Posts Tagged ‘take home books’

W Vowels and Y, L, H, M, R, and N While We’re At It

The W is a Vowel Sometimes

Save the W!

Save the w! (As a vowel, that is)

Wow, it’s rare for me to disagree with Grammar Girl… As a reading specialist, we love rules. If a word doesn’t fit, we figure a way to make it do so:) My speech therapist colleagues will back me up on this generalization.
In a related article, Grammar Girl reminds us that a vowel is a sound, not a letter. Nicely done! We form these sounds into two ways. 1. Some vowel sounds are made with the mouth in one position and with one sound. These vowel sounds are called monophthongs. Examples: got, go, know 2. Other vowel sounds start with the mouth in one formation as one vowel sound and slide into another formation as two vowel sounds. These vowel sounds are called diphthongs. Examples: coin, joy, out, and cow.
Grammar Girl states that “you could argue that W does indeed represent a vowel.” She cites the diphthong /ow/ as her example. But then she continues, “maybe to you the word ‘cow’ sounds like it ends with the consonant ‘wuh’ instead of the vowel ‘oo.’” Just as with the diphthong ‘oy,’ phoneticians disagree.”
Yikes! Houston, we’ve got a problem. In fact, we have a few. To be picky, it’s not the consonant, “wuh.” All consonants have clipped sounds. When we teach students, we blend /w/ /e/ /s/ /t/ (four sounds), not “wuh” est. Also, the vowel “oo” does not have the /ow/ sound, it has the /oo/ as in rooster or /oo/ as in foot sound.
Now the to meat of the matter regarding the w vowel sound. Okay, vegetables for my vegan friends.
To say that “…phoneticians disagree that the w is not a vowel, but may indeed be a consonant” is news to me. If so, these phoneticians are certainly making exceptions to our cherished rules. In fact, they have now added a new sound-spelling for the /ow/ sound: the _o or o_ as in /c/ /o/ /w/. They also have violated our CVC syllable rule, because their new /o/ is certainly not a short vowel sound.
Furthermore, Grammar Girls offers this solution to the problem of identifying a w as a vowel at the end of the diphthong: “So my recommendation is just to say that the combination O-W represents the diphthong “ow,” and stop there, just like we did for the O-Y and the diphthong ‘oy.’”
This solution seems an “easy out” to the argument as to whether or not the w can serve as a vowel, but in the real world of teaching students to read, this solution is counterproductive.
Somehow, Grammar Girl took us back to letters, not sounds, for vowels. Grammar Girl recommends saying, “The O-W represents the dipthong ‘ow’ …the O-Y… the diphthong ‘oy.'” No. We’ve already established that vowels are sounds and that the diphthong /ow/ has two distinct sounds. It really does matter that the w is a vowel.
Practically speaking, beginning readers, remedial readers, students with auditory processing challenges, and ESL, EL, and ELD students need to learn not only the a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y monophthongs, but also the diphthongs as well. Again, a vowel sound may actually have two sounds and students have to practice their mouth formations, sounds, and the sound-spelling options.
When students read cow, we want to hear three separate sounds: one consonant /c/ and two vowel sounds distinctly pronounced as /ow/. Without all the mumbo-jumbo, we teach students that cow has two vowel sounds spelled as a vowel team.
Now that we’ve saved the w as a vowel sound, let’s stir stir up the pot a bit more. Other letters (in addition to our cherished w) may also serve as vowels. Examples: h and y as in rhy/thm, l as in bu/gle, r as in mur/der, ar/mor, mir/ror, m as in bottom, and n as in mutton.
Linda Farrell has a nice article on the difference between digraphs and diphthongs with plenty of examples HERE.

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the Teaching Reading Strategies intervention program and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

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

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books





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How to Use Running Records with Decodable Text

Running Records with Decodables

Running Records with Decodable Text

Running records provide an effective means of reading assessment. Using running records helps teachers determine the strengths and challenges of individual readers. From these periodic  observations of the reading process, teachers can make informed choices as to how to help students improve their reading. Running records also help teachers select which books and reading resources will provide optimal instructional and independent reading levels within, as Vigotsky termed, the individual’s zone of proximal development.

