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Sight Words: Which to Teach and Which Not To

Sight Words

Which sight words should we teach?

Most teachers and reading specialists advocate some teaching of sight words: the question is which ones make sense to teach and which ones don’t make sense to teach? Don’t worry… At the end of the article you’ll get the assessments, word lists, activities, and suggested resources you need to teach. But, we do need to answer the question.

First, let’s dispel a few notions about how we learn to read. It’s not a which came first, the chicken or the egg? question some still suggest. In other words, the end result is not all that matters. Witness the plethora of reading intervention classes in upper elementary and middle schools to see how many of our students can “read,” but not understand what they are “word calling.” How we get to the end result does matter. Reading does not teach phonemic awareness, nor does reading teach phonics and multi-syllabic decoding.

We have plenty of reading research to positively assert that explicit, systematic phonics instruction is the most efficient approach to teaching beginning and remedial readers. The Look-Say Method of the Dick and Jane readers (sight words only instruction) and the Onset-Rime Method (b-ack, h-ack, j-ack, l-ack, p-ack, r-ack, s-ack, t-ack) have largely been placed on the dustbin of instructional approaches.

However…

We can certainly take things too far. We know some things, but we don’t know a lot of things about reading. We are only at the beginning stages of brain research.

So…

A prudent approach to both beginning and remedial reading instruction is to focus on decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling) instruction and practice, but to also “throw in” a healthy dose of sight words practice just to be sure. But, all sight words are not created equal.

Which Sight Words Not to Teach and Why

Don’t pass out lists of high frequency reading or spelling words for students to memorize. Intuitively, it would seem to make sense to have students memorize the words that they are going to read or spell most often. However, our gut-level instincts lead us astray here.

  • The Dolch and Fry word lists of the most commonly used words in basal readers were never designed to provide a list of words to study. Countless U.S. classrooms still, unfortunately, have these reading goals (and assign parents the task of teaching): 10 words by the end of kindergarten; 100 words by the end of first grade; 200 words by the end of second grade; and 300 words by the end of third grade. As a reading specialist, I’ve worked with hundreds of elementary, middle school, high school, and even community college students who can word call each of these lists, but not read with comprehension.
  • Similarly, the Slosson Oral Word Reading Test and San Diego Quick Assessment were only designed to test word recognition and they do provide correlations to reading comprehension, but authors Richard L. Slosson and Charles L. Nicholson, as well as Margaret La Pray and Ramon Ross respectively, never advocated using their random sample assessments as instructional tools.
  • The “No Excuse” spelling word lists, floating around since Rebecca Sitton popularized this band aid approach to spelling mastery during the height of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s still, unfortunately, serves as the entire spelling program for countless U.S. classrooms with absolutely no research validating its instructional validity.

Which Sight Words to Teach and Why

The first group of sight words are, indeed, words; the second and third groups are word parts.

  • Outlaw Words: These words break the law, that is they break the rules of the alphabet code and are non-phonetic. Words such as the and above are Outlaw Words because readers can’t decode them. I’ve heard way too many teachers and parents force children into sounding out words which can’t be done because they break the code. It is true that many of our high frequency and high utility words happen to be non-decodable, but many are not, so the efficient approach to sight words instruction is to teach and have students practice only the non-decodable words, not the high frequency words which mix non-decodable and decodable. Why confuse students? We have to teach these outlaw words because they are exceptions to our phonics rules.
  • Word Families (Rimes): A rime is a vowel and the final consonants in one syllable, such as “ack.” The rime usually follows an first consonant, e.g. “b,” or consonant blend, e.g. “tr,” to form words, e.g., “back” or “track.” Students apply these to other starting consonants (called onsets) to recognize or say new words. By the end of second grade, students should know every one of these 79 word families with automaticity through explicit, systematic phonics instruction. If they don’t, gap fill with flashcard practice and activities to help students master the rimes. I have found plenty of success teaching the word families that students do not know with sound-spelling blending. Again, the focus is remedial, not instructional, with the rimes.
  • High Frequency Greek and Latin Prefixes and Roots: Greek and Latin word parts make up over 50% of the words in the dictionary. Some are decodable in English, and some are not. Because of the strong reading-vocabulary connection, it does make sense to have students teach and practice the Greek and Latin high frequency prefixes and suffixes which they do not know. Like with rimes, the analogous relationships formed by morphological (meaning-based) word parts make this a sound sight words instructional focus. For example,  bi means two in bicycle, just as it means two in bicameral or biped.

