Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sight Words – Part Four: More (Fun) Practice

Struggling readers need lots and lots of exposures before they start to recognize sight words automatically. It’s important to make practice fun, though, because the more of it a child is willing to do, the more she’ll benefit. Here are some ideas I’ve used in private tutoring and classrooms:

Sensory Practice
Let your student go beyond just seeing and writing words and recruit her tactile systems by:
  • giving her something with texture, like a sand tray, piece of carpet, or section of wall, and letting her trace words with her fingertip.
  • tracing a word on her back and asking her to guess what it is. Start with short words (“it,” “am,” etc.) If this is really tricky, ask her to say each letter as you trace it before you move on to the next one.
  • shaping the letters in the word with modeling clay rolled into ropes.
  • skywriting the word (tracing huge letters in front of her so that she has to use her whole arm), or writing the words in large letters on a dry erase board (or on a window with a dry erase marker or fingerpaint), chalkboard, or on a wall or sidewalk with a wet sponge or sidewalk chalk.
Cut-Out Flashcards
This one will work better for some kids than others, but it’s worth a try. Print out the sight words you want to practice in large font, then cut around the outside of the word, hugging the border of each letter as closely as you can. Don’t cut the letters apart; you want to cut around the word as a single unit. Discard the word itself and keep just the silhouette. Glue this onto a dark piece of construction paper and use these cards for drills. This format helps some students appreciate the shape of words so that they recognize them as whole units more readily.

Letter Mix-Up
Give the student a handful of Scrabble tiles or magnetized letters that spell a sight word and let her unscramble them. If she’s new to this, tell her what the word is before she begins. If she’s an old pro in need of a challenge, simply hand her the letters and challenge her to figure it out.

A note about the next two strategies: You need to mark in books for these, so I suggest either making photocopies of the pages or investing in temporary highlighting tools. I really like these erasable highlighters, and you can also try this removable highlighting tape.

Sight Word Hunt
Open a book so that two pages with text on them are visible (or hand out photocopies of different pages) and race to see who can find the most sight words you’ve studied on their page. Students can mark the words on the text, or write a list.

Real-World Reading
Let kids who love stories help you read them. Ahead of time, go through a book you plan to read to the student and highlight or circle all the sight words you’ve practiced. Then read to the child, using your finger to track so she can see where you are in the sentence. When you come to a highlighted word, pause to let her say it for you.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Sight Words – Part Three: Daily Practice with Timed Drills

More on sight words by Beth Guadagni ...

OK, I know what you’re thinking: This doesn’t sound fun. Students hate being timed. The pressure makes them panic. Bear with me! I use this drill all the time with my severely dyslexic students. If anyone is going to have anxiety about reading, it’s them. And my kids like it! There are a few tricks I use to make sure this is a rewarding experience for them:

1) Choose the material to be drilled thoughtfully. If the student can’t read the list/phrases/text you’re drilling with at least 90% accuracy, it’s too hard. I try to pick texts they can read even more easily than that. Remember, we’re practicing fluency here, not decoding skills, and they can’t get faster with a list that’s simply too hard.

2) Make their progress visible to them. This is really the part that matters. I keep a piece of large-grid graph paper for each list/text the child is practicing. After each reading, we write the date at the bottom of a column and then the child colors in the number of squares that shows how many words he read correctly. In the end, we have a bar graph that shows day-to-day progress, so it’s easy for the child to see how much he’s improving (and since you’re using the same list over and over again, he will improve if you do this drill almost every day). Don’t be afraid to do two or even three repetitions in one sitting either—that’s where you’ll really see the numbers jump. Bonus: This is a great introduction to graphs!

I recommend doing this as a warm-up to each instructional session. If your student isn’t practicing sight words every day, this drill should be a daily exercise anyway because consistency is critical when it comes to fluency. It can take as little as one minute!

Start with a Dolch list (see our previous post, if you missed it). Be sure to pick one the child can read with very good accuracy. I like to have a student read the list at a leisurely pace before introducing the timer to be sure the level is right. If even the lowest Dolch list is too hard, pick all the words he read correctly and just a few that he missed and make your own list by mixing these up. It’s okay to repeat the words several times on one list if you need to make the list longer without making it harder.

  • If the Dolch list is too long, break it into two lists. 
  • If you’re giving the child 30 seconds to read, you want somewhere around 20-30 words per list. 
  • If you’re giving the child 60 seconds to read, you want somewhere between 40 and 60 words per list.
  • Arm yourself with two copies of the list, plus a pencil, a piece of large-grid graph paper, and a stopwatch or timer.
Give one of the lists to the child and ask him to read it as quickly as he can for a set interval of time. I suggest 30 seconds for kindergartners and 45 seconds to one minute for older kids. Set the timer and let him loose! As he reads, use the other list to keep track of his errors. Any words he self-corrects should NOT be counted as errors, though note them for your own benefit because these are words that he needs to practice more. (Future posts will give you lots of suggestions about practicing.) When the timer goes off, congratulate him on a job well done! Now go over the list with him and show him the words he missed. I like to mark on the child’s list to help him the next time he reads. For example, my niece read “there” as “the” during one of our drills, so I underlined the last two letters to remind her to look at the whole word.

