Listening to your students read Part 2: Running Records and the Structural Cueing System

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

This is part 2 of a series on ways you can efficiently listen to your students as they read, identify cueing systems the child is using / neglecting, and offer helpful prompts that will guide them as they read.  This blog will focus on the Structural Cueing System. Even though this is considered an early reading strategy, there are many intermediate elementary students (and higher) with reading difficulties who would benefit from this type of analysis and prompting.

The second cueing system is the use of (S) Structure or Syntax of our English language. Much of a child’s knowledge about language structures comes as a result of speaking or listening to how language naturally sounds. A reader attempts to make it sound right. Below are 3 possible scenarios with analysis of a child’s possible response.

Using this text:  She runs with the puppy.

1. Suppose a student read it this way:

  √        ran      √       √         √.

She     runs   with   the   puppy.

This student is using structure because “She ran . . .” sounds right. He/She is also using M (meaning) because it makes sense. And the child is using visual (V) cues because ran / runs are visually similar.

2. Suppose a student read it this way:

√       runned       √      √         √.

She    runs       with  the   puppy.

This student is not using structure because “She runned . . .” does not sound structurally / grammatically correct. However, it still makes sense (M) and is still visually similar (V).

3. Suppose a student read it this way:

√      chased      –        √         √.

She   runs      with   the   puppy.

This student is using structure because “She chased the puppy” sounds right. He/She is also using (M) meaning because it makes sense. The child is not using (V) visual cues because chased and runs are not visually similar.

When a child is not using structure, their errors in reading are typically with verb tenses. Often with -ed ending words they will use the wrong pronunciation (such as look-ded), or they will generalize by adding -ed to words which don’t use it to make past tense (runned, swimmed, bited). Or a student may be an English Language Learner – be sensitive to their needs. They may not know what “sounds right.” In that case, you as the teacher should model what it should sound like.

Helpful teacher prompts to help a student monitor for (S) Structure / Grammar:sound-icon

  • Did that sound right?
  • Does that sound the way we talk?
  • Is there a better way to say it?
  • What word would sound right there?
  • Can you say it another way?
  • Try ______. Would that sound right? Listen as I read it. Now you try.
  • Listen to this (give 2 choices). Which sounds better?

Remember, it is often most helpful to wait until the child completes the whole sentence before prompting or trying to correct an error. This gives the child an opportunity to monitor themself and perhaps self-correct. If the teacher (or parent) jumps in right away after the error is made, it is the teacher doing the monitoring, not the student.

To assist you with documentation about the child’s cueing system, see part 1 about Running Records. In your notes for the child’s oral reading, write the word they said above the word from the text. Analyze to see if they are making meaning, structural, or visual errors. Does the child tend to use one cueing system over another? What prompts can you offer to help the child monitor their reading and self-correct?

Finally — be sure to let the student know when you notice their self-corrections and montoring.  For example:  “I noticed you changed the word ‘runned’ for ‘runs’ in the sentence. You made it sound right! Good for you!” This reinforces use (and hopefully continued repetition) of the strategy.

Happy Listening! Next time Visual Cues – Part 3

Clip art courtesy of MS Office.

Listening to your students read Part 1: Running Records and the Meaning Cueing System

By C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady – with adaptations from Marie Clay and Scholastic

Taking a running record is written documentation of a child’s oral reading. It consists of listening to a child orally read a passage while you document it as best you can on paper. As the listener, you note errors (such as omissions, insertions, substitutions),  pay attention to strategies they are using or neglecting, and are alert to what is easy and what is hard. Many publishers now provide a written page of the text for you to keep track of the child’s reading page by page, while experienced notetakers can do it at a moment’s notice on any blank paper.

I attended a Reading Recovery workshop about mid-way into my teaching career, and heard from two teachers who described how to take a running record and then analyze the results to determine which strategies students were using or neglecting. That one workshop forever changed how I listened to my students read, and how I talked to parents about their child’s reading successes or difficulties.  About 8 years after that I had formal training in Reading Recovery methods, and subsequently completed a Masters in Reading . . . all because of that workshop!  I learned all mistakes are not equal and provide a huge clue as to what cueing system a child is using. I learned that I can help steer a child toward a neglected strategy by carefully crafted teacher prompts. I learned that there are much more effective prompts than the standard, over-used:  “Sound it out.”