FREE Sight Words Assessments

Outlaw Words: Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Word Families (Rimes): Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Greek and Latin High Frequency Prefixes and Suffixes: Click HERE to get both the teacher and student assessment pages.

Click HERE to get a one-page Reading Assessment Matrix for these sight word assessments.

FREE Sight Words Lists and Activities

Outlaw Words: Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

Word Families (Rimes): Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

Greek and Latin High Frequency Prefixes and Suffixes: Click HERE to get this sight word list and sample instructional activities.

But wait… Why not get these sight word assessments, sight word lists, ALL (not the sample) sight word activities plus 10 other reading assessments AND all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Perfect for guided reading.

Why not check out the program’s Introductory Video (15:08)?

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Reading Fluency Homework

What’s the best homework? Reading!

Now… independent reading is valuable for so many purposes: vocabulary acquisition, reading comprehension development, self-discipline, stamina, building concentration, nurturing imagination, learning culture, and FUN!

However, many parents want and are equipped to give even more to their children. One area of reading development where parents can do an even better job than the classroom teacher is reading fluency.

Just exactly what reading fluency is gets mixed up with the instructional procedures and practice to achieve it. For example, reading fluency is not repeated reading; although that practice can certainly help improve reading fluency. A helpful way to understand the purpose of developing reading fluency is to think of it as language dexterity.

Merriam-Webster defines dexterity as “mental skill or quickness; readiness and grace in physical activity-especially skill and ease in using the hands.” I like this working definition, because when we think of dexterity in other contexts, such as physical dexterity, we think of it as a process and a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

For example, with the focus on reading speed (one goal of reading fluency), most teachers have had students who meet or exceed grade level fluency standards, in terms of both accuracy and words per minute, but don’t comprehend or retain anything that they’ve read. Reading fluency positively correlates with reading comprehension because the whole purpose of language dexterity is understanding (See this scholarly article for more.) In other words, we want to improve reading fluency in order to improve reading comprehension.

So how can parents build language dexterity in their children and practice reading fluency at home?

Select the Right Book for Fluency Practice

Parents can’t be bothered with complicated Lexile levels or other criteria. Be practical! Here’s a better alternative that all parents can do. CLICK!

Modeled Readings

I read a sentence/paragraph; you read a sentence/paragraph, mimicking my pronunciation, inflection, pacing, and attention to punctuation.

Choral Readings

Parents and children both read a section at the child’s “challenge pace.” The challenge pace should be about 15-20% faster than the child’s independent fluency level.

Repeated Readings

Parents can get their children to repeat large sections, for example, chapters, within the same reading session. A few options: 1. Read it out loud; then read it silently. 2. I read a page; you read a page. 3. We listen to an audio book chapter; you read the same chapter.

Fluency Assessment

Assessment is teaching and practice. Parents can do pre and post fluency assessments on simple timing charts. Teach parents how to quickly determine words per page (the average grades 3-5 chapter book has 200 words per page; grades 6-8 has 275). Parents can assess words per minute or pages read in 5 minutes. Click HERE for 13 free reading assessments, including a simple multi-level reading fluency assessment (The Pets Fluency Assessment) to serve as a baseline.

Other Reading Fluency Homework Options

Word Fluency

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

With the correct instructional materials, parent can help their children practice decodable and sight word fluency. The author’s guided reading  books, Sam and Friends Phonics Books, provide optimal practice for developing what we reading specialists call automaticity. These 54 take-home books are designed for remedial/reluctant readers and provide teenage characters and plots with fantastic non-juvenile cartoons. Five comprehension questions are embedded in each story. Plus, each back page includes word fluency practice to rehearse and assess (in a 30-second assessment) the focus phonics (sound-spellings) and sight words of the lesson with built-in book to book review. Teachers are licensed to print these take-home books and distribute to parents.

