Reading Routines Part 5: Phonics

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Research supports the fact that explicit systematic phonics instruction is highly beneficial to students. In other words, phonics instruction should make up part of the daily reading routine . . . especially in primary classrooms. Here is Reading Rockets take on the Alphabetic Principle: “Alphabetic principle is the idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language. It differs from oral language and phonemic awareness because it is introducing students to letters and incorporating what they have already learned (sounds). It is showing them that the sounds they have learned have letters and can all be put together.” Here’s some more info from RRockets on this subject: Alphabetic Principle

Phonics instruction starts with matching letters with sounds as well as naming the letter. Here is a summary I wrote regarding some  fantastic research on alphabet learning (to change from the former letter-of-the-week method): Alphabet Letter / Sounds Research

  • Some of the most significant parts of the research for me was the realization that saying the letter name results in a variety of added vowel sounds such as short e sounds /em/ = m; /ef/ = f; or sometimes a long a /kay/ = k; /jay/ = j; or sometimes long e /dee/ = d; /tee/ = t; or something all together different such as /aich/ = h; /double u/ = w.
  • Sometimes the letter name is close to the sound assigned to it, and sometimes it’s not.
  • The research provides some evidence that letter of the day instruction with 5 to 6 cycles of instruction was very beneficial. Each cycle had a different focus such as letters common in the students’ names, most frequently used letters, by the ways letters are formed, etc.

In my last post on phonemic awareness (see Reading Routines Part 4), I shared the progession from sound boxes to letter boxes and included a couple of good videos. These are very helpful with cvc words and other one syllable words. The goal in all of this is to move from letter-by-letter sounding out to continuous blending and chunking.

So what do explicit phonics instructional programs look like? Although not set in stone, there is usually a progression of skills that look similar to this:

  • Letter and sound matching
  • CVC with short vowel practice
  • CVCe with long vowel practice
  • Beginning consonant blends
  • Beginning consonant digraphs
  • Vowel pairs
  • R controlled vowels
  • Vowel diphthongs
  • Multi-syllablic words

Starting in 2nd grade, the emphasis is more on the vowel patterns (such as different ways to spell the long a sound) as well as consonant combinations, both beginning and ending (such as ck, ng, str). Grades 3 and above focus on these as well, but improve and apply to multi-syllablic words. Most textbooks have a daily phonics lessons to help you keep your instructional explicit and systematic.

These are at the core of all phonics instructional programs:

  • Connecting phonics instruction to weekly spelling patterns and learning centers helps students practice a specific set of words and apply the skill to other similar words.
  • Moving away from sounding out words letter-by-letter to try continuous blending and chunking (by looking for common parts or patterns)
  • Using knowledge of one syllable words to apply to multi-syllablic words
  • Relating known words to new words (often called an Analogy Strategy). Here is an example I used with a 5th grader recently who was trying to read the word “wren” in a portion of text. Obviously this bird species is not well known, and the context didn’t help her with the pronunciation.  I just simply wrote the word “write” on my little white board because I was positive she knew it – and she recognized it immediately. Then I said, “Use what you know about this word (write) to help with the word in your text.” She was able to make the analogy quickly! I didn’t have to go into a phonics lesson on how to pronounce words with wr, etc.

Your phonics instruction is strengthened via fix-it strategies which are embedded in your day-to-day teaching situations (guided reading, etc.). Here is a link to my fix-it-strategies post: Decoding fix-it-strategies

  • I really LOVE the “Flip the Sound” strategy and have found it so helpful with all age groups. Without the need to lecture a student about the phonics rule they should follow. If a word doesn’t makes sense, I might advise the student to flip the sound and try again.  This applies mostly to vowels, but can apply to the consonants with multiple sounds (c, g, w, y or b/d confusion). Click on the link for a 1-page parent guide (from Daily CAFE) for help with this strategy at home.: Flip the sound

Your routine phonics instruction is strengthened via learning station (independent or small group) activities which allows students to practice and review: Some ideas . . .

  • Letter box practice:  Pictures accompanied by sound boxes in which students use letter tiles, stamps, or writing to indicate the correct letters to make the sounds. The freebies I mentioned in the previous post on phonemic awareness would work well.
  • Word family (onset/rime) practice: How many words can you make with __at, __us, __ike, __ate . . .
  • Word sorting practice:  Use word cards to sort by various features (vowel sounds, blends, beginning sounds, ending sounds, syllables, etc.)
  • Prepared games
  • Here’s a blogger I follow who has a LOT of really good free phonics related stuff, especially for younger learners. You may have to subscribe to get to see her free stuff, but it’s really good in my opinion: https://thisreadingmama.com/

Finally, with all of the above mentioned, we cannot over-rely on phonics as a fix-it-strategy. Telling a student to “sound it out” is often not the best prompt for a student. Sometimes prompts concerning the meaning and structure of the text are just as, or more important and relevant.  Check out my posts on Reading Fix-it-strategies (parts 1 – 4). Use the search box or click “Reading Strategies” in the categories list.

