Phonics, Fluency, & a Deal of the Day!

Today we're talking all about fluency and phonics.    First we're focusing on phonics and then we'll get into the fluency portion.  And if you love practicing reading fluency like I'll do, you'll LOVE today's deal of the day!!!

Do you have a specific phonics curriculum you follow in the classroom?  Saxon?  Horizons??  
Or do you just make it up as you go?  
I'm asking because I'm genuinely curious.  
I've only taught in one district where we were required to follow a phonics curriculum.  If I'm being honest, I didn't think it was effective or appropriate.  I feel like it's more important to know your kids and their abilities/needs before determining how you are going to approach phonics instruction. 
Maybe that's just because I didn't like the curriculum and I was more comfortable doing it "my way".  Not that it was the right way, but it was the approach with which I was more familiar.  

My kids learned.  And they learned a lot.
I  differentiated my phonics instruction as needed. My kids were never all on the very same page with the very same skills, so differentiation was a it is with most subjects.

If you read my first Phonics Friday post last summer, you might remember saying that there are two schools of thought when it comes to phonics instruction....some of us think it's valuable, some of us think it's not.  I think we could say the same thing about everything we do as educators,right?!  
I personally think that phonics instruction has a place in the classroom.  I've seen the value and while I might not have liked the particular curriculum I had to work with, I do see the value in the instruction.  That, of course, is based on my own personal experience ;)

Now let's look at the WHY.  Why do I, and many other educators, feel that phonics instruction is important?  

In my experience, I have seen that a strong foundation in phonics typically increases a student's accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.  All key components in become independent readers.  The key to establishing a strong foundation in phonics is giving our kiddos many opportunities to decode words both in and out of context.  But do we fit that in?!

Direct, explicit instruction happens during our whole and small group time together.  It's during these times that I teach my kids specific phonics skills. I introduce these skills and we practice them.  They're constantly reinforced.  Most of the independent practice they get with phonics skills happens during our literacy stations.  They get LOTS of opportunities to independently decode words both in and out of context.  This happens through hands-on games and activities, interactive journals, puzzles, and lots of other activities.  With constant reinforcement, practice, and repetition, a strong foundation in phonics is inevitable.  

The first step in establishing a strong foundation in phonics is alphabet instruction.  Our kids need to have a working knowledge of letters and letter sounds and need to know these concepts like the back of their hand.  They need to be able to identify letters and link them to sounds with automaticity.  This is the first step.

If you want to read more about how I teach the alphabet (NO letter of the week!!!!), you can check out a detailed description HERE and then be sure to check out the follow-up post to that HERE.

Once our kids have a solid foundation in the alphabet, we move on to short vowels & CVC words.  I introduce the vowels and vowel sounds when we're learning about the alphabet.  I start with this fun little song...

Then we incorporate short vowel/CVC word skills and concepts into our daily routine  Morning work, calendar, whole/small group, shared/interactive writing, literacy tubs, etc.  I give my kids opportunities to work with short vowel (manipulate and decode words) all year long.  They have lots of independent practice and review during literacy tubs.  I create lots of activities to fit their needs and ability levels.  Lots of activities that give them opportunities to decode words in and out of context.

First, we start with sorts.

The key to establishing a strong foundation in these skills is consistent and repeated opportunities for practice and reinforcement.

When I can tell that the majority of my students have a strong understanding of short vowels and CVC words, I introduce long vowel/CVCe words.  Again, this is done through direct, explicit instruction first.  Then we move on to independent practice through hands-on activities in literacy tubs.  Whole and small group activities also help me to reinforce this concept.

Blends and digraphs also play an important part in my instruction.  We see so many words in context with our guided readers that have these phonics patterns that I want my kids to be familiar with them so that they can practice identifying and decoding those words when they see them.  I want my kids to be successful when learning to read and I need to be able to provide them with the tools to become independent readers.  

You can see more of my digraph fun in action HERE.

