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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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Short Vowels for Big Kids

Teachers who use my 13 FREE diagnostic reading assessments often ask me why a student does not master a reading skill on one assessment, but seems to on another assessment. Following is a typical question and my answer regarding our article topic, Short Vowels for Big Kids:

Short Vowels for RtI

Short Vowels for Big Kids

I’m a fifth grade teacher and I recently gave two of your reading assessments. I’m confused about some of the results. Why have seven of my students not mastered the short vowels section on your Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment when they don’t seem to make mistakes on the short vowel words on your Pets Fluency Assessment?

An excellent question! And a seeming discrepancy which actually points to the validity of both assessments and also provides important diagnostic information on those seven students.

The Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment is a nonsense word test. The nonsense words are used to isolate the testing variable of student sight word knowledge. For example, the test is designed to see if students can apply their knowledge of short vowel sound-spellings to unknown (usually academic, multi-syllabic) words, not words which struggling readers have unfortunately often memorized as sight words. The Pets Fluency Assessment uses real words and so does not specifically test for short vowels.

The diagnostic information the teacher gains from using both tests is important: the seeming discrepancy probably points to the fact that the seven students did not have a solid phonics background and have been developing compensatory survival skills such as sight words and context clues to read easy narratives. When they get to the more complex academic vocabulary of your fifth grade social studies and science textbooks, their survival strategies just don’t work. Make sense? Suggest you use the rest of the assessments to confirm this diagnosis and then purchase my Teaching Reading Strategies program for the resources to teach to these diagnostic deficits.

How to Teach Short Vowels to Big Kids

The first step is to determine what is missing from the foundation. 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 Ph0nics Assessment pinpoints which short vowels 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. As compared to long vowels, the short vowels are much more consistent in their pronunciations and spellings. Of course, teachers also introduce consonants along with the short vowels. Following are the instructional sequence from the author’s reading intervention program and the short vowel animal sound-spelling cards used to introduce the names, sounds, and spellings. Note that only the short /e/ has more than one often-used spelling. Again, the short vowels are quite consistent.

Short Vowels Instructional Phonics Sequence

Short Vowels Animal Sound-Spelling Cards

Animal Sound-Spelling Cards (Short Vowels)

The third step is to group students who have demonstrated that they have not yet achieved mastery with the short vowels. 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 short vowels. 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 five short vowels and to use a formative assessment to determine mastery. Teachers need to have back-up lessons in case the student does not master the short vowels on the formative assessment. A solid foundation will allow students to learn additional reading skills.

Teachers who would like to use my short vowels lessons and formative assessment to remediate short vowels are welcome to download this workshop from my Teaching Reading Strategies program:

Get the Short Vowels Phonics Workshop 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.

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

Phonemic Awareness Activities

Response to Intervention

Reading Intervention

Get ready for some terrific phonemic awareness activities… But first, let’s get clear on just what phonemic awareness is all about, why it is important, and how it relates to reading. Phonemic awareness is the basic understanding that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds. We call these speech sounds phonemes. There are about 43 common phonemes in English. See my attached list, Phonemes, which includes adjustments for the Spanish phonemes in footnotes.

Why is phonemic awareness essential?

Between 20 and 40% of the population does not naturally develop phonemic awareness. Research indicates that there may be both medical and genetic factors that contribute to this deficiency (Grossen, 1997).

When children cannot hear and manipulate the sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, they struggle learning how to attach these sounds to letters and letter combinations. Lack of phonemic awareness is the chief causal factor of reading disabilities (Adams, 1990). In fact, phonemic awareness is the best predictor of reading success (Goldstein, 1976; Zifcak, 1977; Stanovich, 1986, 1994).

Phonemic awareness relates to reading in two ways: (1) phonemic awareness is a prerequisite of learning to read (Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Yopp, 1985), and (2) phonemic awareness is a consequence of learning to read (Ehri, 1979; Read, Yun-Fei, Hong-Yin, & Bao-Qing, 1986).

Can phonemic awareness be remediated?

Yes, but the older the child, the more challenging it is to learn phonemic awareness. See my article titled Should We Teach Phonemic Awareness to Remedial Readers? on remediating phonemic awareness to check out the reading research and instructional solutions.

What about English-language Learners?

