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Books for Struggling Readers

Phonics Books for Struggling Readers

Books for Struggling Readers

As a reading specialist, I’ve had the opportunity to work with students at the full spectrum of age groups from preK to adult ed. My passion has always been to help struggling readers, especially older readers. You find these students in reading intervention classes, ESL/ELD/ELL programs, special education classes, and learning centers.

Ask any reading teacher, who’s been there and done that, what is the key correlate to reading improvement for older struggling readers and you’ll hear the word, motivation, more often than not.

Long ago I learned the power of motivation upon student achievement. It took me awhile. In my sixth year of teaching I made a study of two teachers teaching my same subject, who were getting better results than I. I sat in their classes during my prep. Initially, I was confused.

“I’m at least as good as Mr. S,” I thought, “and I’m much better than Mr. B.”

I’ve never been diagnosed as “self-esteem deficient.”

However, I cornered some of Mr. S’s and Mr. B’s kids during passing periods and asked them, “What makes you succeed in his class?”

It was motivation. Mr. S loved kids and they knew it. He had the relationships in and out of class that made his students want to learn. Mr. B had a different approach: the behavioral approach of carrot and stick. Rewards and fear made his students have to learn.

I couldn’t be either teacher; Lame as it sounds: I had to be me. It took me years of experimenting and quite a few humbling make-overs to begin motivating some of my students.

My secret? What works for me is a constant self-reminder that I am teaching students, not reading. To really teach struggling readers how to improve their reading, teachers need to know what makes them tick and adapt instruction and teaching resources accordingly. For your struggling readers, you need the books that will motivate these older kids to read.

Even though I mentioned that I am not “self-esteem deficient,” my struggling readers certainly are. Despite the apathetic “I don’t care” self-defense mechanisms of most struggling readers, they really do care that they aren’t like the rest of their peers. No one want to stand out as a poor reader. I’ve never heard the most unreachable fourth grader, middle schooler, high schooler, or community college adult (and I’ve taught them all) say, “I’m a poor reader and proud of it.”

My main point in this article is to get reading teachers to be hypersensitive to the effects of motivation on learning to read. Specifically, we have got to stop unintentionally tearing away at the self-esteem of our struggling readers.

Take a moment to look at your teaching resources. Do they match the age of your students?

I just finished a comment on a teacher’s post asking for feedback on her self-authored ESL teaching resources and chapter books. I was struck by the beautiful cover illustrations. I previewed the book internal pages and the graphics and pictures were so professional. However, the images were perfectly appropriate for beginning readers, not her target grades 4‒8 age group. Struggling readers certainly do judge a book by its cover. Hopefully, my comments maintained a complimentary/constructive balance. Her self-esteem matters, as well!

ESL/ELD/ELL, special education, reading intervention, and adult ed learners need reading resources and books that motivate them to learn, not humiliate them into shutting down or acting out in the classroom.

Yes, these materials are hard to find.

I sell two products, Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books and the Teaching Reading Strategies comprehensive reading intervention program that have been designed to motivate struggling readers.

The former product (54 eight-page booklets) uses teenage (non big-head) cartoons and plots. The illustrator, David Rickert, is a high school ELA teacher and we were both sensitive to ensuring that our visuals matched the maturity of our focus age group.

The latter product includes sound-spelling cards like most other reading programs. However, I selected animals as an ageless theme and photographs, not illustrations, to appeal to older kids.

Teaching Reading Strategies Reading Intervention Program

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

 

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Reading Intervention Program Politics 101

All Politics Is Local in Education

All Politics Is Local: Especially in Schools

Let’s face it. Education is politics. More specifically, “All politics is [sic] local,” said Tip O’Neill, the longtime Speaker of the House of Representatives. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can realize our collective calling as teachers: to make a difference in the lives of our students. 

We teachers love to whine. It’s a staff room staple and a good coping mechanism. However, when we turn simple whining into a political action plan it becomes productive whining. 

I’m a secondary ELA and reading intervention teacher turned publisher. I have also served as a district reading specialist in Elk Grove Unified School District in the Central Valley of California. Over the years I was assigned to quite a few elementary schools and learned a fair amount about leadership skills. Through plenty of failures and a few successes, I learned that to have an impact in and beyond the classroom, I had to learn a political skill-set.

