Saturday’s Sites

Here you go…some great sites I’ve found lately!

  • Shining Our Lights Preschool has a free idea to share for keeping track of your child’s reading skills, especially this summer.  If you do Word Study with your child, based off of Words Their Way, they recommend keeping a Word Study notebook.  We do this at this reading mama’s house and it’s another great way to keep track of what your child knows.
  • Do you have a preschooler at home?  Here’s a wonderful blog called A Mom With a Lesson Plan.  She’s got some great ideas.  I plan on using and posting some of her Letter Activities with NJoy soon!
  • I LOVE Michelle’s post on handwriting WITHOUT pencil and paper!  My favorite thing about this reading mama is that she posts videos for every letter to show you how to do it.  Thanks, Michelle!
  • She did it!  I Can Teach My Child came up with a way to use her toilet paper books into word family practice.  Check it out.

WP. org, Here I Am!

You may notice that my blog looks totally different!  My transfer is complete.  Yay!  I am going to take a few days to get everything working.  Thank you for your patience.


Balancing Her Beauty & the Bedlam

MBug is our precious, little girl who just recently turned ONE!  Where did the year go??  After having two boys, I was very surprised (and excited) to hear, “It’s a girl!”  We call her “beautiful” all the time.  I want her to always hear that she’s beautiful; inside and out (most importantly on the inside).  My prayer is that she will believe this, even when those trying teenage years come!

With all her beauty comes the bedlam.  Jen has nailed it in the title of her blog: Balancing Beauty & Bedlam (this blog ROCKS, by the way).  It truly is a balancing act and some days I feel I have too many balls in the air with not enough hands to catch them all.  I know somebody can relate!  Currently, there’s a lot of bedlam over here when MBug participates in school with us.  I know this phase will pass right before my eyes and I’ll miss it, but I’m just going to be honest and say that it can be frustrating at times.

For example, NJoy no longer has chairs at his table.  She climbs up on them and then gets on top of the table; not to mention she pulls everything off the table that he’s trying to work on.  Even with distractions from mama, she prefers NJoy’s work.

One day, I came into the schoolroom and saw this:

Usually, sitting on tables in not allowed, but what else was he to do??  He simply wanted to color his butterflies in peace…poor, little guy!

One thing we’ve recently tried is putting his work on the pocket chart (if possible) when she’s awake.  As you can see, NJoy can barely reach it himself!  This worked and I was encouraged.  Now, if I could only adapt everything for the pocket chart…

I used to pull out our teaching mats and she would just sit and coo while she watched her older brothers work.

Gone are those days!

Pretty much anything on the floor has to be reserved for times when she’s asleep; which can be hard to manage, since she and NJoy rest at the same time each day.

But with all her bedlam, she is absolutely beautiful and she has a special place in my heart…and in the hearts of her big brothers and daddy.

She is already showing signs that she’s ready for school.  This is her absolute favorite toy to play with in the schoolroom.  She sneaks in there at all times of the day to pull this off NJoy’s table and “color.”

She is enjoys reading, when she can find just the right book…

(this shelf makes it easier & less messy!)

…and she climbs up in the little chair, or in my lap, to read.  Too sweet!

Yes, I’ll admit it-the bedlam can be frustrating for me (and for her big brothers) at times, but if I had to live without my, little beauty to be bedlam free, I’ll take the craziness any day!  I LOVE YOU, MBug!

“Every Letter Makes a Sound…”

It seems like everywhere I turn in my home, I can hear this *lovely* song:  “B  says /b/, B says, /b/.  Every letter makes a sound…”  Oh, do I have you singing it now?  I’m so sorry. 🙂  Believe me, I know every verse; as I’m sure you do too, if you have little ones in the home.

Learning letter sounds.  While there’s probably not a “wrong” way to do it  (okay, I guess there could be), I believe there is a more developmentally appropriate way than starting with the /a/ sound and working your way through in order to the /z/ sound.  I like to introduce letter sounds in a different order, which can help to minimize confusion.

