November 12, 2020

All About Word Sorts Part 1: Why Use Word Sorts?

How do you help students master spelling patterns? 

Current research tells us the drill and kill method of giving students a list of words on Monday and then testing on Friday, just doesn't cut it.  This traditional method doesn't help kids discover patterns in words or help them see the how the English language can be predictable. 

So what should teachers do instead?  The answer: Word study.

What is word study? 

According to this Reading Rockets article, word study provides students with opportunities to investigate an understand the patterns in words.  When students have a knowledge in word patterns, this means they won't have to spell words one at a time. 

Often times one of the main components of word study is word sorts.  Word sorts are typically organized around a phonics concept (short vowels, blends, digraphs, silent e, etc.).  Teachers provide direct instruction in the given phonics pattern and then let students "play" with the language through sorts.  There are SO MANY types of sorts you can do with students, along with a ton of extension activities.  The best part--when students are sorting the words they are training their brain to compare, contrast, categorize and find patterns in the words. 


Using word sorts will help students become better spellers AND better readers!  According to "Why America Can't Read" by  J. Richard Gentry published in Psychology Today there is unequivocal research that proves that spelling matters for reading.  Dr. Gentry cites research from cognitive psychologist Dan Willingham that states spelling is the spark that ignites reading circuity in our brains, and if teaching spelling is done effectively it will help solve America's reading problems. 

Have I piqued your interest in sorts yet?

Stay tuned to this blog series, where I will cover all you need to know about word sorts!

Post 1: Why Use Sorts

Post 2: Types of Sorts

Post 3: Word Sort Instructional Routines

Post 4: Assessment & The Spelling Inventory

Post 5: Word Sort Resources

November 4, 2020

Fall Craftivity & Creative Writing (Freebie)

Fall is my favorite season. 

I love the weather. The smells.  The colors. The FOOD!  The activities you get to do with your family.  I just love it all. :) 

There is just soooooooo much to be thankful for during this season of the year, which I love to highlight with my students when they do the Fall Favorite Things Craftivity

Not sure what a craftivity is?  Well.....it is a craft and activity combined into one...a craftivity!

For this craftivity, students take a leaf and divide it into multiple sections.  In each section they write something they are thankful for, or something they enjoy about fall. Then they draw a picture to represent each word.  See below for an example. :) 



If you want to extend this craftivity for more learning, you can have students write a paragraph describing their leaf and reasons why they chose the word they did.  The template below would be a great guide to help students organize their thoughts. 


If you are interested in completing this craftivity with your students, click here to download it for free!

Happy fall!


October 28, 2020

Nonsense Word Fluency Part 3: Instructional focus for each stage of word reading

Welcome to the final post in the three part series about nonsense word fluency!  Today we will spend time on the instructional focus for each stage of word reading. But....before we jump to that, lets remember two important things. 

1. We know that giving students a nonsense word fluency assessment is important!  If you don't know, then read part one in this series by clicking here. This will tell you all the reasons why nonsense word fluency assessments are crucial.

2. We know the three stages of word reading are sound by sound, partial blends and whole word reading. Want more information about that?  Then click here to check out part two of this blog series which defines the three stages.


So....what exactly should the instructional focus at each stage of word reading be?   

When students are in stage one: sound by sound reading, teachers should first make sure that students are accurate at the letter sound level.  Teachers can do this by doing a simple letter sound assessment. Download a free assessment from Reading Rockets by clicking here. If students are not accurate at the letter sound level, more instruction should be given to letters and sounds.  

If a student IS accurate with letters and sounds, instructional time should be spent on onset and rime.  For example in the word /cat/, students should first identify and say the rime /at/ and then add the onset /c/ to the rime.  

It is great practice to have students spot the vowel and then blend to the end.  For more ideas check out this blog series on stopping sound by sound reading.  

When students are in stage two: partial blends, teachers should make sure students are accurate with partial blends.  If students are not accurate, make sure they have a mastery of short vowels and all letter sounds and keep working on spotting the vowel and blending to the end. 

If students ARE accurate, instructional time should be spent on getting students to do rime reading inside their brain.  Ask students to silently blend the onset and rime and then produce the whole word aloud.  You may sound like a broken record, "Tony great job sounding out that rime and onset, but try doing it inside your brain on the next word."   


When students have achieved stage three: unitizing the whole word, it is imperative you make sure students are accurate at this level.  If students are inaccurate instruction should focus on accuracy with partial blends and rime/reading done in the reader's brain. 

If the student is accurate at this level his/her instructional focus should be on automaticity and fluency in connected text.  This means reading, reading, reading!


October 21, 2020

The PERFECT Halloween Costume for a Teacher

 Yup.....Halloween is next week.

Do you have your costume planned? OR.....are you like me and have waited until the last minute? EEEEEKKK!

If you want something easy, cheap and QUICK to make.....check out the notebook paper idea below.  I made it a few years back and still have it! 


Making it is pretty straight forward---you just need some sharpies, a white shirt and a ruler.  BUT....if you want more step by step directions click here

This year my school is going with a Sesame Street theme.....so yours truly will be Abby Cadabby.  

What will your costume be this year? 

October 14, 2020

Halloween Snack Ideas: cheap, easy and healthy!

Halloween is right around the corner, and I am ready for a spooooky good time!

Normally my school has a costume parade where kids proudly walk the halls, while parents line the perimeter and snap blurry photos. Ha!  Kids then return to their classrooms to get sugared up and play games.