My passion has been to serve the needs of struggling readers: in particular, those grades 4 through community college. I’ve been fortunate to be able to implement that passion in elementary, middle, high school, and freshman college settings. I’ve had a hand in creating plenty of reading intervention programs. None has been perfect, but I’ve learned to get more of what my students and/or teachers need by learning Reading Intervention Program Politics 101.

The End Results

I’ve learned to take a friendly, but assertive stance with administrators regarding reading intervention: No collaboration or prep time? Can’t teach it. Not enough consistent instructional time? Won’t teach it. No money for resources, printing materials? Nothing to teach. No training in teaching resources/programs? Don’t know how to teach it. Excessive paperwork, documentation, meetings, completing assessments that won’t inform instruction? Not going to happen. Assigning reading intervention to new, inexperienced teachers because they can’t say, “No?” Not if I can’t help it.

Now that’s some tough talk, and many teachers would say, “I couldn’t say that to my principal or district curriculum specialist.” Or “You clearly do not know my supervising admin!” Or “The my way or the highway approach won’t work in my district. I’d be out on the highway.”

Fair enough. But I do believe we teachers need to be more assertive on behalf of our neediest kids. We have to learn to work smarter, not harder. Following are three (of many) ideas as to how to take a friendly, but tough stance with administrators to meet the needs of struggling readers. Would love to hear more ideas!

The Political Process

1. Let the data argue your case. Distance yourself from your demands. Teachers learn early on in their careers to answer this parent question: “Why did YOU give my son a D grade?” with “Your SON earned the D grade” or “The ASSIGNMENTS AND TESTS gave him that grade.” We need to do the same when advocating for our struggling readers. It’s hard for some administrators and teachers to put the horse (the students) before the cart (the program); they always want to put the cart before the horse. However, starting with program design, funding, resource and personnel allocations will always produce untenable and frustrating results.

My political advice? Start with the needs of the students and design instructional structures to address some of those needs.

A caveat is in order… Successful reading intervention depends upon the specificity of diagnostic assessments. You can certainly pre-screen with the BIG tests and teacher recommendations, but these can’t be used for reading intervention design. Ideally, you want to use diagnostic assessments that will design the program, place students, and provide teachable data. As a publisher, I can’t resist failing to mention the 13 whole-class reading assessments that will do these jobs. Download them for FREE after the article.

2. Be a political animal. Your administrators and district personnel certainly are, and you need to grow into one for the sake of your students. Of course, this comes much more naturally to some teachers, than to others.

Learn the pressure points and how to apply them without damaging relationships. You can learn to be assertive and nice at the same time. For example, when data has been secured which indicate unmastered reading skills for students, the students and their parents have a right to know what those deficits are and what it will take to meet those needs. Students and their parents can be your squeaky wheels to advocate for the resources and program structures that will make sense.

And to expand just a bit… Politicians and administrators learn how to isolate special interests and divide in order to conquer. Teachers need to employ political countermeasures to these political techniques. To our point: The test data and identified learning needs are perfect commonalities to bind together a student and parent advocacy (let’s call it support) group. Why share the test data individually with students or with parents via email or phone, when a group meeting would be more efficient and supportive. Both struggling readers and parents prefer to know that they are not in this alone. Confidentialilty and privacy concerns can often lead to isolation and the divide and conquer results and prevent concerted action. Clever teachers can share data communally while protecting individuals.

Teachers who want to improve their effectiveness in “education politics” should study those parents, teachers, and administrators who influence decision-making. You don’t have to be just like so-and-so, but you can certainly learn secrets to their successes and apply them to your own comfort level. Don’t forget the power of the group. Find allies for the sake of your students.

3. Choose your battles. Although my opening The End Results seem rigid, they really aren’t. The criteria still allow the creation of imperfect structures for teaching reading intervention along with maintaining student access to the core curriculum. Be assured that teachers who hold out for the optimal instructional situation will never have an opportunity to impact the lives of kids who desperately need their help. After all, some is better than none; but only if the some is really, really good and has the prioritized support of the whole school and/or district. Politics is the art of compromise.

For example, let’s say that your diagnostic assessments given to a screened set of sixth-graders indicate that 28 of these students have not mastered the alphabetic code (phonics). Additionally, their teachers report that these same students have comprehension deficits (no wonder), low and inaccurate reading fluency, poor vocabulary, and they don’t know their multiplication tables!x%#0@. You, your principal, students, parents, and teacher allies agree that something must be done.