What phonics routines do you use? Feel free to share!

 

 

Reading Routines Part 4: Phonemic Awareness

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

This is Part 4 of a series about daily reading routines I recommend. Previously we have looked at read alouds, independent reading, and phonological awareness. Today’s focus is Phonemic Awareness. Some videos and freebies via TPT are linked below.

See link #3 below for FREE task cards from TPT

Phonemic Awareness is under the umbrella of phonological awareness. This encompasses pre-reading skills associated with the sounds of language. Phonemic awareness is the part dealing with individual phonemes and how they can be identified, segmented, blended, and manipulated to create recognizable units or words . . . . the auditory portion. Students need a firm foundation with this aspect before they can adequately apply it to phonics and reading (which is where the visual aspects of the letters that make these sounds appears). So here are some basics about phonemic awareness:

  • Phonemes are the basic sound units. In the English language there are 44 of them (the consonants, the vowels, digraphs, etc.). Here is a good, short list from Orchestrating Success in Reading by Dawn Reithaug (2002).: 44 Phonemes However, if you want to go more in depth, then this link should satisfy your curiosity (or make you want to quit teaching spelling) from The Reading Well44 Phonemes in Detail
  • Onsets/rimes:  The onset is the part of the word before the vowel. The rime is the part of the word including and after the vowel. Examples: In the word shop, /sh/ is the onset and /op/ is the rime. In the word bed, /b/ is the onset and /ed/ is the rime.
  • Identifying: When presented with a word orally, can a student identify the beginning sound or ending sound? Example: What is the beginning sound in the word moon? /m/.  What is the last sound in the word jump? /p/. The brackets are used to represent the sound – the child is not asked to name the letter.
  • Segmenting: When presented with these words, can a student take the parts or individual sounds apart orally (segment)? Examples: bed = /b/ + /ed/ or /b/ + /e/ + /d/.  Students would NOT be asked at this point to identify the letters that make those sounds, just the sounds.
  • Blending: When presented with these sounds, can a student put them together orally (blend) to form a word?  Examples:  /k/ + /at/ = cat; or /sh/ + /o/ + /p/ = shop
  • Manipulating:  This involves adding, deleting, or substituting sounds. Example:  What is /ap/ with /m/ added to the beginning? (map). What is /land/ without the /l/ sound? (and).  Change the /b/ in bed to /r/. . . (red).

Daily teaching routine for Phonemic Awareness:

  1. If using a reading series, check to see if there is a daily practice with words (like the examples above). Just a few minutes with the whole class is a good introduction and chance for you to observe / listen to who is or is not grasping these tasks.
  2. Use simple pictures (such as fox): Ask students to do some of the following when you feel they are ready:
    • Name the picture and tell the onset and rime. /f/ + /ox/
    • Orally say all of the separate sounds /f/ + /o/ + /ks/.  Use the length of your arm for these cvc words: tap shoulder and say /f/; tap inside elbow and say /o/; tap the wrist and say /ks/.  Then run your hand along the whole arm to blend them back together.
    • Use an Elkonin sound box to show the distinct sounds. For fox, use a 3-part box. Push a chip into each box as each sound is being made (no letters yet, just chips, beans, cubes, pennies, etc.). Then blend all the sounds together. (I like to put an arrow at the bottom of the boxes and run my finger along it to remind students with a visual that the last step is to blend the sounds together.)
    • Change the /f/ to /b/. What word does that sound like? /b/ + /o/ + /ks/ = /box/
    • Change the /ks/ to /g/. What word does that sound like? /f/ + /o/ + /g/ = /fog/
    • Change the /o/ to /i/. What word does that sound like? /f/ + /i/ + /ks/ = /fix/
    • If you remove the /f/ sound, what is left? /oks/ or /ox/
    • Be sure to use short and long vowel words, digraphs, etc. because it’s all about hearing the separate parts – not about matching up the letters that make those sounds.
  3. Follow up these same routines during guided reading and work station time. Here are 2 links from TPT (FREE) with some great sound box practice opportunities:

Here is a great short videos I recommend regarding the Elkonin sound boxes: Sound boxes

When you are ready to progress from sound boxes to letter boxes, these two videos should be very helpful.