The MSV (meaning, structure, and visual) cueing strategies readers use to make meaning of text provide the teacher a window into the complex process of reading. Good readers apply a balance of semantic, syntactic, and graphophonic skills to interact with the author and comprehend narrative and expository text.

Frequently, the visual (or graphophonic) cueing skills require remediation with below grade level readers. The visual cues rely upon auditory cues to map phonemes (the speech sounds) to the orthographic (spelling) rules and patterns. Because learning the sound-spelling system is a complex skill, a multitude of reasons may contribute to phonics deficits, including but not limited to a lack of phonemic

Remediate reading

Catch up and keep up!

awareness, the lack of explicit and systematic phonics instruction in kindergarten-second grade, ear infections, little literacy support at home, school attendance, transiency, poverty, etc. However, the good news is that sound-spelling deficiencies can be effectively remediated to enable students to develop the automaticity necessary to fluently attend to the meaning of the text.

All too often teachers and parents assume that if children are reading and spelling (decoding and encoding) below grade level after the primary grades, these students will be doomed to remedial or vulnerable reader status for the rest of their lives. This is not the case if prescriptive diagnostic assessments determine individual strengths and weaknesses, and caring and informed teachers and parents provided the appropriate assessment-based instruction to address to build on the strengths and teach to the deficiencies. Indeed, students can catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction. Running records can be helpful formative assessments to monitor the effectiveness of interventions and to adjust resources and instruction to best meet the needs of the individual student. Running records can be particularly helpful to monitor phonics and sight words acquisition.

First of all, before we get into the how-to section about using running records, let’s first agree that no one teacher, reading guru, or reading program has cornered the market on what must constitute running records, how to use running records with or without guided reading, and how often teachers should do running records with their students. Running records are simply one helpful instructional tool to improve reading; there are other ways to do so without using running records. Now that these caveats are out of the way, following are a few tips to make the most of running records with your students. Following these tips, I’ll provide a nice running record form that works especially well with decodable text. Of course, the form also works for leveled books. Plus, since our focus in this article is on decodable text, I’ll provide three FREE Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books for you to use with your new running record form. See the end of the article.

How to Use Running Records with Decodable Text

1. Determine which students need decodable text and specific instruction in the alphabetic code. In other words, which of your kids have not yet mastered their phonics? You could certainly use running records for a month or two to determine which sound-spellings each child knows and does not know. However, a diagnostic assessment gets those results quicker and more efficiently. Remember that running records are primarily formative assessments, not diagnostic. I strongly urge teachers to use comprehensive, not random sample, diagnostic assessments. A random sample phonics inventory or spelling inventory which indicates problem areas necessitates further, more refined assessment to pinpoint teachable sound-spellings. Why not give comprehensive, teachable assessments up front to any of your students whom you suspect may need visual (graphophonics) instruction. Good assessments will indicate which levels of decodable books will be appropriate and not appropriate for your individual students. You don’t want to force Johnny to read short vowel books if he only needs help with his diphthongs. Teachers can assign these books and teach individually, or teachers can group students with the same instructional needs and teach them the un-mastered sound-spellings in guided reading groups, perhaps in rotating literacy centers, early-late reading sections, reading intervention pull-outs, etc.

The author recommends two diagnostic placement assessments to place your students in the right decodable texts with the reading resources that will improve your students’ reading in the shortest amount of time: The Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment and The Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment. Go ahead! Download both of these assessments (each even has an audio file including test directions and the assessment itself to make life easier) to ensure that you are placing your students in the right books.

