Sight Words

Sight Words

Sight words also known as high frequency words have become the new math fact drill cards. It is TIME FOR CHANGE. The kill and drill word cards children see on the word wall, in a container to read through, and a teacher showing those words the same way she might show math facts, need a relook. Yes, all that has its place. However, more relevant, fun, and being intentional about who really needs the work on sight words, will give you more time and simplicity in your lesson delivery.

I see many activities on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers which require A LOT more work for teachers. I’m all about simple and applicable for learning outcomes.

Imagine leaving at the end of the school day without worrying that when you return in the morning you’ll be cutting out 80, thousand word cards, finding a way to store them, display them, and keep them intact for the remainder of the school year!

Imagine students who are your least engaged, least active, least interested reversed!

3 simple ways to teach sight words without extra time, stress, or cursing:

  1. Keep the learning relevant and within context: Within the book preview/picture walk have students locate, point, and say up to 5 sight words you want them to have in their knowledge base. Say, “Find the word would, point to it and say it! Find it fast! These are words you need to know and read fast!” Continue the cycle through the sight words you have included for the lesson. Have students find any sight words from the book in multiple places in the book, wherever they show up. This is woven through the lesson. After reading, have a quick writing activity where the students write those very same sight words, say, “Write would, fast, as fast as you can!” (also provides a dose of fun, let them refer to the book or the list you may have written for additional support as they are learning them because you want to support that easy learning)
  2. Make it fun: Bring in the magnifying glasses from the science room, bring out the froo froo pointers, have the tongue depressors from the nurses office or your craft supplies with and arrow drawn on them for finding those words. Pens, erasers, pencils, straws, spoons, twigs, thin paint brushes or anything really that is slim could be used as a pointer, all while adding a bit of fun to it. And, very little fuss or prep on your part. Simple.
  3. Do not sight words teach unless necessary: There will only be certain students who need sight words woven into their reading lessons. Your top readers, your fluent readers, your strategic readers, your successful readers won’t need this as part of their lesson. Don’t waste your time and energy doing this for them. Focus on the ones who truly need it for more strategic reading!


How to Teach Reading: Summer Slide with Tracking Devices

How to Teach Reading: Summer Slide with Tracking Devices

Dripping with sarcasm like the popsicle you are holding in the hot sun…

Guess what term made it into the mass market following NCLB (No Child Left Behind) aka (No Capitalist Corporation ever to Lose Billions)? Summer slide.

When NCLB took a grip on the US, publishing companies capitalistic prowess were primed for production and endless amounts of cash by way of testing products, new series for every content area and grade, training materials, and tools for the trade. Though NCLB was replaced by Every Student Succeeds aka Ever Sucking System, it still lingers in the air like the stench of a compressing trash truck’s drippings.

No longer are children, children, but now data descriptors such as proficient, average, underperforming or meeting standard, approaching standard, or not there yet aka a moron (how did such a child even make it into 5th grade?)

Summer slide has smoothly moved its way into educational vernacular like assessment, testing, anxiety, ADHD, restraint, evaluation, not making progress, and the like.

I do not agree with summer slide though it is a very catchy term that makes you envision a slide into a pool on a warm summer day with a giggling child slipping down into a big splash along with the massive smile and bursting scream (more on the slide into the pool later).  

Teachers have subscribed to it; they now send home mounds of work for students that include tracking devices (not literally but just enough sign here to qualify) parents feel guilty and risk their relationship with their child so as not to have the school board knocking on their door on September 1.  

Parents have subscribed to it, thinking their child will be a cut above by burning them straight through the summer to win those extra credits, pizza day, and a special visit to the principal’s office for a gold plated trophy (shaming fully intended for those students who had actually enjoyed a summer).

Administrators love it because they get to crap on their teachers more, requiring more items for teachers – tacked on to that ever growing list of things to do.  Can you guess the one list name that teachers don’t keep? List of tasks to eliminate, dump, and trash.

List of tasks to

eliminate, dump, and trash.

dump, and trash.

and trash.

Summer time is for sliding into self-directed learning through play – whatever tweens and teens are drawn to for playing. It is for finding that neighbor or friend who HAS the pool slide and going down it again and again and again! Shouting out as the cool water hits their desperately pale skin (from no more recess or outdoor activity).

I recall seeing a group of boys in the tween – teenage bracket at the beach. They tumbled freely down the dunes, shoved each other, laughed, then climbed up the dunes for more.  I thought to myself about the importance of freedom and play that is necessary to meet the challenges of school institutionalization (yes I have my opinions about that too).

The school systems of the US public schools have become testing behemoths.  The testing schedule and rigors are all consuming.  Fun has been sucked out of nearly every grade level because of the expectations on teachers (often linked to pay, job security, and performance ratings) to turn out peak performance test results and for students to produce these results (no matter what).