The benefits of running records

  • Identifies accuracy of reading (independent, instructional, or hard)
  • Provides a record of strategies used, errors, corrections, phrasing, fluency
  • Helps teachers identify cueing systems the child is using / neglecting (meaning, visual, structural)
  • Documents progress over time
  • Can help determine a level for guided reading purposes (Fountas and Pinnell, Reading A-Z, DRA, etc.)

Continue reading

Helpful reading and math aids for parents

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

With so many parents taking on the role as teacher, I thought I would provide some resources you can pass along to parents.  In this post you will find some reading strategy help via one-page parent friendly guides (for primary and intermediate). I also included resources for math to provide some practical activities at home as well as some fun card and dice games that emphasize math skills.  Feel free to pass them along. Enjoy!



On another note:

I am in the process of moving from OK to Arizona!! We have lived in our home for the past 35 years . . . but we have this opportunity to be closer to our family (two sons, a daughter-in-law, our only grandson, and my sister).  I am taking all of my teaching materials with me and still plan to continue my blog, develop more instructional resources, and provide PD via online platforms. I hope you all will stay tuned!!  Stay safe everyone!!


Phonics Part 7: Word Analogy Strategy

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

I have been a fan of using a word-analogy strategy to help students decode words for a long time. Actually ever since I saw a video and read more about Irene Gaskins Benchmark Word approach years ago.  She even had a school in which she practiced this approach. Word analogy is the process of using a known word to apply to a new word.  Think of it as being a word detective. Sometimes word families are envoked, but more often similar vowel patterns are analyzed.

Here are ways I have used it recently with students:

  1. A first grade student came to the word far in a sentence. He stopped and didn’t try anything. There was no picture. Skipping the word and reading on would not have helped in this case. I wrote this word “are” on a small whiteboard (knowing the child knew this common sight word). I asked:  “What is this word?”  Child responded correctly with “are.”  I underlined the are in the word and said, “Use this part of the word to help you.” The child could immediately and correctly respond with “far.”
  2. A fifth grade student came to the word wren in a sentence. She did not recognize the word, and again there was no picture, even though from the context she could tell it was a type of bird.  I wrote the word “write” on the board, suspecting she knew it. She did, immediately. So I underlined the wr and said, “Use this part of write to help you with this word you don’t know.” She quickly surmised it was wren.
  3. A second grade student came to the word termite in a sentence and stopped. I had the student cover up the ending (mite) to expose ter.  Still nothing. So I wrote “her” on a small whiteboard I always keep handy with my teacher materials.  She knew it quickly. Then I told her to apply that “er” part to the tricky word. She was able to quickly say “ter” and then used the picture to confirm the correct word was “termite.”

These are specific examples to help children realize they can apply something from a known word to a new word. . . . without the teacher giving a mini lesson on vowel sounds, decoding rules, tricky r’s, sounding out letter by letter, etc.  It’s very helpful when dealing with whole words or word parts. This is exactly what we want students to be able to do on their own as they make their reading journey.

Here is an article from the University of Illinois about the methodology:  Look closely at pages 9-11 for application in the class. Here is an excerpt regarding decoding the word “momentum” in this sentence:  “The falling object gained momentum as it fell.” Students use the key known words go, ten, and drum to relate to the syllables in the unknown word. Get the article here: A Metacognitive Approach: Using what you know to decode words you don’t know

The typed word analogy chart pictured below is a handy reference.  I keep a copy (in a plastic sleeve) close by to pull out when needed. I point to a known word on the list and then help the student use that to help with a new word. When I don’t have the chart close by, I write a word I feel is known on a little white board, show it to the student, then show how to apply it (as in examples above). Here’s a FREE copy of the chart (word document): Benchmark word analogy list

I have also presented this small chart as a larger version on a poster board for all students to reference in the classroom.  It’s a different version of a word wall.

Give it a try, and let us know what you think!


Phonics Part 6: Open and Closed Syllables

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

We used 2 snow days here, so we had some extra time to catch up (or sleep in).  This gave me time to reflect on my past phonics posts and determine that information on open and closed syllables might be helpful for this one. For those who use the Literacy First Assessment, this skill is tested in first and second grade. So what are open and closed syllables? And what are some ways to help students decode them? How can students apply this knowledge to multi-syllabic words? FREE activities below.