Due to Covid safety precautions, Halloween celebrations will look differently at our school this year.  Our students will still be able to dress up, although no parade.  We will still have classroom parties, although no parents.  I know it won't be "the same"....and that is okay! I am so thankful my school district takes Covid seriouslyand does what it can to keep all staff and students safe.  Plus we have some amazingly creative and talented teachers and I know they will put on a fa-boo-lous time for their students!

For the past few years, I have passed out some healthier treats to the intervention students I see.  I figure they get enough sugary snacks during their parties, so why not give them something cute and healthy?!?

The two items I hand out are cheap and easy to make! :) One is a string cheese ghost and the other is a jack o' lantern made form mandarin oranges.   


To make the cheese ghosts and jack o' lantern you need a pack of string cheese, cups of mandarin oranges (peaches work too!) and a black sharpie.  Break apart the snacks and use the sharpie to color on eyes, mouth and a nose.  Super easy, right?  

I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday!   

October 8, 2020

Nonsense Word Fluency Part 2: Three Stages of Word Reading

Welcome to part two in the three part series about nonsense word fluency.  If you missed part one, make sure you check it out by clicking here.  Part one gives the reason why teachers should be assessing students on nonsense words. 


For this post we will be defining the three stages of word reading-- sound by sound, partial blends and whole word reading.  Using a nonsense word fluency assessment, a teacher is able to determine which of the three stages a reader is at.  It is important to note that all students progress through these stages on their journey to read accurately and fluently. Knowing which stage students are in will help teachers plan their instructional focus.   

The fist stage is sound by sound reading.  Sound by sound reading is exactly as it sounds, the student individually pronounces each phoneme and then blends the sounds together to form the word.  In some cases the child may not blend, or blend incorrectly.  This is the most basic, and very first stage in word reading.

The second stage is partial blends.  This is when students are able to blend the rime together and then blend the rime with the onset.  For example in the word cat the student would say /c/ /at/ and then blend the onset and rime and read cat. In some cases the student may blend the rime first /at/ and then blend the onset with the rime to say the whole word /cat/.   This stage is more advanced than sound by sound reading. 

The final stage of word reading is unitizing the word.  This is the most advanced stage of word reading, and the stage we want all kids to arrive at.  Unitizing is when the student sees the word in text, thinks the word and says the word.  The students brain is able to instantly see the letters, know their sounds and blend the sounds to read the word--their phonological and orthographic processor are working efficiently and simultaneously.

Below is an example of how I record my NWF assessments.  I place a line under each letter if the student is at stage 1: sound by sound.  I place a longer line under the rime and a short line under the onset if the student is at stage 2: partial blends.  I place a long line under the whole word if the student is at stage 3: unitizing.  This is a really easy way to track which stage your students are at.  

Now that we have an understanding of the three stages of word reading, the next logical question is what should the instructional focus be at each stage?

Well.....stay tuned my friends......that will be the third post in this three part series. :) 

September 30, 2020

Nonsense Word Fluency Part 1: Why Nonsense Words?

Many benchmark screeners and curriculums require teachers to administer nonsense word fluency (NWF) tests to their students.  I often hear, "Why do they have to read these silly words---I want them to be reading REAL words!"  Or kids will say, "I would do better if these words were real!"   I must admit...I WAS one of those teachers.  BUT, that was before I understood the purpose behind these assessments and what I could learn from the data. So, what exactly do these tests tell us, and why are they so important?

What do these tests tell us?

NWF tests measure a students ability to decode individual phonemes and then blend the phonemes together to read.  These assessments are a great indicator of a students progression with alphabetic principal, or the understanding that letters and spoken sounds have a systematic and predictable relationship.  Data from these assessments will give a teacher a window into where the student falls on the phonics continuum. 

Lets take the example below.  John is reading sound by sound (the dashes below each letter tell us this) and he is having difficulty with short vowels and letter reversals for b and d.  Specifically he is having trouble with short vowel a and e. 


NWF tests are particularly important because it will TRULY show you if a student has a phonics skill mastered and if they are able to apply it in word reading.  If we were to give students word reading assessments with real words, we may get a lot mastery "false positives" for phonics skills.  In real word assessments students may have already been exposed to the word or have it memorized.  

Additionally these tests tell us what stage of word reading students are at.  Are students reading sound by sound, partial blends or unitizing?  We will explore what each of these stages mean in a later blog post--so stay tuned!

What do I do with the data?

These assessments should pinpoint where a student needs instruction. In the example above, the teacher should work with John on b and d letter reversals and short vowels.

An NWF assessment may also prompt the teacher into giving a further diagnostic.  For example if the student does really poorly he or she will need letter sounds and naming (if using a cvc NWF).  If a student makes zero mistakes, maybe a harder NWF should be given, or a phonics screener to determine an area of focus.  

Once you have determined the starting place for the student (either though an additional diagnostic, or through information collected from the NWF) its time to plan your instruction.


Instruction should be direct, explicit and have many opportunities for the student to practice at the word, sentence and decodable passage level.  For ideas on direct and explicit instruction check out some of these blog posts below:

Mastering Short Vowels

At a Loss For Words

After the students have had sufficient practice administer another NWF test with the instructed upon skill to determine if they have reached mastery. 

There is lots more to explore with nonsense word fluency!  I will be exploring the following topics during this blog series......so come back for more learning!

Part 1: Why Nonsense Words? 

Part 2: The three stages of word reading

Post 3: The instructional focus for each stage of word reading