An Intervention for Struggling Writers: Stoplight Writing

Teaching emergent readers to write can be far more complicated than you think. Writing words involves, at a minimum, knowing letter names, knowing letter sounds, understanding letter/sound associations, knowing letter formations AND being able to hold the pencil and make the letters. WOW. That being said, practice makes perfect. Practice with letter identification. Practice with letter sounds. Practice with letter/sound associations. Practice with letter formations AND practice writing.  Even with all that practice, there are students who need more.  Don’t be afraid:  it’s all about routine…and practice.  Obviously some students need more help than others and this would be small group or Tier 2 intervention for struggling writers.  This intervention is called "Stoplight Writing."

What do you need:

1.  Letter/Sound Chart.

Using a great letter/sound chart and using it often can help students jump over the first three hurdles.  I use the Fountas and Pinnell Sound Chart – for everything!  We start our day with the sound chart and a letter sound chant.  My students always say, ”A /a/ apple.  B /b/ bear.”  My friend’s class says, “A is for apple, /a/ /a/ /a/.  B is for bear, /b/ /b/ /b/.”  Regardless of the process…the routine is crucial.  At the beginning of the year, the students echo my chant…one letter at a time.  By November, the students and I chorally chant the sound chart.  Friday can be backwards day.  We chant the sound chart starting at Z and ending at A.  By December, we pick a column on the sound chart and chant the sound chart down one column.  We refer to the sound chart when we write EVERYTHING as a class with modeled, shared, and interactive writing.

 2.  Dry Erase Pockets

Dry erase markers, socks, and dry erase pocket charts.  I found the pockets above at Wal-Mart. They are officially called, "C-Line Reusable Dry Erase Pockets - 9 x 12 inches - Pack of 25 - Multiple Colors."  I like these pockets because the dry erase marker doesn't stain the pocket.  I've used pocket protectors and laminated papers, but eventually they are too stained.  These pockets don’t stain.  I also bought baby socks at our local dollar store.  The socks are a great size for small hands and don’t take up much space for storage.

3.  Vowel charts

Vowels are the trickiest letters of all.  We know that.  There isn’t any RULE that isn’t broken shortly after being taught when it comes to vowels.  I keep it simple.  Short vowels first.  Mine are homemade, but they are laminated now.  I put my vowel charts on yellow paper to correspond with the stoplight writing.  Also because yellow means “SLOOOOOOW DOWN.”  Slow down and go slow because vowels can trick us.

4.  Stoplight Writing Paper

Finally, I use my writing blocks for extra practice.  It’s a green box, followed by a yellow box, ending with a red box.  I love using the dry erase pockets because I can't make color copies for every child, every week.

The Script

“Let's write the word mat.  I can see the mat at the front door.  Listen to all the sounds:  /m/ /a/ /t/.  Why would we start writing with a green box?”  (Green means go.)

“That’s right, green means go.  So we start our word in a green box.  What do you hear at the beginning of the word?”  (M!)  “Let’s look at the sound chart.  M, /m/, moon. Right.  Let’s write m.  Boys and girls, watch me write the letter m in the sky and listen to the directions for writing a letter m."

"Short stick down, bounce back up and around, back up and around."

"Please do that in the air with me and say the directions after me."  Once they do it in the air, have them write it on the paper - while saying the directions.

“Let's listen to the middle sound in mat.  /m/ /a/ /t/.  That middle sound is a vowel and vowels are tricky.  Let's look at our vowel posters.  Let's say the vowels together:  a /a/ apple, e /e/ egg, i /i/ igloo, o /o/ octopus, u /u/ umbrella.  Why would the middle box be yellow?  What does yellow mean?”  (Slow down.)

“That’s right, yellow means slow down.  We have to say our vowel sound slowly and listen to the sound carefully.  /m/ /a/  /t/

/a/ /a/ /a/.  I hear /a/ in /a/ /a/pple.  Let’s write a.”  (Side note:  My district uses Handwriting Without Tears.  One of my favorite parts of this program is the magic c.)  "Boys and girls, what kind of letter is an a?  Right, it's a magic c letter.  Watch me write the letter in the sky and listen to the directions for writing a letter a."

"Magic c, and up and down."

"Please do that in the air with me and say the directions after me."  Once they do it in the air, have them write it on the paper - again, while saying the directions.

"Let's listen to the last sound in mat.  /m/ /a/ /t/.  We only have a red box left for our word.  Why would the last letter be red?  That's right, because it's the last letter and where our word stops.  Listen to the whole word and let's discover the ending sound.  /m/ /a/ /t/.  What do we hear at the end?  /t/ /t/ /t/"

"That's right, it's a t.  Let's look at the sound chart.  T /t/ turtle.  Let's write a t in the air first.  Listen to the directions.  Tall stick down, cross in the middle."  They will write it in the air, then on the stoplight writing paper.