The principal only has funding for one teacher to teach a three-week summer session. The principal and parents want the teacher to fix all of these problems. The

Phonics Review Unite

Phonics Boot Camp

political teacher’s answer is “No, but.” Let’s see what is possible with measurable results. Hmmm… Multiplication is out, because this is reading-only funding. Comprehension is out because we don’t have the testing tools to measure results. Reading fluency can be measured, but three weeks is not enough time to impact fluency deficits. How about phonics? We do have a three-week phonics review unit which can produce measurable results. Bingo. The point is to cater your available resources and your instructional constraints to the student testing data. Things have to match. You can’t fit square pegs into round holes.

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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FREE Phonics Practice!

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards for Phonics

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

FREE Animal Sound-Spelling Cards and Practice Video for Beginning Reading Instruction and RtI

Introduce and practice the animal names on each Animal Sound-Spelling Card (Get the FREE Download Below). Practice the names until students can rapidly identify each animal on the cards. Unlike many phonics programs, the beginning sound of the animal name perfectly matches the sound listed on each card. For example, the bear card represents the /b/.

Once the animal card names have been mastered, introduce and practice the sounds represented by the cards. Point to each card and say, “Name? Sound?”

After the animal card names and sounds have been mastered, introduce and practice the spellings listed on the cards. Point to each card and say, “Name? Sound? Spellings?” Practice along with the Names, Sounds, and Spelling Chant to develop automaticity.

Also practice along with the Names, Sounds, and Spelling YouTube video.

Get the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

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Pre-teach before Assessment

Teachers Pre-teach before Assessment

Pre-teach before Assessment

For whatever reason or reasons, some children who learned how to ride a bike last summer may have forgotten how to ride by the first day of spring. A wise parent would not  strap back on the training wheels, or worse yet, take out the old balance bike (no pedals). Instead, the parent would do a quick review with her child about what the child had already learned, hold the bike’s handle bars for a quick confidence-builder (I prefer holding the child’s collar… my free tip :), and get the child re-acclimated with intense, quick practice. Somehow prior knowledge, muscle memory, or something kicks in, and most kids are riding their bikes just as well as they did last summer by the end of the day.

The Forgetting Problem

Call it what you wish: summer brain-drain, poor retention, a learning disability, problem with learning styles, developmental delay, or lack of motivation or practice… some students just seem to forget what they have learned before.

The Solution

Quick re-teach. Connecting to students’ prior knowledge can short-circuit the forgetting cycle and produce more reliable assessment results. Before leaping into a battery of diagnostic assessments, it makes sense to pre-teach before we assess. If teachers plan on using assessment-based instruction (a good thing!), the assessment data must be externally valid, that is reliable.

I often share my maxim regarding the efficacy of well-designed assessments: “If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t, they won’t.” However, the caveat is that students may actually know the content, concepts, or skills, but not be able to retrieve that knowledge on assessments.

Good assessments catch students at their best. That’s why it makes sense to pre-teach before teachers assess to help students retrieve prior knowledge and get the assessment results that will help us design efficient instruction.

When we don’t catch students at their best, we get inaccurate assessment data. Teachers who assign assessment-based individualized (or differentiated) instruction often wind up methodically re-teaching what individual students have already learned. Students can’t move ahead, because they are constantly rehearsing what is behind. Or teachers look at class data and sigh, “I have to re-teach everything to this class from start to finish. They don’t know anything. What was Ms. McGuire teaching last year, anyways?”

Despite decades of research studies which demonstrate the effectiveness of pre-teaching students with instructional deficits prior to intensive instruction, little has been examined regarding the effects of pre-teaching upon assessment results.

Intuitively, the popularity of test prep classes for the SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, and MCAT would suggest a positive impact of pre-teaching on high-stakes test scores. Or the often-repeated admonition, “Don’t teach to the test” (except the month before the test administration or all-year if your salary is test-score-incentivized).

A cautionary note: Pre-teaching before assessment should be hurried instruction. Don’t set out the yellow cones and require a week’s worth of drill and review before you let your kids ride their bikes on their own (even if they fall once or twice). Quick and intensive review will produce the most accurate assessment results.

The writer of this article, Mark Pennington, is an M.A. reading specialist and author of Phonics Boot Camp | Phonics Review Unit (a slice of the

Phonics Review Unite

Phonics Boot Camp

comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program.