These routines will be very important once you feel they are ready to associate the letter(s) that make these sounds (via phonics, spelling, and writing). A phonics routine will be the next topic. So stay tuned!

Reading Routines Part 3: Phonological Awareness

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Daily explicit routines regarding phonological awareness and phonics are important, especially for KG-2nd grade levels (and beyond for those who are in need of extra intervention). Whether you are utilizing the textbook’s recommended lesson plan or seeking out on your own, I’d like to advocate for a daily routine to teach and/or practice these skills. In this post, I will focus mostly on teaching early phonological awareness routines and how they are connected to later reading, spelling, and writing success.

Phonological Awareness encompasses pre-reading skills associated with the sounds of language. If you have assessed this at the PreK-2nd grade levels, you know part of the assessment involves identifying spoken words, rhymes, syllables, onsets/rimes, and identifying, segmenting, blending, and substituting phonemes. Phonemic awareness is under the umbrella of phonological awareness with more of a focus on the latter part (onsets/rimes, and identifying, segmenting, blending, and manipulating phonemes). All of this, regardless, is based on SOUNDS only. This awareness is AUDITORY and not print related.

My opinion regarding this daily routine, is for a whole class explicit 10-15 minute lesson. During the whole class daily routine, keep mental tabs or quick notes on who has difficulty so you can follow up during small group and learning station opportunities throughout the week. Try video taping your routine for those “extra eyes.” See a link to some FREE research-based activities at the end of this post.

Spoken Words: 

I have observed frequently that young students do not always know the difference between letters, words, and sentences. I usually discover this via writing lessons. Wonder why students don’t space between words? Or spread letters within a word far apart? I think it may go back to a misunderstanding about this very basic phonological awareness concept.

The assessment for this involves the teacher stating a sentence and the child pushes chips or pennies to indicate how many words were heard. Usually this isn’t too difficult until the teacher utters a 2-syllable word. Does the child understand this to be one or two words?

Believe it or not, this is a huge key concept later when the child is reading text. You may discover errors with 1-to-1 correspondence. When reading this sentence: “The apple is good.” does the child keep their finger on apple until the word is finished, or do they move their finger for each syllable? And then, as mentioned previously, it also becomes a hindrance when writing.

As you can see then, concept of spoken word is closely tied to the understanding of syllables. The number of syllables per word is determined by the number of vowel sounds heard. Friend = 1 syllable. Funny = 2 syllables. There are several ways to count them:

  • Clap or snap each syllable
  • Count with fingers
  • Feel the jaw move

Why is knowledge about hearing syllables important to later reading skills?

  • Breaking apart words by syllables is an important reading strategy. Can the child visually see the syllable and then pronounce each part as if it was a little word (example: yes-ter-day).
  • Breaking apart words by syllables is an important spelling and writing strategy.  Hearing the sounds of the word is just as important as the visual aspects of the word. Trying to spell the word important? Can I hear the parts /im/ + /por/ + /tant/? If I can hear them, I can come closer to spelling them.

Daily teaching routine for Spoken Word and Syllables:

  1. Present a sentence orally. Step 1:  Students repeat the sentence. Step 2: Have them do one of the following to indicate # of spoken words:  clap, stomp, use magnetic chips on a the board, unifix cubes, count with fingers, or select a # of students to match the # of words and they each stand to say one of the words in the sentence – they become the sentence.
  2. State a word and have students clap, snap, or count # of syllables.
  3. Hand out picture cards and have students group together by # of syllables.

Rhyme:

Knowledge of rhyme is one of biggest predictors of reading success, but this seems to be difficult for many students I have encountered. Maybe students aren’t hearing nursery rhymes at home. With assessments, students are usually asked to do the following: recognize if two given words rhyme (yes or no); or, produce a rhyme (even if the word produced is not a real word).

When students have difficulty with rhyme, this means they are unable to hear the similarity in ending sounds. Or the child cannot separate the onset from the rime. This definitely can cause future problems with spelling (Know how to spell like? Then try to spell bike.)

Daily teaching routine for Rhyme:

  1. Exposure to simple, fun poems and songs on a daily basis.
  2. Collaboration with your school’s music teacher.
  3. Teach rhyme in conjunction with onset and rime. Why? Because to determine if words rhyme, you must first be able separate the onset from the rime.  What about the rhymes friend and send?  If I can separate the onset from the rime, I have /fr/ + /end/ and /s/ + /end/. What about these two non-rhymes: pool and pill? Find the onsets and rimes:  /p/ + /ool/ and /p/ + /ill/.
  4. Teacher gives two words (orally). Students decide if they rhyme with various possible actions: thumbs up/down; stand up/ sit down; face the front / face the back; etc. Be sure to follow through to explain why they rhyme or do not rhyme.  “Yes, time rhymes with lime because they both say /ime/. Can you name another word with the /ime/ sound?” Try asking, “How do you know they rhyme?”
  5. Show a picture or object to the class. Ask students to name words that rhyme. Be sure to again, acknowledge why they are correct or incorrect. “Yes, hat rhymes with cat because they both end with the /at/ sound.” or “No, cut does not rhyme. /k/ + /ut/.  We need /at/ to make it rhyme.” Accept nonsense words.
  6. Make up or read a couplet and leave off the end to the second line. Get students to complete it. “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great ____.” or “In the morning I will bake, a big delicious chocolate  ____.”

