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!

I get messages all the time asking me what assessments I use since making the switch to the Science of Reading.  But first, let's take a second to back up and track how we got to this point, shall we?

I taught first grade for 10 years back with Fountas & Pinnell weren't bad words, levelized readers were the norm, and phonics was boring and not given much thought.  After 10 years in the classroom, I took a Mom break to stay home with my littles.  

Soon after I left the classroom, the Science of Reading movement began in our state.  I went through the same training my teacher friends did here to keep up my license.  

Then, I took 2 long-term sub positions when my oldest started kindergarten. I got to try out SoR in resource and in kindergarten.  That's when I officially said goodbye to guided reading, DRA assessment kits, and levelized readers.  That's also when I really got to test out what works best for small group instruction in an SoR classroom.  I started using our SoR aligned assessments to form groups and my kinders were making HUGE strides.  Like nothing I had ever seen in my F&P classroom before.

Since then, I've adopted twins to keep me busy at home for a bit longer, while getting LETRS certified and working hard on learning more about what the Science of Reading looks like in the K-2 classroom.

PHEW!  Lots of background info to say, these are my most favorite assessments I've used to help guide my Science of Reading instruction.  (HINT:  They're simple, about 10 times faster and OH sooooo mcuh smaller than the big old DRA kit! #iykyk  And most of them you can get for FREE!)

Use PAST To Assess Phonemic Awareness

PAST stands for Phonological Awareness Screening Test.  I discovered this one when I was teaching kinder and QUICKLY fell in love with it.  It's fast.  It's simple.  And it tells sooooo much about kids and what they know about sounds.  I even used this on my 2nd grade the year we homeschooled during CoVid.

What Is It? In a nutshell, PAST is like using Heggerty exercises to assess kids.  If you are not familiar with Heggerty, (and you totally should be because it's the BEST way to teach Phonemic Awareness in primary grades), the PAST assesses kids by asking them to repeat words and then change them in some way: delete a sound, replace a sound, etc...

Why I Love It? The easiest part of PAST is that the teacher script is right there in front of you and it's two pages.  I print my two to a page so it's all on one side. :)

But the BEST part of this test is it's FREE.  Yep, 100% free.  Just go right here and download the test and all the directions.  So when ya'll have messaged me asking if I have a good PA assessment, I say no.  Because this one is just so stinkin' good and it's FREE.  #winning

How I Use It? Once I have assessed kids on PAST, I start recording where they fall on these recording sheets from my small groups teacher binder.  Then, I can pull small groups to target their common Phonemic Awareness holes.  In this example below, I would pull Justin & Whitney to work on PAST level K1 (deleting the second part of a blend).  I would pull Cooper to work on level J (substituting middle short/long vowel sounds).  And I would pull back Knox & Evelyn to work on level H1 (deleting beginning sounds).

Use DIBELS/Acadience to Assess Phonics

I've gotta tell ya'll.  There was a time in my teaching career when I was in the throws of Fountas & Pinnell that I absolutely hated DIBELS.  Like literally loathed it.  It was a state mandated test for screening all kids and then tracking those below grade level every two weeks.  I turned in the data on the state website every so often and never did another thing with it.  

I think I disliked DIBELS so much because it was just another assessment on top of DRA and others we were already using to levelize kids and I didn't know how to use the data.

Fast forward to my immersion in the Science of Reading a few years ago and I started seeing real value in this assessment in kindergarten and beyond.

What Is It?  Acadience (formally DIBELS) is a series of quick, 1 minute tests that assess letter naming fluency, segmenting sounds, blending nonsense sounds/words, and oral reading fluency.  Acadience even gives you a little teacher booklet to organize all of your data. :) 

Why I Love It?  I love how fast Acadience is.  In less than 5 minutes I can assess a kid in all the areas needed at that time of the year.  I also love that it's easy to train a paraprofessional to do this testing in a pinch.  (Although, I'm the weird teacher that loves to assess my own kids because I think it builds so much rapport and I learn so much more about them doing it myself.) 

How I Use Is It?  In kindergarten, I used this to help me pull groups of kids for letter naming.  I kept track of when kids could ID uppercase and lowercase letters using our own school assessments for that.  So, kids who knew uppers and lowers, but hit below the benchmark for letter naming fluency needed to be pulled to work on naming letters faster.

I also used this data to pull kids who were like this one in the example below.  They could say the sounds of during the nonsense word fluency test, but they weren't really blending them to read them as whole words.  So with these kids I would use small group time to target blending VC and then CVC words (real and nonsense.) 

