Automaticity with Decoding Strategies

Automaticity is the true goal of using decoding strategies. Some students need targeted practice to create automaticity. Here is a plan with 3 decoding strategies.
As you should know, I am a reading specialist in a K-2 school.  I do both pull-out interventions and coaching, but have a soft spot for my pull-out kids. A few years ago I had two of the sweetest students who were first graders diagnosed with a "learning disability." (My undergraduate degree is in special education, so you know I love them.) They were the highlight of my day...and I won't deny I'd love to teach them all day! These students definitely needed routine and automaticity. (I first posted this blog on Adventures in Literacy Land, but I've had so many conversations lately with teachers about automaticity, I decided I should repost it.

Automaticity is the true goal of using decoding strategies. Some students need targeted practice to create automaticity. Here is a plan with 3 decoding strategies.When we started in late fall, these two were on a Level B and as of March they were moving into a Level D.  THEN, we hit a wall.  The D to E wall.  E seems to be the time when students are faced with lots of long vowel words, blends and digraphs, and word endings.  Here's what I know:  they can decode almost any word, IF I ask them questions and guide them.

For example, If they come to the word "gate."

     Me:  What do you know?      
Justin:  There is an "e" on the end?
     Me:  What does that mean?    
Justin:  The "e" makes the "a" says it's name.
     Me:  So, what is the word?    
Justin:  /g/ /a-a-a-a/ /t/,  gate.
     Me:  Great job!

BUT, they couldn't do it by themselves.

What could I do?

Automaticity is the true goal of using decoding strategies. Some students need targeted practice to create automaticity. Here is a plan with 3 decoding strategies.My greatest challenge is getting the students to have their own internal dialog when using decoding strategies.  After a conversation with my Assistant Principal, we decided to try and practice the automaticity of the decoding strategies.  What does that mean?  I want them to come to an unknown word and think strategy first.  I have always "taught" and "practiced" the strategies, but I'm taking it one step farther.

1.  Play "Slap Jack"

I created a strip of the 3 strategies they seemed to need the most.  I chose 1 known and 2 unknown strategies.  We had been using Sound and Slide to practice our cvc words.  They have gotten pretty consistent with that strategy, so that became their "known" strategy.  The second strategy was the silent e "making the vowel say it's name (most of the time)."  We have talked about this strategy, but they needed concentrated practice with it.  The final strategy was "chop the endings."  We covered up or "chopped off" the endings to look at the base word for decoding.  To begin, I wrote 5 words for each strategy on an index card and when I flashed the card, they had to "slap the strategy" they would use to decode the word.  THEY DID NOT DECODE THE WORD.  This wasn't a decoding lesson, it was a strategy lesson.  We played this game for a week.  I let them sit side-by-side and slap the strategy together, but by the end of the week it was a race.  I wanted the strategy to be automatic.  The video below is Justin identifying the strategy for me.  (He said he didn't want to slap it, if it wasn't a game.  He thought he looked silly doing it alone.) I hate that the video doesn't show all the strategies, but you get the idea.  By the end of the week, he was pointing to the strategy and saying the name of it.  That's what I want:  automaticity.

Automaticity is the true goal of using decoding strategies. Some students need targeted practice to create automaticity. Here is a plan with 3 decoding strategies.2.  Sort 

Part 1, we sorted with the cards from the week before.  I gave them the cards to sort under the strategy mat.  Yes, I should have made the cards smaller.  Lucky for you, I made small cards for you at the end of the post.  They would sort the cards as quickly as they could, then they would "prove" the cards belonged in that column.  They are still not reading the cards, they are just choosing a strategy.  Part 2, was a sort sheet.  This was an independent activity at the end of the week, but the students were still asked to "prove" the word belonged.  I also wanted to send a sample of a competed sort home to their parents.

3.  Read.
Automaticity is the true goal of using decoding strategies. Some students need targeted practice to create automaticity. Here is a plan with 3 decoding strategies.

Finally, we read sentences I constructed with multiple strategies in each sentence.  As they came to an underlined word, they touched the strategy on the mat and then decoded the word.  They did a great job.  My favorite moment was when looking at the word "running" Justin said, "After I chop the ending, I can see a word to "slide and sound."  WOW...that's a moment, if you ask me.

Get your FREEBIE!

I made a FREEBIE set for this idea.  Click the link for Automaticity with Decoding Strategies or the image below for the FREEBIE!

Opinion Writing with Early Learners

Kindergartners can write opinion paragraphs, if you give them the right support. Letting them associate their choices with persuading an audience helps start the process.
Students in the elementary grades are tasked with writing opinion paragraphs. Teachers are nervous about teaching it…and students think they can’t do it.  Everyone needs to breathe.

It’s no big deal.

