Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Phonics Intervention

As you probably know, phonics is an essential component of reading instruction. Before you read this loooong post all about how to teach phonics, take a moment to just remember that phonics is just one part of a balanced literacy approach. It is especially important in the beginning stages of learning to read and is even more important with your students who are struggling with reading. The National Reading Panel determined that effective reading instruction includes a mixture of phonemic awareness, phonics, guided oral reading, and comprehension strategies. I have really increased the amount of phonics instruction for my early readers and it has made a huge difference. I still do plenty of other literacy-related instruction and activities, but I now make a conscious effort to include good phonics instruction daily. So what is good phonics instruction? These principals guide my teaching.

This. is. key. Many of our students can pick up phonics skills through guided reading and shared reading where the phonics skills are taught in context. BUT a significant percentage cannot. These kids need direct, explicit instruction with each phonics skill. This isn't the most fun way to teach, but it is necessary. I like to think that this more explicit intervention will lead to the more fun, engaging reading instruction once a strong foundation has been set. With all of that said, reinforcing phonics concepts in context is absolutely beneficial! Applying phonics skills in context shows kids the why they should learn those letters and sounds in the first place. It is always important to provide that real life application. So, to sum up, explicit phonics instruction is essential for our struggling readers, but implicit (embedded) phonics instruction

I admit it. I used to be all. over. the place. I learned that I need to be a bit more systematic with the way I teach these kids. There is science behind this! We are literally rewiring some of these kids' brains. We are forming new pathways that need repetition to really be set. The more systematic and consistent we are with our instruction and the way we introduce and practice, the more likely our students will remember.

For example, after you start with CVC words, then digraphs, then consonant blends, etc.
This is also super important. Have a plan and stick to it. You want to make sure you have formally taught these phonics rules to your intervention students. If your program doesn't have a sequence for you, there are several to choose from, that are very similar. Email me if you need some guidance! 
For example, when you are teaching short i, make sure you review and practice short a. These students need to revisit the lessons they've learned several times before they have reached mastery.

This information is from the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and many other presentations and classes I've at tented about dyslexia. 

Heidi Songs has a FABULOUS post about multi-sensory teaching. You can read it HERE. I highly recommend using her music in your classroom. Your kids will be singing and moving to enhance their learning! Multi-sensory teaching doesn't have to involve play dough and sand as I once believed (although those are great tactile techniques.) You just need to make an effort to check yourself. Are your students using auditory and visual modalities?  Are movement or tactile techniques incorporated in some way? This can be as basic as "tapping" the sounds of a word (tapping a finger on the table as you say each sound.) Simply saying a word and writing it as you sound out each sound is technically multi-sensory. Tracing a word on the table while saying the sounds of the letters you are writing is a simple way to use more than one of the senses. Once you get in the habit of multi-sensory teaching, then you can add in all that other fun stuff (play dough, sand, foam texture sheets, etc.)

What does Phonics Intervention Look Like?

If you have a student with dyslexia in your class (and you probably do because 1 in 5 students has dyslexia to some degree), this is the type of instruction that is recommended. You may or may not have a program you are already using. The key is to make sure your instruction involves what I listed above for your intervention kids. If you have a phonics program, it probably has a scope and sequence. Make sure you are introducing it at a rate that your struggling readers can keep up with. These kids will most likely need more time with each new phonics skill in order to master it. Once introduced, they need time to practice and then also time to review it each day before you are sure they have mastered that skill. You can teach a new skill when they have a grasp on the previous skill, but not quite to automaticity. You can move on from review once they have reached automaticity with  reading words with that skill. 

Below is what thorough phonics intervention looks like for me:

This post is for when your students are at the point where they have developed phonemic awareness and know most of their letters and sounds. They are in the beginning stages of learning to read. This is mainly helpful for your intervention students who need more explicit and systematic instruction. All students benefit from explicit and systematic instruction, but struggling readers must have it. So I've laid out step by step what these kiddos need. 

Phonemic awareness drills are usually short, but very effective. You can go big or you can do little to no prep. No prep segmenting drills involve the teacher giving students a word orally. Students repeat the word, then segment the phonemes. It is best to use some sort of manipulative, like pictured below.