Much of the confusion over letter sounds occurs at the point of articulation.  Letter sounds are produced or articulated in different places of the mouth.  For example,  the /m/ sound is produced by placing both lips together (bilabial) while the /k/ sound is made at the back of the throat.  (Hang in there.  I do have  a point in all this jargon.)  Some sounds require the voice to be used /v/, while others do not /f/.  There are continuant sounds, meaning they can be elongated naturally /sssssss/, while there are other letter sounds that cannot be elongated (stops), like the /b/ sound.  Some letters are very similar in their articulation, such as /t/ and /d/.  And because they are so similar, they have the potential to confuse young children if introduced close together. Whew…now, take a deep breath. 

The interesting part about all the above info is that even though I studied a lot of this stuff when getting my M.Ed. in Reading, I initially learned most of it while getting my undergrad in music!  I was a voice major and we had to take five diction classes, learning the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), in order to know how to pronounce words in several different languages.  Little did I know that this information would serve me far beyond singing Clair de Lune!  I think it’s so cool how God prepared me to be a teacher before I even knew it was in His plan!

Here is the order in which I typically introduce consonant letter sounds: (I do not follow this exactly in every situation*)

m, s, r, b, t, g, n, p, c, h, f, d, l, k, j, w, y, z, v, x, & q- (both x and q produce two sounds /ks/ for x and /kw/ for q)

By introducing sounds in this approximate order, the letters that have similar articulation points are separated enough so that confusion is minimal.  And an added bonus: the letters that are similar in print features (b, d, p, & q) are also spaced further apart from each other.


1. If you are introducing the letter sounds to a younger child (for example, NJoy is 2) or a child with speech delays, it may help to adapt the order a bit so that some of the “easier” sounds are introduced first.  Here are two links about articulation development, if you want to read them: Developmental Articulation Chart & full research article.   (Thank you, Tiffany!)

Here’s the main idea of these resources: The letter sounds that have the potential of being more difficult to articulate are generally: /f/, /l/, /r/, /s/, /v/, /y/ & /z/.  It may work best to postpone them, so the order may look more like:

m, b, t, g, n, p, c, h, d, k, w, j, f, y, s, v, z, l, r, x, & q

2. If you are introducing these sounds to an older child (let’s say a Kindergartner), I do not feel it is necessary to get through all 21 consonants before you introduce a short vowel sound (like short a).  If a short vowel is mixed in there, the child can begin working on simple word families and reading words sooner.  You can see how I started doing this with ALuv here.

3. Some reading philosophies (Montessori, for example) choose to teach letter sounds before letter names.  Because of this, the letter order must differ to facilitate reading words.  Here is a post that does a good job explaining this.  (I will post more on this topic at a later time.)


One of the reasons that articulation interests me is that it helps to explain the interesting invented spellings of young children.  What seems like a random spelling begins to make sense.  Take for example, PK for pig.  From an articulation stand-point, k is a great substitution for g because they are both pronounced in a similar spot: a guttural sound in the back of the tongue and throat.  And if a child is stretching out the sounds in a classroom or in a setting where they need to do so quietly, /k/ is the sound that g makes when the voice is not used.  Pretty cool!

And just in case you are just dying for another round, here you go: “D says /d/, D says /d/…” Happy singing!

Short o and Sight Word Play

ALuv is finishing up his study of short o words.  Yes, it has taken us quite some time to get through them.  We have taken short breaks here and there; which has been refreshing.  I also didn’t get pictures of some of the stuff I wanted to post about, but oh well!

After posting all the pictures, it seems it’s about time to take all the fake tatoos off his arms!  🙂


He re-matches the words and pictures multiple times from the Words Their Way sort.  Once we do this together a couple of times, I expect him to do it independently. 