Multi-Speed YouTube Modeled Readings

Parents can use phones, tablets, or desktops to access the author’s Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit fluency and comprehension

The Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

Reading Fluency and Comprehension Toolkit

development animal articles. The teacher prints the article (with three vocabulary and five comprehension questions using the SCRIP independent reading comprehension questions) back-to-back, the progress monitoring matrix, and provides the URL.

Students complete a “cold” (unpracticed) fluency timing and record on the provided matrix.

Students practice choral reading at one of three reading speeds (selected by the teacher and/or parent) with the audio recording, following along with the reading text on the screen. Parents may elect to have their children re-read at the faster reading speed.

Students then complete a “hot” (practiced) fluency timing and record on the matrix.

These animal articles are designed in a three-tiered format: the first two paragraphs at the third grade level; the next two at the fifth grade level; and the last two at the seventh grade level. The design helps remedial readers “push through” more difficult text after having built context and confidence in the preceding text.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

The author, Mark Pennington, is an MA reading specialist who writes curriculum targeted at grades 4-8. His comprehensive reading intervention program, Teaching Reading Strategies and the Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE includes both fluency resources described in this article.

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Quick Reading Assessments

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

At the start of the school year or when they get the inevitable transfer students, veteran teachers realize that they can’t depend solely upon previous teacher or counselor placements with regard to student reading levels. Teachers don’t want to find out in the middle of a grade-level novel that some students are reading two or more years below grade level and can’t hope to understand the book without significant assistance.

The best quick initial reading assessment? Reading. Specifically, a short reading fluency passage, but one that gives you not just a reading fluency number, but one that also gives you a good ballpark of what grade level the students can independently access. You’ve never seen anything like this before.

This “Pets” expository fluency passage is leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level.

Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage and two-minute expository reading fluency is a much better measurement than a one-minute narrative reading fluency at only one grade level. The Pets Fluency Assessment is my gift to you and your students.

High levels of reading fluency are positively correlated with high levels of comprehension. Although not a causal connection, it makes sense that a certain degree of effortless automaticity is necessary for any reader to fully attend to meaning-making.

A good guideline that is widely used for acceptable fluency rates by the end of the school year follows.

2nd Grade Text            80 words per minute with 95% accuracy

3rd Grade Text            95 words per minute with 95% accuracy

4th Grade Text            110 words per minute with 95% accuracy

5th Grade Text             125 words per minute with 95% accuracy

6th Grade Text            140 words per minute with 95% accuracy

7th Grade Text            150 words per minute with 95% accuracy

8th Grade Text            160 words per minute with 95% accuracy

Having administered the Pets Fluency Assessment, two more initial assessments will help you further pinpoint any relative weaknesses and give you a game-plan for assessment-based instruction

  1. Phonics Assessments (vowels: 10:42audio file, print copy and consonants: 12:07 audio fileprint copy)
  2. Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (22.38audio file, print copy)

These two recording matrices will help you keep track of individual student fluency, phonics, and spelling data: fluency and phonics recording matrix and spelling recording matrix. The matrices facilitate assignment of small group workshops and individualized worksheets. The matrices also serve as the progress monitoring source.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, has written a reasonably priced Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program, which includes all of the instructional resources to help students master the demonstrated relative weaknesses in fluency, phonics, and spelling plus other diagnostic assessments (phonemic awareness and sight words) for remedial reading instruction.

The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness activities to remediate all deficits indicated by the assessments. Why not check out the program’s Introductory Video (15:08)?

Why not get this assessment plus 12 other reading assessments AND all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments by purchasing the the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Phonics Books BUNDLE? Enter discount code 3716 to save an additional 10%.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Here’s an overview of this comprehensive reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies is designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the

Decodable Sam and Friends Phonics Books

Sam and Friends Take-home Phonics Books

curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Perfect for guided reading.

Why not check out the program’s Introductory Video (15:08)?

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Reading Intervention

As a reading specialist, I have seen reading intervention programs come and go. The one thing I have learned is that no matter how good the program, the program will not be successful if teachers will not teach it. Rarely do teachers teach only a reading intervention program. Elementary teachers are responsible for teaching every other academic subject; secondary teachers are teaching subject area classes with multiple preps. A successful reading intervention program must be both “user-friendly” for teachers and address the needs of diverse learners.