For phoneme blending, do the opposite. Say the individual phonemes in a word, then have your students repeat and guess your word. 

Visuals are always helpful and also it's nice to shake things up a bit with kids. If you are looking for more activities for phonemic awareness, click HERE

Graphemes are the letter or letters that represent sounds. This quick review was something I never used to do, but now I see its importance with our struggling readers. Developing automaticity at the letter level is SO important. I have a post more about that HERE.  We want our students to not only know their letters, but to also automatically recognize them and produce the appropriate sound. This can be as easy as flashcards to flip through. I've also used these alphabet sound slide drills. 
You can do this as a group or each student can have their own page to practice. Spend 1-2 minutes sliding the circular chip across the page while saying the sound that goes with each letter. You can find this HERE. (If you are looking for ideas and activities for alphabet intervention, you can find that HERE.) Simple flashcards will also do! 

When I teach short vowels, I have a visual reminder of what each short vowel says. I teach each vowel sound one at a time (systematic and sequentially) and review the previously learned vowels before teaching a new one (cumulative). Here is the visual I use for my short vowels:

You can get this for free HERE.

The modeling with the letter cards is SO important. There are a few ways you can do this. 

If you have a magnetic white board in your small group area, you can place your small letter cards with magnetic dots on the top or bottom of your white board. That way you can use them when you need to model and build words. You can also use a pocket chart. I have this mini pocket chart that I got at Target years ago and it's perfect. I also sometimes fold the tops of the cards so they are upright and then I use them right there at the reading table. This way the kids can manipulate them too. If you need letter cards to print out, you can use THESE FREE letter cards. These letter cards help your instruction to be more explicit for your students. The colors are great for showing consonants and vowels and then digraphs. 

I do this with my students every day. When we are first practicing a new skill, I build and read more words with letter tiles. Then, as they learn the skill, I do less with the letter tiles and more practice in other ways (see below.) I find that building words with letter tiles is the best way to introduce, reinforce, and practice phonics skills because the different colors are a great visual and you can manipulate the letter tiles to build so many different words.

The next step is moving from the color-coded letter cards to the word cards (with only one word on them at a time).  I also like to match onset and rime and mix and match. Use the same word cards for the next step. Word can be sorted by word family or by rule. I would first do the rule to check for understanding. For example, if you are teaching silent e, students would read the card and sort words based on silent e or not silent e. As they sort, ask questions like, what do all those vowels say? What does the e do? How do you know it follows that rule (it has a vowel, then one consonant, then e).

I like to use these cards first, then move on to regular word cards. 

When I first introduce a new phonics concept, I would simply do a yes/no sort. The picture below shows a short i sort. Students read the word and determine if it is short i or not. I know what you are thinking, they can just look and see the i. Remember this is a small group activity, so you are making sure they are still reading the words. This basically gives them a task to do so they are not just reading word cards for no reason. Plus every time they are reading another vowel card, you point out the difference in the sounds. 

Next, I like to sort by word family or rule (for example, short i or short e.) As you move into blends, it could be r blend or l blend. Digraphs can be beginning or ending. There are so many possibilities. The key is that you giving these students opportunities to read several words with the phonics skill you are teaching and the phonics skills they have already learned in the context of a task.

I also like to do picture sorts to incorporate phonemic awareness. This is especially good for your struggling readers because they often have a hard time with phonemic awareness. I find this is also good for your ELL kids because they are listening for distinct sounds. In the picture below, they are listening for the short a or the short o sound. This will transfer to reading and spelling skills.  

If you are looking for short vowel, digraph, and blend cards, you can find them here:

I wrote all about the value of developing automaticity at the word level in THIS post. I used to think this was torture for kids. I know it's definitely not the most fun part of teaching reading, but it does help those struggling readers and it is necessary repetition. It is not the bulk of your time with them. Literally a few minutes! Looking for word lists like the ones shown above? Click HERE

Here is another automaticity activity that my students love: Students take a circular math counter with a vowel on it.  They fill each word with the vowel. Then you can try another vowel.  

You can read more about this HERE

If you are looking for more resources to give your students extra practice (which they often need,) you may want to check these out. 

