How to Teach Word Families so they Stick

In my opinion, word walls are a must in a primary classroom BUT only if you teach kids how to use it.  Word families are an important part of word wall as well.  Teaching kids to read and spell words by learning patterns helps with retention and improves reading.  How do you get this information to stick?  Read on to see how I teach word families in a way that kids remember them and refer to them in the classroom.

Learn how to teach word family words so that they stick - kids will learn to read and spell word families words if they are engaged in the process of building charts to use as anchor posters in the classroom.

In previous posts, I have shared about how I get started with a word wall at the start of the school year and how I teach difficult to read and spell rule breaker words. In my last post, I shared some daily routines to do with your word wall to make the words stick and get your students invested in using the word wall.

You can find Part 1 here: Getting Started with a Word Wall.

You can find Part 2 here: Teaching Rule Breaker Words Using a Word Wall

You can find Part 3 here: Simple Ways to Practice Word Wall Words Daily

Monday is always the day I introduce all of the new words for the week (usually 5).   Tuesday is usually the day of the week we work with our new word family for the week.   We use that time to build a pocket chart with our word family together and then create an anchor poster that will stay up in the classroom.

When we are building the words in the pocket chart I add a kinesthetic component. Students hold their hands up, facing out and make a fist.  When we say the initial sound or sounds they push the right hand out and then the left hand for the word family. When we blend together the onset and rime we push our fists together.  I find getting them moving while we do this increases engagement.

After we complete the pocket chart we create a poster that stays up as a reminder of our word building for that word family.  Students come up and write a word in the word family on the poster and the posters are displayed close to the word wall and are used as a reference for students.

Learn how to teach word family words so that they stick - kids will learn to read and spell word families words if they are engaged in the process of building charts to use as anchor posters in the classroom.

I start the year with short vowel word families and then move to long vowel word families.  I do not teach  Instead, I choose word families that are most common and we spend our time on those.

So for instance, when I have finished focusing on all the Short A word families we have a wrap-up activity to highlight the spelling patterns we did not cover.  We do a partner write activity.  I place all the remaining blank word family posters around the room and we do a SCOOT activity to add words to them with students working in pairs to add one new word family word to each poster.

Learn how to teach word family words so that they stick - kids will learn to read and spell word families words if they are engaged in the process of building charts to use as anchor posters in the classroom.

You should notice that at every single stage of my word family instruction the students are involved in the process.  Most everything that is placed on the walls in my classroom is created with students or by students.  The only way to get kids invested in using the resources in the classroom is to involve them in creating them or explicitly teaching them how to use them.

My word family instruction continues during my Daily 5 instruction during word work.  While I am focusing on Short A in my word family instruction I am also providing centers to practice spelling, reading, recognizing and building Short A words.  These centers are very popular with my kids.

Learn how to teach word family words so that they stick - kids will learn to read and spell word families words if they are engaged in the process of building charts to use as anchor posters in the classroom. Use centers to further their learning.

Until next time,


How to Get Started with Flexible Seating

How do you start flexible seating without spending a fortune? Are you considering starting flexible seating but don't have the budget to buy pillows, scoop rockers etc?  You can start flexible seating in your classroom right away without a lot of money invested.  I am going to share with you how to do that!

How to start with flexible seating without spending a fortune

First off, before you decide to try something like flexible seating, which seems to be one of the newest trends (fads) in education you need to ask yourself 2 questions:

1.  Is this something I would like to try because I think it is best for my students?

2.  Is this something I think I should try because it is the next big thing and I should do it too?  

I did start flexible seating this past year in my classroom and I'm happy to say that I'm really pleased with the outcome.  I do need to preface this by saying I did not go to Walmart and buy scoop rockers or order yoga balls or wobble seats.  I didn't go out and spend money on new furniture for my classroom.  

I was able to start flexible seating in my classroom with what I had (and what you most likely have, too) and a few small purchases.

The first thing I did was determine where my kids were going to work. When I think of flexible seating I'm thinking about different seating possibilities within the classroom and not necessarily different kinds of seating.