Playing with his Tag Short o reader

spelled short o words with bottle caps, like we did here

checking his answer on the back

sorting/building -op & -og frogs

revisiting his Word Study notebook (for explanation, click here) after gluing down his short o words and pictures from his word sort


Currently, I am introducing an average of only 1 word wall word a week (it is summer), but we review all of them quite often.  I will probably only still do 2-3 a week, beginning in August; then bump it up to maybe 4-5 a week in January.  I would rather he learn them slowly and thoroughly than quickly and only half way.  He already knows about 1/3 of the sight words I taught in Kindergarten.

Here are some ways we’ve played with our sight words:

unscrambling sight words (letters are made from sentence strips)  This one was his favorite!

spelling with magnetic letters

Built words using this idea.  I made two sets out of foam and added a couple pieces of my own to make lower case building easier.  I’ll share those once I draw them out.

Reading, reading, and more reading- I love this picture!


…and measuring (in train cars) our weekly Bible Verse.  I adapted this idea from here.

Here is the list of verses he will learn this summer.  He gets to do something “special” with mommy or daddy each time he memorizes 5 verses.

For more Word Play ideas, remember you can visit and link up to this awesome list from 1+1+1=1.

Struggling Readers Need Encouragement

Struggling readers, especially those in the upper grades, tend to carry with them a low reading esteem.  They are aware that they just can’t do it and many times, they lack the motivation to read altogether.  It may even sound like: “I hate to read” or “Reading is boring”.  I know I’ve heard these phrases uttered by some of the upper elementary grade students I’ve tutored.

When I would type up the initial assessment report for the parents, the last thing I wanted to do was focus all my attention on their child’s reading weaknesses.  I always included a section on his/her reading strengths…and that was the part I liked to share with the student. 🙂

When looking through my reports, here are some of the actual comments I used for strengths (feel free to use these if they apply to your child or a child in your classroom):

  • She is skilled in word recognition and decoding (this applied to a 4th grader who could decode on a 6th grade level, but was only comprehending at a 2nd grade level)
  • He has mastered beginning and ending consonants and most short vowel words.
  • When given more than one second, he was able to figure out 4 more words on the word list (10 words long).
  • She went back and self-corrected her errors most of the time while reading the passage.
  • She was able to answer all of the explicit questions correctly on the passage.
  • He went back and re-read when something didn’t make sense in the passage; a sign that he understands that reading is supposed to make sense.

When I’m reading with students or doing word study, I tell students what I like about their reading or spelling.  Here are some things I say to them:

  • You made a very smart mistake because the word you said looks a whole lot like the word in the text.  (This happened just the other day with the words thought and though.)
  • I thought it was really cool how you went back and corrected your mistake when you realized it didn’t make sense.  I do that all the time!
  • You spelled the word exactly how it sounds.  Way to use your ear!
  • I like how you erased that part of the word and spelled it again.  It looked like you were trying to picture the word in your head.  And it paid off, because you spelled it correctly the second time.

By focusing on students’ strengths, it helps them to see specifically how they are growing as readers (aren’t we all??).  It also builds their motivation and reading esteem.  I firmly believe, through my experiences as a teacher, tutor and reading mama, that motivating kids is half the battle.  If a child believes he can’t, he won’t.  Oh, but the power of positive thinking.  If we can instill that into our young readers by being explicit about their reading strengths, then by all means, let’s spread some reading encouragement! 🙂

New Series on Struggling Readers

I just got information that it will take 7 days for my blog to switch over.  In the meantime, I’m going to keep my posts coming…:)

For the next few weeks, I’d like to use my Tuesday’s teaching tip posts to focus on struggling readers.  Struggling readers are a passion of mine.  I’ve tutored several of them, from K through 5th grades, and have seen them become confident and capable readers (who actually enjoy reading).

