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Hi!  I'm Sally from Elementary Matters, and I'm thrilled to be guest blogging on Conversations in Literacy!

Athletes warm up for an event by doing easy exercises to get their muscles ready.  Musicians warm up their instruments.  Singers warm up their voices.  Don't you think readers should do some warming up as well?

I always start reading groups with a warm up.  My students learn that they need to be working on their warm up before the teacher even sits down.  I usually write on the board what the warm up will be, and make sure the materials are on the reading table, so they'll be warmed up by the time I get to the reading table.

I do this for a few reasons.  First of all, they need to warm up!  Second of all, it gives me some time to get the other children settled and put out any fires before I become preoccupied with my reading group.

The warm up should consist of something that is easy for the readers.  That means well below their instructional reading level.  When the children sit down to read, I insist they read "out soft".  Yes, the term "out soft" is one I made up, but it makes sense to the children.  "Out loud" isn't appropriate, of course, since there are others trying to focus on their own activities.   "Out soft" means loud enough to hear themselves, and loud enough for the teacher to hear them when sitting at the table, but not loud enough to disturb others.  I spend some time at the beginning of the school year establishing the routine so there's no question on what to do.

The other part of the warm up routine:  don't stop until the teacher says stop.  If the children finish what they're reading, they're expected to go back and re-read.

There are several materials I use for reading warm up.  Sometimes I use books we've read earlier in the year.  Sometimes I use mini-books we've used for word work in the past.  Sometimes I use word cards, word lists, or phrase cards.   Sometimes I let them choose an "old favorite" for warm up.  Whichever is used,  the rules are the same:  It should be well  below their instructional reading level, they should read "out soft", and they should keep reading until the teacher tells them to stop.  By the time the teacher's ready for the next step of reading instruction, those little brains are warmed up and ready to learn!

It just so happens,  I have a reading warm up freebie for you!  This uses the Pre-primer Dolch list, which is a great place to start.  They are arranged in phrases, which experts say is the best way to practice words.

These can be cut into individual phrase strips, or simply read as they are on the sheets.  Run off enough for your whole group, and they'll be ready for reading when they're done!

Click HERE for your freebie!  Have a great day Blog Hopping!
Sally Latest post: Turn the Music Up! — I'm a sucker for a linky party, and I found one for music, another one of my passions!Amanda over at Teaching Madness is having a music lin... Like · Comment · Share Elementary Matters page on Facebook Like Get this email app! Latest tweet: Turn the Music Up! Follow @ElemntryMatters Reply Retweet 23:14 Jun-26 Get this email app! Get a signature like this.CLICK HERE.

Familiar Read Basket Organization

I like things organized and easy to get to.  Students need to reread books that they have already read.  Put those two together and you have familiar read baskets.  

I place student copies of the books we have read together into baggies.  One baggie per student.  Then these baggies go into designated baskets.  Since I teach multiple grades, I have a basket for different grades.  For the classroom teacher that teaches in small groups, you could have a basket per group.  

I have tried several things for holding the books:  book baggies with handles, cloth book bags, and plastic baggies.  The plastic baggies seem to work the best for me.  They are cheaper and easier to replace than the other ideas.  I will say though that I like the baggies with the Ziplock closure on them the absolute best.  Little hands can close them so much easier than trying to line up the little blue lines and pressing the bag closed.

Books in the baggies go into their designated basket.  Then the basket goes on the shelf.  These cute baskets even have an area for you to slip in a label so students know which is their basket.  I usually get out the basket I need and then pass out the baggies at the table for students to choose whichever books they want to read and in whatever order they choose.  I like for students to have some choice.  Or I just set the basket on the table and students come by to grab a baggie as they chose a spot on the carpet or other area to read.  Works very smoothly!  I trade out books as students increase in skills.  This also keeps the books fresh to where they don't get tired of them.

I have a surprise for you on Saturday!!  I will be participating in a Blog Hop and Swap.  I will be guest posting on another blog while someone else guest posts here on my blog.  I have never had someone guest post on my blog before.  This is going to be a lot of fun!!  This Saturday's Blog Hop and Swap will take the place of my normal Sunday post.  I hope you will be sure to check in here on Saturday to see what it is all about as a bunch of us are participating. Can't wait to hear from you!