Click HERE to get these for several phonics skills.

Click above to see a 15 second snapshot. 

I have several resources for decodable sentences. First, I would use THIS sentence building activity:

 Then, I would use these resources for more practice:

Spin a Sentence (left) can be found here.
Printable Sentences (middle and right) can be found here.

Another important component to phonics instruction is always including spelling. This is NOT your tradition spelling where you memorize a list of words for a test. By spelling, I mean applying the rule directly to several words.

I like using these little boards for my students to build words on in the beginning (before the words get too big.) I use the same tiles as above.

To make it multi-sensory, say the sounds as your trace on the table or tap out the sounds in the words. 

I have them repeat the word I said, then they "tap it out" on the table or down their arm or using counters by segmenting the sounds as they tap. Then they segment again, this time writing the letters that go with each sound. 

Phonetically-controlled texts are so important for our very beginning readers and for our struggling readers. These texts give them an opportunity to apply the phonics skills they've learned without having to worry about guessing or seeing tons of words they don't know. They can be successful with these texts, all the while strengthening the those pathways in their brain. To read more about reading and the brain, click HERE to see an old post with tons of information. The goal is obviously to get them out of phonetic readers and to move on to more interesting books where they can practice a variety of strategies. These phonetically-controlled books are a means to an end. They are not the end goal. But, I have learned over the years that they are necessary. Once I know my students have a strong phonics foundation and automaticity with phonics skills, I am confident that they will be successful with other books. They will be ready to apply strategies effectively, as opposed to just guessing as our struggling readers tend to do.  

If you are looking for phonetically controlled printables or story cards, I have short stories with just CVC words, consonant blends (with short vowels), silent e, and vowel pairs. 
You can find just the reading passages for short vowels HERE
You can find the reading passages and story cards for short vowels HERE.
You can find just the reading passages for blends HERE
You can find the reading passages and story cards for blends HERE.

Here is a lesson plan template that you may want to try out. It is meant for more intensive phonics intervention. This can be used for one-on-one tutoring or a small group. 

In a small group setting, you wouldn't necessarily be able to get to all of those components every day, unless you were given a good chunk of time. With one-on-one tutoring, I do get to all of those parts and it is so effective. With my small intervention groups in school, I pick and choose each day, depending on time. Below is a little explanation (also included in the FREE download.)

When you download this free lesson template, I also included this page below which has links to resources. 

Click HERE to download these pages.

I hope this post is helpful! Please don't hesitate to email me if you have any questions.

PS. I know there are so many opinions out there regarding the best intervention practices. These are my thoughts based on experiences and research I've done. I recognize that not everyone has the same thoughts though. :) I welcome comments that raise questions and even challenge my thinking (as long as the conversation remains respectful) because I think that is how we all grow as educators. 


Monday, August 7, 2017

Classroom Management Visuals

Happy Monday! I'm here today to give you a quick management tip for the beginning of the school year. I thought I had blogged about this years ago, but realized I did a little video about this (as part of a Primary Chalkboard Back-to-School youtube link up,) but not an actual blog post. So here goes, better late than never!

When I first started teaching first grade, I was so overwhelmed by the constant neediness of my students. I loved these kids to pieces, but they wore. me. out. It felt like I was being asked something every single second of the day. I know there are teachers are there who are like magic. They have the most amazing classroom management and it looks so peaceful.  For me, classroom management did not come quickly. It took me years to get it! One of the things I started doing early on was the use of visuals to cut down on some of the questions.  (The ones below are obviously updated with cuter clip art!)

Here's how they work:

I would have these little signs (or another version of them) on my white board at all times. They didn't take up much space because they were on the side. I also didn't necessarily use them all at all times. 

I mainly used the fountain, bathroom, sharpener the most. When the white side was up, that meant it was not a time to use the bathroom or get a drink or sharpen a pencil. When I flipped it to the picture side, that meant it was an appropriate time. They usually gave me a signal to use the bathroom or get a drink, instead of asking. When I taught my students about these signs, I made a bigger deal about flipping them so that they could learn, but then later, I would do it more discretely. The expectation was that they would look up and see the sign and know whether or not they could ask.  