As a class, we talked about different places we could work in the classroom aside from our own desks. My students came up with places like working on the carpet, working under their tables, standing up at their tables, laying on the floor, and using the clipboards to work any place in the classroom.

I have no plans to give up our desks/tables - I consider that our "home base" where everything is stored and has a home.  Many of my kids prefer a desk and chair and I have a large room so I can easily accommodate my desks and other options. 

The next step was to create an anchor chart that we could refer to when starting out using different work spaces. This is the most important step in the whole process. You need to establish very concrete expectations about what it looks like to work in different places in the classroom. If your first graders are anything like mine they will pick spots based on where their friends are sitting.

Well, let me tell you the anchor chart works! We call our spots our "Smart Spots".  Students know what the expectations are and know that they will lose their smart spot if they are not making good choices. The first thing I noticed about using smart spots was that my students were staying on task a lot longer than before.  I believe this is due to the power of choice.  Let them pick where to work and they will stay engaged longer.  

inexpensive options for flexible seating

These are the things I started out with.  I also had stools from somewhere - the ones you have most likely seen in pics of other classrooms - but they were super wobbly and broke so I will not be getting any more.  I do plan on buying a few yoga mats and cutting them up to use as well.  

Flexible seating to me is more about the options you give your students rather than the furniture you provide.  My students were happiest when they could lay on the carpet or sit on the bench by the coat hooks with a clipboard.  

What are your thoughts on flexible seating?  Love it?  Haven't tried it? I would love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below with your thoughts.

Until next time, 


3 Ways to Maximize Learning for Busy Kids

Getting kids moving helps them learn!  If your students are like mine, it is best to keep them active so they can use up all the energy they seem to have in endless supply.  I have so many kids that seem to be in perpetual motion. So rather than working against that. I have found a way to embrace it.

Get students up and moving to maximize learning.  Let them move by having them read and write the room, use flexible seating options and brain breaks.

Click the image above to visit Hojo's Teaching Adventures Blog where I am guest blogging. You will find 3 strategies I use in my classroom to maximize learning while keeping my students active.

Until next time,

How to Use Data to Drive Phonemic Awareness Instruction

Are you looking for ways to use assessment data to drive your phonemic awareness instruction?  If so, then read on to find out how to gather that data and how to look closely at the data for opportunities to group students.   I am also sharing a few ideas of what to do in small and whole group settings to address those skills.

Learn how to use data to drive your phonemic awareness instruction.  First assess and then use a no prep resource to teach the identified skills.

This is my second post in a series about Phonemic Awareness.  You can find post number one {HERE} where I differentiate between phonemic and phonological awareness.  In this post, I am going to help you decide what to do with the data you collect.

First off, how do you collect data?  If you read my previous post you'll know I use a screening tool to figure out where my students are at in their phonemic awareness development.  You can grab that screener for FREE by clicking on the picture below.

Grab this easy to use and free screening tool to assess your students phonemic awareness skills.

Once you have a detailed status of the class list it is time to start planning instruction.  Take a look at the filled out class list below.

Use the FREE status of the class recording sheet to record your students scores in order to beginning planning your phonemic awareness instruction.

Here are a few things you should look for:

  • Is a small group of students all struggling with a particular skill? On this list, there is a group of 5 students working on rhyme production, for example.
  • Where do most of the students start to struggle? On this list, it is syllable deletion.  This is what you want to focus on for your whole class instruction.  
I use the class list and sort my students into small groups depending on where they are having struggles.  If they do not fall into neat grouping then I look at the cluster of skills.  To understand what I am talking about see the class list and group notes below.

Learn how to use data to drive your phonemic awareness instruction. First assess with a free screening tool and then use a no prep, fully scripted, easy to use resource: Phonemic Awareness in 5 Minutes Word Lists to teach the identified skills.

How do I target those groups? 

My students who are struggling with phonemic awareness are not ready for a traditional guided reading group, so their guided group time focuses on the identified skills they are lacking.  A typical guided group time would include:
  • Word List warm-ups: Using my Phonemic Awareness in 5 Minutes cards I target a particular skill.  In this instance, it would have to do with rhyme as this is an area a small group of students struggles with. 