Many of these phonics skills can be difficult to understand at the onset.  When I started teaching 13 years ago, I realized I had to think outside the box if I wanted my kids to grasp concepts that were challenging.  Since that first year in the classroom, I've created lots of different ways to introduce and explain concepts and skills.   Different ways to engage all of my learners....many of these through characters and stories.  My kids always LOVE a good story and tend to connect with them and recall them when trying to recall specific skills/concepts.

via:  Digraph Kids

Now what does it mean when we finally have a strong understanding of these phonics skills?  What do our kids actually do with this knowledge?!  Well, once they're able to decode words both in and out of context, their reading accuracy, comprehension, and fluency enhances.  
Fluency is always an area where our kids can improve...much like everything else ;)

I've done lots of things in the classroom to improve my kids fluency over the years, but the best thing I ever implemented was my fluency center.  I wanted my fluency materials to reflect the sight words we were studying (Dolch words), so I created a set of leveled fluency cards containing only the sight words from each Dolch list.  So, not only were my kids using this center to become fluent readers, but I noticed a significant improvement in their sight word recognition as well.   Win, win!

My kids visit the fluency center each week...sometimes multiple times within the week...and also practice rereading a "fluency book" (aka:  familiar read).  This is typically a book that's already been sent home after a guided reading lesson/activity.  The book stays with them for an additional week after their cold read.  My fluency center is housed right next to my sight word center and my kids love to visit it often.  It's important we give our kids opportunities to practice their fluency out of context and give them options to practice it in different ways.  My kids love using their fluency phones and voice cards to hone their skills.  The microphone comes in at a close second.  My kids love to be "on stage" ;)  

And speaking of fluency, my fluency bundle is on sale as the "Deal of the Day"!  This will be the lowest price of the year, so if you're looking for easy-to-implement fluency activities that can be differentiated to meet the needs of all learners, grab it before the price goes back up!

Readers Theater scripts provide our kids with lots of fluency practice AND give them opportunities to be "on stage".  My favorite Readers Theater scripts come from A Teeny Tiny Teacher.  They are PERFECT for enhancing so many different skills...fluency, accuracy, reading, etc.  I love that they're differentiated and FUN!!!  Something we could use more of in the classroom, but that's another topic for another post ;)

In addition to Readers Theater, my kids keep a fluency folder filled with various fluency passages.  These passages give my kids the opportunity to compare their reading time during the span of a week.  They love trying to beat their previous time and I love that their fluency improves day to day.  They also love their hands-on fluency games I keep in this center, too. 

As you can see, there's definitely a common theme when it comes to phonics and fluency instruction.  Consistency and repeated practice.  LOTS of opportunities for decoding words both in and out of context.  I hope this post gives you a glimpse into my method for planning instruction for my little learners ;)

Now it's time for me to get ready for my son's 9th birthday tomorrow.  Y'all...where did the time go?!  I am NOT okay with him being a year closer to double digits!!!!!  Bless!!!!

Sight Words & Freebies

It's Friday and you know what that means?!?!?
Well, nothing really.  Except that it's Friday :)  I love Fridays.  Since I'll be headed to Dallas for the Get Your Teach on Conference on Sunday, I'll miss spending my 12 year wedding anniversary with Mr. Spouse.  SO we'll be celebrating tonight instead.  Yes...I think this might be my favorite Friday of the year so far :)

Now let's get right down to it and talk about what we're really here for...SIGHT WORDS!!!

I've talked about my Spelling Sticks in some of my conference sessions and frequently get asked if I have a copy to share.  These little sticks sit in a Lazy Susan in my sight word station close to the word wall.  They aren't anything groudbreaking or new, but a different twist on an old classic.  These are simply spelling tasks adhered to craft sticks including spelling choices and visuals to make the activity independent.  They were designed to  kids the opportunity to practice spelling their words (sight words, vocabulary words, spelling words, etc.) in different ways.  My kids even helped me create some to add to the bunch.  I love that!  I realized that giving my kids the opportunity to create activities for the class to use was a great way to reach my creative thinkers.  And I love that my kids felt a sense of autonomy when choosing their sticks.  They really helped the kids take ownership over their learning while reinforcing sight word recognition and spelling.

