Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sign Language and Phonics-A Winning Combination

When I was getting my degree in Liberal Studies from San Diego State University, I knew choosing a foreign language would be an easy decision.  I had tried French and Spanish previously and knew that I was NOT an auditory learner.  Therefore, I chose a minor in Communicative Disorders with my foreign language being American Sign Language (ASL).  Little did I know that this choice would work wonders for me in my career years later!

Flash forward (well, I won't say how many years), and I have used sign language to teach students with severe reading problems how to read.  The key was adding a kinesthetic approach to a skill that is visual!  Teaching reading has always consisted of a teacher who teaches a skill to a student (with a visual guide and an auditory example), and the student applying this skill through the same modalities. 

I decided to experiment with adding ASL in the classroom and see how it would work.  I began with my pre-readers and taught them the letter-sound correspondence with an ASL sign for each.  You could use the letter hand sign for each letter of the alphabet, or you could use the sign for the picture that corresponds to the letter card.  For example, we use the Houghton Mifflin Language Arts program in our school and I use ASL signs that correspond to the pictures.
There were 2 reasons I choose this approach over hand signs for the letters.
  1. My kindergarten students had a very difficult time with the fine motor skills it takes to form the hand signs for each of the letters.  It was much easier to sign the picture words (ex. apple, cat, fish), which tend to use larger motions of the hands and arms.
  2. It connected their signs (kinesthetic) with the pictures (visual) and therefore helped them remember the sound (ex. if they remembered cat they could hear the initial sound in the word).  If I just taught the hand sign for the letter they would remember the visual letter, but NOT necessarily the sound that it makes.
I really suggest that anyone who is teaching a child their letter sounds that they incorporate ASL.  I use it with my own kids (ages 4 and 3), and they just love it! 

Keep following for more tips and ideas on how to use ASL to teach reading.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What's A Digraph?

A digraph is defined by as:

  1. "A pair of letters representing a single speech sound, such as the ph in pheasant or the ea in beat."
  2. "A single character consisting of two letters run together and representing a single sound, such as Old English æ."
Digraphs are often difficult for early readers to decipher because they can not be sounded out letter-by-letter.  It is important to teach digraphs as a specific focused lesson.  I do teach my students the word digraph as I focus on a particular digraph during a week's lesson.  I explain it as two letters who are best friends.  These best friends make one sound when they are next to each other in a word.

Examples of the most common digraphs are:
  • Ch-makes the sound /ch/ NOT /chuh/
  • Sh-makes the sound /sh/ NOT /shuh/
  • Th-makes the sound /th/ NOT /thuh/
  • Wh-makes the sound /wh/ NOT /whuh/
  • There are also many vowel digraphs, but these are more often taught as vowel pairs in school in which the following rule usually applies: 
    • "the first one does the talking, and the second does the walking."  For example, the ea in beat would say /E/ since the letter e did the "talking" and the a "walked away."
It is important to understand the difference between a digraph and a blend.  A blend is defined by as:
  • "Blends are different (than digraphs) because they have more than one letter but you can hear their sounds and are not one single sound. It is contrary to its name of 'blend'."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Make Any Wall Your Whiteboard!

I have been thinking about making a magnetic whiteboard on one of the walls in my kid's room for a long time.  After reading reviews of other people who have done this I think I am going to go with the following products. 
First I will apply the magnetic primer:

Then I will apply the whiteboard paint:

I can't wait to try it out and use all the magnetic letters I have from my classroom to help LoLo work on creating CVC words.  I will also take photos of family members and glue them on to magnetic sheets you can buy at Walmart. Then you just cut around the person (or object) and have a personalized magnet to play with. 

I will update when I get a chance to put it up.

Have other suggestions?
Want to try your own?
Have you done this before; how did it work out?
Leave me a comment and let me know.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Parent of a preschooler? YOU can teach your child to read!

Do you have a preschooler who is showing signs that he is ready to read, but you have no idea where to start?

My Reading Specialist offers consulting for parents to train YOU how to teach your child to read. 

Here is what it consists of:
  1. First meeting-I assess the student to make sure he is ready to read and see what skills he might already know.  I review the assessments with you and give you feedback.  These assessments are then used to create individualized lessons for your child. (usually takes about 1 hour total)
  2. Second meeting-I will bring various lessons, games, and activities (for you to keep) based upon what skills your child needs to become a reader.  These lessons will be individualized based upon his previous assessments. I will TRAIN you (the parent/caregiver) how to administer these lessons and offer suggested timetables for application. (usually takes about 1 hour total)
  3. Third meeting-This meeting usually takes place after the majority of the lessons have been covered.  I will administer follow-up assessments and see which skills were retained successfully and can be applied by your student, and what skills may need to be recovered.  I will offer advice and additional consulting if new lessons are needed (but that is not usually the case). (usually takes about 1 hour total)
I offer consulting either in person (San Diego area), or via webcam (lessons will be mailed).  Please contact me if you have any questions via my "email me" link on my sidebar, or comment below.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Free Handwriting Worksheets

 LoLo is now writing his name and some basic CVC words, but needs some more handwriting practice.  I like using the free handwriting worksheet creator from Handwriting Worksheets Wizard.  You can enter up to 10 words for your child to practice writing. You choose the font (Zaner-Bloser style is most common now in schools), the size (choose larger for young children), and line patterns (I suggest block, dot, space for the best practice similar to in-class).
Hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Love Eric Carle? Check out this cute toy line!