Phonemic Awareness in 5 minutes cards are perfect for teaching phonemic awareness skills - no prep, fully scripted and easy to use anywhere when you have a few minutes.

  • Oral Games for practice: A favorite for producing rhymes is Rhyme Around the Table.  I say a word we are going to generate rhyming words for and then I go around the table and we see how many real and nonsense words we can come up with.  

  • Hands-On activities: I always incorporate hands-on activities like puzzles and clip cards. 
Use rhyming centers to give students time to practice in guided groups or during independent center times.

How do I target the whole class with the skills they need?

Once I know what skill most of my students need to work on I try to find ways to weave it into my daily instruction.  Some of the ways I do this are: 

  • Weaving it into our shared reading time. 
  • Using the word lists as a warm-up activity at the carpet before language lessons.  
  • Teaching in small chunks -  I have my word lists hanging by the door and we use them every time we line up. I call out a word and students get a turn to manipulate the word, depending on the skill.  

Phonemic Awareness in 5 minutes cards are perfect for teaching phonemic awareness skills - no prep, fully scripted and easy to use anywhere when you have a few minutes.

  • Using word lists at transitions time to make the most of that lost time waiting.  I pull out my word lists whenever I have a spare 5 minutes of time to fill.  

The most important thing to remember when teaching phonemic awareness skills is that the skill is ORAL.  You don't need your students to see letters to develop those skills. That is why using word lists is a really powerful way to teach these skills. They are easy to use, are perfect for short periods of time and require no prep.  

I hope this post was helpful.  Don't forget to grab your screener freebie to add to your teacher toolkit. Don't forget to pin this image so you can revisit this post later.

Learn how to use data to drive your phonemic awareness instruction. First assess with a free screening tool and then use a no prep, fully scripted, easy to use resource: Phonemic Awareness in 5 Minutes Word Lists to teach the identified skills.

Until next time,  


Phonological and Phonemic Awareness. What is the difference?

Phonological and phonemic awareness are often confused by teachers, and rightly so.  They are so intertwined it is difficult to determine which skills fall under which term.  Hopefully, this post will clear some of the confusion up. 

Phonological and Phonemic awareness - what is the difference? This post outlines the differences between the two terms and gives suggestions about when to teach phonemic awareness and where to start. A free screener is shared to help teachers get started.

Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that encompasses phonemic awareness.  However, you will most often hear the term phonemic awareness and most often it is used to refer to all the skills which are a part of phonemic and phonological awareness.   To avoid confusion and to follow common practice I will also refer to all of these skills as phonemic awareness.  However, let's consider what distinguishes one from the other first. 

What is Phonemic Awareness?

It is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds or phonemes in spoken words.   It is also the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds.  All words are a series of phonemes blended together.   Phonemic awareness does not involve print. It is an auditory skill.  For instance:  a child without phonemic awareness many not be able to hear that sun and sit start with the same sound.  They may not be able to blend together sounds into words like mmmm aaaaa nnnn is man. 

What is Phonological Awareness? 

It encompasses the many ways sounds/phonemes function in words.  It goes beyond just the phoneme level and delves into syllable, rhyme, and onset/rime.  For instance, a child without phonological awareness would have difficulty with the following skills:  counting the syllables in cup-cake, creating rhyming words for sing or recognizing the onset and rime in c-ake. 

How is Phonemic Awareness different than Phonological Awareness? 

Phonemic awareness is all about the phonemes -  the sounds in spoken language and how we manipulate them to make words. It involves isolating phonemes - the first sound in cat  is /c/ as well as manipulating phonemes:  change the /c/ to /b/ in cat.  Phonological awareness expands that skill beyond just the phoneme to include explicit teaching around onset/rime: c-at, syllables: cat has 1 syllable, and rhyming: cat, mat, bat, hat... 

When should you teach Phonemic Awareness? 

