It’s important to add a little variety into our small group instruction and into our literacy center activities. Sometimes just adding a little twist to a drill and practice activity can do the trick. The Flipping Pancakes activity is super easy to make and guaranteed to keep our students engaged. Simply print the pancakes (laminate if desired) and then cut them out. Have your students read the words and then flip the pancake with a spatula. This activity is super simple, but the kids just absolutely love it!
Storing your activities can sometimes be a bit challenging. I typically store mine in baggies, but plastic storage containers will work great too!
This is a post about helping children to become better readers- I promise. Before we talk about reading, however, I’d like to share with you a story about the love-hate relationship that I have with my guitar. Yep, that’s right- my guitar.
Fifteen years ago I was a stay-at-home mom. My children were just old enough to entertain themselves for brief periods of time so I thought I’d do something new. That “something” would be learning to play the guitar. At the time was I attending our contemporary mass at church and a new friend was one of two guitar players. I asked Lori if she wouldn’t mind teaching me to play. She agreed, so off I went to purchase a guitar. Lori taught me a few chords and within a short time I was playing a “real church song”. The song was “Come to the Water”. If I was to correlate this song to a reading level, I’d say it’s on par with “Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See” (1.4 reading level).
I practiced this song over and over and over again. Lori and I met about once a week to practice- we chatted and played. We had so much fun! One evening Lori called and asked if I would play with her at mass. Tom (the lead guitar player) wasn’t able to attend that evening and she didn’t want to be alone. I agreed and was then under pressure to add “Praise the Lord My Soul” and “Lead Me Lord” to my repertoire. These songs were a bit more difficult. I’ll equate them to “Frog and Toad” (2.4 reading level). I thought helping my friend that evening was a one-night-thing, but I still play at our 5:30 mass to this day.
Here’s something else you should know about my guitar playing. You may be thinking with 15 years of playing guitar, I’m pretty good. The honest truth is is that I’m not very good at all. Despite taking lessons for 2 years and playing weekly at mass, I stalled out somewhere at Junie B. Jones (about a 3.1 grade level). There really is no mystery as to why I’m not very good. I simply don’t practice. My guitar teacher was really cool. I really enjoyed the lessons, but I didn’t practice during the week. He was fine with that. Although I had the music for the upcoming mass, I rarely practiced. Tom and Lori were so good, that if I skipped a chord, it didn’t matter. Sometimes I even played chords that were “close enough”. Sound like any struggling readers you might know?
I’m hoping by this time, you can make the correlation between my learning to play the guitar and helping students become better readers. The bottom line is that, just like with learning to play an instrument, the only way to get better at something is to actually do it! So, how much time should you practice? Well, not sure if there’s been studies about playing guitar, but there have been studies looking at time spent reading and performance on achievement tests. Take a look at this:
You can download this chart by clicking the following link Why Reading Outside of School Is Important
It’s important to know that it’s not only about the time spent reading, it’s also about the quality of what is read. What if every day I only played “Come to the Water” and “Lead Me Lord”. I love those songs. I feel really good about myself as a musician when I play them, but will I actually improve? Probably not at a rate that’s acceptable. It’s not harmful. My fluency with the chords in those pieces would improve and it would help my muscle-memory, but is playing the songs I already know all I need to do to become a better player? To improve my guitar skills, I not only need to increase my practice time, but I need to systematically play songs that are more difficult. The songs can’t be too hard that I’m frustratrated and give up, and they can’t be too easy either. They need to be “just right”. Just challenging enough that I’m learning something new. In terms of reading, helping children choose “just right books” is critical. You can use the book leveling system (e.g. Acclereated Reader) or try this quick and easy way of teaching children if a book is a good fit:
You can download this poster by clicking the following link Finding the Right Fit Book
It’s kind of tricky balancing the “just right” books for students. Again, they can’t be too difficult. Studies have shown that reading at 98 percent or higher accuracy is essential for reading acceleration. Anything less slows the rate of improvement, and anything below 90 percent doesn’t improve reading ability at all (Allington, 2012; Ehir, Dreyer, Flugman & Gross, 2007). It’s so, so very important that we find the right books for our struggling readers. It’s pretty clear that consistently having students read at their frustration level does little good. Maybe this handy little chart can help:
You can download this file by clicking the following link Determining Reading Levels
We can’t have a discussion about about increasing time reading without talking about motivation. So, how do you motivate students read? More importantly, how do you motivate the struggling reader to read? Let’s digress to my guitar playing example. My all-time favorite Christmas song is “Child of the Poor”. When our choir sings this song–it’s beautiful. The melody is to “What Child is This” and the last verse we sing as a round. I really wanted to be able to play this song from beginning to end without skipping chords at Christmas mass. The song was a bit beyond my level (inching into the frustration level), but I practiced it diligently for weeks. That darn “B” chord gave me the most trouble, but with a lot of practice, I finally got it! It was a song that I was highly motivated to learn and I was willing to put in the time and practice to master it.