This three-week phonics boot camp proves a worthwhile expenditure of class time in third and fourth grades. The intensive phonics review also works at the beginning of a reading intervention class to weed out those students who need only the quick review and not a half or full-year class. The quick re-teach is a perfect fit for short elective classes or as a summer school session. Special education and English-language development teachers find this program helpful. In addition to the instructional resources, the program provides three culminating reading placement tests. These whole-class tests provide the diagnostic data to inform reading intervention instruction.

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Long Vowels for Big Kids

FREE Long Vowel Lessons

Long Vowel Lessons with Formative Assessment and Phonics Cards

When we are talking about long vowels we often say what we don’t mean. The problem is that when we say that English has five main vowels: a, e, i, o, and u, we are often referring to the alphabetic symbols, not the sounds which they represent. We do the same with consonants, by the way.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines vowel in this way:  “A speech sound produced by humans when the breath flows out through the mouth without being blocked by the teeth, tongue, or lips.” The secondary definition of vowel is a letter which symbolizes the sound.

By the way, I checked four other dictionaries and they say the same thing. The key phrase for the primary definition is “speech sound.” We reading specialists and speech therapists refer to speech sounds as phonemes. Experts disagree on the number of phonemes, but 43 is a decent number. Yes, the other dictionaries refer to vowels as letters in their secondary definitions.

Here’s the problem. We confuse beginning and remedial readers by using the primary (speech sounds) and secondary (letters) definitions interchangeably. Listen to some of our students’ justifiable confusions (Okay, I added on a bit to make the points):

“You said, ‘Every syllable has only one vowel sound, but now you’re telling us that /ow/ as in cow has two sounds. How many syllables is downtown? Or what about poison? Are you just making this up as you go along?

“Is this silent final thing a vowel? So does the word breathe have three vowels? If a vowel has a sound, how can a vowel not have a sound? Are we in some parallel universe and I didn’t notice?”

“You said that ‘a long vowel says its name.’ What about the word tune or duty? Don’t those vowels say /oo/? And you said that can be a long vowel. But it doesn’t say it’s name in dying or baby. Did you go to school for this?

“You told us that ‘When two vowels go walking, the first one usually does the talking. If is a vowel and is a vowel, then shouldn’t I be putting peanut butter on my br/ē/d? Of is that another one of your ‘Outlaw Words’? Or how bread and bead are one syllable, but cre/ate are two? What have you been smokin’?”

“Didn’t you say that the blank after the consonant digraph /wh/ means that a vowel has to go in there? What about the color white? Is a vowel? Is a vowel? Why is “i_e” called a vowel sound-spelling, when it’s got two vowels. This phonics stuff is whacked.”

“Now that we’ve learned that a, e, i, o, and are vowels, you brought up the ‘sometimes y’… Are there any other consonants that can also be vowels?… What? ‘W Vowels and Y, L, H, M, R, and N While We’re At It‘? Can’t we just go back to memorizing everything as sight words? Next thing you’re going to tell me is that my peanut butter can be jelly and my jelly can be peanut butter on my sandwich, or that we can never starve in the desert because of all the sand-which-es there.” There’s always a jokester in a response to intervention class, I’ve found.

How can we avoid this confusion? Let’s try to be consistent in using just the primary definition of a vowel, i.e. the speech sound. Teach students that the alphabetic code is a bunch of symbols which we call letters. The letters represent sounds, just like the different stars on our flag represent the 50 different states. The stars are symbols… not the real things. We wouldn’t say the stars are the states. That would be dumb. We also wouldn’t say that the alphabet letters are the sounds. That would be dumb. The different letters represent, or mean, the different sounds.

With this understanding, students can readily accept that a combination of alphabetic letters (digraphs, diphthongs, and blends) represent one or more speech sounds. For example, I suggest saying, “The word bead has a vowel digraph… one vowel sound spelled with two letters,” not bead has two vowels. Similarly say, “The word point has a diphthong… two connected vowel sounds.” Don’t shy away from using the academic language. Your kids can handle it and it makes you look smart. By the way, I try and stay away from the general term vowel teams because we teach students that a team is singular as a collective noun, but use what works for you and your students.

The Long Vowels

The Long Vowels

Long Vowels

How to Teach Long Vowels

Introductory Definition: Like the five short vowels, the five long vowels are different sounds. Mostly, their sounds are the same as the names of the alphabet letters a, e, i, o, and u.

On our animal sound-spelling cards, the names of each card: ape, eagle, ibex, okapi, and mule each use these different sounds. The long vowel sounds are written in red on the cards with slashes (/) before and after to remind us that the long vowel is a sound, not a letter.