Next, do a little math. To calculate the number of words he got right, use this formula:

Total Words Read – Errors = Correct Words Read

Ask the child to help you count and do the subtraction if you want to make this a multidisciplinary exercise! Now, give him a marker and help him color in the graph to show how many words he read correctly. I like to do at least two trials per session because there’s always a huge bump after the first one that makes kids feel good, and I’ve even had students beg for a third try!

Leveling Up
Once your student is reading somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 sight words per minute correctly, it’s time to increase the challenge. Before you go to the next Dolch list, though, I suggest you introduce the lists of phrases, made from the grade-level Dolch words, which were included at the end of my previous post and use them for drills. Here’s why: the jump from lists of individual words to pages covered with sentences can be daunting for some kids, so reading with these short phrases is a good intermediary step. They provide practice with phrasing, too. I wrote these, but feel free to invent your own! Make sure, if you do, that you stick to words you know the child can decode easily.

As the phrases begin to become easier, you can introduce the next Dolch list; having two separate drills going at once is just fine.

I hope your young reader enjoys this as much as my students do!

Tune in next time for some fun ways to practice sight words.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Sight Words – Part Two: The Dolch List and Teaching Brand New Words

Before we get into ideas for teaching sight words, you’ll need lists of words to teach. Luckily, when it comes to sight words the work has been done for you here.

Although the whole-language theory of reading instruction has been debunked in favor of phonics, the Dolch lists, which were compiled by whole-word proponent Edward Dolch, are still an excellent resource for sight words. Dolch combed through children’s books and made a list of the 220 words he saw repeated most often. Some of the words are decodable and others are not; what they have in common is frequency. The list, which was first published in 1936, is obviously not exactly current, but children’s literature hasn’t changed much, so it still serves as a good starting point; in fact, almost all teachers of early elementary grades use it in their classrooms. Since its first publication, the list has been broken into grade-level lists, beginning with Pre-Primer (the beginning of kindergarten) and going through third grade. These 220 words are where I’d start.

Keep in mind that although the words look short and easy, 220 is a lot! Young readers, particularly those in the earliest stages of literacy, will need to be taught just a few at a time. If you’re going to teach words the child has never seen before, stick with just one or two per session, and be sure to pick words that are visually different from each other, like “little” and “you.” Pairing words like “is” and “it” may lead to confusion.

Once you’ve chosen your words, here is a series of steps I like to follow when I’m teaching a child a brand new sight word.

1.      Write the word three times, then pass the paper to the child. The child should trace each word one letter at a time, saying the letters as she traces them. Tell the child that she is “telling her hand what to do.” (What she’s really doing is combining the visual input of the letters she sees, the motor input she gets from tracing the letters and from moving her lips and tongue to form the letter names, and the auditory input she gets from hearing herself say the letters. The more senses that are involved in a learning experience, the more likely a person is to remember what they learn.) When she gets to the end of the word, she should say the whole word (e.g. “y-o-u, you”).

2.      Next to the three words the child has just traced, ask her to write the word three times on her own. Again, she should say each letter as she traces it, then say the whole word when she gets to the end.

3.      This third step is optional but can be very valuable for kids. Ask the child to write the word three times in a way that will engage her gross motor system or feel more tactically engaging. This could be writing the word three times in huge letters on a whiteboard or on a wall with a wet sponge, using a fingertip to “write” the word on the carpet or in a sand tray, etc. Try out a few and let the child do the one she likes best. No matter what she chooses, be sure she goes through the routine of saying each letter, then the whole word.

4.      Now, back to the paper you were using before: turn it over so that she can’t see the spelling and ask the child to write the word three times, saying each letter, from memory. If she has to peek at the spelling on the opposite side, return some of the earlier steps in the process to help her ingrain the sequence more deeply in her memory.

5.      The fifth and last step is the most fun! Ask the child to close her eyes and write the word three times again, saying each letter as she does. Students, even my high school group, love this step; there’s something inherently entertaining about reaching the end and opening one’s eyes to see that the word has appeared, slightly wobbly but almost always surprisingly legible! The value of this part goes farther than just giving kids a giggle, though. When someone doesn’t watch their hands writing, the movements themselves seem to become discreet from the letters, becoming a series of motions instead, so that they get anchored in memory in a different way. You’re teaching the child’s hand to write the word by allowing muscle memory to step in.

This routine seems long, but once you (and your student) get the hang of it, it takes less than five minutes per word. And in my experience, kids really like the process. Focusing on writing the words instead of just recognizing their appearances makes the learning experience more multi-sensory for kids, and it’s also quite useful because sight words can be among the trickiest to spell right. And in the end, if a child can spell a word, recognizing it while reading is a piece of cake.

One exposure to sight words though, even one as thorough as this, isn’t enough. To build automaticity, you’ll need to spend a lot of time practicing the words you’ve taught. Next time, I’ll cover some of my favorite games and activities for helping kids learn to recognize these words instantly. In the meantime, here is a list of Dolch Fluency Phrases, broken down by age from pre-primer through second grade, that expand somewhat on the individual Dolch list words.