Here’s a great FREE resource from the Florida Center for Reading Research. The link here is for KG activities regarding phonological awareness. Lots of ideas, picture cards, etc.: Phonological Awareness Activities (fcrr.org)

What are your favorite phonological awareness teaching routines?

Stay tuned — Next post:  Phonemic Awareness routines

Reading Routines Part 2: Independent Reading Time

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

This is part 2 of a series about reading routines I believe are important. The focus in this post will be on establishing a daily independent reading time. This independent reading time (or partner reading) will help extend some of the benefits of your read aloud routine.

According to Houghton Mifflin, “Research into effective literacy instruction has often noted that the best teachers of reading have an extensive collection of books in their classrooms (Allington & Gabriel, 2012; Morrow & Gambrell, 1998; Reutzel & Fawson, 2022). In large-scale national studies, researchers found that students in more effective teachers’ classrooms spent a larger percentage of reading instructional time actually reading; additionally, exemplary teachers were more likely to differentiate instruction using their book collections, so that all readers had books they could read accurately and fluently, with understanding and motivation (Allington & Gabriel, 2012).” This comes from an excellent, easy read from Houghton Mifflin Harcout: The Value of Independent Reading: Analysis of Research

What are the benefits? The child . . .

  • Gets a choice in what he/she reads.
  • Is able to practice concepts of print.
  • Is exposed to a wide range of books. This exposure is important in motivating children to read. I’m a strong believer that a child who doesn’t read just hasn’t found the right book / type of book yet.
  • Has the chance to make connections (with characters, places, situations).
  • Can explore all types of genres to include fairy tales, poetry, fantasy, and non-fiction.
  • Becomes more fluent when rereading a favorite book.
  • Increases vocabulary and comprehension.
  • Is able to apply knowledge about sight words and reading / decoding strategies at their own pace.
  • Becomes more confident, experienced, and committed.
  • Builds background knowledge.

Other ways to extend the benefits of independent reading time:

  • Check out the Daily 5 routines to get started. Here’s a summary:
    • Independent reading requires stamina. Start out with a brief time and observe when students start to get restless (5 minutes??) Then gradually add time, always taking cues from the students about how long is too long? Of course the optimum time is based more on age / grade level. But I would recommend you aim toward a goal of 15-20 minutes per day (more for older students).
    • What does independent reading look like? Which books can they choose? How to get them out and put them away. Where can I sit? What if I didn’t finish my book and want to keep it a little longer? If I don’t know the words yet, can I just look at the pictures?
    • How to choose a “just right book.”  Independent reading is most beneficial when a child chooses a book they can read, but we have to be careful not to make it too regimented and requiring only certain levels. A “just right” or “good fit” book is not too hard, not too easy, is on a topic you enjoy, and you can read most of the words.
    • Check out the Daily 5 / Daily Cafe links at the bottom of this blog.

      Anonymous source from Microsoft Clip Art

  • Periodically allow students to share something about a book they like (a book talk) to perhaps interest others. This could be while students are in a circle, or just a couple of students each day.
  • How about partner reading? This might be helpful with reluctant or new students to show them the procedures. Or a once-a-week treat.
  • For intermediate students (grades 3-5), be sure they have extra time to peruse / try out a book. The cover can entice them, but once they start reading, they need permission to trade for another if it doesn’t grab them. Also consider book clubs. This is when 2-3 students read the same book and have the opportunity to engage in discussion about their book.
  • Allow a classroom book to go home via a check out bag.
  • Make up special take home bags for special occasions (birthday, holiday, etc.).  I had two rotating bags that were sent home. My classroom name was “The Magical Mice.” One bag was painted with cute mice. Several books with a mouse theme (fiction and non-fiction) were included. A book log was included which included mouse poems and notebook paper for the child and/or parents to write a note. I even had a recipe to make mouse-shaped cookies in the bag. The student of the week got to take it home and keep it for the week. The other bag was for birthdays and included similar items with a birthday themed stories.