Unlike the short vowels, each of the long vowels has more than one spelling. The most common spellings are listed below the names of the cards. A blank means that a consonant must go in there. A consonant is a different sound than a vowel and can be spelled with one or more letters.

Teaching Tips

To teach phonics to big kids and adults, we have to teach differently than when we teach phonics to beginning readers. Your big kids and adults are smarter and have more life experience than pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. Intervention students have “heard it all before.” They just haven’t learned all of it.

I suggest a four-pronged approach to teaching long vowels to your reading intervention students:

1. Use the animal sound-spelling cards (provided for you in a FREE five-lesson long vowels download at the end of this article) to teach the names, sounds, and spellings in isolation.

2. Teach whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending for all of the long vowel spellings. Use a hurried pace, but blend every day until each has been mastered. Reinforce with games, using the long vowel cards to blend with the consonant and consonant blend cards.

3. Diagnose and gap-fill. As an MA reading specialist with experience teaching grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and community college remedial reading classes, the one thing I’ve learned is that with intervention students, you’ve got to approach instruction from different angles. As an aside, although this article is all about explicit, systematic phonics instruction, my Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention also provides resources for instruction using rimes (word families), sight words, sight syllables, syllabication… anything that works. The different phonics angle is assessment-based instruction. Older students are motivated to learn what they don’t know. If we use effective, comprehensive diagnostic assessments to determine what students know and don’t know and target instruction accordingly, students will much more likely buy-in to this individualized instruction (even when you use groups). Want my FREE 13 reading assessments, used by hundreds (or more) teachers to teach assessment-based gap-filling? BTW… the two phonics tests have audio files dictated by Yours Truly!

4. Use targeted practice to do the gap-filling and make sure your students have mastered the long vowels through formative assessment. The FREE five-lesson download includes a short formative assessment. Be willing and able to re-teach if they don’t get it. After all, reading intervention is all about learning, not teaching.

Get the Long Vowel Phonics Lessons and Phonics Cards FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

 

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Consonant Blends for Big Kids

Short Vowels Sound-Spellings

Short Vowels

In most explicit, systematic phonics programs, the short vowels (our most predictable and consistent sound-spelling relationships are taught first, along with the most frequently occurring consonant sounds. So in my Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program, we start with short /a/, m, t, and s. These give us quite a few words to study: as, am, mat, sat, Sam, tam, and fat. By way of reminder, they do not give us ma, as in “ma” and “pa.” A different sound altogether!

Instructional Sequence for Consonant Blends

Consonant Blends Instructional Sequence

I will admit that these first four letter-sound correspondences don’t permit compelling reading. As much as I support connecting phonics instruction to reading, the first decodable book in my 54 Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books is not a can’t put it down page-turner even with the two sight words introduced with each eight-page book. But since this is a reading intervention program and the goal is get Tier 1 and 2 kids brought up to grade-level as soon as possible, all short vowels and consonants are taught (and learned) within the first three weeks.

By that time, our Book 7 Sam and Friends story with teenage cartoon characters and complex plots is getting pretty fun to read. But hold onto your hats: the consonant blends are going to open up a whole new world for reading. Wahoo!

To learn how to quickly teach consonant blends to big kids and adults (those who just didn’t get it the first time around), I’ll provide a working definition, and a few teaching tips, a FREE whole-class assessment with audio file, and a FREE set of five consonant blend digraph lessons with a short formative assessment. Okay, twist my arm, I’ll also include my entire phonics instructional scope and sequence and my animal sound-spelling and consonant blend cards. Your kids deserve the best!

Consonant Blends for RtI

Consonant Blends for Big Kids

How to Teach Consonant Blends

Definition: Consonant blends are two (or three) letters which make two (or three) sounds. We have both beginning and ending consonant blends. Remember that blends are not digraphs. Consonant digraphs are two (or three) letters which form one sound.

Diagnosis: The first step is to determine what is missing from the your students’ knowledge of the consonant blends phonics patterns. Your big kids and adults are smarter than beginning pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. In fact, I see two mistakes canned reading intervention programs make all-too-often: 1. The program doesn’t move fast enough. Believe me, your remedial readers have heard this stuff all before. They will tune you out and lull themselves into “remedial reading sleep-state” or jump into poor behavior mode if the instructional pace is not brisk and demanding. 2. All whole-class instruction and no individual or small group gap-filling. Teachers want to be thorough. They want to teach the whole thing. I agree, but the whole-class direct instruction of sound-by-sound blending and syllabication should be coupled with concurrent, assessment-based gap-filling. Having taught reading intervention courses to grades 3-6 elementary, 7-8 middle school, 9-10 high school, and community college students, I can assure you that the most successful remedial reading instruction includes A through Z whole-class teaching of the sound-spellings and gap-filling, assessment-based individualized instruction.