Part of why I love working with them is that I used to be one.  I can remember being in the lowest reading group, mispronouncing words while other students giggled, and hating (and I mean HATING) to read out loud; even in high school!  The sweaty palms, my heart beating out of my chest, the butterflies raging war in my stomach, serious doubts in my head…the emotional scars of a struggling reader.  I can so relate to the students I’ve tutored.

Where do I start with a struggling reader?

When a child is struggling to read, the first thing I do as a tutor is try to pinpoint the root of the reading problem.  Is he struggling with basic phonemic & phonological awareness, phonics skills, decoding, word recognition, fluency, or comprehension?  Perhaps the student is even dealing with other issues such as ADD, difficulty processing, difficult circumstances at home, lack of motivation or self-esteem.  These other issues can have a negative impact on reading as well.

As a reading tutor, I gather as much information as I can through a series of assessments and surveys.  These include:

  1. parent survey
  2. teacher survey
  3. student reading questionnaire
  4. reading attitude questionnaire
  5. Primary or Elementary Spelling Inventory (from Words Their Way)
  6. phonological or phonemic awareness assessment (for younger students)
  7. various leveled fiction and non-fiction texts read aloud by the student, followed by comprehension questions
  8. a listening comprehension assessment done on the student’s actual grade level

It’s quite an extensive assessment…I’d venture to say more extensive than most schools have time to do for individual students.  The report I type up and show the parents is usually 12-14 pages long!  Needless to say, it was (I am not doing these currently with 3 young ones at home!) very time consuming.  But I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was similar to putting a puzzle together without knowing exactly what the picture would look like.

It would take me many, long hours to explain how to do all those assessments, surveys, and questionnaires; so I won’t.  I’d probably bore you anyway!  If you’d like the “cliff notes”, Reading Rockets has several great articles about struggling readers.  I hope you’ll check them out.

What I’d like to zero in on are the teaching practices in regards to reading that are almost universal for all struggling readers.  I hope you’ll join this reading mama tomorrow and for the next few weeks as we explore some ideas for struggling readers each Tuesday. I Come!

I’m moving…not into a new house, but hopefully over to  I feel a bit like Hermit Crab in A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle.  I think I’ve “outgrown”  Not that I haven’t enjoyed you, .com; but I think the possibilities of .org are better.

Here’s how it may affect you.  Amy from Blogging With Amy has told me that I can keep my domain name; which will greatly help!  So, my Facebook fan page should stay intact.  I’m not exactly sure what will happen if you have subscribed via RSS feed or by email…sorry!  I am, however, going to offer a give away when my new blog is up and running to those who subscribe again and to any new subscribers.

I will take a break from my posts until .org is ready.  I am HOPING it will only take a few days; maybe a week.  But you know how stepping into the unknown sometimes goes!

In the meantime, please feel free to contact me via my FB page or email if you have any questions: becky(at)thisreadingmama(dot)com.

As a blogging Hermit Crab might say, “Plug-ins!  Blog buttons!  A host I can control!  The possibilities are endless.  I can’t wait to get started!”

Saturday's Sites

Here are some literacy-based links I found this week while surfing the web:

  • Homeschool Creations has a great page with phonics printables.  There are mostly ABC printables, but there are also some short and long vowel activities.
  • This craft caught my eye from I Can Teach My Child.  I wonder if I can make a book this way or use it for word families…very creative.
  • Worksheets are not my favorite thing to do with kids, but sometimes, it’s nice to mix in a worksheet or two.  Here is a website that offers free literacy (and math) worksheets.  I found this one on Confessions of a Homeschooler.

More Butterfly Writing

As we’re wrapping up our study on butterflies, I wanted to post a couple of ways we integrated writing into our unit.  I have been SO proud of his attitude while writing lately.

1.  Butterfly Life Cycle

I read Becoming Butterflies by Anne Rockwell.  This book tells about the life cycle of Monarch butterflies and we compared it to what had happened with our painted lady butterflies.