Speaking of old classics, sight word mysteries have always been a class favorite since I started teaching 13 years ago.  I was introduced to this fun concept by one of the teachers I student taught with and I've been doing it with my kids ever since.  I wanted to extend the activity and create something that related specifically to our sight word lists (we follow the Dolch Word Lists) and gave them an opportunity to take it one step further.  If you aren't familiar with mystery words, the kids have to identify the beginning sound of each word pictured and then combine all of those letters to make a word.  Once they solve the word, they stamp it, write it, and then write it in a sentence & illustrate their writing.

I keep a word study (aka:  Word of the Day) printable on my white board and this is a great anchor for introducing new sight words or reinforcing what's already been studied.  It's a great visual to display and use as a resource. 

The kids will often refer back to it while working on their independent sight word studies.  These little sight word studies were created for an additional intervention piece needed in the classroom, but they're also just great for introducing and identifying sight words as well.  I love that it really helps the kids to focus and break down the word, thus helping with retention!

And just for today & tomorrow (June 24th & 25th), you can buy the Sight Word of the Day Bundle & get my Interactive Word Wall packet FREE!!!!  Another deal of the day!

If you already own the Sight Word of the Day Bundle, go back into your TpT purchase page and download it again!!!  The Interactive Word Wall file will be included in this file until Sunday (6/26), so grab it before it goes!!!

All of my sight words are placed on my word wall and then reinforced using the activities in my interactive word wall packet.  LOTS of great ideas, printables, anchor charts and activities are included in this resource and you can read more about that...and grab a couple of freebies, by going back to this word wall post and reading more about it HERE.

One of the most frequent questions I get is all about how I teach sight words and what I do for the kids who continue to struggle with retention and application.  That's a tough one, isn't it?!  Especially when kids aren't developmentally ready to retain and apply what they've learned....but that's a whole different post.  Today, let's talk about some classroom tested and effective strategies and activities that are both great for introducing & reinforcing sight words as well as activities that are great for intervention. 

For my last couple of years in Kindergarten, my kids (as you know) would come to me at all different slevels.  Some of them knew a fewwords...several knew a lot...some could decode...some couldn't even hold a pencil.  During the first two weeks of school, I call each of my kids up to the teacher table for a quick sight word assessment.  I use this checklist to guide me.  I just write their names in the top right corner and then mark off each word as they read them (starting with list 1).

These words contain the 220 words on the Dolch list and they're organized by DRA levels & the time frame in which we introduce color and number words.  I just go through the checklist, point to each word, and give the kids about 3-5 seconds to say the word aloud before moving to the next.  Assessing them at the beginning of the school year helps me to determine the activities I'll plan for them in small groups, sight word center, and individually.  

Once I determine their word mastery, I write the words they know on their personal word walls.  These stay with them in their desks.  I write the words on the folder instead of letting them do it because their handwriting can be really large, unpredictable, and illegible at times and it's really important to me that they have a resource they can read.  

My kids also get their own personal sight word punch cards.  They LOVE these!!!  They keep them in a folder in their desks to keep track of the words they know and the words they need to learn and they don't leave the classroom.  When I assess their sight word mastery every Friday morning, they bring both their personal word walls and sight word punch card with them to the teacher table.  These punch cards have really helped motivate my kids to learn their words!

I'm SO sorry, but I don't have an editable version :(  Womp, womp.

When all the words on the punch card have been punched, I let my kids pick something from my treasure box or classroom coupon book.  When they master the first six lists, I get them a slush from Sonic (it's kind of a big deal ;)  When they master all 12 lists, I buy them a pizza lunch and they get to eat with me in the classroom :)  You're probably thinking there's NO WAY kindergarten kids could ever learn all those words and I'm here to tell you they ABSOLUTELY CAN!!!  Last year I had 19 kids.  Out of 19 kids, 13 of them mastered all 12 lists!!!!  It was awesome!  And definitely a joint effort between me & their parents.  

But what if there's no parent participation?!  What if they don't "buy in"??  Well...oftentimes they just don't.  Parents love their babies and  want them to learn, but crazy schedules and hectic households prevent them from helping the way they would like to.  It's up to US...the make sure our kids have EVERY opportunity to learn and practice.  We have to BOMBARD them with constant repetition and hands-on, engaging activities designed to excited them into learning, making connections, and ultimately reading fluently and without hesitation.