Closed Syllables

  • The vowel is closed in (or trapped) between two consonants and usually makes the short vowel sound.
  • Examples in one-syllable words:  cvc patterns such as hot, big, mat, pen, tub
  • Examples in two-syllable words: picnic (pic-nic), rabbit (rab-bit), pencil (pen-cil), tablet (tab – let)

Open Syllables

  • The vowel is open at the end of a word or syllable and usually makes the long sound.
  • Examples in one-syllable words:  go, she, glue, tree
  • Examples in two-syllable words:  lion (li – on), baby (ba – by), local (lo – cal), music (mu – sic), tiger (ti – ger)

Reading Open and Closed Syllable Words:

  1. If it is a closed one-syllable word, I advise students to try the short vowel sound first to see if that sounds right and makes sense. If not, flip the vowel sound to the long sound.
  2. With a two-syllable word: Use a small post it, a masking card, or your finger to block off part of the word so only the first syllable is exposed. This is often 2-4 letters. If it looks closed (vowel between two consonants), try the short sound first to see if it sounds right and makes sense. If it looks open (one vowel at the end of a syllable), try the long sound first to see if it sounds right or makes sense. If not, flip the vowel.
  3. Apply this to 3 and 4 syllable words (looking at one syllable at a time). Common rimes or chunks might be revealed in the process.
  4. Practice breaking words apart to hear the two syllable and the vowel sounds. Here is a matching activity I made which you can get for FREE. Click here for the Closed syllable matching 4 pages (2 pages of pictures, 2 pages of matching words). Click here for the Open syllable matching 4 pages (2 pages of pictures, 2 pages of matching words).
    • You can match the whole word to the picture.
    • You can cut the words apart by syllables and match picture with both syllable parts.
  5. Try this game format using some of the same above words. Click here for a FREE copy of the Open and closed syllable game.

Stay tuned!  Next week I will focus on a fabulous strategy for decoding (making analogies).  And . . . watch your email (and the next post) to see if you are the winner of the $25 gift card I announced early in January!!!!

Phonics Part 1: Getting Started

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

The National Reading Panel has named five essential components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. To be a reader, a student must learn how to decode words and also comprehend them. As I encounter students in my consulting practice, many are at a loss regarding ways to decode words and thus fall further and further behind. According to numerous educational articles about the science of teaching reading, teachers are also often feeling they didn’t have the proper background information from their university experiences about how to teach children to read. Plus, many of my subscribers are alternatively or emergency certified and have not had this information presented to them either. Check out this article. Notice how explicit phonics instruction is a central focus:

Most reading classrooms utilize a balanced literacy model, trying to devote an equal amount of time to the above 4-5 components. Often times due to time constraints, phonics is “covered” through the spelling lessons or through individualized computer programs. This is not enough. Many commercial reading series provide some phonics instruction, but the lessons are often not to-the-point, rely too much on worksheets, and have too much teacher talk (in my opinion). Many teachers with whom I work have expressed they don’t feel adquate in their attempts to help students beyond saying, “sound it out.”

So let’s see if we can tackle this beast for the next few posts.  Here’s what I plan to focus on:

  • What are the sound / letter combinations students should know?
  • Why are letter sounds and spelling them often difficult?
  • Do students know the difference between vowels and consonants?
  • What is the benefit of helping students know what their lips and tongue are doing as they make various letter sounds?
  • What are some of the best rules of phonics?
  • How many of the “rules” actually work?
  • There are many different ways a student can “sound out” a word. What are they?
  • What to do if a student’s only method is to sound out each letter one at a time?
  • What role do the 3 cueing systems play in reading instruction. How is phonics involved?
  • What are some helpful resources for the teacher as well as the students?
  • How often and what should be included in an explicit phonics lesson?
  • How can the teacher monitor a student’s progress with regard to phonics knowledge?
  • How can the teacher assist the parents so everyone is on the same page regarding helpful strategies?

Here are three wonderful easy to use systematic resources that will help us get started:

Free phonics lessons:Lots of words (and sentences) to practice each phonics skill. The phonics skill is also explained.

Free video phonics reading lessons:Watch the blending procedure and practice in short video clips.

Explicit Phonics Lessons (from W. Virginia):These lessons focus on how to physically articulate the sound (where is the tongue, what are the lips doing?) as well as an I do, we do, you do approach. An easy to implement routine.