Facebook Post Party

Did you find your way here through the Facebook Post Party that my friends and I are hosting?  This evening will be so much fun for you and I am so glad that you are here visiting on my blog!!   I would love for you to take a minute to follow me and to take look around.  My blog is devoted to all things literacy for kindergarten through fifth grade.  I have only a few items so far to offer free- I'm just learning how to make stuff.  :) 

Feel free to click on my silent e poem if that is something you can use.  You sing it to the tune of For He's A Jolly Good Fellow.  For the word "cake"  the song would go like this:  the e jumps over the k, the e jumps over the k, the e jumps over the k, to let the a say its name.  

Be sure to go visit all of my other friends and their great blogs!  I would love to have you follow me and all their blogs too.  Leave us a comment to let us know you stopped by to join in all of the fun!  Thanks so much!

Slowing Down That Summer Slide

Don't you get so excited at the end of the school year to look back at all the progress your students have made?  Then it's time to send them home for the summer and you know that some of them are going to experience that dreaded "summer slide" .    So disheartening that some of my students will lose what they worked so hard to gain.  I am trying something new this year to help remedy that problem of sliding backwards over the summer caused by students not reading.

I ordered a bunch of books from Scholastic and am going to mail them to my students over the summer in hopes that getting a brand new book that they get to keep will be exciting enough to make them want to read it several times. I spent a lot of time picking these books, making sure they were on the students' levels and would be interesting to them.  Scholastic had some great sales and most of the books were between $2.00 and $4.00 a piece.  I only bought books under $5.00.  When this box of books came in, I was soooo excited!  You would have thought it was a box of books for ME!  

The thought is that each month each of my kindergarten through second grade students will be mailed a new book  for the months of June, July and August.  I included in the envelopes a letter to the child explaining what I wanted them to do.  Each month's letter was slightly different 

 I also included a response sheet for each book mailed.  It is just a simple draw your favorite part and write about it.  I wanted to keep it simple, quick, and easy.  My instructions were for the students to mail me back this favorite part form in the self-address stamped envelope that was also included in the packet.  

Can you tell that I am just so super excited about this?  I cannot wait to see what kind of response I get from my students.  I am hoping that I get a good percentage of my students to respond back to me so I can justify the expense next year to my principal.  The books were not the largest part of the expense.  The postage was my main expense in this experiment.  But I already have a back up plan for the postage next year if I need it.  My teacher's aide's church may be willing to donate to that as they like to help out our school.  

I remember being enrolled in a book club when I was little and being so excited to get those books each month.  I am hoping that that same excitement will be there when my students get their books each month.  And what child doesn't like to get mail?  Maybe the parents will be prompted by this to see to it that their child  reads the books mailed to them at least once -I am secretly hoping for multiple reads!

Dolch Sight Words and An Old School Game

Building sight word fluency is so important to students and their reading.  I like to practice sight words in many ways to keep it fun and fresh for the students.  One great way is to use the PowerPoint from above on the Smartboard as a whole group activity and just run through the slides.  The pictures are cute and engaging.  You could also use it on an individual computer as a literacy center.  Some people like to print out slides and create a class book to be read during free time.  Or you can even print it out for individual books for students to keep at their desk or to send home for practice.  This is the first in a series of PowerPoints that cover the Dolch sight Words.

Did you ever play Concentration as a kid?  The more popular name now is The Memory Game.  But I played Concentration all the time as a kid.  We played with a deck of 52 cards and spread them all out. 

I have noticed that a lot of the students who come to me do not seem to have ever played this game.  So sad... for several reasons.  One- Concentration builds memory skills.  Many struggling readers are lacking memory skills.  Play Memory with them and you will see what I mean.  They will repeatedly go to the same cards almost as if they are expecting a different word to appear there instead of the one that they saw there the past 2 times they already chose that card!  Struggling readers need to build that memory up for reading skills.  Two-  games like Memory build thinking skills.  Students who have no experience with Memory tend to not use strategies as they play.

I like to have my students play Memory with sight words to kill two birds with one stone so to speak!  :)  They get practice reading sight words with fluency while building their memory skills and strategic thinking at the same time.  We play a few different ways.  One is the old fashioned way with cards on the floor.  We discuss how our brains like patterns and organization best when learning so we place the cards in nice neat rows. 

Another fun way to change it up a bit is on the Smartboard.  This is one site that I found that was good as it had games with several cards for older students and games with less cards for the younger ones.

Another site that both the students and I like besides the one listed above is at  This one uses the Dolch sight word list and has them separated into grade levels.  The students also like it because it is much more colorful.  But again for the older students, I like the one above because you can play with more cards to build their memory skills even more.  