Pre-Primer Fluency Phrases
come and help
the little blue dog
up and away
a big jump
we can come
it is down here
find it funny
go for help
here I am
look up and down
in here
one little jump
look and see
make my bed
we can play
you and not me
one, two, and three
red and yellow
run away
said the cat
where to look
jump up
you can go

Primer Fluency Phrases
eat it all
a new ride
ate a cake
who I am
want it to go well
all very good
must be with me
black and brown
came but did not go away
did not do it
eat four buns
get good books
like to play
have to go into class
he and she
pretty please
she said no
go out now
on our mat
saw it and ran
they say so
must go so soon
that little brown hut
here and there
this and that, too
under the yellow sun
want to jump
all was well
went away
what we will do
who she will go with
yes or no

First Grade Phrases
you could go
every last one
after the game
fly from the nest
ask any friend
do it again
an easy test
go by the rule
give me my toy
going to have fun
had to play
her blue book
his little white dog
come find him
see how it is done
have just five more
know when to stop
live and let live
may open the box
three of them
old brown hat
ride once a day
put on a pretty dress
a round, white egg
some new cars
stop and say thank you
take them home
must think hard
walk to the park
three were red
see then do

Second Grade Phrases

always be around
because he said so
been there before
the best wish
would buy both
call us first
found five funny hats
gave many gifts
comes and goes
green and yellow
get its food
write many lists
pull it off
gave just one
made it right
many of these
these or those
sit and read
sing her to sleep
tell their tales
once upon a time
wash very well
use some but not all
the one that will work
why your game is good
would eat four more
which you have now

Monday, January 13, 2020

Sight Words – Part One

We're delighted to welcome back our blogger Beth Guadagni, M.A., who shares her expertise in reading and working with students with dyslexia.

My niece is in first grade. She has always loved to listen to stories, but when we were together to celebrate Christmas at my parents’ house this year, she was reluctant to read books herself. When I finally convinced her to read with me, it was clear why: While she knows her letter sounds cold, nearly every word was a struggle. Sure, she recognized words like “the” and “is” with good automaticity. But she needed to sound out lots and lots of common words (like, well, lots) every time she came across them. A big part of the problem, I saw, was with sight words.

 While there are some differences in opinion about what the term “sight words” really means, nearly all educators agree that recognizing them automatically is critical to fluent reading. Some educators like to explain that sight words are words that don’t “follow the rules” and so just have to be memorized. “Have” is a great example. Kids learn that when there is a vowel-consonant-e pattern at the end of a word, the first vowel is long. But in “have,” the a sounds short, despite the e at the end. English has a lot of words like this, and unfortunately most of them are among our most common words.

Other educators say that sight words are simply common words that kids should recognize immediately because they occur so frequently in texts that sounding them out each time would be laborious (as my niece discovered). Words like “her”, “get”, and “open” are examples of words like this: they “follow the rules” and occur frequently.

Regardless of the definition one uses, sight words are important, and knowing how to read and spell them without much conscious thought or effort is enormously helpful to young students. Luckily, there are lots of ways to make learning sight words fun.

Over the next few posts, I’ll share some ideas that I’ve found to be very useful, even with severely dyslexic students. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 6, 2020

School Lunch in NYC

We've previously celebrated the change in the New York City Public Schools lunch program that made lunch free for all students, removing the "free lunch" stigma from those students whose access to no-cost meals set them apart from their classmates. Breakfast, lunch, and after school meals are all now free for all New York City public school students. But there have been other changes happening in what NYC children are eating in school.

Efforts are underway to have food offerings better reflect the diversity of the City's 1.1 million students, in over 1,700 public schools. NYC Public Schools serves over 940,000 meals each day. The goal is to provide healthier options while offering appetizing choices that children will actually eat. Uneaten food means children are not getting the nutrition they need, which can impact their alertness and energy in class. And food dumped in the trash adds to the problem of waste management, something the NYC Department of Education is working to address by encouraging zero waste and effective recycling.

The first step in creating tasty, healthy meals takes place in the NYC Public Schools test kitchen, located in Long Island City. It is here that a staff of more than 15 chefs creates menu items and, as noted in a piece in the NY Daily News, tests them on groups of 300 students several times each year. The threshold for adding an item to the menu is approval by 80% of the student taste testers. Among menu changes over the past few years is the elimination of deep frying, saturated fat, and high fructose corn syrup and the introduction of Asian and Cajun spices and a number of organic ingredients. Pilot programs introducing halal and kosher foods are also being tried.

In addition to being appealing to their "customers," the student diners, those developing school menus have a number of other considerations, including ease of preparation in individual school kitchens and availability of ingredients in bulk or through federal food supplies. It can take over two years for a new menu item to make it to school cafeterias throughout the city. So, the next time you stare into your refrigerator, freezer, or pantry and try to figure out what to cook for dinner, you might want to consider that it is far more difficult to feed a "family" of close to one million than it is to figure out what to feed your own family tonight.