Reading Routines Part 5: Phonics (OK Math and Reading Lady)This is a previous post of mine. We will revisit some of the comments made there throughout this series.

What phonics instruction concerns and questions do you have? Please feel free to comment (click on speech bubble at the top of this post). 

Comprehension: Point of View

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Point of View seems to be a difficult skill for children to master. I have noticed it is high up on most schools’ lists of standards that need retaught and reviewed. So this made me wonder, “What is it about this skill that is being misunderstood?”

Here are my thoughts:

  • Part of it may be trying to determine “Which points of view are my students supposed to know?” In Oklahoma, the standards are fairly clear for grades 2-4 which emphasizes the ability to identify the first and third person points of view. But 5th grade isn’t as specific so many teachers are left wondering, “Do I include the 2nd person point of view? The Omniscient? . . .” (See a list below of the Pt. of View Stds. for each grade level. It appears they have clarified the 5th grade position since last year.)
  • Some of the confusion may be that students are mostly armed with the keywords regarding various points of view (1st = I, me, my; 2nd = you, your; 3rd = him, her, them, they). I have literally seen students counting pronouns and then declare the point of view based on which pronouns they saw the most of. This means they were not really focused on the overall jist of the story and/or were ignoring the fact that a quote using the word “I” doesn’t necessarily make the selection a first person point of view. This is where too much reliance on beautiful anchor charts on Pinterest can perhaps harm your students.  So be cautious!
  • Some of it may be that students confuse all of those words: Purpose, Point of View, Perspective.  Here is a good, short video from which easily explains the difference. Click here to watch: Purpose, Point of View, and Perspective Video
  • Stay tuned for some cool FREE activities (end of post).

Continue reading

Comprehension Strategies (2nd-5th and above)

by C. Elkins – OK Math and Reading Lady

I have been doing some research about the difference between reading skills and reading strategies.  There seems to be a variance of opinions, but basically a reading skill is described as a path to answering certain kinds of questions (cause-effect, compare-contrast, sequence, etc.), while a strategy involves a higher meta-cognitive process which leads to deeper thinking about a text (visualize, question, summarize).  Another way to put it is this:  When reading, I need a strategy to help me understand when and where to apply the skills I have learned.

It probably can be illustrated more clearly using mathematics:  A skill might be adding two double-digit numbers, while different strategies might be these:  using base ten manipulatives, using an open number line, or the partial sums method.  Or soccer:  A skill would be the dribbling the ball (how to position the foot, how close/far to keep it to the player), while a strategy would be how to keep dribbling while keeping it away from the opposing team.

There are also varying opinions about which reading practices are considered strategies.  I like to think of strategies as those that can be applied to any reading text such as: summarize, visualize, question, make connections, predict, infer, author’s purpose & point of view. I need a strategy to help me understand when and where to apply the skills I have learned. Keep reading for more ideas and FREE resources.

Skills seem to be more dependent on the text structure (meaning they only apply to certain texts) such as sequence, compare/contrast, cause/effect, main idea / detail, problem-solution, identify story elements, etc. 

  • To help me visualize (strategy), I might use skills about character analysis such as paying attention to their words and actions to help me “see” what is really going on. Another example:  I might use skills about noting details while reading a passage to make the details “come alive” as I try to picture them in my mind. (See link to strategy posters at the end of this post.)

To help me summarize (strategy) an article, I need to analyze the text structure (skill) and then use that information to help me summarize. 

  • Is it in sequence? Then my summary will use words such as first, then, next, last.
  • Is it comparing and contrasting something? Then my summary will need to use words such as alike or different.
  • Is it informational? Then my summary will list facts or details.
  • Is it fictional? Then my summary will tell the characters, setting, and events.

Continue reading

Student Engagement

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Student engagement is a huge concern among most (if not all) educators. This means students are actively involved in the learning process. Research definitely supports the notion that higher incidents of engagement result in increased achievement (Marzano, etc.).  Attached is my guide to student engagement strategies for reading / ELA lessons.  Many of these strategies also will apply to math, social studies, or science lessons.

Click here to get my guide:  Student Engagement – Whole Class Reading

Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 4 (Decoding)

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Here are 12 decoding strategies you might like. These show various ways to help students break apart, analyze, and relate to known words. I only recommend sounding out words letter-by-letter in a few limited situations. Beginning readers do this to apply newly learned letter-sound knowledge. It is a successful method for cvc words and other small words which follow the phonics rules. However, if this is the child’s main method of reading, it begins to become unproductive and impede fluency. In addition to prompting students for meaning or use of structure (see Fix-it Strategies parts 1 and 2), try some of these strategies to help children decode words.