The folder and turn in signs were always up, but only one of them had the picture showing. All assignments would either be turned in or placed in their folder. I would show them which was correct by having one of the visuals displayed and the other side blank. Nowadays I would just laminate it so that it would be ONE card that I could turn over. 

Finally, the voices quiet and in our seats signs were because there were many parts of the day where students could be moving around or working together (so talking.) Then there were those times that I just needed their full attention. For those times, these signs would be up as a visual reminder. 

I had the dot on both sides so that I could freely flip the signs back and forth. 

If you would like to download these FREE signs, you can get them here

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Automaticity and Fluency with Phonics

One thing I've learned over the past few years is the importance of developing fluency with phonetic skills. Research shows that a strong foundation with phonics is key to reading success. For many of our developing readers and for all of our struggling readers, it is so important that we are giving them ample practice with their phonics skills. Dyslexic students especially have trouble with decoding. They especially need explicit instruction in phonics instruction and plenty of opportunities to apply newly-learned and previously-learned phonics skills. All students learning to read benefit from this though! I used to think it was too boring and I didn't give my students the practice they needed. Now that I am more systematic, explicit, and consistent with my phonics instruction, I see so much growth in all of my students! This post is mainly for your intervention groups, but all students benefit from phonics instruction.

The ideas in this post are true for all beginning readers, but the level of intensity will be what varies. Some kids do not need as much instruction and practice to gain automaticity and develop fluency. For many though, it does involve ample opportunities to practice under the guidance of a teacher. Before I go further, I want to clear the difference between automaticity and fluency.



1. Automaticity at the letter level

It starts with the alphabet. We need our students to know these letters and supply the sounds with automaticity. From there, (when phonemic awareness is also strong,) they are ready to sound out words. If a student is slow to retrieve a letter sound, that will make the whole process of sounding out the word slower and more difficult. Once my kindergarteners know their letters, I still do a quick activity daily to practice automaticity. I continue this in the beginning of first grade as well.

It can be as simple as flashcards or something like in the picture above. My alphabet RTI pack has several of these Letter-Sound practice mats. They are quick and helpful. You can do it in unison or have them whisper read at their own pace.  To mix it up, I sometimes do the activity pictured on the right with a pocket chart. Students roll a dice, then read the row of letter sounds that are next to that number. You can have the your whole small group read together while one student (who rolled) gets to do the tracking with a special pointer. That way, I watch the person with the pointer to make sure she/he is making the correct sounds but everyone gets that practice. 

Next, students need explicit instruction with sounding out words. I begin with letter tiles, where I build the words and my students read them. I also give my students opportunities to build the words. 

2. Automaticity at the word level
From the letter tiles, we move on to word lists like the one on the left that is a little more scaffolded. When they are getting more comfortable with sounding out words, I move into the word lists on the right. 

The vowel guide at the top is SO helpful! I have a freebie in my store of just the "vowel helper". You can find that HERE. When students forget a vowel sound, they say the keyword to remind them. Like everything else, this needs to be modeled and practiced before expecting them to use the vowel guide independently. If you are looking for word lists like the two pictured above, you can find them HERE

NOTE: If CVC words are too difficult for them to blend, I do more phonemic awareness instruction. (I have a long post about PA HERE.)  Then I begin with reading CV and VC words. (These will be mainly nonsense words as there are not many two-letter words. I find this really helps kids who are not ready to read three letter words.)

3. Fluency with sentences
When they are comfortable with sounding out words, I move on to sentences. I start out with easier, shorter sentences, like these: 

You can find TONS of phonetic sentences like the ones pictured above and below HERE

Click on the picture to watch a video as an example of a student with automaticity but not fluency:

In this video, my son is reading the CVC word sentences. This is his second read. The first read involved more decoding. He is going into kindergarten in a month and has been working on sounding out words and short sentences all summer. This video is a good example of a student who is getting better with automaticity at the word level, but isn't quite fluent yet (because he lacks the other elements of being a fluent reader.)  

I also like writing sentences on sentence strips and putting them in a pocket chart. 

Students can then mix and match the sentence parts, which forces them to reread each phrase over and over. ;) You can find these phrases HERE.