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

Use this comprehensive 52 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of short vowels, long vowels, silent final e, vowel digraphs, vowel diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any vowel sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment (10:42) *

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment

Use this comprehensive 50 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of consonant digraphs, beginning consonant blends, and ending consonant blends. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any consonant sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment (12:07) *

2. Decide why you want to use running records with decodable texts. If your purpose is to measure progress, assign an unpracticed decodable story which introduces a specific sound-say the /ow/ as in cow sound and complete a running record. After teaching the book or books which focus on the different /ow/ sound-spellings, post-test on the introductory story to measure progress. However, if your purpose is to monitor progress, use practiced decodable stories to determine what has been learned to mastery and what requires still more practice.

3. Decide how often you wish to complete running records and with which students. A few guidelines will be helpful: If a student has severe phonics deficits and is working on short-vowel and consonants/consonant blends mastery, running records should be performed more often than if the student has mastered all short vowels and consonants, consonant blends, long vowels and vowel teams, diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels, but is still working on derivational language sound-spelling patterns, such as the schwa. Keep in mind that assessing with running records is instruction, but you do have other subjects to teach! Once per week for more needy students and once at the end of a phonics collection-say, diphthongs, for less needy students makes sense.


4. Where you do running records matters and deserves some planning. Ideally,  a quiet corner of the classroom or a table and chairs outside the classroom, if weather and classroom supervision so permit, make sense. Running records takes concerted concentration for both student and teacher. By the way, assessing with running records is not rocket science. A well-trained instructional aide or parent can be a life-saver in helping you with running records. Of course, you the teacher need to analyze the results and adapt instruction accordingly.

5. Find the decodable texts that will match both your students’ instructional needs and level of maturity. Please don’t use primary stories with primary characters and illustrations for older readers. Yes, these older students may need work on the short vowel /a/, but every effort must be made to provide dignity to struggling readers if we want to keep them motivated to learn and become life-long readers. Additionally, find running records which include the text of the student’s story or scan, paste, and copy the story to a blank running record or form. Ideally, use running record forms which include word counts. I personally don’t believe that a student needs to read the entire story to give the teacher the necessary data for a running record. Most teachers have students read from 150-250 words during a running record reading to ensure an adequate sample size. I use exactly 200 words for each running record in my Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books to avoid word counting and minimize calculations. (KISS) Keep it simple, stupid, always works for me.

6. The teacher writes the student’s name, date, and teacher’s name on the running record form and instructs the student to concentrate on reading the story for meaning. Help the student relax and enjoy the one-on-one time.

7. Say, “Ready, begin.” The student begins to read the story and the teacher uses coded responses to assess the student’s reading performance. Please note that the teacher may choose to use some or all of the marks for different running records.

Key Running Record Marks

  • E = Error
  • SC = Self-Correction
  • M = Meaning (Semantic Miscue)
  • S = Structure (Syntactic Miscue)… sentence structure and grammar issues
  • V = Visual (graphophonic)… phonics, onsets and rimes, and sight word problems

The student reads the story until the 200th word has been read, or teachers can allow the student to finish the story if time permits. At this point the teacher may choose to ask the student to do a re-tell if the entire story has been read or not.


8. The teacher uses tally marks in the columns to the right of the story text to tally the errors, self-corrections, and categorize the types of errors (Meaning, Structure, or Visual) and types of self-corrections (Meaning, Structure, or Visual).

  • E Rate = How many errors out of the words read
  • A Rate = Accuracy Rate… Words read, e.g. 200 – (errors ÷ 2) = % of accuracy
  • A Rate is used to adjust reading levels for leveled books
  • SC Rate is the self-corrections + errors % self-corrections to develop a ration of 1: ____
  • Word fluency is the # of words read correctly, including self-corrections, but excluding teacher-prompted words

9. The teacher then determines the error rate, accuracy rate, and self-corrections rate, using the formulae on the running records form. Teachers familiar with running records will especially appreciate the design of the FREE running record provided at the end of the article. Each running records assessment has exactly 200 words. No counting is necessary! The first 200 words of each story constitute the running record. And it’s all on one page!