Phonemic awareness is a precursor to reading.  Children must be able to hear the phonemes (or sounds) in spoken language.   Ideally, children coming from kindergarten will have had lots of phonemic awareness instruction and have sold phonemic awareness skills.  However, we all know that children progress at different rates in their learning.  For this reason, as a first grade teacher, you should be prepared to teach phonemic awareness right from the start of the school year.  Second and Third grade teachers who have students who are struggling to read should also assess their student’s phonemic awareness to see if there are still gaps that are holding their students back. 

How do I know where to start? 

Using a screener is an effective way to identify where your student is at in terms of his/her phonemic awareness development.  Screening your students does take time but it is time well spent to inform your individualized and whole group instruction. 

Grab this free screening tool to assess your students phonemic awareness skills.

Keep an eye on your inbox for this screener and information about how to use the screener and what to do once you have data on your students.  I have a few more blog posts to planned to help you once you have gathered data on your students and are ready to start.

  • Using assessment data to drive your phonemic awareness instruction
  • Using centers to provide independent practice with phonemic awareness skills.

Check back soon for the follow up posts and in the mean time grab your freebie and assess your students.

Take a moment to pin this post so you can refer back to it later.

Phonological and Phonemic awareness - what is the difference? This post outlines the differences between the two terms and gives suggestions about when to teach phonemic awareness and where to start. A free screener is shared to help teachers get started.

Are you ready for some ideas about to do with that data? Hop over to my next blog post for a few ideas. Click the image below to head to the next post.  

Until next time,


Guided Reading: How to get students excited about it!

Get your students excited about guided reading by using tools and tricks to increase engagements. Students will be excited to come to the guided reading group to use finger lights, reading phones and mini whiteboards.

Guided Reading is an important part of the day in a primary classroom and you want to make sure your students are excited to meet during small group. To keep your kids engaged and to make it a productive and successful guided reading time you need to be prepared.  Today I am sharing 4 things that that will get students excited about guided reading and participating in small group lessons. These tips will help keep your students motivated, excited and engaged during guide reading time.

5 Fun Ways to use Plastic Eggs in Math

We all have them!  Those bags of plastic Easter eggs from the Dollar Store. 

Well, the time has come to get them out and use them in your classroom.  Today I am sharing 5 fun ways you can use these plastic eggs to practice math skills in your early primary classroom. Read on and get ready to have some fun! 

5 Ways to Use Plastic Eggs to Practice Literacy Skills

We all have them!  Those bags of plastic Easter eggs from the Dollar Store. We store them in our classroom closets waiting for the weeks leading up to Easter to break them out and use them.

Now is the time to start thinking about how to use them this year.  I am going to share 5 ways you can use your plastic eggs to practice literacy skills.  Click any of the images to take a look at the pack of recording sheets.

100th Day of School - A Classroom Celebration!

100th day of school activities - creation stations and measurement exploration

Our 100th Day of school has come and gone!  We had such a great time creating, measuring, counting, writing and eating 100.  Read on to find out how we spent the day.

Share the Love Blog Hop and Gift Card Giveaway!

Thanks for hopping over to my blog.  I am here to share the love with you in the form of a freebie from me, a freebie from my blogging friends The Crazy Daisies and a give you the chance to win some TPT cash too.  

First off I want to introduce Amanda and Jodilyn who are The Crazy Daisies.   

Amanda Smith of Daisy Designs is a 2nd Grade teacher in Florida. She also teaches Musical Theater and Dance at a local theater. She’s passionate about reading and is a total dog-lover! In fact, Daisy is the name of her 5 pound chihuahua. She has a 5-month old son, Isaac. Jodilyn Blake @DaisyADayDoodles has been teaching for 8 years on the Indian Reservations of New Mexico. She has taught as a reading specialist, 2nd grade teacher on up to Middle school Language Arts. Her TPT shop has teaching resources along with her artwork. She has been doodling since she was 12 years old for fun. However, her doodles became digital creations in May 2015. She is relatively new to the clip art world, but she loves to share her joy. By our powers combined, we wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day with free valentines featuring Jodilyn’s art and Amanda’s witty puns.