When it comes to kid's books that I love to read over and over, I think of The Very Hungry Caterpillar from Eric Carle.  Sure the story is pretty cute, but my favorite part is the artwork.  Over the years his style of art has become so recognizeable to me that when I was shopping around in the baby toy department a while back, I couldn't help but notice the Eric Carle toy line right away!

I bought the pull-string sun shown above, and Mr. F loves it to pieces.  It plays a sweet little melody (not an annoying doorbell-type song) and has little flashing LED lights in the plush portion of the sun.

I also purchased the play dome seen below:

This play dome was great when Mr. F started crawling and he loves to look in the mirror and pull the butterfly string to play music.  I wish I had bought it earlier when he was into tummy time.  I love the bright colors and designs that are synonymous with Eric Carle.

I was so surprised to find out just how many Eric Carle toys are out there.  View the slideshow below to check some more of them out:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Making CVC Words On Your Word Wall

Last post I talked about introducing your child to sight words with the use of your word wall.  In addition to teaching sight words, you should also be introducing a few new CVC words every few days. Remember that CVC stands for consonant-vowel-consonant.

If you really want to keep the cost down you could write the letters you need on index cards for each word; however, I really like the ease and style of font found in this card set of letters.  You also have multiples of letters, vowels printed in different colors, and digraphs, blends, and vowel pairs for later more advanced lessons.  This product can be found at by clicking HERE.

When you are picking CVC words to put up on the wall, remember that they should be spelled with the short vowel sound (ie. CAT, SIP, TAN, PAT).  These words are most appropriate for early readers because they can be sounded out letter-by-letter, as opposed to having to know advanced skills that make vowels sound long.  Remember long vowels are those that "say their name," such as in the word BAY (the letter a says /ay/).

If you are still not sure what words to use, I really like the lists on  They have a few CVC lists which are divided up by medial sound (vowel sound in the middle).  Scroll down to the middle of this link to find the lists by clicking HERE.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sight Word Cards For Your Word Wall

Now that your Word Wall is set up, you will need to start introducing some sight words along with your CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words.  This card set by Smethport is a good one with the words printed on colored cards that are easy to read in ball-and-stick font which is used in most public schools today (Denelian font used to be used-otherwise known as fancy font).

I suggest introducing only 2 sight words at a time, then when those are mastered move on to two more.  Make sure that you always review the words you have taught before.  

*Remember sight words are words you recognize by SIGHT. They are not to be sounded out.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Setting Up Your Word Wall

I have a little center set up in my son's room that we call his 'word wall.' Each night we spend about 15 minutes reviewing his words from our previous lessons, and learning a new one (which I add about every 3rd night). In order to start your own word wall, you will need to find some wide open wall space that is about eye level to your child.  Then set up a pocket chart.  I really like this one:

Note that it does NOT come with the pocket addition at the bottom.  I suggest you get this add on pocket to keep your letter cards in when teaching. Here it is:
The next thing you will need is to get a letter set that has all the consonants, vowels, digraphs, etc. that you will be teaching.  It is best (and easiest) to buy a set so that you have multiples of letters you will use most often, as well as to make sure you cover every phonetic skill.  Here is my favorite set from Lakeshore Learning:
I love how this set covers every phonics skill, and has each one in a different color.  Even if you don't point out that the vowels are red, and the digraphs are green, your child will still notice the differences and recognize them more as chunks which will help when blending.

Stay tuned for Part #2 in which I will tell you how to teach beginning reading skills to your child using your word wall.

*Thanks Norine for suggesting this post!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Super Why Game Is Super Cute!

If you are like me and like to have your kids watching educational TV shows, you probably watch Super Why! I just love the graphics, the characters, and the different reading skills it teaches (and correctly as well-unlike other shows out there).  So when I was picking out toys for LoLo's 4th birthday I just knew that this game would be a hit. 

I really like how it is simple enough for young players to play (around 4 years and up), and does not have too many rules.  You simply roll the dice, move to the appropriate spot, then pick a card that matches the character you are on.  I would read the card to LoLo and he would do the appropriate action. 

For example:
Alpha Pig with Alphabet Power: Players point to the uppercase letter on the board that matches the lowercase letter on the card.