Serving as a district reading specialist, I worked with dozens of teachers and their students over the years to design a program that really works for you and your students. We have no cookie-cutter students and a cookie-cutter instructional approach just doesn’t work.

Teaching Reading Strategies provides a comprehensive reading intervention program which will both meet the meets of a diverse group of students with diverse reading needs. The 13 whole class reading and spelling diagnostic assessments will help you tailor the program to what your students need to learn, not what a canned reading program wants you to teach.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading StrategiesThis program emphasizes assessment-based instruction and is extremely flexible. You could spend thousands on Read 180, Language Live, etc. each year and not get the results that you will get by using these Teaching Reading Strategies resources.

New reading teachers will love the scripted day to day plans to teach reading A-Z in a half-year intensive or full-year program.

Experienced teachers will pick and choose from the myriad of resources.

The mix of great direct instruction, small group phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight word workshops, and individualized instruction (including fluency practice with modeled readings at three different speeds, sound-spelling, syllabication, comprehension, and phonics worksheets) will help you cater instruction to the needs of each student. Plus, the only computer-assisted component in this program consists of the online modeled readings. Even this reading fluency practice has an effective work-around instructional approach that does not require computers. No technology nightmares! No unsupervised instruction. Less expense, too.

AND THIS PROGRAM IS EASY TO TEACH WITH VERY LITTLE PREP!

I also highly recommend the Sam and Friends Phonics Books to get your non-readers reading right away at Book 1, while more advanced students will begin reading at higher levels. The perfect take-home books for guided reading and homework! Each book includes five reading comprehension questions and a 30 second fluency practice/assessment.

Finally, the FUN part of this program is the Reading and Spelling Game Cards with tons of engaging games that both beginning readers and more advanced readers can play. The cards are included in the Teaching Reading Strategies digital download from TpT.

Check out the introductory video and see if Teaching Reading Strategies makes sense for you and your students.

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Word Families (Rimes) Activities

Although systematic explicit phonics instruction should be the core of beginning reading instruction, as a reading specialist I support an eclectic approach to ensure success for all students. One such approach that I have used with success is teaching the basic word families, also known as rimes.

Now to be certain that I don’t lead you astray, let’s be clear that I do mean rimes, and not rhymes. Although the two are certainly related, especially in terms of instructional practice. Simply defined, the rime consists of a vowel and final consonants, such as “ack.” The rime usually follows an initial consonant, e.g. “b,” or consonant blend, e.g. “bl,” to form words, e.g., “back” or “black.”

Learning the common rimes can help beginning readers recognize common chunks of letters within words. Margaret Moustafa’s research has demonstrated that beginning readers tend to figure out new words through analogy (1997). In other words, they connect “what they already know” to “what they need to know” through word similarities. Goswami found that both beginning and dyslexic readers benefit from learning and practicing rimes (2000). To summarize, if beginning readers learn to recognize the “ack” rime, they will be able to use that chunk to learn words with different single consonant onsets to form words such as “back,” “hack,” “jack,” “lack,” “rack,” “sack,” “tack,” as well as words with different consonant blend onsets, such as “black,” “crack,” and “stack.”

Now, good reading teachers will note that teaching rimes could be used to side-step blending the individual vowel and final consonant sounds, just as teaching the consonant blends could side-step blending the individual consonant sounds. Thus, with the consonant blend onset “bl” and its rime “ack,” the word black becomes two pronunciation units, rather than four. I certainly would not advocate these short-cuts; however, once beginning readers have mastered, or are in the process of mastering how to blend, I see no reason to avoid practicing blending automaticity with rimes. I do suggest leaving the consonant blends to the traditional blending strategies rather than practicing these as chunks because mispronunciations, such as “bluh” for bl, will create more harm than good.

Parents can be helpful partners in practicing rimes with their children. Although oftentimes well-intentioned parents can do more harm than good when they teach their children to blend improperly, practicing rimes is almost foolproof. A good list of rimes, such as in the following Word Family (Rimes Activities), will give parents the tools they need. Also, reading rhyming books, such as Dr. Seuss, are wonderful practice.

For older students, say second-graders or reading intervention students (think Response to Intervention Tiers I and II), this Rimes Assessment with recording matrix can provide the data teachers need to effectivelydifferentiate instruction.