“We wrote our ending sound on the red square, so we have to stop spelling mat.  Let’s say the sounds separately, then put them all together.  /m/ /a/ /t/, mat.”

We practice write 3 or 4 words daily in small group.  We use the lines at the bottom to write 1 sentence a day, as well.  These sentences are short and sweet and focus on easy word wall words and a 3-letter short vowel word.   "I see the mat."

Friday Checks

Finally, on Friday we use the weekly check paper.  The paper has 5 words.  We write the first word together.  It is a word we have written earlier in the week together.  Then, I put dividers up between the students and ask them to independently write the last 4 words.  Three of these words were also written at some point during the week, but one word is new to them.  They are writing the words independently, but I help sound out the words.  I say the individual sounds, then repeat the word whole.  DO NOT make one sounds and have them write 1 sound.  Then make another sound, and let them write the next sound.  Make sure they say all the sounds in the word slightly separated, but then repeat the word whole.

This process is repeated for several weeks until your data helps you determine who needs more intervention and who can move forward.

Using Stoplight writing, struggling students can practice all the skills needed in independent writing, but they are set up for success.

If you would like a FREEBIE, CLICK HERE sample set of the Stoplight Intervention.

If you would like the full-set, click the picture below to go to my TPT Store.

We've survived 100 days!

Celebrate the 100th day of school with books, activities, and a project that reaches all the students learning styles.
Our school system doesn't start school until after Labor February is crazy with 100th Day, Valentine's Day, and Presidents' Day.  Here are 100 ideas for the 100th day. Ok...I don't have 100 ideas, but here are few.

1. 100 Day Books
Celebrate the 100th day of school with books, activities, and a project that reaches all the students learning styles.

We have to start here. I love introducing students to the book The 100th Day Worries before the 100th day. I send home a project due on the 100th day, so this is the perfect book to get them thinking. Of course, Miss Bindergarten is always a good option and I also like to read I'll Teach My Dog a Lot of Words before we start our list of 100 words.

2.  A 100 Day Squiggle.
Celebrate the 100th day of school with books, activities, and a project that reaches all the students learning styles.

If you have read my blog before, you know I LOVE squiggles.  (Click here to read my squiggle post.) My students are given a paper with a giant 100 typed into the middle of the page.  They are allowed to turn the paper in any direction to create something.  Here are a few examples.  I think the students were very creative.  A family with an umbrella?  A clothesline?  A man with a yo-yo?  Really? Variation:  Cut the three numerals out with the Ellison (c) machine and let the students create the objects with the 1, 0, and 0.

3.  100 Exercises

Work in 100 exercises during the day.  It's not as hard as it seems.

10 jumping jacks, 10 toe touches, 10 sit ups, 10 kicks, 10 arm curls, 10 leg lifts, 10 squats, 10 twists, 10 knee marches, 10 seconds of running in place

You can do it.

4.  100 Years Old

What will you look like when you are 100?  OR what will your parent look like when they are 100 years old?  OR what does a 100 year old look like?  It doesn't matter how you phrase it, they love it.  They have very clear ideas about what a 100 year old will mean.  I usually give my students a pretty simple template and let them go to town.
Celebrate the 100th day of school with books, activities, and a project that reaches all the students learning styles.

5.  100 Day Snack

Here's an easy way to count to 100...and there's a built-in reward...the snack!  Students can count 10 pieces of 10 snacks.

10 goldfish, 10 m&ms, 10 pretzels, 10 cheez-It squares, 10 cheese balls, 10 candy corns, 10 valentine hearts, 10 popcorn kernels, 10 doritos, 10 gummy bears

I typically set up 5 stations with 2 snacks at each station.  Give the students a Ziploc (c) bag and they count to 10 for each snack and move to the next station.  Several on-line friends suggested 100 counting mats.  They took a 12x18 construction paper with 10 circles.  This is a great way to have students self-check their 100 day snack.  If you do this, you will want to rotate bowls of the 10 snacks, so the students don't move the mats.

6.  We Know 100 Words!

When you announce to the students at the beginning of the day they will help you write 100 words throughout the day, they will think it's impossible.  "Collect" words as the day goes on:  calendar time, math time, interactive read alouds, word wall words, history words...whatever you are doing, write it down.

7. 100 Day Collections

Celebrate the 100th day of school with books, activities, and a project that reaches all the students learning styles.
It's the perfect companion to Mrs. Bindergarten Celebrates the 100th Day of School and The 100th Day Worries.  Give the students a quart size Ziploc (c) bag and tell them to collect 100 items to go in the bag.  I've had very creative collections in the past:  100 gum balls, 100 paperclips, 100 Barbie (c) shoes, 100 barrettes, 100 legos.

If you'd like the color header for the 100 Day Collections, CLICK HERE FOR COLOR COPY.

If you'd like a black and white header for the 100 day Collections,CLICK HERE FOR A BLACK AND WHITE COPY.

