3 syllable words in less than 2 years?  And what interventions can we use to support spelling multisyllabic words.

Spelling Development

Let's back up for just a sec.  How did we get to this multi-syllable spelling spot in 2nd grade?

First we hear sounds in words, and then we say the sounds (phonemic awareness).  Next, we see the sounds and decode them (phonics).  Last, we write sounds we hear correctly (spelling).  Early literacy development in one snapshot?  Here you go!

This is the work of kinder and first grade phonics for almost all 6 syllable types.

So then, the job of 2nd grade is to get better at spelling all syllable types and spelling them within two syllable spelling words as well.

And often times this is where the break down happens because long words can sometimes sound like a huge string of jumbled up sounds.  But if we teach kids to hear the individual syllables in longer words, they can be more successful spellers.

My favorite way to do this is with magnetiles!

Syllable Manipulatives

My son, like most boys :), LOVES building.  So anytime I can add in blocks or building to our learning, it's going to be a win!  

When we started working on spelling multisyllable words in 2nd grade, we used magnatiles to help us.  First, I would tell him the word to spell.  

For example, let's use the word carefully.

Next, he repeated the word and counted the syllables (a phonemic awareness skill that should've been mastered in kindergarten... another reason why kinder teachers are soooooo important!!)


Once he counts 3 syllables, then he grabs three magnatiles.

He lays the three magnatiles out and pushes them together as he repeats the syllables.  CARE-FUL-LY.  

If this sounds familiar to you, it's because this is *just* like pushing letter sounds with 2-sided counters into the Elkonin boxes in kinder and first grade.  

(All of these skills build on each other and that's why it's so important to master them at the phoneme level before they are mastered at the syllable level.)

Spell the Syllables

Now that hopefully has been divided into 3 syllables using 3 magnatiles, spelling this big word is MUCH easier.  All he needs to do now is spell a CVCe word, a CVC nonsense word, and a suffix.  And the CVCe and CVC spelling skills are first grade spelling skills!

That's the magic of breaking longer words into single syllables.  It's much easier to spell one of the 6 syllable types than to think of spelling the entire word together.

Remember that elephant question?  Let's take a look at that again with spelling in mind...

Now my 2nd grader is ready to spell a 3 syllable word... one syllable at a time!  We use a dry erase marker to spell on the magnatile first.  

Then, he rewrites that on his paper.

Once he got really good at this process, we were able to use the magnatiles to count and visualize the syllables and then just write the word on paper.

The next step after that was to take away the magnatiles when he was ready, and just count the syllables and write one syllable at a time.  

The process is the same each time.  But the support becomes less as his confidence and independence increase!

Honestly, with a few sessions of practice with magnatile support, he was ready to just use the syllable boxes on our spelling slides in our phonics unit and that was enough support without the tactile help of the blocks.

You can grab this -ly phonics unit here or shop all of the digital phonics units here.  

And here is the affiliate link for my fav set of magnatiles if you want to add them to your classroom manipulatives.  You can read how I also use magnetiles for writing sentences in K-1.  If you can't tell, we love us some magnatiles around here!! :)

When I first started teaching 15 years ago, phonics and phonics readers had a bit of a bad rap because they weren't as engaging and there was little to no comprehension piece to those phonics readers or decoding words practice.

But why not?  Why not add comprehension work along with the decoding practice to give our reading a purpose?  It was a no-brainer for me to beef up our decoding work by taking an extra few seconds at the end for comprehension.

Our basic routine is simple.  We read the words, highlight the focus sounds and then I ask meaning questions.  There are 3 main types of questions that I ask to add that comprehension piece to our decoding routines.  Let's take a closer look at each of them.

Word meaning I spy

This game works best after decoding a word list.  First, we read our decodable words from our digital phonics lessons.

Then, we play I spy.  Here's an example with the short decodable word lists we use each day in our digital phonics lessons.

"I spy a word that rhymes with bag." (swag)

"I spy a word with the /sk/ sound." (skip)

"I spy a word that is another word for dot."  (spot)

I use I spy questions about sounds, rhyming, definitions, synonyms, antonyms, multiple meaning words and more!

This simple activity is easy to do in any setting with any list and increases kid's critical thinking skills.  In order to answer each question, they must be able to understand the question you asked, decode the words again, and figure out the answer to the question.

I've done this using Think-Pair-Share during whole group phonics, or by giving kids dry erase boards to record the correct word in small groups!  

Use it in a sentence

This one is self-explanatory.  The only difference is that after a decoding word list, I don't say the word.  I'll say...

"Turn to your partner and use the first word on the list in a sentence."

For a challenge, ask your kids to use two of the words in the same sentence!

TEACHER TIP:  When we share, I ask the person to tell me their partner's sentence for additional accountability, and to practice their listening skills. :)

I like to keep our comprehension work pretty quick and to the point, so we do this orally.  But this would make an easy writing task for extension work if you needed a way to tie it in to writing and spelling as well.

Illustrate the Word

There are two ways I like to use this strategy.  One way I use this is by having students illustrate a word I call out and they illustrate it on their copy of their decodable words.  

Sometimes, it's as simple as...

"Illustrate the word LIP."

Other times, I combine the I spy with the illustrations...

"Circle the word that means fake hair.  Illustrate it."

The other way I like to use illustrations is by playing pictionary.  I draw the picture and the kids guess the word!  This one is super engaging, but is best for a smaller list of 3-5 decodable words so it's not overwhelming to the kids to find the correct word.

If you're looking for decodable word lists you can find the digital ones I've used in these examples in my Super Phonics digital lessons and the printable words lists in my decodable packets!

Do you play "making words" during word work in your primary classroom?  It's one of my favorite ways to practice spelling and decoding skills with kinders and firsties!  But what I DON'T love about making words are all of the letter cards to pass out and keep up with.  It always took me more time to pass out cards than to do the actual lesson!  So when we finally started doing making words digitally, it was SO much better!

Today we'll be talking about our routines for making words, how to use DIGITAL making words mats, and I'll walk you through an entire sample lesson!

Types of Making Words Mats

After I gave up on passing out letter cards, I used two different kinds of mats: dry erase boards and digital.  I love both types for different reasons!

Let's talk about the dry erase mats first!  I've used just plain dry erase boards had kids spell words with me as I give the clues.  But just a blank dry erase board isn't quite structured enough for the little kids.  It's hard for them to easily see where the new letters go. 

Laminated dry erase mats are a much better option!  Just pass out the laminated mats and dry erase markers and they use these just like a dry erase board.  I like to use the mats with the Elkonin boxes to help give the kids structure for where to write their words.  This resource has 4 options of mats though with and without letters and Elkonin boxes.

If you're ready to go all digital with your making words, or want to continue making words with distance learning or Google classroom, digital mats are perfect!

You can manipulate the letters by clicking and dragging so it makes a great alternative to the traditional letter cards.  Digital mats can also be used on iPads or in Google classroom.  They can also be used on your interactive white board if you just want to do the activity all together!

Making Words Routines

This routine is quick and predictable in our classroom.  Just like my Super Phonics lessons, each lesson is basically the same with different content or word.  So the kids pick up the routine quickly and it just gets smoother and quicker as the year goes on!

There is at least one making words lesson for each of my first grade Super Phonics units.  I try to work these in as a whole group lesson a couple times a week at the beginning of the year when we need more whole group activities and then as the year goes on, we do less of this as a whole class, and more of it in small group interventions.

Here is the basic routine (and it's outlined in detail in the video below):

  • Go over the letter names and sounds of each letter in the lesson
  • Build a starting word
  • You give them the new word and the kids have to figure out the letter or letters to substitute to build that word
  • You give them the letters to substitute and the kids have to figure out what the word is
  • Guess my word: You give students clues about a longer (usually 2-syllable) word to spell with the feature sound
You can watch my full explanation and model of a blends and digraphs lesson in this video.

You can find a free sample of these lessons here and the bundle for an entire year of these lessons here.

The Science of Reading is HUGE right now in my state (Arkansas).  For too long, we've focused on reading strategies that teach kids to guess the word, skip it and come back, use context clues, and more that are just scientifically unproven to help kids grow as readers.

With the Science of Reading research, the focus is back to the basics.  Decoding.  That's not to say that comprehension isn't important.  But decoding leads to comprehension.  If I can't read it, I can't understand it... That's why phonics instruction is absolutely critically in the kindergarten classroom (along with whole group comprehension work)!

If you've followed my small corner of cyberspace for long, you know that I taught first grade for 10 years.  First grade was my first love!  But then a baby...and then twins...and now I'm home on a mommy break for at least a few more years until the twins start school.  But last year, before the twins joined our family, I taught kinder for 3 months as a long-term sub.  And I absolutely LOVED it!  One of the things I loved most was getting a chance to see how the phonics routines I grew to love in first grade could be adapted for kindergarten.  Let's talk about what weekly phonics routines look like in kindergarten!

I spend about 30 minutes on direct phonemic awareness and phonics instruction each day.  Of course, my kids get more work on phonics in guided reading with our decodable readers and during stations...but this is our whole group phonics block time!  Here's a look at what we do each day....but if you are more visual, watch the video to see my routines here.


First, we practice phonemic awareness (7 minutes).  I have used different phonemic awareness programs and activities over the years.  But my favorite elements of a good phonemic awareness program is that it's focused, intense, but quick, that it has a good pacing and almost rhythm to it to move it along, and that they kids actively participate through total physical response.  You can read about some of the motions we do for segmenting and blending in this post.  And someday soon, I'll blog about all of the specific phonemic awareness activities I use and the motions we put with them.

The most important thing is the rhythm of the activity.  I do not waste any seconds.  I open with, "Let's do some listening.  Ready?"  If the first skill is beginning sounds, I immediately say, "I'll say a word, you say the beginning sound: cat." Then, the kids know to repeat the word by saying, "Cat. /c/ /c/ cat!"  Then, immediately, I give the next word, "Ball" "Ball. /b/ /b/ ball." and so on.  When we get to the next skill, I give short and sweet directions and then we go again. It's fast.  Kids move with it.  And it's FUN!

In my digital phonics powerpoints, I've recorded all of the phonemic awareness activities on each slide.  So you just need to click to play and do it with the kiddos!

Second, we read through our phonics chart (3 minutes) ...either the alphabet chart, or blends chart, depending on our focus sound for the week.

Then, I introduce our new sound (3 minutes).  We click to watch the video to introduce our focus letter sound for the week.

Next, we practice letter naming fluency (2 minutes).  I simply click on our letter naming slide and the letters appear and the kids name them.  We review any letters that kids miss.

After that, we decode our words--slippety slide style (3 minutes).  We have 3 words that decode each day of the week (except Fridays). You can watch me model slide, slide, slippety slide in this video.  We do this for each word.  We review any words we miss sounds on.

Then, we work on spelling with our break it down chant (7 minutes).  If you've seen my spelling video, you already know this routine.  It's available to view here, so I won't rehash in this post!  As soon as we finish decoding our word list, I tell my kids to get their dry erase boards ready. They go back to their desks for this and while we are transitioning, students write our words we just decoded as many times as they have time to write NEATLY.  I walk around and point to one word for each kid to read aloud to me.

Once everyone has their boards ready, I introduce 2 new words  on Monday with our dry erase boards and our break it down chant.

Finally, we introduce new sight words (5 minutes).  I introduce each sight word and we do some physical response with it. (like jump and spell it, clap the letters, etc....we do the same motion with the word all week.  With each word, they stand up quickly, spell out the word, say the word, and sit down super quickly.  I also love using Body Spell from Go Noodle for this!  It's perfect: I just type in our new sight words for the week (I have a suggested list of sight words in my phonics powerpoint pack) and the kids get to practice reading and spelling our sight words and have a brain break too!  I love it!


Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays look very similar to Mondays with minor changes.  Here's a look at Tuesday!

First, we practice phonemic awareness (7 minutes).  We follow the same routines I explained on Monday.

Second, we read through our phonics chart (3 minutes) ...either the alphabet chart, or blends chart, depending on our focus sound for the week.