It’s true that specific speech sounds differ among languages, and this makes phonemic awareness and phonics acquisition more challenging for English-language Learners (ELs). However, EL students and English-language Development (ELD) students are certainly able to transfer their phonological awareness skills from their primary language to English, and research indicates the positive benefits of phonemic awareness training (Abbot, Quiroga, Lernos-Britton, Mostafapour, and Berninger, 2002). Indeed, some primary languages, such as Spanish, share more phonemes with English than not.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Not all students will have mastered the same components of phonemic awareness. Thus, diagnostic assessments are a must to efficiently teach these unmastered components. After completing phonemic awareness assessments, grade and record any unmastered phonemic awareness components for each student on a progress monitoring matrix. An excellent set of six whole-class phonemic awareness assessments with recording matrix is provided free for classroom use at www.penningtonpublishing.com

Phonemic Awareness Instructional Sequence and Workshop Activities

Differentiate instruction, according to the diagnostic data in small group reading workshops. There is an instructional order that makes sense. I suggest that you teach your phonemic awareness workshops in this order:

  1. Rhyming Awareness
  2. Alphabetic Awareness (Make sure to check out the Mp3 “New Alphabet Song” for both beginning and struggling readers found in the phonemic awareness activities packet.)
  3. Syllable Awareness and Syllable Manipulation
  4. Phonemic Isolation
  5. Phonemic Blending
  6. Phonemic Segmentation

*****

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.

Get the Phonemic Awareness Activities FREE Resource:

You may also want to check out the phonics materials and activities found in these articles: Phonics Games and in How to Teach Phonics.

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Teach Reading Intervention

3 Phonics and Spelling Videos

Phonics and Spelling Videos

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 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.Who says you can use diagnostic phonics assessments to inform guided reading instruction? Want to have the best of both worlds to pinpoint instruction? Check out the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books, Diagnostic Assessments, and Running Records. Get both vowel and consonant comprehensive whole-class phonics assessments with audio files AND 3 guided reading phonics books with focused phonics patterns, comprehension questions, 2 new sight words, 30-second word fluencies, and running records.

Get the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books, Diagnostic Assessments, and Running Records FREE Resource:

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

How to be an Effective Reading Specialist

As an elementary reading specialist and staff developer for five years in the Elk Grove Unified School District in Northern California, I learned from lots of my mistakes.  In the hope that prospective reading specialists, coaches, and staff developers might learn from someone else’s mistakes, I’ve jotted down a few tips. Administrators might learn a few things about professional development and site support, as well.

1. Get to know the teachers that you are working with outside of their classrooms. The staff room should be your starting point for building relationships. Your first contact should never be a classroom observation with your clipboard in hand and the principal in tow. Also, hang out with teachers while they are doing duties. Offer to take a duty assignment at random.

2. Build trust. Although your boss may be the principal or district supervisor, remind teachers that you really work for them and that what they say/share will remain in strict confidentiality (no snitchin’ to the principal). Never say a negative word about a teacher. For example, “Mr. Brown has no classroom management skills and does not teach to the standards” can be better said as “Mr. Brown really cares about improving his teaching craft, as we all do, and is working on classroom management and teaching to the standards.”

3. Be a classroom helper. Offer to help do short workshops with below level readers IN THE ROOM, so that the teacher can keep an eye on you. All teachers want help with their kids. Do individual reading screenings. Offer to help the teacher complete individual diagnostic and formative assessments. You need to earn the right to be heard.

4. Remind teachers that you are there to help and not to evaluate. Remind teachers that you work for them and that what they say/share will remain in strict confidentiality (no snitchin’ to the principal).

5. Offer to take the teacher’s class, so that the teacher can do a peer observation. Teachers rarely have a chance to see each other in action.

6. Offer to do a demonstration lesson and ask for the teacher’s critique of your own teaching and what you share. Ask for criticism and let the teacher see your vulnerabilities and weaknesses as a fellow teacher. All teachers have insecurities.  By showing that you are not perfect, you will open up the channels of communication and trust. Teachers will ask for your feedback and input on their own teaching, if they see you as an equal with the time and resources to help them.

7. Keep staff presentations short and sweet. Don’t be a know-it-all. When at all possible, enable another teacher to become the staff presentation star. Be a coach and let the players take all the credit.

8. Compliment a teacher’s teaching frequently and direct those compliments to that teacher’s colleagues and to administrators. Make teachers feel good about themselves because of you. A brief note is better than a verbal compliment. Every teacher is concerned about his or her reputation among colleagues. Build up; never tear down.

