St. Patrick’s Day Sight Word Games


Click HERE to download 7 FREE sight word game boards.

The St. Patrick’s Day sight word game boards and the Lucky You! games were one of the very first activities I made for digital download last year.  I thought I’d pull them out of the vault to share during the early weeks of March.  When you download the game boards, you’ll receive 7 free game boards containing words from the Dolch sight word lists 1-6.  I’ve included a blank game board so that you can even add your own words.  You can even use the blank board for reviewing math skills if you choose.

The Lucky You! games are one of my favorites.  It’s a variation of Fiddle Sticks (my all-time favorite game), just using words cards instead of craft sticks.  Students take turns choosing a card and reading a word.  There are a few cards, however, that allow them to choose more cards (Lucky!) or a card where they’ll have to put them all back.  The player with the most cards at the end of the session, or station rotation, wins the game.  This activity is easy to assemble and so simple to play.  The kids absolutely love the game and I love it because of the amount of practice opportunities they receive while still having fun.

Lucky you SW1-3pre

Click HERE to download the Lucky You! Dolch Sight Word Lists 1-3 game from my TpT store

There are also several variations of this activity for the following skills:

Lucky You! Dolch Sight Words Lists 4-6

Lucky You! Dolch Sight Words Lists 7-9

Lucky You! Consonant-Vowel-Consonant

Lucky You!  Consonant Digraphs

Lucky You! Magic e

Lucky You! R-Controlled Vowels


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St. Patrick’s Day Digraph Activities

digraph cloversblogpic

St. Patrick’s Day is soon approaching!  My goodness, this school year is flying by.  It’s kind of fun how we measure our school year by the coming and goings of the holidays.  So far this year we’ve had 10 snow days!  Can you believe it?  10!  When you live in the great white north you never know what can happen.  We have 6 snow days built into the calendar (yes, that’s true) and anything over that we have to make up at the end of the year.  With winter not even over, we may have to go well into summer.   Anyway, here’s a little digraph activity I whipped up on one snow day morning.

What you’ll need to do is copy the pdf below, cut out the shamrocks and hot glue them on the ends of a large craft stick.  Be sure to make a set for each student in your group.  For those students just learning digraphs, you’ll want to begin with sounds only.  So, say the sound of one of the digrpahs (e.g. /sh/) and have the students hold up the correct stick.  You can differentiate the activity by choosing the number of digraphs you use within the group.

Shamrock Digraphs

Click the following link to download this free printable Shamrock Digraphs

If the students are doing pretty well with the sounds only, add a little more difficulty by providing a word and having the students hold up the correct stick.  Here’s a word list for consonant digraphs that you can use.  I have a hard time thinking of those words on the spot.

Common Consonant Digraph Word List

Click the following link to download this free consonant digraph word list. Common Consonant Digraph Word List

On another one of those snow days, I made a digraph sorting activity activity.  Sorting activities are very helpful when introducing a skill or for use when students are having a difficult time hearing the differences between sounds.  When you download this activity, you’ll receive 40 colorful coins with pictures of digraphs.

Pot O Gold Digraphs1st


Click HERE to download this activity from my TpT store.

I have to say that the unexpected snow day is always a treat.  But to have 10! Holy Cow!  It’s getting difficult to get back in a routine.  So, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but….let’s hope for at least a few solid weeks of school in the upcoming months.


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The Need for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction

This year we are working on expanding our RtI efforts to upper elementary.  Reading First so nicely laid out the expectations for quality core instruction for K-3, but we are finding that we are having to dig a little deeper into the research to find what effective literacy instruction looks like at the upper elementary level.  Explict vocabulary instruction and reading comprehension strategies are recurring themes in our reading.  Although very important in K-3 instruction, vocabulary and reading comprehension take center stage in upper elementary.  So with this in mind, I pulled out my favorite vocabulary resource book, Bringing Words to Life, along with other resources on vocabulary, to help guide us.

What is vocabulary?

The following is the National Reading Panel’s definition of vocabulary.  It’s important to make the distiction between oral vocabulary and reading vocabulary.  Oral vocabulary can be further divided into listening vocabulary (receptive vocabulary, as our SLP’s call it) and speaking vocabulary (expressive vocabulary).   The words that are encountered in text (reading vocabulary) are more complex than our speaking vocabulary.