Shoot for this summer slide: socialization, games, sports, outdoor exploration, races, camps, family connection, and summertime traditions: grilling out, who can spit the watermelon seed the farthest, family football or catch, carefree-ness, neighborhood gatherings, late nights and less scheduling. And, of course reading

You may be thinking I’m way to off to one side on this matter – perhaps I am.  Here’s what summer time needs in the way of academics: reading for choice not assignment, journaling, building with wood all the while measuring, science – mixing liquids to make potions, getting a summer time job walking the dog or cutting the grass – money management, banking/financing/investing, picking up chess or poker – math; learning to save, invest, count, strategy, patience, learning a new skill, money. Open your minds to summer and what learning is in store, that is the summer slide; the slide of life.

Hate what I wrote – great! Email me – be sure to blast me with equal parts sarcasm and disdain

LOVE what I wrote – great! Email me – be sure to pile on the compliments so my self-esteem remains steady (because self-esteem comes from others, right??)

How to Teach Literacy – by making it…

How to Teach Literacy – by making it…

… fun, engaging, hands-on, and conversational.

Intentionally teaching literacy is important. Unintentionally teaching literacy is also important.  What do I mean by unintentional – in a way that allows more freedom for students and you more time to observe what they know through listening and speaking.

There is tremendous pressure to instruct every minute.  Where is the research on constant time on task?  Where are the outcomes that point in the direction of optimum success when you apply continuous pressure to academics?

I worked in a district where the play, the joy, and the creativity of education was slowly sucked out each and every year. Afterschool and lunch time programs (why would you take a student’s lunch time away for more academics?) to shove more testing prep into the already drained brains of overworked students.  The result –  extend the school day.  This district has not seen any benefit to the colossally misled thinking that extra time on task equals better academic performance.

I propose to you that you find fun, engaging, hands-on, and conversational ways of instructing, whenever possible because the default will always be your voice speaking with the expectation that your students are listening and will simply apply your instructional words to the task.

The best elementary educational experience I had was 5th-grade science camp.  Do you want to know why? I was free to learn not required. I have strong memories of the activities, catching salamanders, walking to the “mess-hall” with my friends and discussing the day’s events, drinking bug juice, learning to tie knots efficiently, collaborating with my classmates on hikes, asking questions with curiosity among the trees and streams.

While it may not be possible to have this every day, why not seek moments, especially this spring.  Work in minutes where you go outside and collect rocks, count them, stack them, discuss balance; how to get the rocks to balance. Climb rocks if possible – could you get to a nearby playground or take a quick field trip? Bring the mandatory worksheets if you have to – but get outside and allow for some unintentionally drinking in of knowledge through nature, space, and organic conversation.

Today I’m including pictures from a recent exploration. This is a nearby playground with rocks for climbing. While there, it occurred to me if climbing rocks is not possible – to collect rocks instead – all kinds of learning could take place with rocks. Some mentioned above.

Enjoy your instructional day and your students will too.  Particularly boys who crave movement – allow for the movement and get outdoors for some extra minutes!

Literacy instruction is comprised of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  So often the former two are forgotten and undervalued. When is the last time you listened to your students? – just listened without responding or reacting?  When is the last time you observed your student’s speaking? – observed their vocabulary, storytelling, information knowledge

Simultaneously infuse your library with books from the library on all things rock-related!

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How to Teach Children to Read: Early Literacy: Building Background

How to Teach Children to Read: Early Literacy: Building Background

For 17 years I grew in my expertise as a literacy specialist.

I remember a distinct planning session with a colleague about building background, (BB is how we labeled it on our lesson plans)

I spent a lot of that year figuring out and identifying just what was BB.

I was working in an urban school, deep in an urban school, if you know what I mean.  There was plenty of poverty, free school lunches, a transient community, struggle, second-language learners, and students who required background knowledge.

Background knowledge is information that is needed in order to access text. It is information teachers must incorporate into lessons, when necessary.

Here are 3 big takeaways for BB.


You must provide an entry to text or books for students who may have little to no idea about the content or ideas in the book you’re about to read.  You’ve got your class or group book selected, it is called, “The Amazing Ocean: Sea Animals that Rule the Deep”  You live in the middle of the United States or in the center of the United Kingdom. You get where I’m going with this…

You’ll want to build entry points to the text through:

1) A video of the ocean with sea life in action (you might even keep this video running) I’ve vetted this one – it is mesmerizing and could give students a real sense of being in the ocean witnessing sea life. Sure to spark conversation.

2) Pictures

3) Book selection with plenty of pictures to spark questions and curiosity; this will offer plenty of discussions to organically BB

4) Your shared experiences of the ocean

5) Families shared experiences of the ocean


Which directly piggybacks on ONE: BB is always on the move, as the literacy teacher to your students, you must continually look down the road to the next read, have your month mapped out, know what kinds of books, conversations, videos, pictures, and home connections you want to have in motion to integrate BB.