8.  100 Day Learning Style Projects

If you'd like your students to do a project that appeals to their learning style, try this. Some examples are listed below.

  • collect items
  • draw items
  • cut 100 items

  • write 100 words
  • write a story with 100 words
  • If I had $100…

  • draw different ways to count to 100-do 100 dance moves

  • play 100 beats
  • write a song a to familiar tune


  • do 100 exercises

HAPPY NEW YEAR: Resolutions, Reading Conferences, and Reading Month

Reading Month can be fun for everyone with dress-up days, activities, and school-wide incentives.
WOW, where did 2013 go? I'm sorry it's been so long since my last post. I guess getting a new job took longer to get used to than I thought. Oh, and I was named to the Governor's Teacher Cabinet. It was exciting to be a part of recommending changes to our state standards guidelines, but it took A LOT of my fall. I feel like I was not in school a complete week for October, November, and December.


No more excuses! My new year's resolution is to post AT LEAST once a week to this blog.  I have so many things I'd like to share it's silly for me to be so quiet.  (hehe)

Reading Conferences

Definitely excited to announce I am doing several workshops in the new year. I will be teaching a staff development class through my local school system in February. I have had presentation proposals accepted at the North Carolina Reading Association and at the Virginia State Reading Assocation Annual Conferences, both in March. I have also had a proposal accepted and will be presenting at the International Reading Association Annual Conference in New Orleans in May. Ironically, the 4 presentations are on 3 separate topics. That should keep me hopping. I'll do a Running Record Class in February, a Writing for the Emergent Writer presentation at both the NCRA and VSRA in March, and a Vocabulary Lessons for Emergent Readers in May. I'll keep you posted on those presentations.

Reading Month

In our state, reading month is January.  We usually offer many activities for our students.  Here are a few:

Reading Bingo

We handed out a school-wide bingo board this year.  Our students can read books to make a standard bingo (for a treat) OR they can read 25 books in the month for a bingo blackout.  If they turn in a bingo blackout, they can attend a Bingo Party with the principal to win fun prizes.  I also made a bulletin board for the main hallway to show an example of each square.
Reading Month can be fun for everyone with dress-up days, activities, and school-wide incentives.

Click below for a student copy of the Bingo Card.


Dress up for Reading

Reading Jogs the Mind:  Wear a jogging suit.  (You can also do "Reading Exercises Your Brain" and wear exercise clothes.)

Reading Dress Up Day:  Not only can you dress up like your favorite fiction character, we also offered students the option of dressing up to represent a non-fiction book.

Reading Keeps You Warm:  Wear hats, scarves, and gloves while you read (although the gloves might prove difficult).

Hats off to Reading! (Hat Day)

Reading Knocks Your Socks Off (Crazy Sock Day)

PAWSitively Wild About Reading (Wear Animal Prints or shirts with Animals)

Read a Shirt Day (Shirts with Words)

Snuggle Up and Read (wear PJs)

Team Up for Reading (wear sports jerseys)

We "red" all month! (I know it's spelled wrong, think homonyms.)  The whole school wears red on the last day of the month.

Lucky Reader

Our school librarian will pull a name from each class during reading month and the "lucky reader" will get to choose a new book TO KEEP!

Doors for Donuts

We aren't doing this at my school, we have a campus style building with classroom doors leading to the outside, but at a previous school we ran this contest.  The class with the best door won donuts!  We did make sure the doors had student participation (this wasn't a contest among the teachers, but among the students).

Popcorn, Parents, and Poetry

At my previous school, we had a night to highlight poetry.  Because teachers have too much to do already, we needed to keep it simple.  They were asked to do 3 things.  1.  Each grade level chose a poem.  The teachers were asked to practice the poem daily.  2.  The teachers sent home a paper with each child with their name written down the left side of the page.  The students and parents wrote and decorated an acrostic poem using their name.  Any poems returned by the deadline were displayed in the POETRY HALL OF FAME (cafeteria) during our Popcorn, Parents, and Poetry Program.  3.  Turn in the acrostic poems when they came into school.  The night of the program I asked each grade level to come to the stage, one at time, recite their poem and return to their parents.  After all the grades recited their poems, we invited the parents to come get a bag of popcorn while they "toured the POETRY HALL OF FAME."  It was an easy night.  No long practices taking students away from learning (we didn't practice at all, actually).  No crazy expectations of the teachers.  No big set-up (except putting out the poems).  No big clean-up (except sweeping the floor.)

A-Z Monthly Calendar

Another idea for a reading calendar:  Reading A-Z.  Students are given different things to do all month.  Parents can initial the squares to confirm the child did the activity.  Calendars can be turned in at the end of the month for a prize.
Reading Month can be fun for everyone with dress-up days, activities, and school-wide incentives.
Click below for a student copy.

A-Z Reading Calendar 2014

There are definitely more ideas for reading month.  Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for coming back!

See you more often in 2014!