Reader Observation Remarks

10. Make additional pertinent comments on your running record observations. Because running records affords teachers with such an intimate look at the student’s reading process, it would be a shame to ignore this qualitative data and solely concentrate on the quantitative data. For example, the graphophonic data themselves include both decoding and sight words. Making note of these different error miscues certainly makes sense. The fluency, inflection, attention to punctuation, concentration, posture, eye movement and other factors may be important to note, remediate, and monitor. My running record form includes these components as check boxes to serve as reminders and to save the time it takes to write out comments.

11. Have the student complete a re-tell of the story or section of the story read. Make comments on the students’ knowledge or story structure, sequencing, and comprehension.

12. Ask both recall and inferential questions about the text and make comments on the students’ answers. Stay text-dependent; don’t wander away from the text with application questions on how the story relates to another story or the student’s life. Of course, these are interesting questions and may build comprehension, but the purpose of running records with decodable text is to assess a particular reading and the sound-spelling skills taught in the text. Note that the FREE decodable books at the end of the article each have five embedded comprehension questions, one for each of the SCRIP comprehension strategies (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict).

13. The teacher may write evaluative notes and recommendations for interventions and/or resources in the Comments/Interventions/Resources section at the bottom of the running records form. Remember that assessment without assessment-based instruction is simply paper-pushing. Make use of your running records to refine instruction for each student.

Note that the last step when using running records for leveled readers is to determine whether the level of text is too easy, too hard, or just right for instructional guided reading and/or independent reading. The teacher move students up a level if the student has read at an independent level or down a level if the student has read at a frustration level. However, because  decodable readers are not leveled readers (determined by vocabulary, sentence length, etc.), level re-assessment is not needed.

Good decodable books have a sound-spellings and sight words instructional sequence in which successive books build upon and review the sound-spellings and sight words in the previous books. Each book is a link in the chain which should build a solid reading foundation in the visual (graphophonic) cueing strategy for your students. Many teachers who use guided reading instruction choose to allot two days per week to decodable texts and two days per week to controlled vocabulary leveled books.

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the Teaching Reading Strategies intervention program and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.


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

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books





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

Decodable Take Home Books for Older Readers

Let’s face it. We just have not figured out how to “fix” every kid. The research confirms this sad state of affairs. So few of our students who fall behind are ever able to “catch up” to grade level. Especially in reading. Only one in six students reading two or more grade levels behind by sixth grade ever catches up to reading at grade level.

Yes, we teachers aren’t the only ones to blame. However, we do have the tools to fix reading deficits for most of our older children, teenagers, and adults. Yes, reading is a complicated process, but it’s not rocket science. So why aren’t we doing a better job of reading remediation?

Much of what we do is based upon what we think we can do.

I teach a seventh grade reading intervention class. My principal calls it ELA Support; however, we all know why students are in this class: they just don’t read or read well. Our district continues to promote a myriad of tracked classes and pull-out programs. At our site we have eight different ELA classes with fancy labels. Needless to say, we have not exactly bought in to the Response to Intervention model. Believe me, I’ve tried, but our district and site have not yet adopted my Reading Manifesto.

Last night at Back to School Night, a parent who has a child in this class, lingered after my presentation to express concerns about his child.

Having completed an initial round of diagnostic assessments just to determine whether or not my students should remain in this remedial class, I assured the parent that I knew some of his child’s reading issues and that we would make significant progress this year.

The parent checked my response with his previous experience.

“In fifth grade, his teacher told me that he would never be able to read well. He was tested for special education and qualified for the program. The resource teacher confirmed his fifth grade teacher’s diagnosis and tagged him with auditory and visual processing disorders. The resource teacher said that we should concentrate on developing ‘reading survival skills.’”

As my blood began to boil, I assured the parent that we were not going to band-aid his child. We would go in for surgery and fix the reading issues. I told him I believe in student-centered, assessment-based instruction and that I would individualize instruction for his son. The parent was admittedly skeptical but held onto a glimmer of hope.