9. Run a school-wide reading incentive program and build relationships with kids. The more the kids like you, the more they will ask their teachers to have you visit their classrooms. Pop into classrooms weekly with cool reading bookmarks and rewards certificates. Eat lunch with the kids and hang out with them on the playground.

10. Find out who the most influential colleague is and start building relationships there.

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.

Reading , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How and When to Teach Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words, coupled with the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds (Yopp 1992). A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a language that represents meaning. Most all words in English and other languages are made up of a number of phonemes blended together. Most reading specialists and speech therapists identify 43 basic phonemes. For example, the word “mall”. It is made up of three phonemes: /m/ /aw/ /l/.

Although often used interchangeably, phonemic awareness is actually a set of subskills of the broader language skill called phonological awareness. Phonological awareness describes the ability to hear, identify, replicate, and manipulate the distinct “chunked” sounds and their sequences in a word, such as syllables or rhymes; whereas phonemic awareness deals with the discrete phonemes.

We usually refer to the two terms as phonemic awareness because the phonemes are most closely related to our teaching of phonics. Phonics is the secret code which connects the phonemes (speech sounds) and print letters (the alphabet). When someone learns this secret code and can put together (blend) each part of a word from text, we call this decoding. The prefix “de” means from or out of. When someone uses the code to to spell a word in writing, we call this encoding. The prefix “en” means in or into.”

Why is phonemic awareness important?

Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill. If children cannot hear and manipulate the sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, they will have a very difficult time in learning how to attach these sounds to letters and letter combinations.  The lack of phonemic awareness is the most important causal factor contributing to children with reading disabilities (Adams, 1990).

Phomemic awareness is the most powerful predictor of reading success.  It is more highly correlated with reading success than socio-economic status, general intelligence, or listening comprehension (Stanovich, 1986, 1994; Goldstein, 1976; Zifcak, 1977).

How is phonemic awareness related to learning to read, and can it be taught with measurable success?

Phoneme awareness is related to reading in two ways: (1) phonemic awareness is a prerequisite of learning to read (Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Yopp, 1985), and (2) phonemic awareness is a consequence of learning to read (Ehri, 1979; Read, Yun-Fei, Hong-Yin, & Bao-Qing, 1986). Shaywitz (2003) puts it this way: “Reading and phonemic awareness are mutually reinforcing: Phonemic awareness is necessary for reading, and reading, in turn, improves phonemic awareness still further.”

Several studies have demonstrated that children can be successfully trained in phonemic awareness (Cunningham, 1990; Ball & Blachman, 1991; Yopp & Troyer, 1992; Smith, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 1998).

Phonemic awareness training was shown to positively affect both reading and spelling achievement in kindergarten and first grade children (Lundberg, 1988; Bradley & Bryant, 1983).

Who needs phonemic awareness training?

Percentages of children requiring specific training in phonemic awareness vary slightly according to different research studies, but the amount is still a significant percentage of early readers.  Ehri (1984) found 20% lacked requisite phonological awareness, Lyon (1996) cited a figure of 17%, and Adams (1990) concluded that 25% of middle class kindergartners lacked this ability.

Fletcher et al., (1994) found that poor readers most always had poor phonemic awareness.  The National Institute of Child, Health, and Human Development (NICHD) longitudinal studies support this conclusion, stating that the major problem predisposing children to having reading disabilities is lack of phonological processing ability (Lyon, 1997).

When should phonemic awareness training take place, and how should it be introduced?

Children should be diagnosed by mid-kindergarten to see if they are able to identify and manipulate phonemes.  If early learners do not have this ability, they should be given more intensive phonemic awareness training (Ehri, 1984)

Research shows that if schools delay intervention until age seven for children experiencing reading difficulty, 75% will continue having difficulties.  If caught in first or second grade, reading difficulties may be remediated 82% of the time.  Those caught in third to fifth grades may be improved 46% of the time, while those identified later may only be treated successfully 10-15% of the time. (Foorman, 1996)

There appears to be a consensus in the research that a specific sequence of instruction in phonemic awareness is most effective for early learners.  Treiman (1992) found that children learned to be consciously aware of and were able to manipulate onsets and rimes more easily than individual phonemes.

Get the Phonemic Awareness Assessments 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.

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