Application… Use a systematic, explicit, and hurried instructional scope and sequence for phonics and syllables instruction. (You’ll get my 16-week plan with your FREE download.) Connect the instruction with reading decodable text for authentic practice. Also administer prescriptive diagnostic phonics assessments that will allow you to teach to individual student deficits while you are teaching and students are practicing the whole thing. Teachers have used my FREE reading assessments for years to pinpoint phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight words deficits. These assessments will inform your instruction. For the purposes of this article, the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment pinpoints which consonant blends sound-spellings students have not yet mastered.

The second step is to follow a research-tested instructional scope and sequence. The instructional scope and sequence should guide both your whole-class phonics and syllabication instruction and your assessment-based individualized (or in groups) instruction. You need to teach and gap-fill by building foundations before adding on the roof. For example, teach the consonant sounds before teaching consonant blends in both both your sound-by-sound blending and in assessment-based mini-lessons, guided reading, worksheets, etc.

Teachers should layer in a mix of beginning and ending consonant blends by frequency of use and by utility. Because our task is to teach reading, not to teach phonics as our end-goal, we have to connect instruction to authentic reading practice. Now by authentic, I mean narrative and expository reading practice, not just words or sentence practice. In other words, fist teach the high utility consonant blends which are connected to decodable books. Your students need targeted practice.

The third step is to group students who have demonstrated that they have not yet achieved mastery with the consonant blend sound-spellings. Grouping is just more efficient than purely individual instruction. Teachers use a variety of small group formats. Literacy centers have become a popular option to provide remedial instruction within some centers (stations), while offering grade-level and/or accelerated instruction in other centers. Mini-lessons and collaborative or individual worksheets can work well in groups. Guided reading, if focused on targeted sound-spellings, can do the job. I like and have used a combination of approaches, usually beginning a group with quick instruction, followed by individualized practice, and ending (not necessarily on the same day) with formative assessment and re-teaching as necessary. By the way, I’m a big advocate of student self-correction of their own practice. Kids do learn from their own mistakes.

The fourth step is to develop and use formative assessments to determine mastery. Big kids and adults improve reading most when the instruction is designed by comprehensive, teachable diagnostic assessments and is adjusted as needed by the results of quick, pinpoint formative assessments. In the FREE five consonant blend lessons, the fifth lesson is a one-minute formative assessment. You’ll know whether students have or have not mastered the consonant blends. Teachers need to have back-up lessons in case the student does not master the consonant blends on the formative assessment. A solid foundation will allow students to learn additional reading skills.

Teachers who would like to use my consonant blends phonics lessons and formative assessment are welcome to download this FREE five-lesson workshop from my Teaching Reading Strategies program. Think I’ll also include my entire phonics instructional scope and sequence, plus 89 animal sound-spelling and consonant blends cards!

Get the Consonant Blends Phonics Lessons FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Elizabeth Lewis

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , ,

Consonant Digraphs for Big Kids

Consonant Digraphs for RtI

Consonant Digraphs for Big Kids

Quite a few new teachers get confused about the difference between consonant digraphs and consonant blends. In a quick Google search, I found plenty of confusion among these “reading experts.” As an MA reading specialist, let me give you the definitions, a way to remember the difference, some examples, a few teaching tips, a FREE whole-class assessment with audio file, an instructional scope and sequence, and instructional management tips. Also, let’s throw in a FREE set of five consonant digraph lessons with a short formative assessment. Wahoo!

Consonant Digraphs

Definition: Consonant digraphs are two (or three) letters which form one sound. Consonant blends are two (or three) letters which make two (or three) sounds.