Next, we practice letter naming fluency (2 minutes).  I simply click on our letter naming slide and the letters appear and the kids name them.  We review any letters that kids miss.

Then, I introduce our phonics poem (5 minutes).  I read it to them without showing them the poem.  Then, I reread the poem and students listen for our focus sound and I have them give me some TPR (total physical response) when they hear it.  For example, for /a/ we hold a pretend apple up to our mouth while we say the sound.  Next, I show them the poem and they look for our focus letter sound with their eyes.  We highlight the focus letters together.

Next, we decode our words--slippety slide style (3 minutes).  We decode 3 new words from our word list for Tuesday.

Then, we work on spelling with our break it down chant (5 minutes).  During our transition to dry erase boards, students write our words we just decoded as many times as they have time to write NEATLY.  I walk around and point to one word for each kid to read aloud to me.  Then, I introduce two new spelling words with the same routine as Monday.

Finally, we sort our sight words (5 minutes).  We use our interactive sort to sort our sight words words by the number of letters.


First, we practice phonemic awareness (7 minutes).  We follow the same routines I explained on Monday.

Second, we read through our phonics chart (3 minutes) ...either the alphabet chart, or blends chart, depending on our focus sound for the week.

Next, we practice letter naming fluency (2 minutes).  I simply click on our letter naming slide and the letters appear and the kids name them.  We review any letters that kids miss.

After that, we sort pictures (5 minutes).  We sort photos into letter sound categories.  For example, for the letter m sound, we sort pictures that begin or end with the /m/ sound.  I call on kids to sort each picture.  After the move the picture, the segment the focus sound for us.  For example, if a kid moves "ham," he moves the picture and then turns to the class and says, "Ham. Ha - MMMM."

Next, we decode our words--slippety slide style (3 minutes).  We decode 3 new words from our word list for Wednesday.

Then, we work on spelling with our break it down chant (5 minutes).  During our transition to dry erase boards, students write our words we just decoded as many times as they have time to write NEATLY.  I walk around and point to one word for each kid to read aloud to me.  Then, I introduce two new spelling words with the same routine as Monday.

Finally, we find sight words in our weekly poem (5 minutes).  The kids come back to the carpet and I draw names as we "pass the pen" to circle a sight word on the poem.  When the kid circles it, the kids chant the word and then spell it. (THE. T - H - E. THE)  If it's one of our focus sight words for the week, the kids stand up and do the motions we learned for the word on Monday.


First, we practice phonemic awareness (7 minutes).  We follow the same routines I explained on Monday.

Second, we read through our phonics chart (3 minutes) ...either the alphabet chart, or blends chart, depending on our focus sound for the week.

Next, we practice letter naming fluency (2 minutes).  I simply click on our letter naming slide and the letters appear and the kids name them.  We review any letters that kids miss. 3

After that, we sort words (5 minutes).  We sort words into categories.  For example, for the M letter sound, we sort them into words that begin or end with M.  I draw kids' names and they come up and move a word into the sort.  Then, they read the word to the class emphasizing the focus sound.  For example, MMMMMe.

Next, we decode our words--slippety slide style (3 minutes).  We decode 3 new words from our word list for Thursday.

Then, we review our six spelling words from Monday-Wednesday on dry erase boards (10 minutes).  We do a practice spelling test whole group on their dry erase boards.  I walk around to check words and pick one friend who writes the neatest to show us their word or write it on our board.

Finally, we practice reading our sight words fluently.   I click each column of words and the kids read them and try to keep up with the pace that the words appear.  There are 3 columns of words and in each column shows the sight words a little faster.


Everybody knows Fridays are crazy.  Teachers are ready for the weekend.  Kids are ready for the weekend.  And it's pretty much assembly day where I'm at too!  So, Friday Phonics is short and simple.  We get our phonics poem for the week, add it to their poetry folder, and highlight our focus sound and circle sight words like we did together on Tuesday.

If we have extra time, we practice our decodable reader for the week.  You can read about how I add in routines for whole group decodable readers to extend our phonics block into our reading block in this blog post.

And if you are interested in using my interactive phonics powerpoints, you can find the bundle and in my store!
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