If possible, string BB through the content areas.

1) Math: insert ocean vocabulary; orca, squid, whale shark, plankton for example: Instead of Sally has… say or write in, Orca has… (do it, your students will love it!)

2) Science: draw the ocean and or sea life and label the parts or make a life cycle

3) Art or Music: include art or musical activities around sea life, act like sea life

4) Gym: incorporate some ocean language or movement into physical fitness for example: swim like a whale, move like a jellyfish

When you take the time to map out your month, you are better equipped to forward feed the information that will provide better access and successful reading to your students.

You won’t always need to BB.

Be mindful of when BB is needed and warranted to inform students for successful access to text, in a fun, active, and engaging way; across the student’s world – school, home, and social.

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[Continued] When Teachers are Mean or Bully

[Continued] When Teachers are Mean or Bully

I found myself in another situation where a teacher was a bully, a really mean overtly crude bully.  Not only did Pat bully teachers, she bullied students.  She bullied students in a way that made my toes curl, my insides wrench, my brain shut down.  Me, the adult, reduced to silence, again.  What I have learned over the years is that a bully needs to be confronted.  A bully needs to be revealed, the light needs to shine on that bully.

My classroom was next to hers, I once listened awe-struck as she berated a student in the snidest, most cunning, and ridiculing way.  I wanted to bust into her room. Again, I did nothing. (Gosh this hurts to write, do I even want to reveal this about myself?)

I was told a story, that Pat told a student to go stand with her face in the corner. It seemed this woman absolutely hated children.  It also seemed she absolutely hated herself.  She was completely round, face blotchy, she shuffled when she walked, the only food she consumed was microwaveable, and she was social with the staff.  Pat had a sense of humor.  I believe that sociability caused the other female teachers to say, “Well, she’s friendly, I get along with her, she’s fun to talk with…” This caused jaws to remain shut when it came to speaking up to her.

At least one parent a year pulled their child from her room.  At least one parent a year approached the principal about Pat’s wrath.  At least one parent a year had an all out argument with her, in public or plain view. Even the school secretary, who had tremendous power in the school, had an all out battle with Pat one day.  Did Pat lose her job? No.  Did she change? No.

I had a student, Ben, who was obviously with a learning difference, it wasn’t specifically defined as dyslexia as all the testing was in process, but he could not read and had great difficulty writing.  He was in first grade after a repeat of kindergarten. Ben’s vocabulary was extraordinary, defining or understanding words far beyond his years of living and the context of his world (he could define and talk about words like figurine, identify, and gregarious).  He could appear to be gazing into space, wiggling, jiggling, and distant, yet the moment a discussion started up about a book, a science topic, or a read aloud math equation, Ben had answers. He could dive in deep to explain his thinking, his connections, and identify answers verbally, easily.  Ben’s brilliance was noted by all teachers, except Pat.

One afternoon as I was leaving school. I walked by the slew of young ones diving through their backpacks for homework, books, and pencils.  They were preparing to enter after school homework help, where Pat awaited, in her rolling chair tucked behind the kidney table amidst a sea of hoarded materials.(I’m guessing many of you teachers know who I’m talking about.)

Ben looked at me with tears welling up. “Ms. Ross, I can’t go in there.  She is so mean to me. I can’t do my work.” The agony present in his voice, the distorted face, his small body all propelled me into Pat’s room.  Ben followed.

“Mrs. DeSalvo, Ben is worried. He has trouble reading and writing his work down.  He is able to tell me all of his answers when I ask him. I know he is capable of the work, the comprehension, or anything you ask him, however, he is not able to read directions or write it and needs help.  Could you ask him for his answers or …?”

“Oh, he’s full of it. I make him sit right here with me and stay on top of him the whole time, otherwise, all he does is play around and gets nothing done.”

“He is knowledgable, he knows the work.  It is difficult for him to read and write, though. I usually read the directions to him.  Often times he tells me his answer and I write it in highlighter so that he can trace over it.

“Ahh, no. He is pulling the wool over your eyes. He is perfectly capable of reading and writing, he just gets babied too much by all of you. That other one, Carrier, she babies him too. You’re all being fooled by him.”

“No, Mrs. DeSalvo.  He truly needs help.”

“Ben, sit down here, right now.”

Ben complied immediately, looking like a wounded animal waiting to die.

“Ben, I will see you tomorrow.  You can ask Mrs. DeSalvo or a friend if you need help reading or writing.”

This ended our exchange, and though I was proud of myself for actually speaking up on behalf of Ben, and going directly to Mrs. DeSalvo, I felt ruined inside. I knew that Ben would sit there in angst for an hour.

I cried the entire way home. I cried most of the night. I drank a large glass of wine. I picked up the phone and called Ale, the Family Engagement Coordinator, my co-worker, and my trusted friend.

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