  1. Help the child think of a word that makes sense which also begins with that letter(s).alligator
  2. Use the picture and the first letter to help predict the word. Example: The alligator is green. I know it’s not crocodile because the word begins with the letter a.
  3. On a word which can be predicted using the meaning and structure of the story, show a student how to cover up the end of the word (with their finger) to “force” the student to focus on the beginning letter or blend. Or use a post-it note over everything except the first letter or blend. The cloze procedure works well here. For example: “The first time I got on an airplane I was feeling sc_____.” A student probably doesn’t need to even see the rest of the word to predict it says “scared.”
  4. Limit “sounding out” to highly predictable words. Use Elkonin sound boxes for students to “push” sounds of words and then blend them together. Click on this link to see a video of this process: Elkonin Sound Boxes When ready, replace chips with letter tiles.
  5. Use “continuous blending.”  The reader slowly blends the sounds together instead of segmenting one at a time.  Example with cat:  Instead of /k/ + /a/ + /t/ it might sound like /kaaat/.
  6. Show the student how to cover up parts of words to isolate known syllables, base words, or word parts.
    • Candy: look for known word part –and (or can)
    • Jumping: look for base word jump
    • Herself: look for compound words
  7. Help student relate the tricky word to another that is similar (word analogy). If a child is struggling with a word, it is often helpful to write a simple known word (on a handy small whiteboard) to see if they can relate the known to the new.
    • For week: You know we so this word is . . .
    • For star: You know are so this word is . . .
    • For chat: You know cat so this word is . . .
    • For dress: You know yes so this word is . . .
    • For perfect: You know her so this word is . . .
    • For wreck: You know write so this word is . . .
  8. Sometimes a student gets a word on one page and not another. Help them notice when this happens. “You read this word correctly on page 2. What did it say on page 2? Try it here on page 5.”
  9. Teach children to look for chunks and break the word apart. Example: For standing break into /st/ + /and/ + /ing/. Children will learn more of these “chunks” through spelling instruction. Or, make new words using word families so they can see similar chunks, such as: -ame, -ell, – ick, -oat, -ug
  10. Tell the child to “flip the vowel.” This means if they try one sound and it doesn’t make sense, to try the other sound the vowel makes. This is a quick prompt without the teacher going into a mini-lesson on vowel rules. As a visual reminder, I flip the palm of my hand from one side to the other.
  11. For single or multi-syllabic words, practice these generalizations:
    • Closed syllable:  If a single vowel is “closed in” with consonants on each side, the vowel sound is usually short (tub, flat, bas-ket, lim-it, in-spect). This generalization often applies to vc syllables in which the consonant ends the syllable.
    • Open syllable: If a vowel ends the word or syllable, it is considered “open.” In this case, the vowel usually makes the long sound (be, go, be-gin, o-pen, ta-ble, cho-sen)
    • Two vowels in a syllable? Most often the vowel will produce the long sound (this includes vowel digraphs and the vce pattern such as coat, cone, treat-ing).
  12. Practice word sorting, so children can visually discriminate between words /patterns.

For those of you who use Journeys (Houghton Mifflin), you can access word study/spelling cards for sorting only through Think Central. Go to teacher resources, then choose the “Literacy and Language Guide.” Click on the word study link to find them.

As I mentioned in other posts, when the child is reading text let them complete the sentence before prompting for uncorrected errors. This is because the child’s use of the meaning and structural systems are huge. The visual aspect of a word is meant to help them confirm – not drive their system of reading. See previous posts (Fix-it Strategies parts 1-3 and freebies) for more information.

Have a great week!  Cindy

Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 3 “Does it look right?”

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Welcome back to part 3! In this post we will look at some strategies and prompts regarding the visual cueing system. When a student’s main strategy is to use the letters they see to sound out words, they are attempting to make the word(s) look right. This method is often helpful, especially with cvc words or words which are phonetic. We do want kids to know how to segment the sounds and blend them together to pronounce the word. But we don’t want them to overuse it and neglect the other 2 cueing systems. A good reader uses all 3 at the same time to cross check their reading.