When I start introducing sight words, I give each of my babies a personal "Word Collectors Notebook".  It's just a simple printable bound into a book format.  They bring these notebooks with them to the teacher table for small group work.  When we're warming up with sight words before our guided reading lesson, I'll add a word to their notebooks.  They might each get the same word or I might even differentiate depending upon what I want them to know and what they've already mastered. These notebooks stay at their desks and they can use them whenever there's "down time" (haha...yeah right!).  These make great anchor activities (fast finisher), too.

I blogged about this Sight Wordle activity last summer.  It's one of my kids FAVORITES.  I like to have several of these available in the sight word center for my kids to search through.   They LOVE these!!!  Just another opportunity for my kids to learn and practice sight word recognition.

Of course, any kind of "mystery" is always fun for my kids and this activity is no exception.  These were super easy to create .  I just took strips of construction paper and wrote sight words on them using a white crayon.  I placed them in a basket along with a sight word checklist (in a dry erase sleeve) and then the kids would use markers to make the words appear and an expo marker to cross the words off the list as they were found.  As the year progresssed, I woul dmake 1-2 of my friends responsible for creating this activity for the center.  They loved it and it freed me up to make different things for them!

Sight Word Tic Tac Toe is another class favorite and an easy, yet effective, activity to help reinforce learning.  First you'll need to create a set of sight word word cards that will fit into a 3 column, 3 row table.  I created mine in Power Point, however you could easily create yours using paper, a ruler, and small index cards!!  Keep it simle!!!  Just make sure to laminate the table or place it in a dry erase sleeve for durability.  Each card has a diffferent sight word printed on it.  To start play, both players will need an expo marker.  Without looking, players will take 9 of the sight word cards from the deck and place them face down on the tic tac toe board.  Players can toss a coin or roll a die to determine who goes first.  Player 1 turns over a card on the board.  If he can read the word, he places his "X" or "O" on the board, and if he can't, then the card returns to the board face down.  The first player to get a tic tac toe, wins!  They LOVE this game!!!

I blogged about this game last summer, too.  Ready, Aim, Fire!!!  This is a great game for a team/whole group activity.  I love playing this either inside or out and the game pieces (sticky boards and ball) can be easily switched out with paper plates and a koosh ball or loofah.  Remember..keep it simple!   

Speaking of whole group, I LOVE making up the most ridiculous songs for sight word retention during our whole group time.  The songs are easy to remember (doesn't take a creative genius to do this!!) and are so catchy.  The really do stick with the kids!!  When my kids have trouble reading or recalling a word in print, I'll often just hum the tune of the song we made up for that word and they'll immediately remember the connection and say the word.  SO fun!

Another way I promote retention and repeated practice is through our fluency station.  The words on the fluency cards are SOLELY comprised of the dolch words on the pre-primer through 3rd grade lists.  They're organized by list and each of my kids knows exactly which list he/she should work on when they visit the fluency center.  Super easy to differentiate.  Not only are they practicing their sight word recognition, but they're also improving their fluency!!  Win/win!!!  You can read more about this center in detail HERE

In that post, I also mentioned how much I love this book of printables!!!  The activities in this book were great for both sight word recognition and fluency.  We added them to our poetry folders and my kids would read through them for D.E.A.R time quite often.  I loved having these as a resource for them to use and they made for great intervention activities, too.

I'm sure you're familiar with the sight word game, BANG!, but just in case you're not, here it is.  SUPER easy to play and every year..without's the first thing my kids request to play when they come to the teacher table.  In case you aren't familiar with this game, here's the gist.  
Make several copies of the words you want to use.  Place them all in a pile and then disperse the BANG cards throughout the pile.  While you're in your small group, show one student at a time the word on the top of the pile.  If the student can say the word, he keeps his card.  If he doesn't know the word, it moves on to the next person in play.  Keep going around the circle until the word is read.  If you get to the end of the group and no one can read the word, take that opportunity to discuss what the word is, how it's spelled, etc.  I like to tell them I'm going to place the word back in the pile and see who's the first person who can read it when it pops up again.  They love the challenge.  If students get a BANG card, they have to give all of their cards back to you.  It's truly a game of chance and I think that's why they all love it so much!!  