Vocabulary Definition

Click the following link to download this definition Vocabulary Definition

Why is vocabulary important?

Vocabulary is important because it is a strong predictor of reading comprehension.  If children are to understand the text, they must know what most of the words mean before they can comprehend what they are reading.  Of course, this makes sense!  Children with well developed vocabularies can recognize a new word in text faster and easier if the word has an identity in their mind.   Let’s consider the following example from The Mitten:

A waft of warm steam rose in the air, and a fox trotting by stopped to investigate.  Just the sight of the cozy mitten made him feel drowsy.”

These two sentences are loaded with vocabulary (so cool!).  What if the underlined words were not a part of the child’s vocabulary and he has never been exposed to those words in conversation or having books read to him?  Certainly the child’s understanding of the text would be affected and when the child tried to read those words, he would not have the background knowledge that would help him figure out the word.   Even if a child knew 4 of the 5 words, he would likely have an understanding of the text.

Choosing Words To Teach

So, if building vocabulary is so important, and with so many words, how do you choose which words to teach directly?  Isabel Beck and her colleagues have developed a really nice framework for choosing the most important words that should be targeted for instruction.  She divides words into three “tiers”.  In a nutshell, Tier I words are the most common words, Tier II words are high-frequency words used by mature language users, and Tier III words are typically specialized words.  She recommends identifying and teaching Tier II words as they occur and can be used across contexts.

Vocabulary Cake

Click the following link to download the graphic Vocabulary Instruction- Choosing Words to Teach

With young children, the vocabulary words are typically chosen from trade books; these are the books that teachers read aloud to their students.   Choosing words from a text for direct teaching is not difficult, but there are some things you need to take into consideration.  These considerations as well as examples are provided in the Bringing Words To Life book.  I can’t say enough about this book.  If you want to beef-up your vocabulary instruction, this is a must-read.


How Many Words do Children Need to Know?

Researchers say that children in grades 1-2 need to learn 800 new words a year (that’s 2 a day) and children from 3rd grade on need to learn 2,000-3,000 new words a year (6-8 words a day)(Diemiller; Nagy & Anderson).  On top of that, consider that for a child to “truly” know a word he/she must have at least 10-12 exposures to the word in multiple contexts.  Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?  Now consider this.  Researchers (Biemiller, 2001) noted that there is very little explicit vocabulary teaching occurring in the upper grades.  In fact, one study revealed that upper-elementary teachers spent less than 1% of their overall reading instruction focused on vocabulary.  Yikes!

How to Teach Vocabulary

Children learn words in a variety of ways.  One of the best ways to improve vocabulary is through wide reading.  One interesting study that I found reported that the average 5th grader reads 5 minutes a day out of school.  5th graders who fall at the 80th percentile read over 20 times as much students who fall at the 20th percentile who read only one minute outside of school.  Although reading in and of itself is necessary for vocabulary growth, it is not sufficient.  Students need direct and explicit vocabulary instruction.  So what does that look like and what is the best way to teach vocabulary?  Well, that’s going to the topic of upcoming blog posts (too long already).  I do want to leave you with these videos that model explict vocabulary instruction.  Sometimes it’s just easier to see it in practice than explain in words.

Anita Archer is a highly respected author and educator.  The Sonoma County Office of Education has on their website a series of videos of Anitia Archer demonstrating specific teaching strategies.  When you click the following link (the picture), you can see her teaching a vocabulary lesson to a kindergarten class and then to a second grade class.

Vocab archer videoblogpic

Thanks for sticking with me on the quite long blog post.  Hope this has been helpful in understanding the importance of direct vocabulary instruction.


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Making the Most of the DIBELS Next Nonsense Word Fluency Data

My good friend, Jen, teaches a college level reading assessment class and asked if I could talk a bit on aligning intervention with data.  Of course, I was thrilled she asked.   I decided to take a grade level and focus on the assessments typically administered in the winter.  All of our schools use the DIBELS Next as a school-wide screening assessment.  So, I wanted to take that assessment and analyze individual student performance to see what information we can glean from this particular assessment and what type of “digging deeper” assessments and decisions for intervention we can make.