So, how do we motivate those struggling readers, here’s a few ideas:
I’m reading this really great book on increasing the amount and complexity of student reading. It’s a pretty easy read with great ideas for increasing reading time within the classroom. Feel free to check it out! Be sure to let me know what you think in the comment section.
Halloween is just around the corner and it’s time to add a little holiday spirit into centers and small groups. These Halloween-themed game boards might just do the trick. There are 9 boards using words from the Dolch 220 sight word lists. You can easily differentiate your literacy center activities by choosing which boards to use with specific groups. Your kiddos might even enjoy taking a few home for added practice.
Click the following link to download the FREE game board for list 4 of the Dolch sight words Halloween Sight Word Game Board List 4
If you like this little freebie, you might like all the Dolch sight words printed on Halloween-themed game boards. When you download this file you’ll receive 13 game boards with words from the Dolch 220 sight word lists (I’ve included a few blank boards so you can add your own words). There are 4 different colorful game boards.
I absolutely love these game board templates so I created game boards for blends/digraphs too! A few of my first grade teacher friends are introducing blends and digraphs right now. This file contains 7 game boards with words containing common consonant blends and digraphs.
Let’s not forget about our Consonant-Vowel-Consonant words. There are 4 different game boards containing CVC words. This activity is great for your first grade literacy centers.
I’m on spring break now and before leaving had to decide which book to pack for reading on the beach. I came oh so close to purchasing the Hunger Games, but grabbed Timothy Rasinski’s book The Fluent Reader from our loaning library at work instead (sad, I know). I’ve read the book before and remember thinking it was filled with great strategies for improving reading fluency. What I didn’t remember, however, was that the first chapter was devoted to an interesting account of the history of oral reading and silent reading in American education as well as pointing out the drawbacks of current practices such as round robin reading. Here’s a snip-it of what I’ve read:
It hasn’t been until relatively recently that reading fluency has been viewed as an important part of reading instruction. According to Rasinski, “reading fluency refers to the ability of readers to read quickly, effortlessly, and efficiently with good, meaningful expression.” Fluent readers are able to recognize many words by sight and, when coming upon an unknown word, able to decode the word quickly. Because good readers read accurately and effortlessly, their mental energy can be devoted to figuring out the meaning of the text (comprehension) rather than trying to figure out the words. Dr. Rasinski outlines four ways to build reading fluency.
1. Model Good Oral Reading. Reading to students in a natural manner models fluent reading. Model and encourage students to pay attention to phrasing, expression, and pacing. Too much emphasis on “word-perfect decoding sends a message that good reading is nothing more than accurate word recognition.”
2. Provide Oral Support for Readers. Research has shown that when a reader reads and hears simultaneously a fluent reader read the same text, reading fluency and comprehension improves (Topping, 1995). There are several different ways to accomplish this: choral reading, paired reading and using recorded readings. The book describes how to use these strategies and the research behind them in more detail.
3. Offer Plenty of Practice Opportunities. As with learning any skill, such as learning to play piano or riding a bike, time practicing the skill is crucial. To become a good reader, readers need practice reading. The repeated reading strategy has been found to lead to significant increases in students’ fluency. In our districts, we utilize the Read Naturally computer based program as one way to offer this strategy. Students begin with a “cold” read of the text, a words correct per minute (wcpm) score is provided, students practice reading the text with and without a recording and when they feel they can read it fluently, they then do a “hot” read. The computer program tracks their progress on each read. I love this program, and certainly did not do it justice with that short explanation. I’ll devote a blog on the program at a later date.
4. Encourage Fluency through Paraphrasing. Students need to learn to chunk text into phrases to help determine meaning. Meaning lies in a text’s phrases and not just in its individual words. Disfluent readers tend read word-by-word rather than chunk text into meaningful phrases. Teaching students to pay attention to punctuation helps.