And our sight word chants are a class favorite, too.  These are perfect for whole group activities and transitions!!  I have two sets of these on rings in my classroom.  One next to my carpet/meeting area and one next to the door!!!  

There are a PLETHORA of sight word activities out there perfect for use in the classroom and the activities mentioned here are only a small tiny snippet of what we do in the classroom.  The key to sight word instruction is CONSISTENCY.  Kids should always have access to resources (word walls, sight word rings, etc.).   They should be engaged in sight word activities daily (whole group games, independent sight word centers, sight word studies, etc.).  They should be assessed weekly as well.  I firmly believe this is important as I have seen it work in my own classroom.  When I know what my kids know...when I know what they've mastered or what they continue to struggle helps me better to plan and differentiate my instruction.  And this is key when I'm communicating with my parents, too.  I want them to help and I want them on board, but I have to keep them in the loop.  

Short Vowels, Deal of the Day, & A Freebie!

We talked a bit about writing on Monday, so I wanted to follow up with a few short vowel activities today.  Teaching our kids how to identify medial vowels, blend, and segment sounds is one of the first steps we take to make them independent readers and writers.  

One of the first phonics skills I cover at the beginning of the year is vowels.  I introduce both short and long, but focus mainly on the short vowel sounds until that concept is mastered.  However, I think it's important for our kids to know BOTH sounds since they'll encounter those sounds/vowels in their reading.

When I introduce vowels, I tell my kids they're the glue that holds our words together.  I'm sure you do the same thing, too!  I found these great vowel glue bottle posters from the talented Teacher Wife about 5ish years ago and have been displaying them in my classroom ever since.  They go right in the middle of my phonics posters behind my guided reading/small group table.

   Y'all might remember this fun little song I made up  a couple of years ago.  We sing it A LOT!

While most of my short vowel instruction is done during whole group shared reading/writing experiences, I reinforce those concepts during small group and independent centers as well.  Repeated practice is so important and I want my kids to have TONS of it!!

This is a short/long vowel activity I created with small group in mind.  I like to introduce and play games with my kids in a small group setting before placing it in their independent centers.  I want them to be SUCCESSFUL when they're working alone or with a partner and in order to achieve that I need to give them direct, explicit instruction first.
 I have spinners or short vowels, spinners for long vowels, and then combined spinners (as pictured below) for both vowel sounds.  For the combined vowel sounds, I'll spin the spinner and then we identify the vowel sound...long or short...then the kids search their game boards to find a picture that has the matching vowel sound and cover it with their counter.  The first player to cover X amount of pictures first, wins.  

This is another activity I introduce in a small group setting before placing it in independent centers.  The idea for this activity is to have kids build a pyramid of vowel sounds starting from the bottom to the top.  I have a set of short and long vowel cards.  My kids have their own "build a pyramid" game mat and a set of double sided counters (any counter will work).  Then I turn over the vowel cards, one at a time, say the word on the card and then the kids have to identify the vowel sound they hear in the middle.  This game is a little tricky because they have build the bottom row before they can move to the middle and top.  All vowel sounds have to be covered on bottom, so if I turn over a card that shows "toe", and they don't have a long o on the bottom of their pyramid, they can't cover anything up.  They have to wait 'til the next card is flipped.  The first person to build their pyramid, wins! 

Isolating the medial vowel is another important concept we review throughout the year.  
These sound isolation & identification cards are perfect for that.   They have to look at the picture and then isolate the indicated sound in the top left corner that they hear in the word.  Then they have to identify where they hear the sound in the word...beginning/middle/end.  To extend the isolation and identification piece, they build the word as well.  I set out a tray of my letter tiles OR I give them dry erase markers and a dry erase sleeve.  Just depends on the time we have and what my objective is for the day.  I always introduce the CVC cards first and then we move onto the CCVC and eventually the CVCe.  By the time we et to the more challenging skills and concepts, they're already familiar with the activity and catch on really quickly.  This makes a great warm-up and/or fast finisher/anchor activity, too.