If your school administers the DIBELS Next and you subscribe to the online data system, you’ll receive a print out of your student’s performance.  The distribution report and the class list report will “categorize” your students as “benchmark”, “strategic” or “intensive”.   Knowing which category your students fall is helpful in a way, but you really need to analyze their test booklets to get the most of your data and to decide if and what type of intervention is needed.  The goal for a first grader in the winter on the NWF assessment is 43 correct letter sequences (cls) and 8 whole word read (wwr).  You may have two students who scored a 17 cls on the assessment, but have two very different needs in terms of intervention.  Let’s take a look at a few students.


DIBELS Rayblogpic

Ray’s NWF results show that he is attempting to blend, but is very inaccurate.  Take a look at the types of errors he is making.  He is confusing his short vowels sounds and reversing “b” and “d”.  He is also confusing the following sounds: g/j, f/v and s/z.  These are similar sounding phonemes.  The f/v and s/z have the same placement of the lips and teeth, but only differ in voicing.  Ray may not be hearing the differences between the sounds.  Because of the large amount of errors, I would “dig deeper” with an assessment of his letters and sounds.  In terms of intervention, I would incorporate the use of the phonics phones and mirrors when I work with him during small group instruction.


Click HERE to access a video on how to make and use a phonics phone.


Now let’s take a look of David’s performance.  David is not blending yet as he is sounding the words sound-by-sound.  He is not yet consistent with his vowel sounds and is demonstrating b/d reversals.  David is not automatic with sound-symbol relationships.  Because there are numerous errors, a letter-sound assessment is in order.  Intervention will begin with the letters and sounds David has not mastered.

DIBELS Davidblogpicrev

David’s intervention plan should include vowel discrimination activities for the /a/, /e/, and /i/.  David would also benefit from the use of the blending board during intervention.  This will not only help with blending but with sound-symbol automaticity.

Vowel Sticksblogpic

Click HERE to download the free printable to make your own vowel sticks.


Breanna is accurate with her sound-symbol correspondence.  Her score of 34 cls falls below what is expected for the winter of first grade.  Breanna is not blending automatically.   When we listen to Breanna read text, she is sounding words sound-by-sound, so her reading is slow and labor intensive.

DIBELS Brennablogpic

Breanna’s intervention should focus on sound-symbol automaticity and blending.  Quick sound drills and the use of the blending board will be helpful.


Click HERE to access the blog post which contains a video on how to use a blending board, how to make your own and a link to download the free blending board cards.


Ashley is very accurate with sound-symbol relationships.  She is quickly saying the sounds and easily going back to blend the word.  Her score of 89 cls places her above benchmark, but her score of 0 wwr falls within the intensive range.  Ashley’s performance on the Rigby Running Records place her reading skills at the beginning second grade level.  She is also reading at a rate of 56 wcpm on the DIBELS ORF assessment (benchmark: 23 wcpm).

DIBELS Ashleyblogpic

It’s important to remember that the DIBELS Next is a screening assessment.  You must look at all the student’s data to make a determination as to whether the student is at-risk for reading difficulties.  Because Ashley’s running records assessment and ORF assessment fall above grade level, she is not having difficulty decoding or blending words in text, therefore, Ashley would not need skills-based intervention.

One of the books that I find very helpful in interpreting data and structuring intervention based on data is Susan Hall’s book I’ve DIBEL’d Now What?   The book provides step-by-step instructions for anaylzing data much like what I did above with the NWF data.  It also provides a framework for grouping students as well as providing different formats for providing the interventions.

DIBELS bookblogpic

It’s important to remember that the purpose of assessment is to guide instruction and intervention.  Testing to “test” or filing the data in a filing cabinet is not helpful.  Teachers who have the most success in terms of accelerating student achievement are those who understand the purpose of assessment and who can use the data to structure both whole class instruction as well as targeted intervention for struggling students.


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Short Vowels Cue Cards

Some of our little readers are still having trouble confusing those short vowel sounds.  We certainly see this in their written work.  I’m hoping these cue cards can help.  Simply print the cards, cut them out and place them on the desk or table.  They serve as a visual cue to help with correct use of the vowel when writing.    Of course, not every student will need the cue card;  just those students who are still substituting one vowel for another.

Vowel Prompt Cards

Click the following link to download FREE short vowel cue strips Vowel Prompt Cards

If you are working with short vowel sounds in your small group intervention, the Vowels Sticks and Vowel Snatch are two great activities for teaching these sounds.  You can download this activity for free.

Vowel Sticks Snatch Cover

Click HERE to download the Vowel Stick and Vowel Snatch freebie!


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