Thank you, Mrs. Seely!!

How to organize your classroom library to help your routine go smoothly:

  • Sort books into categories and label (using small easy-to-carry tubs). Find child-accessible shelves to keep them within reach. For PreK, KG, and 1st grade, consider labels with pictures also. Here’s a link to TPT for free and $ book labels: TPT Classroom Library Book Category Labels
  • If students’ desks are grouped together, rotate some tubs daily so students don’t have to leave their seats to get books. We all know this can get out of hand if students are constantly getting up.
  • Daily 5 suggests that each child have their own book collection box using a cardboard magazine holder (or you can cut an empty cereal box and cover with contact paper). Their box contains their school library book, leveled books, guided reading book, and free choice books they are reading. This might also be a great place to keep their writing journal (another reading routine I will blog about soon).
  • If not using the individual boxes (above), think about what you want to happen when independent reading time is over and a child wants the chance to finish their book. I had a small tub for each group. The student would put their personalized, laminated bookmark in the book to claim it for the next independent reading time. This valued their right to finish a book they had become engrossed in without someone else “stealing” it.

What are you as the teacher doing during this independent reading time?

  • You can enjoy your own book to model independent time.
  • This might be a good time to listen to individual children read to you (not a whole book, but just a few pages). It will build the teacher / child relationship and allow you to monitor and assist them with strategies.
  • Less desirable, but often necessary —  time for some independent assessments (for new students, at the end of the quarter, etc.

Some recommended links to launch your independent reading time:

Have a great week! Tell us about your independent reading routine!

 

Reading Routines Part 1: Read Aloud

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Read aloud time is an important daily routine (for PreK – 5th).  It’s not just for primary students. According to an article in Reading Rockets (https://www.readingrockets.org/article/reading-aloud-build-comprehension), Reading aloud is the foundation for literacy development. It is the single most important activity for reading success (Bredekamp, Copple, & Neuman, 2000). It provides children with a demonstration of phrased, fluent reading (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996). It reveals the rewards of reading, and develops the listener’s interest in books and desire to be a reader (Mooney, 1990).

What are the benefits?

  • Teacher models good reading (not an internet book)
  • Reading is for enjoyment – so this is a story outside of the assigned reading curriculum for the week
  • There are great books available to spark the imagination and provide motivation to read
  • Students get practice making mental pictures (when listening to a chapter book)
  • Enhances listening comprehension
  • Vocabulary can be introduced in an informal way
  • Students learn about the author’s voice and point of view
  • Books can be compared (author, characters, genre)
  • Characters can be explored deeply if reading a series by the same author
  • Great comprehension skills to reflect on informally:  predict, cause-effect, sequence, compare-contrast, inference, theme
  • A calm atmosphere
  • Students feel more free to discuss aspects of the read-aloud (because there aren’t worksheets or tests involved)
  • Able to listen to books above independent reading level
  • Builds connections and classroom community (Example:  “This is a book about . . . .  What experience have you had with this?”)
  • Got a problem to solve (Friendship, etc.)? You can probably find a book about that topic
  • Younger students learn valuable concepts of print by participating in the shared reading of a big book

I know this precious read aloud time is often omitted due to tight schedules. If so, please examine your schedule to see if you can shave a little time in other places to include this important routine. Here’s a great article about ways to fit read-aloud time into your busy schedule: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/blog-posts/juan-gonzales/17-18/3-ideas-on-how-to-create-more-read-aloud-time-the-classroom/

At the beginning of the year when you are establishing procedures, be sure to make an anchor chart for read aloud expectations.  Refer to the Daily 5 for great ideas. Things to consider:

  • Will children be on the floor or at their desks?
  • Will you allow doodling while you read? (There are differing opinions on this.)
  • How will you handle blurting (or not blurting) and discussion time?
  • Videotape yourself to analyze your reading — Do you enjoy listening to yourself?  If your voice sounds varied and interesting, your students most likely will be actively listening (rather than disrupting or falling asleep).
  • Choose books which encourage mental visualization. Check with your librarian if you need some advice.
  • With chapter books, choose those with interesting characters and riveting chapter endings (makes studens eager to listen the next day).

Final research note: The U.S. Department of Education Commission on Reading took into account over 10,000 studies and found that the most important activity for building the skills and background for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children (see Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985). Children who are read to are usually the very best readers in the classroom, and they acquire large vocabularies, write well, and do better in other subject areas, as well.

What are your favorite read-alouds? Please share! (indicate grade level range too)

Some of mine for 2nd-4th graders:  A Toad for Tuesday (by Russel Erickson), the Flat Stanley books, Snot Stew (by Bill Wallace)