You can find the teacher booklets and student pages all here for free if you sign up.

Use Decoding Passages to Assess Phonics

When I was trying out all of these Science of Reading assessments during my kinder long-term sub job, what I found was missing was some way to identify how well kids could actually read once they knew letters and sounds.  The district assessments (PAST and Acadience/DIBELS) were mostly for phonemic awareness and segmenting and blending.

Those are SUPER important.  Don't get me wrong.  But at the end of the day, we want kids to read words in context.  And we need to meet them where they are.  So, as I started creating decodable booklets and passages to use for extra practice during small groups, I also added a decoding assessment for each decoding skill.

What Is It?  Decoding checkups are like running records for decodables.  They assess kid's ability to decode using a specific phonics skill (short a, r-blends, -ing words, etc...)  It ask kids to decode words in isolation, decode a short sentence, and decode a longer paragraph.

Why I Love It?  I love that I can hear kids decode in isolation and in context.  In the example below, Cooper is able to read individual words, but when those CVCe long a words are put in a longer context, his decoding skills decrease.  

While Acadience does have an oral reading component, the words are just "grade level" and it is not written to hone in on a specific phonics skill.  And that difference is a huge game changer when pulling groups.  Acadience tells me if they are reading on grade level.  Decoding checkups tell me what phonics sound is tripping them up so I can fill that gap. 

How I Use Is It?  So, I record their data on these recording sheets and fill the gaps that I find.  I use these assessments as I teach our sounds whole group.  If they pass that sound, great.  If not, they get pulled with other kiddos to work on decoding that skill.  And I recheck them every week or every other week to see how they are doing with that skill.  

In this way, we worked through our phonics instruction, and I was assessing kids as we went through the phonics curriculum.  I have also created this quick and easy phonics screener so you can screen your kids at the beginning of the year to get an idea of what sound to start practicing in groups.  This would be helpful to get a quick handle on kids who are struggling from day 1 and how to help them quickly.

I also use this data to help kids color in their phonics level as they go on this thermometer.  Kids keep this in their reading folder and it gives them a visual for what skills they are working on and helps us set goals on what to work on next. 

Use Oral Interviews to Assess K-2 Comprehension

The biggest shift from DRA testing to Science of Reading testing is comprehension.  The research from the Science of Reading tells us that if we want kids to comprehend what they read, they must first comprehend what they hear.  So for primary students, oral comprehension comes first.  

And we know that once they can comprehend a story read aloud AND can decode texts, they will begin weaving those two skills together to comprehend what they read.

What Is It?  Oral interviews for comprehension look exactly as you would expect from the name.  After reading aloud a book to the whole group several times, I pull kids back and ask them to retell the story.  It doesn't even have to be the same day.  In a time crunch, I would read the book on day 1, call back my higher kiddos to retell and then reread the book on day 2 and call some more kids back. 

I use whatever graphic organizer we've been using to retell stories as a visual cue to help them organize their thoughts.  The ice-cream scoop is one of the first ones I use because... who doesn't love ice-cream?  The kids love this one and it's super easy to follow.  

It's important to know that when I'm assessing this, the graphic organizer is in front of them, but I'm not referencing it or pointing to it.  If they struggle, I will go back and give them cues, but then I'm noting that in my data.

Why I Love It?  First, I always love having conversation with kids.  It builds rapport and gives me a small glimpse into their world and how they see it.  But it also tells me a lot about whether kids can sequence events, use transition words, use complete sentences, etc. 

How I Use Is It?  During the interview, I have the graphic organizer in front of the kid and this data recording sheet in front of me.  I simply say, "Tell me about the book we read called, ______." I use this comprehension checklist to help me guide where the strengths and weakness are. 

If they struggle retelling the beginning, middle and end, I stop.  If they do that well on their own, I check off what else they add and then ask them other questions for some of the other skills like, "Who were the characters in the story?" or "What was the moral of this story?"

Once I have their comprehension checklist filled out, I can start using that data to form comprehension groups.

Want the comprehension checklist?  Find it FREE here!

Are you needing fun and engaging ways to talk about character education in your classroom?  Or are you a Christian teacher wanting to use the Fruit of the Spirit to help with classroom management?  Whether you are teaching in a religious or non-religious setting, this interactive bulletin board is great for encouraging positive student behaviors.

The Fruit of the Spirit is one of my favorite units to teach in preschool Sunday School.  Not only is it fun and yummy, but it is so helpful in encouraging appropriate behaviors.  This bulletin board set goes perfectly with this unit (the fruits even match!) and it's so easy to put up.  