How to remember the difference: When we are dealing with phonics, we are creating sounds from letters. As you know, phon means sound; so does son (think sonar)You also know that di means two and graph means writing (letters for our purpose). Thus, a consonant digraph is one sound, two letters. Don’t forget we also have vowel digraphs: one vowel sound with two letters. And now for consonant blends… When you blend spices in your favorite chili recipe, you can still taste the chili powder, salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Each spice keeps its individual flavor. Thus, a consonant blend puts together two or three letters, each keeping its own sound. Note: Be careful not to think of a blender regarding consonant blends. My Vitamix® takes away every flavor from every ingredient in my daily protein drink. Quick Joke: What do you get with a can of peas and a blender? Whirled Peas (World Peace if you haven’t had your second cup of coffee today).

Consonant Digraph Examples: The “h” Brothers

Teaching Consonant Digraphs

Consonant Digraphs

Teaching Tips

Make sure to teach the /hw/ sound for the “wh” digraph. The /h/ gives the breathy sound need for accurate pronunciation. The Middle English pronunciation before the Great Vowel Shift (beginning in about 1350 A.D.) was actually two sounds before they evolved into one. Contrast the /hw/ “wh” as in whale with the /w/ “w” as in wolf and you’ll hear the difference. Note: The sound-spelling cards I use in my Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program are all animals. Thankfully, there is a critter known as an “x-ray” fish. 

Make sure to teach the two sounds of the “th” spellings and “sh” spellings at some point. The differences are difficult to hear for most students (and many teachers). I suggest sticking with the voiced /th/ as in python and then moving to the unvoiced (the same with the “sh” consonant digraph). See the instructional sequence below for the blending sample words I use. Check out my article on “How to Teach the Voiced and Unvoiced ‘th'” if this confuses you.

Do not elongate the endings of consonant digraphs. I just got finished watching a video of a proud principal teaching a group of students the /sh/ consonant digraph. The principal was putting her index finger in front of pursed lips while she said (and had students repeat) “shhhhhhhhhh.” When the principal asked her students to blend the /sh/ + /ĕ/ + /d/, the students dutifully responded with “”shhhhhhhhhhed.” The perplexed principal wisely called on the teacher for help.

While we’re mentioning proper blending technique, don’t make that consonant blend end in /uh/. It’s a clipped /sh/, not /shuh/, etc. Check out my “How to Do Sound-by-Sound Blending” article  if you want to review.

Lastly, I don’t teach the “ph” consonant blend until we get to silent letters. It’s a Greek sound-spelling, but then you knew that!

Assessment, Instructional Scope and Sequence, Forming Groups, Time, Instruction, and Practice

When to Introduce Consonant Digraphs

Consonant Digraphs Instructional Sequence

The first step is to determine what is missing from the your students’ knowledge of the consonant digraph phonics patterns. Teachers have used my FREE reading assessments for years to pinpoint phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight words deficits. For the purposes of this article, the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment pinpoints which consonant digraph sound-spellings students have not yet mastered.

The second step is to follow a research-tested instructional scope and sequence. Most all explicit, systematic phonics programs begin with short vowels and layer on consonant sounds and consonant blends. Next, phonics programs begin with the long vowel sound-spellings or teach the silent final e sound-spellings. Following are the instructional sequence from the author’s reading intervention program and the silent final e animal sound-spelling cards used to introduce the names, sounds, and spellings.

The third step is to group students who have demonstrated that they have not yet achieved mastery with the consonant digraph sound-spellings. Teachers use a variety of small group formats. Literacy centers have become a popular option to provide remedial instruction within some centers (stations), while offering grade-level and/or accelerated instruction in other centers.

The fourth step is to set aside the necessary time to teach the consonant digraph sound-spellings. Initial instruction takes longer; however, remedial instruction can be accomplished quite quickly, because gap-filling builds upon some degree of prior knowledge, albeit a shaky foundation. Typically, five 20-minute workshops will facilitate mastery as indicated by formative assessments.

The fifth step is to provide effective instruction and practice for the consonant digraph sound-spellings and to use a formative assessment to determine mastery. Teachers need to have back-up lessons in case the student does not master the consonant digraphs on the formative assessment. A solid foundation will allow students to learn additional reading skills.

Get the Consonant Digraphs Phonics Lessons FREE Resource:

Teachers who would like to use my consonant digraphs phonics lessons and formative assessment are welcome to download this workshop from my Teaching Reading Strategies program:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Elizabeth Lewis

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Silent Final e for Big Kids

Silent Final e for RtI

Silent Final e for Big Kids

Students find the silent final e to be a frustrating component of  our English sound-spelling system. In particular, second-language learners struggle with both pronunciations and spellings of silent final words. However, this tricky sound-spelling actually helps more than it confuses.