So for those of you who have read this far, here are some terrific Word Families (Rimes) Activities to practice rimes in the classroom. You may also wish to use the phonics materials and activities found in these articles: Phonics Games and in How to Teach Phonics. Also, check out these related Phonemic Awareness Activities.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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Sight Word Activities

Sight Words

Which sight words should we teach?

Most every reading teacher places some value on sight words instruction; however, just what teachers mean by sight words varies more than the flavors at the local ice cream parlor. Reading specialists describe two methods of “word attack”: word identification and word recognition. Sight words are the word recognition side of the coin. Some mean high frequency reading words and trot out Fry or Dolch word lists. These words consist of those most frequently found in basal reading series. “By the end of second grade, your child must have memorized the top 200 words.”

Other teachers see sight words as high utility spelling words. You can spot these teachers by their prominently displayed “No Excuse” spelling words on a colorful bulletin board. Thanks to Rebecca Sitton, these collections of words are the words that children most often use in their beginning writing. “By the end of second grade, your child must have mastered the spelling of these words in their writing–no excuses!”

Still other teachers understand and teach sight words as word family (rimes) words. A rime is a vowel and final consonants in one syllable, such as “ick.” The rime usually follows an initial consonant, e.g. “t,” or consonant blend, e.g. “tr,” to form words, e.g., “tick” or “trick.” Teachers using rimes have their students memorize what these chunks of words look and sound like and then apply these to other starting consonants (called onsets) to recognize or say new words. “By the end of second grade, your child must know every one of these 79 word families with automaticity.” Get a comprehensive list of rimes and terrific learning activities Word Families (Rimes) Activities.

The last group of teachers view sight words as Outlaw Words. That’s right… stick ’em up, cowboy! These words break the law, that is they break the rules of the alphabet code and are non-phonetic. Words such as the and love are Outlaw Words because readers can’t sound them out. Unfortunately, many of our high frequency and high utility words happen to be non-decodable. Linguists tell us that these are holdovers from our Old English roots.

So Which Sight Words Should We Teach?

Although reading  research clearly supports systematic explicit phonics as the most efficient instructional methodology, as a reading specialist I support a Heinz 57® approach to sight word practice.  Although not a substitute for explicit phonics instruction, memorizing key sight words does makes sense to promote reading automaticity. And, as a bonus, parents can be helpful partners in practicing sight words with their children. Although oftentimes well-intentioned parents frequently do more harm than good when they teach their children to blend improperly (think “buh-ay-nuh-kuh” sound-out for bank), practicing sight words is almost foolproof.

For older students, say second-graders or reading intervention students (think Response to Intervention Tiers I and II), these Outlaw Words and Rimes Assessments with recording matrix provides  teachers with the data they need to effectively differentiate instruction.

And here are some terrific Outlaw Words Activities and  Word Families (Rimes) Activities to make sight word practice fun in the classroom. Also check out the phonics materials and activities found in these articles: Phonics Games and in How to Teach Phonics. Finally,  check out these related Phonemic Awareness Activities.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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Reading Readiness

Big topic for a small article. With big topics, such as world peace, global warming, or the problem of evil, authors usually find it expedient to narrow things down a bit. Not so with reading readiness. With few exceptions, the following big picture advice applies equally to teachers of four-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, and forty-year-olds. Of course, there are differences that need to be considered for each age group. Preschool/kinder/first grade teachers, intermediate and middle school reading intervention (RtI) teachers, and adult education teachers know how to teach to their clients’ developmental learning characteristics. Similarly, English-language development teachers and special education teachers know their student populations and are adept at how to differentiate instruction accordingly. But, my point is that the what of reading readiness instruction is much the same across the age and experience spectrum.

So in keeping with this big picture advice, let’s begin with a definition of reading. More specifically, what is reading and what is not reading.

What is Reading

Reading is making and discovering meaning from text. It involves both process skills and content. It is both caught and taught.

What is Not Reading

Reading is not just pronouncing (decoding) words.

Reading is not just recognizing a bunch of words and their meanings (memorizing and applying sight words).

Reading is not just content.