Because it's important to give our kids as many opportunities for repeated practice as we can, I love creating puzzles for various concepts.  Kids love puzzles!  Heck...I love puzzles :)  I created these short vowel puzzles for my kids to use independently.  I introduce these during a whole group lesson first and limit the number of puzzles they can solve while working independently.  I eventually will add more and more puzzles, but I want to insure success first so the choices are limited in the beginning...especially in Kindergarten :)

Blending boxes have been a class favorite for some time and I think that's mostly because the kids love to identify and create "silly" words.  I keep a set of these short vowel blending boxes at home because my boys love them, too.  They love taking those silly words they make and then use them in random sentences.  They crack themselves up.


As a first grade teacher, we started out the year learning all about short vowels.  Most of my kids were reading at the beginning of the year and we expanded on their schema with lots of short vowel activities.  We broke those down into "chunks" and would use those as the basis for our weekly spelling tests.  

When I was planning ahead and thinking about working with my K/1 intervention kids, I wanted to have something that would be good for both ability levels.  Challenging and remedial at the same time.  I spent a little time creating these fun, hands-on activities to use with those kids to give them repeated exposure and multiple opportunities to work with those sounds.  These are just a few examples of the different ways we work with short vowels in our classroom.

These flip books make great independent centers.  I have my kids keep these flip books in a phonics pocket (just a piece of construction paper folded up and in half to create pockets).  Their phonics pockets stay in their desks/cubbies and I'll often have them grab their flip books and read through them to practice decoding words out of context.  They make a great word family resource for my kids as well.

And speaking of short vowels, let's talk "Deal of the Day".  Today only you can grab my SHORT VOWEL ACTIVITY PACK BUNDLE for half off!!!  This resource is full of puzzles, games, center activities, printables, and MORE!!!

Now let's talk FREEBIE!

So, I was in Wal Mart the other day (I promise this isn't the start of a bad joke ;))
I was grabbing a few things from the travel section and found these great little containers.  97 cents a piece.  Of course, there was no way I'd use them for travel purposes, but I knew they'd make a GREAT activity for the classroom!

I picked up a red, yellow, and green because I knew I wanted to do something with a stoplight theme.  They had orange and blue containers as well.  As I was driving home it dawned on me.  STOPLIGHT SOUNDS!!!!  I could use the lids to segment sounds ...beginning (green)/ middle (yellow)/ end (red).  Perfect! 

Then the ideas for variations on the blending activity just started flowing.  These would definitely make the perfect addition to your guided reading toolkits.  I think one set per student (5-6 sets total) would be perfect.  

Now let's talk about how this all works.

My original thought was to have my kids just use the lids for segmenting and identifying phonemes.  I'll assign each color to a different sound in CVC words as mentioned above.  Then I'll give my kids a set of letter tiles and have them place the letters under each sound dome and go from there.  But that didn't make any sense because I want this to be an activity that makes them think and use the decoding skills they've learned thus far. are a few ideas.

Explain to your kids that each container represents a sound. 
Green = beginning consonant
Yellow = medial vowel
Red = ending consonant

Prior to starting this activity, fill the green and red containers with about 3-5 letter tiles each.  For the yellow container, you can place one vowel (the one you're studying) OR choose a couple (for review).  Teacher discretion, of course.

Now give a set of pre-filled containers to each student in your small group and prompt them to place the containers in stoplight  Remove the lids and place them in front of the containers. 

Now you can do a couple of different things...

* Call out words for the kids to make (they will make the words first, then segment each sound by placing one letter under each lid). Then tap the top of the lid as they say each sound and finally blend the sounds together.

* Prompt the kids to make their own words following the stoplight sequence.  Have them distinguish between real words and nonsense words.  Encourage them to segment/blend each phoneme in the words they create to make a word.  

I'm sure you could think of a jillion different variations or activities to use with these little tubs.  I think they'd be great for math, too.   As for phonics, this is a great way for kids to visually see and physically touch the phonemes in CVC words.  It's a great way to reach kids with different learning styles.

  I think something like this would also make a great independent literacy station. Keep a few sets in a literacy tub and fill the containers with letter tiles.  Have your kids make different words....write the words and illustrate....or make words and distinguish between real and nonsense.  They can use these printables to record their work (if that's something you want them to do.) I'd probably keep them in a dry erase sleeve and put this activity in one of my fast finisher tubs.  But only after introducing, modeling, and interacting with this activity first :)