Any student can tell you why they like one breakfast cereal over another. They can also tell you why they think one holiday is better than the other. AND, if their brother or sister wants to watch a certain television show, they can certainly argue about why their television show is better.  Use that to your advantage!  When introducing opinion writing, just tell them they need to convince someone they are right! 
Kindergartners can write opinion paragraphs, if you give them the right support. Letting them associate their choices with persuading an audience helps start the process.

First, ask them to list three reasons they love dogs. Next, ask them to list three reasons they love cats. Then, take a vote! Ask the students to vote for their favorite pet. Finally, use the pre-write to write a whole group opinion pieces. In the sample to the right there is an introduction sentence and a closing sentence that mirror each other. The middle sentences are just putting their ideas into complete sentences. It's so exciting watch them express their opinions.

The perfect persuasive paragraph revolves around Groundhog Day. Who doesn't have an opinion on whether winter should stay or go. BUT, we're too early to talk about that now. There is an Opinion Writing SAMPLE FREEBIE that contains 14 separate pre-write planning papers...just make sure it's the pre-write. (Just click the link above.)
Kindergartners can write opinion paragraphs, if you give them the right support. Letting them associate their choices with persuading an audience helps start the process.

A pre-write is a PRE-write.

That is, the students aren't finished with the persuasive paragraph until the use the pre-write to form their argument.  They may decide which side they would like to persuade the reader.  Providing the writing paper with a place for a picture can help students add details from their arguments to support their side of the argument.

When students are done with the whole group lesson or two, opinion paragraphs can be a part of the WRITING CENTER.  Providing students with ideas for opinion paragraphs is just the start they need to be off and running.

 Which do you like best?   

Kindergartners can write opinion paragraphs, if you give them the right support. Letting them associate their choices with persuading an audience helps start the process.
Put blank opinion writing pre-write papers in the center along with choice boards.  They must plan their arguments BEFORE they write their paragraph.

Adding an introduction sentence to beginning and a closing sentence at the end...to "hamburger" their arguments, the students can check the persuading paragraph off their list of "must do's."

If you'd like the entire unit for $4.00, please visit my TPT store for the Opinion Writing for Early Learners.

Kindergartners can write opinion paragraphs, if you give them the right support. Letting them associate their choices with persuading an audience helps start the process.

Character Traits and Character Feelings: What characters tell us?

Character Traits and Character Feelings have to be explicitly taught and practiced, so comprehension is enhanced and students can be successful readers.
One of the most common questions during a comprehension conversation is "How does the character feel when...?" AND...one of the most common responses is "happy."  Nothing can make a teacher feel any less "happy" than a student giving a quick "happy" as an answer. 

Teach Emotions

Character Traits and Character Feelings have to be explicitly taught and practiced, so comprehension is enhanced and students can be successful readers.Teaching character traits are important. We have used the chart on the right to show what traits are seen on the outside and what is on the inside, as well. BUT we can't stop there. Using this as a springboard, taking time to teach how the "inside" of the words (what he says, thinks, does, and feels) and what information we can gain from those "inside" emotions. We want to get frustrated with the students, but this is a great time to be reflective about our lessons.  I suspect we teach the difference between the outside and inside and collecting character traits, but we don't go any farther. It's one of those lessons we MUST explicitly teach. Using the words from the story, discuss the feelings from the character and what these feelings reflect in the "character" of the character in the story. Practicing this skill makes the comprehension conversation easy. 

Bear's Birthday

Character Traits and Character Feelings have to be explicitly taught and practiced, so comprehension is enhanced and students can be successful readers.
One of the books I use with our intervention groups is "Bear's Birthday," a book in the LLI kit. This is an easy book to make sure we are explicitly teaching about how a character feels. We also take the time to "describe the character." My students were quick to describe Bear as big, furry, and tall. My head screamed, "NOOOOO, that's not what I need. That's not what I mean. Breathe. Think. Reset. Next day, start over." So you know: Bear is excited about his birthday and decides to throw himself a party. He is very forgetful and needs to borrow several things from his friends (eggs for a cake, paper for hats, and balloons).  When the party is ready, none of his friends come to his house. He is sad and goes to find his friends. They are also sad because he never invited them to his party...because he is forgetful. Using this book to "describe" bear definitely provided an explicit lesson. The next day I printed a bear and drew a line down the middle...we discussed what the character looked like on the outside (all those easy to describe facts) and what he looks like on the inside (how is he feeling, thinking, and reacting).

Stellaluna

We also used Stellaluna to connect with character. Who doesn't love Stellaluna? It's such a great story of family, friendship, discovery, being lost AND being found. This is also a great story for character. Stellaluna goes through a range of emotion during the story. Students can understand her emotions of being happy and flying with her mother, being afraid of the potential attack and falling to the ground, the relief of landing in the nest, and it goes on and on. What a great story for this.  I have a FREEBIE of this character activity in my TPT store, so make sure you "swoop" over and get it (hehe). Just click the picture for the FREEBIE.