Reading is not just applying the reader’s understanding of content by means of prior knowledge and life experience.

Reading is not just a set of skills or strategies.

How Reading is Caught

Plenty of studies demonstrate a positive correlation between skilled readers and their literate home environments. However, because it would be impossible to isolate, we will never be able to determine precisely which features of a literate environment positively impact reading and which do not. From my own experience as a reading specialist and parent of three boys, I offer these observations:

Reading to and with your child or student certainly makes a difference. Yes, reading pattern books, picture books, and controlled-vocabulary books are advisable. But having your child or student read to you (and others) is more important than you reading to them. Apologies to the read-aloud-crowd, but the goal is not to build dependent listening comprehension. The goal is to build independent readers with excellent silent reading comprehension. By the way, although it is nice for children, adolescents, and adults to have warm and fuzzy feelings about reading, it is certainly not necessary. All three of my boys hated reading and being read to at points, but my wife and I still required plenty of reading. All three are now avid and skilled adult readers.

Modeling reading as a reading readiness strategy is highly overrated. Having your child see you read and discuss text will be a by-product of a literate environment. Reading a newspaper in front of your child will not create an “ah-ha” connection in your child that will turn that child into a life-long reader. Similarly, having a teacher read silently for thirty minutes in front of a group of students doing Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) will not improve student reading. The students would be better served if the teacher spent that time refining lesson plans or grading student essays. Or more importantly, shouldn’t students be doing the bulk of independent reading at home? Charles Barkley was right to this extent: Role models are overrated for some things in life, and reading is one of them.

Turning off the television is not a good idea. There is no doubt that we gain vocabulary, an understanding of proper and varied syntax, and important content by watching the tube. Now, of course, a Rick Steeves travel show or the nightly news does a better job at oral language development than does Sponge Bob, but silence teaches nothing.

Talking with your child or students is a huge plus in reading development. A ten-minute conversation exposes children and students to far more vocabulary and content than does a video game. Of course, reading is the best vocabulary development, but we are talking about reading readiness here.

Word play, such as nursery rhymes, verbal problem-solving games (Twenty Questions, Mad Libs®, I See Something You Don’t See), board games, puzzles, jokes, storytelling, and the like teach phonological awareness, print concepts, and important content.

How Reading is Taught

Preschool (home or away), but preferably with other children and a trained teacher, has no easy substitute. A tiered approach to reading intervention, based upon effective diagnostic data is essential for struggling pre-teen or adolescent readers. The social nature, structure, and accountability of a reading class for adult learners has a much higher degree of success than does independent learning or tutoring.

Phonological (Phonemic) awareness must be taught, if not caught. In my experience, most struggling readers do not have these skills. Effective assessment and teaching strategies can address these deficits and even jump-start success. The mythical notion that reading is developmental or that a child has to be cognitively or social ready to read has no research base. The earlier exposure to sounds and mapping sounds to print, the better. Children simply cannot learn to read too early.

Don’t teach according to learning styles and beware of bizarre reading therapies. There just is no conclusive evidence that adjusting instruction to how students are perceived to learn best impacts learning. Focus the instruction of what readers need to learn, less so on the how. 80% of reading process and content is stored as meaning-based memories, not in the visual or auditory modalities.

Teach according to diagnostic and formative data. Build upon strengths, but especially target weaknesses. Even beginning reader four-year-olds can benefit from effective assessment.

Teach a balance of reading approaches. Certainly sound-spelling correspondences (phonics), explicit spelling strategies (encoding), sight syllables, rimes, outlaw words (irregular sight words) are time and experience-tested. Despite what some will say, learning sight words will not adversely affect a reader’s reliance upon applying the alphabetic code. Work on repeated readings, inflection, and fluidity to develop reading fluency. Teach comprehension strategies and help your child or students practice both literal and inferential monitoring of text, even before they are reading independently.

Take a close, hard look at expensive reading intervention programs such as READ 180 Next Generation and Language!® Live. These expensive programs promise the moon but what reading intervention students need most is solid assessment-based reading resources. Playing video games and creating cool avatars does not trump good old-fashioned assessment-based reading instruction. Check out Comparing READ 180 and Language! Live for a biased comparison of these programs to the author’s own Teaching Reading Strategies.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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

How to Teach Reading Intervention

Teaching reading intervention is qualitatively different from teaching beginning reading. By definition, the initial reading instruction did not “take” to a sufficient degree, so things must be done differently this time around to improve chances for success. According to reading research, these chances are not good betting odds. Only one out of six middle schoolers who are below grade level in reading will ever catch up to grade level.