He worked the butterfly life cycle puzzle from Lakeshore.  This served as a quick review.  I believe it is discontinued now, but I found the set at yard sale recently for $2.

I folded over pieces of paper and created a flip chart to show how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.  He used pictures and words from the book to help him draw and write the words.  Something I noticed is that chrysalid and chrysalis seem to be interchangeable.  Maybe I’m wrong…and if I am, please correct me!

On the top page, he wrote Becoming Butterflies.

Here are a couple of his inside pages:

egg- 1st page

butterfly- last page

This flip chart concept could be adapted and used with many different content areas.

Just a few that pop in my mind right away are:

  • retelling a story in order
  • helping a child understand where they live: city, state, country, continent would go on the pages and the child would draw pictures of those things on the inside flaps
  • writing math problems: for example, 4+5 could be written and when it’s  flipped open, the child writes the answer and maybe draws pictures or writes words to show how she got the answer

2. What Did You Learn?

I read It’s a Butterfly’s Life by Irene Kelly.  This is VERY interesting book.  For example, did you know that a caterpillar’s poop is called frass?  Some caterpillars can even “shoot” their frass up to 3 feet (we pulled out a yard stick to see just how far that was)!  There were parts of the book that were WAY over his head, so I paraphrased or skipped those.

Before reading, I told ALuv that this book contained very interesting and even gross facts about butterflies.  This really engaged him, as he wanted to get to the gross parts.

During reading, I kept commenting, “Wow!  I didn’t know that before!” or “That’s so cool!”  He made comments as well.

After reading, I asked him what facts he remembered the most.  We engaged in dialogue about this, as I shared mine.  Once he established his favorite, I asked him to draw a picture showing it.  I walked away as he worked, so as not to “hover” (as my husband calls it).

This is what he drew:

A green caterpillar with large eye spots.

Once he had his picture drawn, I asked him to tell me about it.  I helped him narrow down the sentence he wanted to write and I set him free to write it.  I listened.  No whining…no crying…not an utterance of  “But I can’t!”.  After a couple minutes of silence, I was intrigued.  I simply walked by to see what was happening.  He had already written two words: The caterpillar.  He had used the flip chart I mentioned above to spell caterpillar!  I was so proud!!

He used the Word Wall to spell several other sight words.  A few times, he did ask for help.  When he did, I modeled how to stretch out the words.  He said the words, too and wrote down the sounds he heard.  Stretching out words and writing down the phonemes is a great way to further develop a child’s phonemic awareness; a necessary skill for reading!

This is the final work:

The Caterpillar can scar othr animls uwa with thr big is.

(The caterpillar can scare other animals away with their big eyes.)

This reading mama’s favorite was UWA for away…brilliant!  Okay, so I am aware that he has a capital C at the beginning of caterpillar and that this “fact” isn’t entirely true…they’re really eye spots, but who cares?!?!  I could not stop praising him for his good attitude and hard work.  His handwriting looks amazing!  Just about a month ago, he didn’t even understand how to use the lines.  Now, he can use them independently!  Yay!

What do I think made such a big difference in a month’s time?  I believe it all boils down to best teaching practices that work in any content area:

  1. Modeling: If you remember, when he wrote in his journal about our butterflies, I modeled “correct” letter formation on a lined dry erase board; which I found at Target in their $1 bin last year.  He has also repeated the sentence strip handwriting activity; which gives him a good model with letter formation.
  2. Multiple Exposures:  I bumped up my expectations with him.  We write almost every day now.
  3. Meaningful Practice: Not worksheet after worksheet, but fun and authentic reasons for writing.

And…an old trick I had forgotten until recently:  Let him draw his picture first.   Drawing tends to be easier (and more fun) for kids at a young age and a less daunting place for them to start.  Encourage them to fill their pictures with lots of details.  When they’re done, ask them to describe their picture to you so they can verbalize their thoughts.  They may even allow you to label their picture.  Then, help them to figure out what they want to write down based off their picture.

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