Emotions

Character Traits and Character Feelings have to be explicitly taught and practiced, so comprehension is enhanced and students can be successful readers.
If we don't talk about emotions on the test and only on the test, we setting ourselves up for failure. Using an emotions chart can help students distinguish between happy and excited or sad and mad. Every skill we assess should include an I do, we do, you do phase...so we have to do this with emotions, as well.

If you would like the Emotions Chart, please click the words or the pictures.

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Character Traits and Character Feelings have to be explicitly taught and practiced, so comprehension is enhanced and students can be successful readers.

The Disrupting Effect of Round Robin

There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.
"Back in the day" we used the Round Robin technique for reading. It seemed to be a way to make everyone participate in reading. Everyone took a turn, either in a specific order or in a random "popcorn" order. I was never sure about this process.  I had a few questions:

  1. Am I trying to "catch" someone not paying attention? That seemed so mean. "I want to catch you off guard and punish you by reading." Hmmm? That's not a message I want. 
  2. Did I want to showcase or protect my struggling readers? Do I strategically pick a short paragraph or an easy passage for those struggling readers.
I have a family member who distinctly remembers "round robin" reading and the pain of it. She was an insecure reader and she knew she would always have to read paragraph 5 based on her last name. It was anxiety before, during, and after the reading. She would practice, practice, practice rereading paragraph 5 while the other students were reading paragraphs 1-4, then she would feel panicked when she was reading the paragraph, and finally it would take her the next few paragraphs to settle herself and listen again. SOOOO...for her, she knew the information in the 5th paragraph and in last third of the text. This method did nothing to enhance her learning. In a blog post from Jen Jones at HelloLiteracy, R.I.P. Round Robin: 19 Reasons Why it is Not Best Practice, Jen gives reasons why round robin isn't a preferred method for reading. And my colleagues, Jennifer Jones (yes, there are 2 Jen Jones talking about round robin) and Katie Hilden stated in a April 2012 Reading Today article, "Sweeping Round Robin Reading Out of the Classroom," We know of no research evidence that supports the claim that RRR actually contributes to students becoming better readers, whether in terms of their fluency or comprehension."  

In fact, there is more research to support STOPPING this method than there is to support this method. The overwhelming fact is Round Robin can actually disrupt learning. Let's look at a few of the "Disrupting Effects of Round Robin."
There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.

Disrupting Attention

Ironically, one of the most vocal reasons teachers think "round robin" or "popcorn" reading is good is because "it keeps everyone on their toes, ready to read" when, in fact, their attention is disrupted from the text and content every time the teacher calls on a new student. The moments between one student finishing, the teacher calling on another student, and that student starting to read are precious and their attention is disrupted. Students are asked to attend to text when it is read by a variety of readers with different levels of pitch, intonation, decoding skills, and fluency, all while maintaining their attention to the content of the passage. Like the person in the above example from a family friend, the reader's attention was focused on the fear of reading, not what was being read.
There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.

Disrupting Fluency

Speaking of fluency, many articles discuss the actual disfluency presented with round robin reading. Students are asked to listen to reading from all their peers. Unfortunately, all their peers aren't at the same fluency level. Some readers are lacking speed. Some lack the appropriate pitch levels for correct emphasis. Some are poor decoders who will struggle with reading aloud. In the article, "Analyzing "Inconsistencies" in Practice: Teachers' Continued Use of Round Robin Reading" by Ash, Kuhn, & Walpole (2009), the authors refer to Allington's research in 1980 that found students were mostly presented with disfluent reading examples that can actually interrupt "development of accurate and automatic word recognition, preventing students from developing proficiency in their decoding." Ash and Kuhn also stated in the article, What's Wrong with Round Robin, "it is also the case that breaking up a text into smaller passages actually works against developing fluency; instead of building up students' reading stamina, it actually limits it."  One of the greatest benefits of listening to good reading is learning how various fluency principals can enhance reading, likewise, listening to struggled or interrupted reading can only hurt examples of fluency and, ultimately, comprehension.

Disrupting Comprehension

Using the two previous examples, disrupting attention and fluency can only lead to problems with comprehension. Let's look at a round robin scenario: we were reading a story about two friends. I don't really remember the introductions of the friends because I was so nervous about reading my paragraph. My paragraph tells me about these friends at the park. I know what they did and what they ate at the park. When I'm done reading, I take a few moments to settle my nerves and I hear all about the ride home from the park on their bikes. If I'm asked about the park visit or the bike ride, I'm good. However, there are plenty of holes in the story. Comprehension can be further disrupted by mispronunciations, decoding hesitations or struggles.
There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.