If we want children to use the visual cueing system, there are several “sounding out” strategies. Children often need guidance about which of these works best. So try not to just say, “Sound it out.” This  guide emphasizes many of these strategies. Get it here FREE:  Strategy Chart full size.

  • Sound out letter by letter:  To pronounce had = /h/+/a/+/d/
  • Get the word started with the right sound.
  • Stretch out the sounds slowly (also referred to as continuous blending).
  • Use common chunks (sometimes referred to as rimes, phonograms, word families): spent = /sp/ + /ent/
  • Look for little words within bigger words: stand = /st/ + /and/
  • Flip the vowel:  If a student tried the word time, but pronounced it /t/+/i/+/m/ with the short i sound, tell the child to flip the vowel (meaning they should try the other sound that vowel makes to determine if it makes sense). This is a GREAT strategy to use without having to go into a mini lesson about vowel pairs, silent e, and other phonics rules concerning vowels.  Just say, “Flip the vowel.”
  • Think of another known word which has a similar spelling: If the child is trying to read the word were think of the word her. Trying to read the word tree? Think of the word see.

Continue reading

Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 2 “Does it sound right?”

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

In part 2, I will focus on some more fix-it strategies for students who are neglecting structure/syntax when reading. Last week were fix-it strategies regarding meaning. Next week will feature strategies for visual errors.

Let’s say this is the text:  She looked in her desk to find a pencil.

Let’s say this is how he/she read it (and did not fix it):  She look in her desk to find a pencil.

This child is making a structural / syntax error. Most of these types of errors occur with verbs in which children use the wrong tense or leave off/add endings. This should cause the child to stop and fix it because it doesn’t sound quite right. But that doesn’t always happen.  Why?

  1. The child is so focused on the base or root word, they don’t notice that endings have been added.
  2. The child is not listening to them self.
  3. The child can not always distinguish between proper and improper speech – perhaps because they don’t hear correct English at home, or they may be an English language learner and haven’t had a lot of exposure to correct grammar.
  4. The child is making generalizations regarding verb tense and doesn’t know all of the variations. The child doesn’t honestly know to make something “sound right.”
    • For example: Most often the child knows to add -ed when speaking about a past time event (jump / jumped). But what about run or write?  It’s not runned or writed.
    • Or while they might see the -ed ending, they don’t always know which is the correct pronunciation (is it /ed/, /t/, or /d/??).
    • The child does not yet know all of the grammar rules regarding participles and irregular verbs – perhaps due to developmental level or hearing incorrect language use among peers or family.

No matter the cause, it is our job as the teacher to try to help a child self-monitor and fix these types of errors. So there are prompts that are often effective to help a child recognize and correct their reading when it doesn’t sound right. Continue reading

Reading Fix-it Strategies: Part 1 “Does it make sense?”

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

What strategies do your students use to fix their reading? As teachers, we want our students to recognize when something doesn’t look right, sound right, or make sense — and FIX IT! But, do they use the same strategy over and over again — or worse — not even try to fix a mistake? This post will begin a series about good fix-it strategies (for any age reader) and prompts teachers can use to encourage students to use them. Keep reading for a FREE prompting guide, poster, and bookmark to use in your classroom.

The fix-it strategies I will share are based on the three cueing systems in reading: Meaning, Structure, and Visual. When students make errors in their reading, the errors fall into one of these 3 categories. 

In this post, I will focus on the MEANING system, which in my opinion is the most important one. After all, the ultimate goal in reading is to comprehend or make meaning. When a reader comes to a hard word, is he/she only trying to sound it out? Or are they thinking about what makes sense and sounds right? Hopefully, a little of each. A good reader looks at the letters, combined with the structure and meaning of the story to decide what that tricky word could be.

I’m sure you are familiar with this scenario.  A child sees this text:  She went to the store to get some milk. But, the child reads it as:  She went to the story to get some milk. And the child keeps on reading, oblivious to their mistake. After all, the word does look like story.

Which one of these prompts do you think will help the child fix their reading most efficiently? Continue reading

Meaningful Student Engagement – Whole Class Reading

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Teachers often ask me for suggestions on ways to engage students more, especially during whole class reading lessons. Student engagement is vital, isn’t it? Robert Marzano is a well-known educator/speaker whose research shows that students in highly engaging classrooms outperform their peers by an average  of almost 30 percentile points.  Students today have a higher need for interaction or they check out. What does engagement look like? The student . . .