I have written elsewhere regarding the characteristics of remedial readers. Sufficed to say, knowing their developmental characteristics is just as important as knowing their specific reading deficiencies. Effective reading intervention instruction depends on addressing both components.

But, knowing the specific reading deficiencies is crucial. Using prescriptive diagnostic assessments that will produce the data needed to inform instruction is the one non-negotiable prerequisite. Teachers need to know exactly where their students are to take them to where they want them to be. Once administered, the reading intervention teacher is confronted with the “snowflake phenomena.” No two remedial readers are exactly alike. One has no phonemic awareness; one does not know phonics; one does not know how to blend; one lacks fluency; one is vocabulary deficient; one has poor reading comprehension; and one has poor reading retention.

Of necessity, an effective reading intervention program must be based upon differentiated instruction. A cookie-cutter program starting all students at the same level or having all students use the same workbooks or receive the same direct instruction will address some needs of some students, but not all the needs of all students. Anything less than the latter is nothing less than professional malpractice. Would a medical patient who sets a doctor’s appointment to treat a variety of maladies be satisfied with receiving the same course of treatment as every patient—ignoring some issues and being treated for issues that do not require treatment? Even the staunchest advocates of the current health care system would find this brand of medical practice unacceptable.

Regarding student placement in reading intervention, a number of factors must be considered. Chief of these must be the reductive consideration. First, if the student is placed in a special intervention class, what class is replaced? Removing a child from a literature class seems much like “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Poor readers require compensatory instruction, not just different instruction. Second, multiple measures are needed to ensure that a student needs reading intervention and that the student has a reasonable chance of success in the reading intervention class. Standardized tests can provide an initial sort; however, the student history in the cumulative records and the diagnostic assessments detailed above must be analyzed to refine the sort. Behavioral considerations are legitimate concerns; many students who read poorly tend to compensate with inattentive and disruptive behavior. These students need an intervention with a behavioral specialist that will also teach to their reading deficiencies. These students do not need another platform in a typical reading intervention class to prevent the learning of their peers.

The two most popular reading programs, READ 180 The Next Generation and Language! Live use sampling for their screening and placement assessments. Check out my article

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

comparing these two programs to my own Teaching Reading Strategies.

The greatest variable that will determine the success of a reading intervention class is the teacher. A well-trained teacher with superior management skills, sufficient reading training, and a commitment to diagnostic and formative assessments to inform differentiated instruction are the keys to success. The teacher must be the “best and brightest” on campus, not the new teacher fresh out of the teacher credential program. Reading intervention is the hardest subject to teach and requires a special teacher. The students for whom our educational system has most failed deserve no less.

So, what to teach? The task is daunting. Remedial reading is not just skills instruction or extra reading practice. Effective reading intervention involves both content and process. Reading is both the what and the how. The short answer is that the students themselves determine the what via their diagnostic assessments. The teacher decides the how through differentiated instruction. Beyond this cryptic, albeit accurate, response, certain components will no doubt require attention in a reading intervention class for any age student. Following is an instructional template that will provide a proper balance between the what and how with a brief description of the instructional component and a percentage of the class that the component will necessitate:

  • Small ability group fluency practice (emphasizing repeated readings within the group’s zone of proximal development (15%)
  • Small ability group phonemic awareness practice (10%)
  • Small ability group phonics practice (10%)
  • Individual sight word and syllabication practice (10%)
  • Guided reading, using self-questioning comprehension strategies (15%)
  • Direct instruction and whole group vocabulary development (10%)
  • Small ability group spelling practice (10%)
  • Small ability group blending practice (10%)
  • Independent reading at the individual student’s instructional reading level (10%) and for homework

Every component described above is needed to ensure a successful reading intervention program for students of all ages. All of these instructional components with support resources can be found in these two comprehensive curricula:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed 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 instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) 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.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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