Wonder Red with Word Power: Players read the words or look at the pictures on the card and say another word or words that rhyme.

Princess Presto with Spelling Power: Players say the word pictured on the card, then point to the first letter or fist two letters of that word on the center of the board.

Super Why with the Power to Read: Players point to the word on the board that should replace the underlined word on the card to make the silly sentence make sense. 

The first player to reach the finish with all 4 different character cards is the winner.

*Makes a great birthday gift!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where did this cutesy baby talk come from?

LoLo just turned 4 on March 2nd, and with this birthday I really held out hope that he would become more mature and responsible. Then bam, he starts in with the baby talk! What?! He has decided that it is funny to add little endings to words, such as: "schooley"-for school, "pickie"-for pickle.  I know that he is just doing this to be funny and get attention, but after awhile it just became annoying and I felt like others were thinking he wasn't as smart as he really is.  I talked to him about it, yet he still is doing it so I decided to try and go with it for now.  I realize that there is a positive side to this issue as well, and I am trying to remind myself of that every time he does it.  The positive side: as he begins to experiment with changing words (like adding 'ie' to the end of words) it shows me that he is starting to understand that words can be changed and still retain their base meaning.  This skill is a very advanced concept for young kids, and shows that they are starting to realize that words are made up of parts (onsets and rimes, base words, suffixes and prefixes, etc.).  Eventhough his understanding is very primitave, it is still there....and this is what I am going to tell myself everytime he says 'cutie-wootie!' Ugh!

I want to know what your little ones are saying? Any cute baby talk that is driving you nuts? Don't forget to include your child's age.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What are assessments; How often should they be done?

My last post talked about the importance of assessments; however, I feel that I should take a step back and talk about what assessments are and how often they should be done. 

Assessments are defined by Wikipedia as "the process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs. ..."

When a teacher begins a new lesson it is important to start with an assessment to have a baseline pre-test.  Depending upon the length of the lesson, I always suggest a pre, mid, and post-test.  If the lesson is ongoing throughout the year, I would suggest assessments at least every month (if not every two weeks).  It is important to assess this often to see if the desired results are achieved, and if not these tests will show the areas of weakness in which the teacher will need to re-cover or re-structure the lesson.

Many packaged programs you can purchase come with assessments of their own; however, most classroom teachers create their own lesson plans they use as well (or in conjunction with).

Segmenting and Blending Tips

Segementing and blending is a critical skill which early readers need to master in order to sound out words.  I often encourage parents to work on this skill at home as part of their nightly-reading ritual. First off, let me explain what segmenting and blending are.
Segmenting is when words are divided into different phonemes (or letter sounds).  For early readers this would consist of 1-letter at a time (either a consonant or a vowel).  I would recommend using only words that are spelled with a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern (3 letters).  Make sure when choosing a word, that it is spelled phonetically-just the way it sounds (ex: cat, bat, pan, fit).
Blending is when the letter sounds are read together, thus creating a single word.  It is important when teaching blending that you make sure the child knows all the letter sounds, then as they begin to connect them together they should make their voice "carry-over" from one letter to the next. 
Segmenting and blending should be taught together, eventhough they are separate skills, they rely on one another.
Here are some games to play to work on segmenting and blending:

Friday, March 11, 2011

In-Class Assessments...You Should Get Copies

This post comes after my consultation session I had tonight.  It reminded me that many parents feel left in the dark when it comes to their child's performance in the classroom.  This parent was just told "your child is reading at a level 8 when he should be reading at a 16."  Nothing more than that! No, what an 8 means versus a 16.  No, he is reading at this level because of this-and-that.  No assessments were shown to him.  Nothing...hence he called me.

I decided to do this post for parents to let you know that it is your right (and sadly sometimes your obligation) to ask your child's teacher for copies of your child's assessments.  I would like to HOPE that your child's teacher is doing constant assessments throughout the year to see if what they are teaching is sinking in; however, that is not always the case. Most importantly though, the teacher should be assessing to see if they need to CHANGE the way they are teaching your child. 

I would love to think that all teachers do these assessments, make sure they are sent home, and that you are always aware of the back to reality.  Not all teachers do this, and with that said you should ask your child's teacher for copies of assessments, even if you are not concerned with your child's academics.  Assessments are a good thing to have on hand so that you are always aware of how he is performing, as well as knowing that the teacher sees this performance and is teaching accordingly.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Make Storytime More Beneficial

It is great that you take the time to read to your child, but if you are just reading the book aloud and showing him the pictures you really could be doing more.  Kids are sponges and they are always learning from you (even when you don't realize it). 

