Monday, November 21, 2016

Joy to the Word!

As the holiday season approaches, take this opportunity to do some word study of those delectably complex words that only escape our mouths a few times per year! Words like: Thanksgiving, Pilgrim, cornucopia, bountiful, Christmas, holiday, reindeer, yuletide...etc. We say these words, but most of us have no knowledge of the morphology (a word's meaningful parts and history). 

Thank God for Google! Take some time to explore the meanings of these words with your children this year, and create some "word sums" by breaking these unique words into their meaningful chunks (prefixes, suffixes, base words). Word sums are a great way to get your children thinking about word meaning and spelling from a morphological perspective. See the image below for a word sum example, using the word: THANKSGIVING.


Monday, November 14, 2016

A C/oo/l Lesson

Last week I introduced the idea of “vowel teams” to one of my students - two vowels that, together, make one sound. We started with the vowel team, <oo>.

Our lesson involved some explicit teaching, naturally, but I like to quickly move to application of new sounds in words, using multisensory activities that target underlying phonological processing.

So we pulled out the “Sylla-boards” (available at The kids love writing on the “sylla-boards” instead of the regular white board, because they are little and cute (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love anything in miniature form?). Here are the rules of “Sylla-boards”: Each board can hold a single-syllable word, but if the word has more than one syllable, it must be split across the boards. The syllaboards are wonderful for practicing targeted sounds while also ensuring the child is reading and writing across their syllables and using strong processing skills!

My student picked a marker color, and I dictated <oo> words while she wrote them on the boards, pronouncing each sound out loud simultaneously with her letter formation. And then we got silly…

We chose our favorite words, and attempted to make sentences using all of the words. Naturally, when working with a 10-year-old, practicing difficult phonics skills is only fun when it involves bathroom humor and British accents! Thus, the following sentences were generated (see image).

Strong phonics work can be both explicit and fun! In fact, a little silliness is often necessary when doing concentrated practice of challenging skills.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Guest Post: Learning Setting from Picture Books

From Tracy Molitors – Children’s book author and artist

Setting can be a powerful ally to the writer because it can help establish the mood of a story. It can also add to a story’s believability. Readers can enter an entirely new world and completely let go of their disbelief for the duration of the tale. My daughter says that a good setting helps create story earmuffs—it allows one to tune out distractions and stay safely muffled in a different world!
 Due to their unique combination of words and illustrations, picture books can be a great tool for studying the influence of setting within a story. One such picture book I would recommend is Aaron Becker’s marvelous wordless picture book, Journey (published by Candlewick Press, 2013). The book opens in a modern urban setting and then changes to a beautifully rendered fantastical world of imagination.

The change in setting is accompanied by a change in mood, as well as action. This shift actually drives the plot.  Such a huge visual contrast between the story’s two settings provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss the power of setting with your children. Here are some questions to spark a discussion:

  • How does the setting direct or frame the story? (or how does the story change as the setting changes?)
  •  How does Becker use color to increase the effectiveness of setting?
  • Writers use point-of-view, such as first- and third-person shifts, to influence a reader, but an illustrator can change point-of-view by changing the artistic perspective from page to page (sometimes close-up, sometimes far away—sometimes looking up at objects or sometimes looking down). Where does Becker do this? Does it change the reader’s response or feeling? Add tension?
  • Find the places where Becker uses tremendous detail in his setting and find the places where he uses almost no detail. Are both effective? Is the contrast effective? How would you accomplish this in writing?

After studying the book (or another of your choice), have your children write a paragraph or two describing one or both of Becker’s settings (or making up a setting of their own). If your child is uncomfortable with writing on his/her own, engage in partnership writing with them—each of you coming up with a descriptive phrase about one of the two settings, and taking turns writing down each phrase or sentence. Continue going back and forth until you run out of descriptions. See if you can vary the details in your sentences or phrases (some long and descriptive, some short and sparse) like Becker does in his images.


*Note from Rita and Moira: 
Let kids write in Bits and Pieces, by composing one phrase or sentence on a Post-It Note, and putting that note on each page. Writing single sentences on Post-It Notes is less intimidating for the struggling writer!