Disrupting Engagement

When students are truly engaged in reading, they are paying attention to details, using fluent features to make connections and comprehending the concepts and plots of a story. When round robin reading is employed as a reading technique the engagement in the text is decreased. The culmination of all of the disruptions mentioned above can be directly correlated to the reader's engagement in the text. Several interruptions in reading can lead to frustration for the reader. The first way students make headway with comprehension is engagement. Students actually have less time reading when round robin reading is the structure of the lesson. Student investment in a story can equal student engagement. Reading one paragraph in a story or article cannot produce the same results of reading the entire article.

So now what?

If we are determining that round robin isn't the best choice for reading what are good choices for reading. There are many articles, chapters in books, and entire books dedicated to better choices for round robin reading.

11 Alternatives to "Round Robin" and "Popcorn" Reading is an article through edutopia. This includes Peer-Assisted Learning Strategy, Timed Repeated Readings, and Fluency-Oriented Reading Instruction (FORI). There are examples and links included in this article.

Alternatives to Round Robin Reading by Mrs. Judy Auarjo is a blog post about the same. Some similar ideas are available, but she also discusses Partner Reading, Choral Reading, and Echo Reading.

There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.

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There is no research that shows the benefits of round robin reading. NONE. Actually, there is plenty of research that shows the disrupting effect of this practice. We need to take this procedure out of our classrooms.




45 Ways to Use LEFTOVER Book Club Flyers

If your mailbox is full of book club flyers...use them! Here are 45 ideas for reading, writing, and math.
I love Book Club Flyers...it's so exciting to see what new books my students can choose each month to add to their home libraries. But, honestly, some don't have that choice. Some can't afford a book a month. One of my favorite social media campaigns is asking for a Student Book Cub Sponsor. For $10 a year, you can sponsor a child to get the $1 book a month for the school year. What a great opportunity to sponsor a child, grow a love of reading, and build a home library. BUT, that means you might have a million leftover book club flyers. USE THEM!

Book Titles


  1. Find a word in the title for each letter of the Alphabet
  2. Find a word in the title for each letter of your Name
  3. Find 10 Word Wall Words in Titles
  4. Find 10 words with Blends in Titles
  5. Find 10 words with Digraphs in Titles
  6. Find 10 Short Vowel words in Titles
  7. Find 10 Long Vowel words in Titles
  8. Book Sort - Start with Fiction and Non-fiction.  They could cut book covers and glue them on a t-chart. 
  9. Find other Genres (Fairy Tales, Historical, Cookbook, Science, Diary, etc.) 
  10. ABC Order - Cut out 10 book titles and put them in ABC Order.
  11. Find Verbs in Titles
  12. Find Nouns in Titles
  13. Find Adjectives in Titles
  14. Find Books that you think will be Silly
  15. Find Books that you think will be Scary
  16. Find Books that you think will be Informational
  17. Find Books with People Characters
  18. Find Books with Animal Characters
  19. Find Books with Exclamation Points
  20. Find Books with Question Marks
  21. Find Books with Science Themes
  22. Find Books with Social Studies Themes
  23. Find Books to make us Feel Good
  24. Find Books to make us Think
  25. Find Books to Inspire Us

Writing Ideas

  1. Book Recommendation - Who do you think would love this book? Why?
  2. Book Prediction - Read the summary on the flyer and give a prediction.
  3. Book Connections - Read the summary and make a connection to you.
  4. Book Summary - Choose a book that doesn't have a summary and write one.
  5. Birthday Present - If you are invited to a birthday party, what would you get your friend and WHY?
  6. Classroom Library - If you could add a book to your classroom library, what book would it be and WHY?
  7. Sequel - Choose a book and you decide what the sequel should be? Write a summary for your new book.

Math Ideas

If your mailbox is full of book club flyers...use them! Here are 45 ideas for reading, writing, and math.
  1. Choose a book and tell the sum for 2, 3, 4, 5, 10
  2. If you had $5, $10, $100...what would you buy? How much would be left over?
  3. If you had a Coupon - Choose a book and determine the price based on the coupon 20% off, 30% off, 50% off, and 75% off.
  4. Choose a book for you and your best friend - What is the sum? What is the difference?
  5. Choose a book for everyone in your house for their Birthday - What is the sum?
  6. Find a Book with a Math Concept
  7. Do you see a Pack of books? What would it cost for each book separately? Are you saving money?
  8. Choose 2 books and find the sum of the number of pages.
  9. Choose 2 books and find the difference in the number of pages.
  10. Choose 5 books and put them in order of the number of pages most to least.
  11. Choose 5 books and find the mean, median, and mode using the number of pages.
  12. Choose 5 books and write the number of pages in standard form and expanded form.
  13. Choose 5 books and round the number of pages to the nearest ten and nearest hundred.
What would you add to the list?


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