Let's talk about 3 things I absolutely love about using this Fruit of the Spirit bulletin board in the classroom!

1. It's An Easy Peezy Set Up (Cut, Trace, Staple)

Having the templates ready to go make this bulletin board display a breeze to set up.  The bulletin board shown in the video above is a 48x36 board and I used the small size template from the bulletin board set and got to cutting and stapling.

After I stapled it up, I colored in the tiny spaces with black marker (dry erase marker is actually my favorite for this task because it's just so dark) to make it seem like I cut out those way teeny tiny spaces even though my fingers couldn't handle it. :)  It blends in so perfectly that not even my find-every-mistake-I-make 9 year old has found it yet! #winning

Next up was the tree.  I just free handed this one.  But ya'll, don't be impressed.  I'm a terrible artist.  Like way bad.  I can doodle and handletter, but drawing? Nope!  All I did was pull up a cute tree clipart picture and drew with pencil so I could erase a bunch of times and then went over it with marker.  It's not perfect, but it's cute enough!

Still don't have confidence in your free hand skills?  Do what I did in the classroom and pull up your favorite tree clipart on your interactive white board, tape the poster board to it, resize the image to the size you need and TRACE.


2. Flexible Wording Options

I have heard from sooooo many of my Christian teacher friends that they want more scripture based bulletin boards that are easy to set up.  But so many of you can't use a Christian based board (or don't want to and that's okay too!)  That's why I'm making each bulletin board in this monthly bundle with lots of wording options.  

There are 3 versions of this bulletin board in this fruits set.  Only one is Christian based.  When finished, it looks like this!

The other 2 are non-religious, Character Ed based like this!

One of the wordings is shown above and the other wording is, "We can bear fruit."

3. It's Interactive!

I love LOVE bulletin boards that I can make interactive with the kids and we can add to or change along the way instead of a bulletin board that's just a wallflower or decoration. :)

This character traits bulletin board set has apples for you to fill out when you see kids showing a specific character trait.  I love using these at the end of the day when we are reflecting on the day.  Maybe we have really focused on one trait a lot, OR maybe we have really struggled with one character trait! So, I will find someone who didn't struggle with that trait and talk about it positively to encourage others to work on that more!

You can find this Character education bulletin board set here and the year of bulletin boards here!

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!! :)

Analyzing data is an important life skill... and learning how to do can and should start early in the primary grades.   I use the 5 C's of data to help kids learn the process of analyzing data: Create, Collect, Count, Compare, and Communicate.  Let's take a closer look at each of these and what it looks like in the K-2 classroom.

Data Anchor Chart

During our 2nd grade math block last year, we talked about analyzing data using the 5 Cs: Create, Collect, Count, Compare, and Communicate.  This is just a helpful guide to help kids understand the process of analyzing data.  Sometimes we do all of those.  Sometimes, we skip to comparing data that's already been created, collected and counted for us.  But all of these are important steps that even adults go through to analyze data.

When we talked about this in 2nd grade math, we made the connection to my husband's job.  He does data analysis all day every day for Walmart.  And many people depend on his analyses to be correct so that they right amount of the right things get on the shelves! :) (no pressure, right??)  So, data analysis is a life-long skill that we use as adults.  

Here's a look at what our anchor chart looks like.  (You can find the template for this here.)

Collect the Data

Collecting data can be as simple as asking "Would you rather?" questions and tallying answers as a class.  For group or independent work, I love having hands on tools to help them collect the data.  With my 2nd grader last year, we used legos because he's obsessed with lego building right now.

He grabbed a handful of legos, measured them and tallied the results!

Count & Compare the Data

After the data has been collected, we are ready to count and compare the data.  When we first work on this, I give the kids the "collected data" so that they can just focus on the counting and comparing.  Here's a peek at a graph I've used in kindergarten and first.

And in 2nd grade guided math last year, our comparing got a little more in depth.

Communicate the Results

Once kids have been exposed to "filling in" a variety of data display types, it's time to really focus on analyzing each display type.  We talk about how to recognize a pie chart versus a bar graph.  We talk about when it would be best to use tallies and when it would be better to use a table or bar graph.

One of the first things we do when focusing on data displays is sort them together.

Then, the kids have a chance to match data displays independently during our guided math hands-on time.

You can find these graphing activities in my 2nd grade Guided Math Plans and additional, seasonally themed graphing printables here.

Back to Top