  • participates in discussion
  • stays on task
  • listens to others
  • shares ideas
  • is aware of what is going on / alert
  • follows directions
  • reflects on learning
  • helps others
  • does more work than the teacher
  • enjoys the process
  • committed
  • applies new strategies
  • and . . . learns!!

What does lack of engagement look like? The student . . .

  • looks bored, sleepy, uninterested
  • can’t keep up
  • talks to their neighbor
  • is apathetic
  • gets confused
  • lacks understanding
  • fiddles with items in their desk
  • has a wandering mind
  • misbehaves
  • has a tired, frustrated teacher (because he/she is doing most of the work)
  • misses important information
  • hears the teacher do all the talking
  • has to be reminded to pay attention / follow along

I read an interesting article titled The Eight C’s of Engagement: How Learning Styles and Instructional Design Increase Students’ Commitment to Learning by Harvey F. Silver & Matthew J. Perini (linked here:The Eight C’s of Engagement).  They are:  Competition, Challenge, Cooperation, Connections, Curiosity, Controversy, Choice and Creativity (pages 9-11).

Cindy’s Top 20 Reading Engagement Ideas / Activities: These are based on personal experience, observation, and research. Get your free pdf copy here: Student Engagement – Whole Class Reading

    1. All students respond:
      • Thumbs up / down
      • Yes / No cards
      • Stand up / Sit down
      • Individual white boards (having specific procedures ensures productive use)
      • Multiple choice hand signals positioned in front of the student’s chest (1, 2, 3 or 4 fingers or finger-spelling sign language for a, b, c, d)
    2. Partner share: This takes modeling, observation, and practice to make it productive so students know quickly who their sharing partner is, what voice level to use, how to listen, how to take turns, how to summarize or recall what your partner said, how to help properly, etc.
    3. Sorting activities: Prepare cards which can be grouped according to your specs such as…
      • Sort the verbs (or adjectives) according to the character who exhibits these actions (or qualities).
      • Sort words to emphasize story elements: the characters, the setting, problems, actions, etc.
      • Sort words into a Venn diagram template while reading a compare / contrast article.
    4. Complete a graphic organizer together as you read and discuss the story. Notice that different text structures require a different way to organize the information.
    5. Fold it note taking: Students fold a blank sheet of paper into 4-8 sections to take notes, show examples, or illustrate desired elements. Teacher directs note-taking by modeling or telling what to put in each section.
    6. Technology – video – interactive Smartboard activities or tools
    7. Post-it-notes:  Students use post-it-notes to mark critical parts in the story. Focus on one objective at a time. Even more powerful — connect to a skill you are working on.
      • when new characters are introduced
      • on a confusing part or a question
      • to mark an “A-ha!” moment
      • on the part that shows a problem in the story, plus write what it is
      • to mark changes in time, indicating a sequential structure
      • to recall who and what periodically throughout the selection
      • to write an important detail, especially with a descriptive structure
    8. Teach students to ask thoughtful questions about the text instead of always waiting for the teacher to ask. Asking a question is much like having a conversation with yourself. Students can write questions on post its, a book mark, an index card, or on a piece of butcher paper hung in the classroom (for multiple questions).
      • Is there a word you don’t understand?
      • Are you confused or curious about something?
      • Do you have a question about the author’s purpose?
      • What is something you wonder about?
      • Do you need more background information?
      • Can you turn a heading or subheading into a question?
    9. Instead of questioning students after reading, give then a purpose to read a paragraph, page, or set of pages before reading. (Example:  Read ahead to find out ______).
    10. STOP ROUND ROBIN READING! What can be done instead?
      • Partner read: Teach how to do this properly. For example if partner A doesn’t know a word, how can partner B help without always just telling them the word? How much does each partner read? How to ask each other questions, or summarize as they read? How to stay engaged with your partner? How to share a book if needed?
      • Project the story on the screen.
      • For a story heavy with conversation, read the characters speaking parts. (I love the books Freckle Juice and Snot Stew for this!)
      • Read short specific excerpts. Example:  “Find the part which tells how _____.”
      • For poetry, find poems that can be read in two voices. Partner 1 reads 1st line, couplet, or stanza, Partner 2 reads next set. This is also great fluency practice!
      • In small group, students read silently while teacher “taps in” to listen to one read at a time.
      • If there is patterned text (ex: Gingerbread Man), choral read those parts.
    11. Provide more than one option for the assignment – – students are likely to be more engaged if they have a choice.
    12. Make a “scoot” activity in which students move around the room to answer posted questions.
    13. Matching:  Students each have a card and must walk around the room to find their matching partner. Switch cards with someone else and repeat. Connect to the story you are reading.
      • word – definition
      • synonym – antonym
      • sentence – missing verb
      • fact – opinion
      • character – quote
      • affix – root word
    14. Become a vocabulary expert (get free pdf attachment click here):Each student thoroughly researches one word from the vocabulary list (definition, synonym, antonym, use in sentence, pronunciation, part of speech, and illustration). They become the expert about that word and teach it to others.
    15. Cooperative groups – each person should have a role:
      • Summarize a page, set of pages, or chapter.
      • Give an opinion.
      • Sequence main events.
      • Illustrate the story elements of a fictional selection.
      • Search for a specific number of interesting details (they get a choice in what details to include, plus they must debate or rate how interesting the detail is). Let class vote on which detail was the most interesting.
    16. Prepare work stations (learning centers) to review, expand concepts in a game or interactive format.
    17. Four corners:  Pose an open-ended question with 4 possible scenarios. Post each in a different corner. Students go to the corner that matches their opinion and discuss with others who think the same way they do. Then meet with group with opposing opinion for a friendly debate.
    18. Connect phonics, spelling, or word work lessons to the story by searching for one of these categories of words:
      • nouns
      • verbs (you can even specify past tense, present tense, past participles, action, etc.)
      • contractions / compound words
      • by number of syllables
      • vowel sounds
      • opinion words
      • sequence words
      • words with embedded little words (ex: yesterday)
    19. Make a poster of text features to go along with a story or article that didn’t have any.
    20. For stories with very few illustrations, describe a mental picture of what could be going on. Compare and contrast those mental pictures (by illustration if needed).