At the end of the post, you will find The Crazy Daisies freebie but here is mine!

This graphing freebie is designed especially to be used when your students are looking at their Valentines. My students always powered through their cards and showed a lot more interest in the treats. I wanted a way for them to be a bit more thoughtful in the process. This has definitely helped. They take a close look at each of their cards and put a tally mark to show what kind of card it is and then make a graph to show their results. It is perfect if you are expected to do curricular tie-ins to all activities in the classroom. Click on the image to head to my store and download it.

I also have a math center to work on numbers to 120 for this time of the year as well. It is not a freebie but a great center to practice working with a 120 chart. Click the image to take a closer look.

Now enter our giveaway for the chance to win 1 of 2 $40.00 TPT gift cards. After you enter don't forget to scroll down and collect your free valentine!

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3 Tips to Ensure a Smooth Transition after a School Break

3 tips to make an easy transition back to school after a break.  Give students lots of time, let them talk and review and practice classroom routines.

Going back to school after a break is always hard, but it is especially hard after a longer break like Christmas Break or Winter Break.  If you approach the first day back with the right attitude you will find that you and your students are ready to get back on track.  Here are a few tips to ensure that that smooth transition happens in your classroom.

Tip # 1:

tip 1 is to take it slow and let students ease their way slowing back into the first day of school.  Don't rush them, give them time to settle in at their own pace.

This tip is the most important in my opinion.  I know before I even see my first graders that they are going to be sooooo out of routine from two weeks of late bedtimes and sleeping in.  Getting out of bed and having to follow a morning routine the first day back is probably going to be difficult. I am almost certain I will have teary and grumpy children.  My answer to this is to start the morning off in a very relaxed way, starting with classical music when they come in.

We often start our day with Math, Language and STEM Good Morning Bins. These activities are open ended and give them a chance to work with a partner and visit and socialize after they have finished unpacking.  I put these out on the first day back and don't rush those slower kids to get ready. They naturally move along because they don't want to miss out on this time.  I intentionally extend this time in the first few days after break to ease them back into routine.

Tip #2:

give your students time to talk to each other and share about their holidays.  This is give them the opportunity to talk and perhaps limit the socializing at inappropriate times.

By talk I mean share.  What first grader doesn't want to talk about them self all.the.time!  We do a lot of sharing in those first few days to hear about all the exciting things that they did over the break.  I also have a day of Christmas sharing where they bring in a gift and talk about it and then eventually write about it.

write a thank you letters for one of your gifts when you return to school after Christmas break.  It's a great way to instill an attitude of gratitude.

My first writing activity of the year is a Thank You letter for a Christmas gift.  We spend the month of December writing to everyone at the North Pole so letter writing is very familiar to them.  This the perfect opportunity to get back into writing since it is both authentic and familiar which leads to students feeling successful.

Tip # 3: 

take this week to review all classroom rules and routines so that students can be successful after a break from school.
Take the whole week back as an opportunity to review all of your routines.  Two weeks is a long time away from routines.  It may even be longer if you are like me and switch things up in the last week and do things a bit differently to celebrate the coming holiday.  My little guys will be totally out of routine for our Literacy and Math center time so I will definitely take time to review anchor charts we created.  Routines for Read to Self also need to re-established too.  These are some of our anchor charts we will take time to review at the start of the week.

literacy center expectations anchor chart for first grade to establish expectations

independent reading or read to self anchor chart to establish the dos and don'ts of what it means to be a real reader

primary writing anchor chart to prompt students with choices for when they get stuck on a word they are trying to spell.

Don't forgot your lunch and line up routines.  These quick refreshers go a long way to a smooth transition back to the classroom.  I hope you have a great week back.  To me this is the most exciting time of the year!  I see so much growth in my first graders from this point onward.

the light bulb comes on for first graders after christmas

Don't forget to pin it for later when you need a refresher after your Spring Break!

3 tips to help ensure a smooth transition back to school after a school break

Until next time,

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