He responded, “Well, we’ve tried for so many years. My son just does not believe he will ever be ‘normal’ and read like his peers. His self-concept is at an all-time low, especially after two years of using reading materials that make him feel like an idiot. But, to be fair, he is reading at that level. It’s just that he’s big for his age. I guess he and I just have to be realistic.”

So to summarize: The child, parent, and teachers all have set limits as to what they think the child can do. The child’s educational experience has set those expectations in stone.

I refuse to buy-in to this thinking. I want to make a difference for this student. I want to be an informed realist. It’s going to take work, and it’s going to take the right materials to make it work.

One of the parent’s comments stood out to me: “His self-concept is at an all-time low, especially after two years of using reading materials that make him feel like an idiot.”

That we can fix. According to my initial assessments, this child has severe decoding issues. I’ve developed a series of 54 decodable texts, along with my illustrator, David Rickert. These take home books are decidedly not juvenile. Think the old “Archie and Friends” comic books. Stories about teenagers. Stories with humor. Stories with some depth. But much more…

Here’s a description of these take home books. If you teach non-primary remedial reading, you’ve got to get these 54 economical digital take home books for your students. For less than a buck a book, you can provide targeted practice in what your students need without treating them like “idiots.”

Decodable Take Home Books for Older Readers 


The 54 Sam and Friends Take Home Phonics Books have been designed to supplement a systematic and explicit phonics program for remedial readers. Each illustrated eight-page book focuses on one sound with the most common sound-spelling patterns and two high-utility sight words. The sound-spellings are the same as those used in the Open Court reading program. Pennington Publishing’s remedial reading curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies uses the same research-based instructional scope and sequence.

The books are illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons are designed to be appreciated by older remedial 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.

Additionally, each take home book includes five SCRIP comprehension questions (Summary, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, Predict) to promote internal monitoring of text. The comprehension questions are ideal for teacher and/or parent guided reading instruction, readers’ workshop, literacy centers, and literature circles.

Plus, each take home book includes a 30 second word fluency practice on the focus sound-spellings and sight words with a systematic review of previously introduced sound-spellings and sight words.

Teachers are licensed to copy and distribute all 54 of these economical take home books for their own students. Each book has eight pages in 5.5 x 8.5 inch booklet form. Books are formatted to be copied back to back on two separate 8.5 x 11 pages for easy copying and collation. Just one fold creates the take home books. No stapling is needed.

Design and Instructional Components

* The Sam and Friends Take Home Phonics Books have been organized into five collections:

Collection A: Short Vowels and Consonants Books 1-8
Collection B: Consonant Blends and Digraphs (Part 1) Books 9-16
Collection C: Consonant Blends and Digraphs (Part 2) Books 17-24
Collection D: Long Vowels and Silent Final e Books 25-34
Collection E: r-controlled Vowels and Diphthongs Books 35-44

Collection F: Syllable Juncture and Derivational Influences Books 45-54

* The books are designed with highly decodable text to help readers learn, practice, and develop reliance upon the alphabetic code. Decodable means that a high percentage of words are phonetically regular. Perfect for Tier I and Tier II RtI, special education, ELD and SDAIE classes, and traditional reading intervention classes.

* The SCRIP comprehension strategies (Summary, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, Predict) are embedded within the text pages, not placed at the end of the book.

* The stories use non-predictable, non-repetitious, and non-patterned language to minimize over-reliance upon context clues and knowledge of text structure. The texts limit idiomatic expressions (ideal for English-language learners). Students will learn the alphabetic code with these books.

* The back page of each book introduces the focus sound-spellings and sight words and also includes a 30 second word fluency practice with phonics and sight words review.

* The books do not require a separate teacher’s guide. All instructional activities are included in the books themselves.

* These books are fun to read and fun to teach!

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.


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