    Graphics provided via Microsoft Office clipart (creative commons)

    See for this engagement poster:



Listening to Your Students’ Reading Part 3: Visual Cueing System

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

monkey-visual-cuesThe third cueing system is the use of visual cues (V) to decode words. This means the reader is mostly focused on how a word looks.  A best-case scenario is when the student is cross-checking by using meaning, structure, and the visual aspects of the word to make a correct response. See previous posts regarding Part I (Meaning) and Part II (Structure).

 If a child mainly relies on this visual cueing system, he/she may become slower and lose comprehension because he/she is so focused on the pronunciation and not the meaning.

 In an earlier post from “Listening to Your Students Reading Part 1,” I referred to this sample sentence: Jack and Jill had a pail of water.

If the child said pill or pal instead of pail, then that child was primarily using visual cues because those words look very similar. Unfortunately, neither of those examples makes sense. Continue reading

Listening to Your Students’ Reading Part 2: Structural Cueing System

By C. Elkins – OK Math and Reading Lady

See Part I – Meaning (posted Sept. 17th)

The second cueing system is the use of (S) Structure or Syntax of our English language. Much of a child’s knowledge about language structures comes as a result of speaking or listening to how language naturally sounds. A reader attempts to make it sound right. Here are 3 possible scenarios: Continue reading

Listening to Your Students’ Reading Part 1: Running Records and Meaning Cueing System


By C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady – with adaptations from Marie Clay and Scholastic

As an undergraduate, I know I had coursework in reading related to Miscue Analysis. I remember having a whole book devoted to this study. However, I don’t remember really applying this knowledge until after having taught for 15 years. I attended a Reading Recovery workshop at that time, and heard from two teachers who described how to take a running record and then analyze the results to determine which strategies students were using or neglecting. That one workshop forever changed how I listened to my students read, and how I talked to parents about their child’s reading successes or difficulties.  About 8 years after that I had formal training in Reading Recovery methods (after my kids were grown and I could go back to school) and completed a Masters in Reading all because of that workshop!

So, what is a running record?

  • Written documentation of a child’s oral reading
  • Identifies accuracy of reading (independent, instructional, or hard)
  • Provides a record of strategies, errors, corrections, phrasing, fluency
  • Helps teachers identify cueing systems the child is using / neglecting
  • Documents progress over time

Continue reading