Here are a few quick tips to make reading time more beneficial in teaching your child how to become a reader (just pick a few to do each time):

-use your finger as you read to point below the words
-point out the front cover, back cover and spine of the book
-talk about the author and what he does
-talk about the illustrator and what he does
-have your child point to a word, a sentence, a paragraph
-have your child show you where to start reading
-if your book rhymes, leave off an obvious rhyming word and have your child fill in the blank
-have your child make predictions before, during, and after the story
-have your child tell you an alternate ending for the story
-have your child point out words they know (a, I, me, the, and, etc.)

What do you like to do when you read to your child? 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Important Tool-Teaching Onsets and Rimes

Chunks-A Word Building Game (Using Onsets and Rimes) is a great game for children who are reading independently, yet still often sound out new words letter-by-letter of by small pieces at a time.  I use a game like this with many of my students who are in third grade and higher who are not confident readers.  Many times they have all the skills and chunks needed to sound out new words, but were not taught the tricks of using onsets and rimes to aid in quick identification of new words.  
In order to understand the importance of learning onsets and rimes, you will need to be clear of what each is. defines onsets and rimes as:
"Monosyllabic words can be split into two parts - the onset and the rime - 
each of which are smaller than syllables, but may be larger than phonemes. 
The onset is the initial consonant sound (b- in bag, sw- in swim), and the rime 
is the vowel and the rest of the syllable that follows (-ag in bag, -im in swim)."
If you teach a child to learn to identify the most common onsets and rimes in English, then you are giving him the tools to quickly sound out new unfamiliar words.  This game is great at teaching that skill.  I suggest with just teaching a few at once if you have a young reader.  Also, you can pick one common onset (such as Ch), and show them how it can be used with many different rimes (such as -imp, -ant, -in).

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Comprehension-A Reading Skill Many Kids Lack

So your child is reading fluently now and is able to read books aloud to you and sound just like a grown-up. Hooray! Now comes the difficult step, reading comprehension.

Most of the students that I see for specific reading interventions (who are in third grade or higher) are seen for reading comprehension.  They are able to read with good speed and minimal errors; however, they are unable to understand what they are reading.  Sad, but true...and a VERY common problem.

The first thing I do is assess him/her just to make sure that he/she does not have any other reading problems such as phonological gaps.  If the tests show no errors in any areas, then my job is to TRAIN the student how to comprehend what he is reading.

Many people feel that reading comprehension will come if you are reading well, but that is not the case.  Reading comprehension must be specifically taught and practiced over and over, until it becomes a skill that the reader does naturally without thinking about.

One way of doing this is to have the child read aloud a portion of text (a paragraph or two), then have him rephrase what he read aloud or in written form (or both).  This works well when keeping a reading journal.  After much practice with this, he will start to do this within his head as he reads.

Another tool is to have him ask and answer questions before, during, and after he reads.  Before he could ask (and should write down as well), who the book will be about, what will happen (general), where it will take place, what genre is the book, etc.  Many of these questions could be inferred from a book's covers and title.  As he reads, he should stop often and see if he can answer any of his before-reading questions, and make predictions about what will happen next.  Then, after he reads the entire book/passage, he should look back and answer all questions.  Also, he could think about how he would have changed the ending of the story, or how he thinks the story would continue on (if in a series, or if he wrote the next book himself).

There are so man activities you can do to boost reading comprehension.  The ones I mentioned above are just a few.  Visit Carl's Corner for more ideas, printable worksheets, and games to help build reading comprehension.

*Do you have a specific reading comprehension question you would like answered? Leave me a comment below and I will answer.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why High Frequency Words Are So Important

High Frequency words (or Sight Words) are grouped into lists of 100 of the most commonly found words in the English language.  At my public school (in California) it is suggested that students master the first 100 words by the end of first grade, up to 200 words by second, 300 by third, etc.  When I say master, I mean they must be able to read the word immediately without a chance to sound it out. 

High frequency words (HFW) are often called sight words because they must be memorized by sight.  The reason for this is that many HFWs can not be sounded out.  These words should be memorized a few at a time, and constantly revisited until the child is able to read, write, and spell them easily.

Here is a link to lists of high frequency words. Often you will see the words Dolch or Fry's which refers to the author who compiled the list.  At my school we frequently use the Fry's list of HFWs.

There are many different ways to teach sight words, and I feel that the flashcard method of drill-and-kill is often ineffective.  I usually prefer to teach these words in a way that will get the attention of the student.  Whether through games, word hunts, or word searches in books, there are many creative ways one can teach high frequency words.  Here is a link to Carl's Corner where she suggests dozens of ideas for teaching these words.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Do you have a struggling reader?

Parents, teachers, caregivers, I want to hear from you. Do you have a struggling reader? What have you tried to 'fix' his/her reading problem? Are you concerned about his/her attitude toward reading? toward school? I would like to hear your concerns and answer your questions.
Leave me a comment below and check back...I WILL answer!