We have those late Middle English folks from Chaucer’s Day (before the Great Vowel Shift beginning about 1350 A.D.) to blame and thank for the silent final e. Some of you must have read the old version of his Canterbury’s Tales in high school or college. In the book, words such as care were pronounced as two syllables (kā/ruh), rather than one. The final was added on to signal an object, not a subject noun, and a plural, not a singular noun. The English kept the spelling, but dropped the suffix syllable sound.

Kids often ask, “Why do we have to learn it, when we don’t have to say it?” Following are eight decent responses:

  1. The silent final says so, and she’s the boss. After all, silence speaks louder than words. If a word pronunciation is confusing, the silent final steps up to be the “bossy final e” to make the other letters make sounds which make sense to us. 
  2. The silent final helps us divide words into syllables and makes pronunciation easier. Remember that every syllable must have a vowel. If we didn’t have the the silent final e, how could we pronounce a word such as stapl?  Sta/ple is much simpler.
  3. The silent final signals that a word ending in an is not a plural. For example, “I hope she has sense enough not to break her promise” lets us know that it’s just one sense and just one promise, not more than oneAfter all, “”I hope she has sens enough not to break her promis” might be confusing.
  4. The silent final e usually signals a preceding long vowel sound. For example, hide and note (long vowel sounds) keep readers from reading hid and not (short vowel sounds). Even most of the vowel digraphs (another result of the Great Vowel Shift) are long vowel sounds signaled by the silent final e, for example leave and owe. Yes, it’s true there are exceptions, which we have to memorize as “outlaw words.” Many of these sight words were common Middle English words that the Brits refused to change, such as love, give, and have.
  5. The silent final signals soft /c/ and /g/ sounds, such as prince and huge.
  6. The silent final is used to show the difference in homophones, such as in or and ore.
  7. The silent final e prevents i, u, and v from being the last letter in a word. For example, we would rather read about people who lie about their true love, rather than about people who li about their tru lov.
  8. The silent final makes the /th/ a voiced sound, such as with clothe, breathe, bathe, and teethe. Check out my article on “How to Teach the Voiced and Unvoiced ‘th'” if this confuses you.

Some students find the silent final to be hard to spell when adding on suffixes. This silent final song might help!

     Memory Rap (Play the audio file HERE.)

    Drop the final e when adding on an ending if it starts with a vowel up front.

            Keep the final e when adding on an ending if it starts with a consonant.

            Also keep the e when you hear soft “c” or “g”

            Before “able” or “o-u-s”

            Mostly keep the e when the ending is “v-e”,

            “e-e”, or even “o-e”.

The first step is to determine what is missing from the your students’ knowledge of the silent final e phonics patterns. Teachers have used my reading assessments for years to pinpoint phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight words deficits. For the purposes of this article, the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment pinpoints which silent final e sound-spellings students have not yet mastered.

Silent Final e Phonics

Silent Final e Instructional Sequence

The second step is to follow a research-tested instructional scope and sequence. Most all explicit, systematic phonics programs begin with short vowels and layer on consonant sounds and consonant blends. Next, phonics programs begin with the long vowel sound-spellings or teach the silent final e sound-spellings. Following are the instructional sequence from the author’s reading intervention program and the silent final e animal sound-spelling cards used to introduce the names, sounds, and spellings.

The third step is to group students who have demonstrated that they have not yet achieved mastery with the silent final sound-spellings. Teachers use a variety of small group formats. Literacy centers have become a popular option to provide remedial instruction within some centers (stations), while offering grade-level and/or accelerated instruction in other centers.

The fourth step is to set aside the necessary time to teach the silent final sound-spellings. Initial instruction takes longer; however, remedial instruction can be accomplished quite quickly, because gap-filling builds upon some degree of prior knowledge, albeit a shaky foundation. Typically, five 20-minute workshops will facilitate mastery as indicated by formative assessments.

Silent Final e Phonics

Silent Final e Sound-Spellings

The fifth step is to provide effective instruction and practice for the silent final  sound-spellings and to use a formative assessment to determine mastery. Teachers need to have back-up lessons in case the student does not master the silent final e on the formative assessment. A solid foundation will allow students to learn additional reading skills.

Teachers who would like to use my silent final phonics lessons and formative assessment are welcome to download this workshop from my Teaching Reading Strategies program:

Get the Silent Final e Phonics Lessons FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0

Elizabeth Lewis

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,