I have an embarrassing confession to make. Many years ago, I had a big secret. It was one of those secrets that kept me up at night, kept me searching for solutions in books and on the internet. I would have loved to just ASK someone for help, but I couldn’t bring myself to admit this secret out loud.
I was a fraud.
I didn’t know what I was doing.
I had no idea how to teach students to read.
Lord, that is hard to say out loud.
Did I just lose you?
Are you so shocked at my secret that you stopped reading? I hope not, because I have learned over the years that I WAS NOT ALONE.
There were other teachers out there that struggled with the enormity of this responsibility and felt completely unprepared for such a task.
As a primary teacher, the thought that I might fail my students terrified me.
Because it is important.
Especially in first grade.
Reading is THE most important thing we need to teach our students in first grade. This is the year that makes it or breaks it for a lot of kids. Either they are set up for success in future grades, or they struggle. For years , many of them.
My ability to teach them how to read in 10 months would determine their success in school for the rest of their lives.
If I failed to do my job, they might think that they were the problem. They were not smart. They just weren’t cut out for reading.
Their parents might know better, my principal might know better, my coworkers might think of me as the weak link on the team, but my students?
They would not blame me for failing them this year. They would think the problem lied within them.
And I couldn’t stand the thought of that.
It kept me up at night, believe me.
You see, when I was struggling with this, there were no teacher blogs. No PLC’s. No Facebook groups or instructional videos on the web.
It was sink or swim for me. And my students.
Don’t get me wrong- I learned about reading in college. I student taught in Kindergarten and 3rd grade. I learned about teaching letters of the week, shared reading, literature study groups, and all of the theory behind the teaching of reading. But the day-to-day “Do this, not that”? For first grade?
I had no idea what to do.
No real experience with guided reading.
No idea what that really was or looked like, if I was honest.
And so I went on a quest. I read as much as I could. I searched high and low for answers to questions I didn’t even know to ask.
And then, I dove in. I got started.
I just TRIED.
The easiest thing to start with was Word Work.
Yes, I also used books with my groups, but I didn’t feel confident enough yet to make the complexities of READING the concentration of my guided reading time.
I knew that if I could strengthen my students’ ability to read words and word chunks, sound out words, see connections between words they know and those they don’t…. I knew that would help them as readers. That much, I knew.
So I started with Word Work. I only had a few ideas in my back pocket at the time- only a few things that I knew to do with my students at the table, but gradually, my bag of tricks grew. And I grew more comfortable with what I was doing. Simplicity was the key for me.
I tend to stay away from cute gimmicks at my table- you won’t see adorable finger lights in my room, for example. Not that there is anything wrong with finger lights and other cute tricks that engage readers. It’s more about my preferences. I’m just a simple gal, myself.
I have a drawer of magnet letters, Upwords tiles (a garage sale find), whiteboards, and my supply of word cards (from my Chunky Monkey Phonics series), and that’s enough for me. Simplicity is the key for me. I need to keep things simple or I get overwhelmed with the planning and searching for supplies and I end up not enjoying the whole process.
Maybe you are like me, maybe you are not. Maybe you came out of college super-prepared to teach the mystery that is reading to young, impressionable minds. If so, you probably don’t need these tips. But, if you are like me in any way, if you have ever felt inadequate to handle this huge responsibility, you might be thinking, “I could use a few more ideas, myself”.
All I can say, friend, is welcome aboard. I am glad you are on this journey with me. It’s no fun to be up at night worrying alone.
I want to share with you some of the word work activities I do in my classroom. Take what you can, try some of these ideas in your own classroom, or don’t. Hopefully you will come away with at least one new strategy to try with your students.
I am in no way an expert, obviously. This is just a compilation of ideas I have found elsewhere. Very few of these ideas are original.
Some activities are designed for early emerging readers, and others are more advanced for my emerging or developing readers. I don’t discriminate, though. They usually get to try them all out at some point through the year.
Sometimes I do the same activity with each group but use different words.
Sometimes each group does a different activity with the same word chunk we are learning that week. We like to mix it up.
Keeping to these 16 activities and simple materials means I can provide variety and differentiation for my students without making myself crazy.
16 SIMPLE WORD WORK ACTIVITIES FOR GUIDED READING:
Why it works: Students practice reading words with word chunks they are learning. Matching words to pictures gives them support and builds their confidence.
Why it works: Students have to really sound out the words and hear the vowel or chunk in order to be able to place the picture correctly. This helps strengthen their auditory discrimination.
Why it works: Students practice visual discrimination– really checking all the way through the word to sort the cards correctly.
Why it works: Students practice visual and auditory discrimination simultaneously to sort the cards correctly.
Why it works: Students focus on the target sound and/or combining the target sound with other letters to create whole words.
Practice getting started with blends, etc. Use index cards and write the words, then fold them in half after the onset. Students read the onset first, then open to read the whole word.
Why it works: Students practice getting their mouths ready-focusing on the onset before blending it with the end of the word. This is especially helpful for students who struggle with getting started with unknown words.
#9…SOUND BOX PRACTICE
Why it works: Students practice adding prefixes and suffixes, identifying rhyming words, etc.
Why it works: Students work on isolating beginning letters (and second or third letters, if necessary) and putting words in alphabetical order. This helps them develop reasoning and logic skills.
Give two words from a word bank. See how many steps or transitions it takes to get from one word to the other (adding or subtracting one letter is one step). Students can work together at first, eventually working toward indepedently creating a “word ladder”.
Why it works: Students practice letter substitution and connections between related words. They will naturally distinguish between real and nonsense words.
Okay, okay. I know you may be thinking, “How does she keep track of all of these activities?”
I simply keep the print-outs handy in a basket and pull it out if I am looking for fresh inspiration for my groups. It is more automatic for me now, though. I feel more confident teaching reading. My knowledge base and experience have grown and grown, and I have many years of successful first grade graduate readers to show for it.
I’ve learned how to tackle the other aspects of reading, too, which I will address in future posts. But word work was first. It was my baby. It was my beginning. It was the first stage of my own growth as a teacher of reading. And so it has a special place in my heart.
There’s still a lot of magic in teaching reading for me- when those students suddenly have everything “click” and take off. Or when a student struggles with every task you put before him but then starts to be more successful with word sorts or sound boxes and it transfers to his reading.
I kind of hope I never get so used to the process that I fail to be amazed when that happens. Those are the highs for me. The moments that make all of this effort worth it.