The picture below shows on a table because I was playing a game with them. I wanted to show you this so you could see that you can just write on the strips too. :)

Then they get a little longer like these ones:

I like to incorporate this phrasing activity with my sentences. This activity helps kids chunk sentences into meaningful phrases. This hopefully will help them with comprehension when they read longer sentences. At the very least, it does make them stop to think about the sentence and reminds them that these phonetic sentences (all sentences) carry meaning. That is the goal of reading!

Even after reading simple phonetic sentences, I still want my students to be thinking deeper about what they are reading. I find that it's easier to teach comprehension strategies right away with simpler sentences. We want our students to be in this habit of thinking about what they are reading. The picture above shows what is included in my Phonetic Sentences Pack, but you could do this without it. Basically, I have my student choose a sentence. Then I ask them to make a prediction, inference, or connection, or ask a question, explain what they visualize, or clarify something. For example, on that first sentence they may ask, "Why is the pet sad?" They may infer that the pet is a dog because dogs often sit on laps and do show emotion. The visual below explains it more.

If you would like a copy of this comprehension activity, I am sharing it HERE or on the picture above.

The activity below is something I've blogged about before. I love doing this activity with my students. It shakes it up a bit so they are not just reading sentences on a page. This can be a center or a small group activity. You can read more about it HERE and can find it in my store HERE

4. Fluency with reading passages and books

Finally, once students can read sentences with some fluency, you can start to introduce short stories. There are so many great phonetic books out there to try. I also use these laminated story cards that students can interact with. They also come in a printable version (like on the right.) The printable version has comprehension questions that ask the student to go back to the text. It is so important to include a comprehension element no matter how simple the text may seem. You can find the story cards and reading passages HERE. (There is a short vowel version, blends version, and long vowel version and a bundle of all three. Scroll to find the ones you want.) 

What about Guided Reading?

In the past few years I have really upped my game with phonics and it has made a huge difference.
Once they have solid phonics skills, I can move on to more interesting and diverse books. This is when I dive into guided reading more with the leveled readers that are not phonetic. You can even do a combination, so that they are exposed to both phonetically controlled texts (to develop automaticity and fluency with phonics skills) and guided reading texts. With guided reading, the focus is usually more on applying a variety of strategies to leveled texts. These texts are not phonetically controlled. The early levels usually have a pattern and picture clues. Although I love guided reading, I find this alone is NOT effective for my struggling readers (which typically is 25% of the class- let's not forget 1 in 5 students has some level of dyslexia.) I'm not saying that I don't use them because I do. I'm saying I do not rely on them for all of my instruction and small group practice. I do more with phonetically-controlled texts in the very beginning and I add in some of the patterned guided reading early levels (A-C) as a supplement so they are learning to use other strategies. This is just my personal opinion and I know many will disagree. I love guided reading for my kiddos who already have a strong phonics foundation and several sight words mastered. I actually do start teaching the strategies right away, without the guided reading level texts. I teach them to look at the picture, sound it out, look for chunks, think about what makes sense, etc. I have had more success focusing more on phonics skills early on and moving into the guided reading approach later. You can download the strategies I use HERE and read all about them in an old post HERE.

Sight Words 
Along with phonics instruction, I am teaching sight words.  I teach sight words simultaneously with phonics. I wait until they are comfortable sounding out some short words before I add in sight words. I've found if I start too soon, then it can be confusing to many of my beginning readers (especially the struggling readers.) In my experience, they must know their letters and sounds before sight words should be introduced. I have a very systematic approach to sight words as well. You can read more about that HERE.

Nothing Replaces Good Literature 
Another important note: Although a lot of your instruction should involve phonics, it should not take the place of great literature in your overall literacy instruction. Every day you should still be reading aloud to your students to give them exposure to good books. This way, they are continuing to develop vocabulary, comprehension, and a love of books.

The Keys to fluency instruction: With whatever you are choosing to use for fluency instruction, remember these three things are key to any fluency intervention.


I have TONS of phonics resources in my store. To see all of them, click on the phonics tab on the right in my store (or you can click HERE). Here are a few that were shown here: