Thursday, May 30, 2013

Vocabulary Spinner

Unfortunately, I can not take credit for this amazing idea. My team member, Macee, developed this idea for her students but has let me use it with my own.

This is another game which helps reinforce vocabulary skills while allowing students to have fun. Using the top of a large shoe box, Macee taped down vocabulary flashcards to created a vocabulary spinning game.She combined both sight words as well as science vocabulary words on the flashcards. She made additional cards (not shown) which she added over the course of the game.

During the game, the students spin a top on the board. Once the top stops spinning and lands, the students must read the word it landed on. Macee made the game even more challenging by asking the students to define the science words and use the sight words in a sentence.

All of our students have enjoyed the game thus far! I have enjoyed it because it encourages my students to be excited about recognizing harder vocabulary words.

Never Underestimate the Power of a Highlighter

As my title suggests, this post is about the power of a highlighter. I discovered the power of a highlighter from Kathryn Starke, a literacy expert who spoke to VCU AmeriCorps during one of our trainings. She explained that students love props and that something as simple as a highlighter can help further engage students in reading material.  She was so right! 

I often have my students use highlighters on their reading passages to highlight  new vocabulary words or words which contain the phonemes we practiced that day. Other days, I challenge them to highlight all of the rhyming words within a passage. Sometimes I ask them to highlight the punctuation marks of a passage so that they notice when to pause or change their expression while reading. All of these methods help my students examine what they are reading a litte more and recognize the complexity of the words they are reading.  Additionally, this helps add extra challenges to their lesson for the day. So when in doubt, grab a highlighter!

Sight Word Twister

One of the my primary focuses in my first grade tutoring group has been increasing their ability to recognize sight words. At least two to three times a week, we begin our session with a game of sight word slap. They have improved vastly and can read almost all of the words on the Dolch First Grade Vocabulary List. For one of their prize days recently, I decided to reward their efforts with a game of Sight Word Twister.  

My inspiration for this game came from Pinterest. I discovered a pin where one educator had written sight words onto the circles of a Twister mat and instead of calling out the colors for students to place their hands on, she would call out the sight words. I thought this was a great idea and decided to try it out for myself. 

For my students, I altered the rules of game somewhat. One of my first graders is wheelchair bound and I didn't want her to feel excluded from the group. Instead of having the students place their hands and feet on the mat, I had all of the children sit around the mat. One at a time, they were given a die to roll. The student would roll the die onto the mat and would have to read the word that the die landed on. I came prepared with a lot of sight word flashcards to place on top of the Twister circles. I did not write on actual mat itself because I wanted to be able to reuse the game in the future. Once a student successfully read a sight word, I replaced the flashcard with a new one. The game lasted the entire 30 minutes of our intervention. 

For the most part, my students enjoyed this game. If I play in the future, I would like to use a larger ball instead of die. The die was small and would frequently land on the white space of the mat. At that point, I would just choose a word for the student to read.  

From an educators stand point, it was a very successful game because my students were able to have fun while practicing their vocabulary skills for 30 minutes! 

Sight Word Twister

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Reading Pointers

During on of my favorite training sessions for AmeriCorps, Kathryn Starke, a reading specialist for the City of Richmond, shared some of the many ways she engages her students during reading interventions. One of the many tricks I took away from her training session was the use of props. She explained that she uses props like witch fingers and superhero masks during her interventions to get her students excited about reading. 

Taking her advice, I decided to create my own reading pointers for my students. I found great templates for reading pointers on TeachersPayTeachers. One teacher made her "Read Along Pointers" free and included new templates for each month of the year. Here is the link.


I recommend that if you make these, laminate the pointers and use hot glue. Originally, I did not laminate the pointers and they were destroyed within a week.  

I found that by using these, my students are more likely to follow along while reading and are more excited about reading portion of the intervention. 

Sight Word Slap Game

The curriculum that the City of Richmond uses for reading has a very strategic approach. For second grade, every lesson begins with a list of 15-20 words which follow a pattern. For example, in the lesson I taught today, the list included many words which exhibit how when added -ing to a word, some words have double letters after the vowels and some have a single letter. The list also included words with phonemes we have reviewed in the recent past.  Here is the list: roping, batting, filing, filling, hoping, hopping, file, filled, paid, afraid, rained, repair, near, roof, sounded, outside. Additionally, each list includes six irregular words. Today's irregular words were grew, change, though, toward, young, and knew. 

Having to practice this many words on a daily basis becomes very boring and repetitive for both my students and I. In order to spice things up, I developed a game I coined Sight Word Slap. Each day I write the words for the day on flashcards. After reviewing the words twice, I place the flashcards face up on the table in front of my students.  Next, I ask them to hold their hands up and wiggle their fingers. (I make them wiggle their fingers so that they don't take the game too seriously and so that I know they are ready to play) Once all the students are ready and have their fingers moving, I call out a word. The first student that slaps the correct card gets to keep that card and earns a point. If they slap an incorrect card, I get to keep the card and no one earns a point. Also, if there is a tie between two students, I get to keep the card and no one earns a point. During the game, if I notice that one student is earning all the points, I start to play so that no one gets too upset about losing.  

This is a great game which is really easy to play and allows for the students to review the words for a third time while having fun. I think if my students knew this game was helping their reading skills, they would hate it. Luckily, they have not figured this part out yet. I strongly recommend this game if you are reviewing sight words or are introducing new words to your students. 

The Phases of Word Study

I did not begin tutoring my first grade students until January and was shocked by the difference between a first grader and a second grader at mid-year. I quickly realized that the pace of the two grades is vastly different and that I would have to use different techniques to engage my first graders. It took me a while to find a balance of work for them which was challenging but would not overwhelm my students and cause them to shut down. I found that word study was something that met this criteria. In this post, I am going to chronicle the stages I used to help my students master each set of word study words.  

Step 1: Introduce the students to the words. On the first day, I ask the students to cut the words out. Next, as a group, we read the words and identify the sounds we are practicing. For example, while using the word study list below, we practiced the short e,i,o, and u sounds.  

Step 2: Practice, Practice, Practice. For the next few tutoring sessions, I would have my students spend the last 10-15 minutes of our tutoring session practicing how to sort and read these words. With each word set, I would provide them with a sheet to sort on with separate columns for each of the word sounds. I have some perfectionists on my hands who become easily stressed when their lines aren't perfect. Providing a word sheet helped eliminate this problem.  

Step 3: Rainbow Write!! After I felt that my students could read the words in the sort easily, I challenge them to rainbow write the words. My students get really excited about this step but all it encompasses is them writing the sorts down in crayon. I use this step as my way of measuring how well my student's have mastered the word list before we move on to the next one.  

Step 4: Glue the words and move on!  
For the final step, I have my students glue their word sorts down onto the paper I provided them. As they are gluing down their words, I quiz them each individually on the words to ensure that they understand the sound pattern we are practicing.  

Overall, I have been really happy with this process and my student's reaction to it. It took a while to introduce the to the process but we are now at a point where they understand the routine and practice word study without question. We have moved through a number of lists and I am pleased with their progress. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cause and Effect

After playing The Paper Bag Princess game, my students asked repeatedly if they could play another book board game. I was glad to hear that they had found a prize day so fun so I was more than happy to oblige. As I stated in my last post,  the blog First Grade a la Carte: Odds and Ends from a First Grade  Classroom posted a number of reading comprehension board games. One of the games is based upon If you Give a Mouse a Cookie... and the questions ask the students to determine cause and effect. For example, one question asks:
What is the cause?
 "I got an award" 
a. I did not do my work. 
b. I got good grades 
c. I am hungry.   

Before playing, I made sure to review cause and effect with my students so that there would be no confusion regarding the vocabulary of the game. My second graders really enjoyed the game and did not see it as a great challenge. The first graders struggled with the questions and required a lot of assistance throughout the game. However, regardless of the challenge, I felt that they were confident in the ability to determine cause and effect by the end of the game.  
If you Give a Mouse a Cookie, Board Game, Dice, and Game Questions
Example Questions

Reading Comprehension Game

Over the Spring, I decided that my students reading comprehension skills needed to be challenged. They have made great strides in their ability to retell and comprehend a story but I felt that this skill could be taken even further before the close of the school year. So for one of my prize days, I had the students play a reading comprehension board game based upon The Paper Bag Princess. When I happened upon this game while on, I became very excited. I loved The Paper Bag Princess when I was little and wanted to share the story with my students.  

The Paper Bag Princess, Board, Game Cards, and Dice
Examples of the comprehension questions
The blog where I found this game is First Grade a la Carte: Odds and Ends from a First Grade Classroom. This educator has been kind enough to share all of the games she has created for many other stories in addition to The Paper Bag Princess. Here is the link for other games. It is such a wonderful idea to take easy read aloud stories and create them into a board game that students can play independently. I hope to make my own in the future.  

I played this game with both my Second and First graders on prize days. They all enjoyed it and excelled at the challenge. The questions are not very difficult. This allows the game to not only engage the students but also build confidence in their reading comprehension skills, which I believe is the most important task of a reading tutor. I think half the battle with struggling readers is building up their confidence and making them believe in themselves. 

What's a part of speech?

Understanding the parts of speech was a challenge for my second graders. They really struggled with identifying whether a word was a noun, adjective, or a verb. In order to help them, I developed a game to review this topic.  The game is very simple but, as all educators know, if you hype something up and act enthusiastically, the students become engaged and ready to learn. 

To begin, I reviewed the parts of speech with my students and placed flashcards with noun, verb, and adjective written on them at the top of the table. Next, I laid out flashcards in front of my students. Each flashcard had either a verb, adjective, or noun written on it. Each student was given a turn to roll a dice onto the flashcards. Once the dice landed on a card, the student had to read the word written on the card and identify as a noun, verb, or adjective. 

See! Very simple!  

I prepared a lot of flashcards for this game so that it would last for the entire 30 minutes of our tutoring session.  

The list below includes all the words I used for this game: 
  • Verbs - run, scratch, jump, walk, scream, sleep, skip, flip, hop, dance, sing, laugh, draw, 
  • Adjectives - cold, young, old, new, hard, one, soft, blue, sweet, green, sour, red, hot 
  • Nouns - dogs, cats, children, brother, markers, friend, fingers, pencil, men, teacher, he, she, it, I, you, boxes, key, babies, computer, characters, monkey, buses, woman, we, they us, them 
In addition to this game, I found a great Smart Board game at that helps students review the parts of speech. Check out the game at this link

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Story Elements & Sequencing

One of the biggest challenges my Second Graders struggled with during our tutoring sessions was reading comprehension. The literacy model that Richmond uses has the students read a small passage everyday and respond to a series of comprehension questions after the reading. 

I quickly discovered that this was a weakness for ALL of my Second Graders. It was very difficult for them to recall who the characters in a story were and the sequence of events. In an effort to assist them, I created story element cards. After reading the passage, I place the story elements cards on the table while asking them reading comprehension questions. I think it helps them to have a visual stimuli when answering. After using the cards consistently for about a week, I could already notice that my student's retelling skills were getting better. 

I found the template for these cards on Pinterest. I have to admit, I am Pinterest fanatic and find most of my inspiration from there. This is the link to the blog where I discovered these wonderful cards. 

Read Across America Day

One of my favorite days by far this year was Read Across America Day. For a reading tutor, it was an educational heaven. I had to practice some self restraint because I found so many activities on Pinterest that I wanted to try out.  

In my Second Grade interventions, I read The Cat and the Hat to the students and afterwards they completed a writing prompt about the story. While reading, I would let the students read some pages but as I only had 30 minutes with them, I read most of the book. The writing prompt asked them "If Thing One and Thing Two came to my house..." I found the writing prompt on This is a great blog that posted Dr. Seuss activities for free during the week of Read Across America Day. My students seemed to really enjoy this prompt and their responses were excellent.  

One of my Second Grade Tutoring Groups. So proud of their work!

In my First Grade groups, I again read The Cat and the Hat but their activity was different from the Second Grade. My team member, Macee, created Dr. Seuss hats for the students with rhyme ladders on them. The rhyme ladder was for words ending with -at. I asked the students to color the hats and fill out the rhyme ladders while I read the story. This was a really successful activity that the students seemed to genuinely enjoy.  


These boys were very proud of their hats. 
The whole group with their completed hats!

As a part of grassroots community service, on the morning of Read Across America Day, my team member Kalitah and I signed in volunteers from Richmond that came to read Dr. Seuss books to each of the classes. This was a great event because the students were exposed to a lot of members from the Richmond community and were able to hear a lot of books read to them. We spent the afternoon delivering birthday cake to the classrooms in honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday.  

Kalitah and I showing off our favorite Dr. Seuss books

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hunting for Phonemes

A large focus within my Second Grade reading groups is recognizing specific phonemes within words. For one of my prize days in December, I decided to challenge the students to a word hunt. At this point in the year, my students had mastered the following phonemes: 
-ch, -wh, -th, -sh, -ea, -ee, -ay, -oo, -a, -e, -i, -o, -u 

I provided my students with a number of Beginning Reader Dr. Suess books and challenged them to fill up the poster below with words that contain the listed phonemes. Some of the books were:


One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish 
Go Dog Go
 Daisy-Head Mayzie
 The Cat in the Hat
 Horton Hears a Who  

I choose these books because I didn't want the word hunt to be frustrating for them and I wanted them to feel successful at the end of the lesson.  

In the end, they were very successful! I was very proud of their completed project as were my students.  

My students completed Phonemes Poster

Establishing Order

Before I could being my tutoring interventions, I had to establish some sort of behavior management system within my tutoring groups. Everything I have read about teaching states that students do their best when they have structure and routine. I wanted to create a system that wasn't too strict but would provide enough structure for my interventions to be effective. 

My rules are as follows: 
1. Listen 
2. Follow Directions 
3. Sit in Seat 
4. Be respectful 
5. Have Fun!!  

If my students follow these rules during a tutoring session, they earn a sticker on their behavior chart. If each student earns a sticker for five consecutive sessions in a row, the group earns a prize day. Prize days involve either a literacy game or a free reading day.  

This system has worked really well because it gives the students an incentive to behave and it encourages them to work as a team because all of the students must earn them a sticker in order to get a prize day. It also helps because the literacy model that we use in Richmond *cough* boring *cough* so earning a game day every five days spices things up a bit. 

What is VCU AmeriCorps?


I want to begin this blog by explaining VCU AmeriCorps and my role within the program. VCU AmeriCorps is a state level program which promotes literacy in Richmond City Elementary Schools and grassroots community service within the City of Richmond. The goal of VCU's AmeriCorps program is to have all Richmond City Third Graders on reading level by the time they exit that grade.  

The role of a VCU AmeriCorps member is multifaceted. At school sites, we offer classroom support and reading tutoring for students in grades Kindergarten - Second. At my school site, I support a Second Grade class in the morning during their reading block. In the afternoons, I pull two Second Grade groups and one First Grade group for 30 minute reading interventions. In addition to these tasks, I act as mentor to my students. Sometimes when a student gets angry, I take them on a walk around the school or provide them the space to tell me about their day and their life.  

When not a school site, AmeriCorps members offer support to other parts of the Richmond community through acts like cleaning up trash along a road, providing meals to those experiencing homelessness on MLK Day, hosting events at the local Boys and Girls club, and supporting food and book drives.  

All in all, VCU AmeriCorps members simply get things done!