The students and I have been playing a lot of Memory during summer school this year.  I can already tell a difference in their sight word fluency and their memory is getting stronger.  Give it a try!

RtI~ Decision Meetings

Today is my 3rd installment in how our school implements RtI.  You can read about Tier 1 here and Tiers 2 and 3 here.  We are in no way experts and the way we do it is certainly not the only way RtI can or should be done.  But what we are doing is definitely working for us and we are seeing a lot of good growth with our students. 

After students have completed whichever tier they are in it is time to give our universal screening again to check on their progress.  We are using the DRA for our universal screening.  When all students have been tested and scores have been turned in, it is time for me to gather up all the information from the DRAs and from the weekly progress monitorings.  I create graphs with the data for our RtI team to use during our decision making meeting.  

I make up folders for each team member to use during our meeting.  Team members include me, the leader of RtI, mostly I act as a facilitator during meetings by helping the classroom teacher to be feel at ease during the meeting, run the meeting, facilitate communication between members, and keep things moving.   Also on our team:  principal, counselor, two special ed teachers, Reading Recovery teacher, preschool teacher, and one classroom representative from K-1, 2-3, and 4-5.  Our speech teacher also joined us this year.  

In the folders that I make up, I include our RtI agenda for the day, schedule of which classroom teachers will be meeting with us and when, our RtI rubric to help with decision making, and a data graph.  Here is our agenda:

  Here is a picture of our data page.  I include the old DRA score plus the most recent score, how many levels of improvement, whether they are on grade level reading now or not, and if they are enrolled in Title 1 Reading or tutoring.  I leave spaces for team members to write in whether the graphs showed improvement on the interventions and what was voted on for each student.

We vote on each student that goes through tiers 2 and 3, so I keep a recording sheet for me to record votes on so that I have a paper copy of what was decided on for each student.  Then I file these.

Now for the meeting!  Our wonderful speech teacher loves to cook and she fixes all kinds of goodies for us for our meeting.  Think cheese cakes, cookies, appetizers, etc....Whatever she brings, you can count on it being wonderful!  Our principal buys snacks and drinks and we are set for the day.  It really does make this stressful day a bit easier.  We have a floating sub who travels that day to each teacher scheduled to come to our meeting.  The teacher comes in and we discuss each of her students that were in tiers 2 and 3.  Each student's graphs have been scanned and the graphs are displayed on the Smartboard.  We look at how much progress was shown on each graph and how much progress was made on the most recent DRA.   We have a rubric that guides us with decision making.  We discuss what we see and the progress shown in class.  Then we take a vote on which tier the student qualifies to move into next.

This meeting lasts all day long and is taken very seriously.  Sometimes the discussions can get a little heated, but that is because we try to make the best decision we can in the best interests of the students.  After the meeting is over, it is time to start the cycle all over again.  Students will be placed into Tiers 1,2, or 3 depending on how we voted.  Also, students who had not been in tiers 2 or 3 for this cycle get looked at to see if they are progressing.  If they fall below a certain level, they automatically are placed into tier 2.  This is to hopefully keep any student from falling through the cracks in our system.

It takes a LOT of work to get things ready for the meeting and to keep track of each student and the tier they are in for each cycle.  I keep files on each student and after each meeting I mark in their file what tier they were voted on to go into and their DRA score.  Graphs are kept in their files too.  That way if a student goes out of tiers 2 or 3 and then shows back up later, we  have records of what has happened in the past with them.  It is mostly about getting a system down that works for you!  

Hope this abbreviated version of what we do helps in some way for your school's RtI development!  I have not been able to tell you every single thing we do, but I have tried to hit the highlights for you.  I am sure I have forgotten some things that I should have included, but it is hard to include it all.  Let me know if I have forgotten something that you were hoping would be in this!

Making Words and Letter Organization

Do you do the activity Making Words?  I encourage you to make this activity a part of your word time if you do not already.  It is  hugely beneficial to your students in phonemic awareness, phonics, root words, endings, etc...  I can tell a big difference in the students who come to me that have had lessons in Making Words and those who have not.   There are several different books for this, but I like Patricia Cunningham's Making Words the best.  They are available for kindergarten on up to grade 5.  Maybe even higher than that, but I only service up to fifth grade so I am unsure just how high they go.

Basically, they take a word like cupcakes (from the cover of the book above) and you give students clues to make smaller words.  They start out easy: make a two letter word- up.  Students build the word with letter tiles or magnetic letters.  Next, add one letter to up to make the word cup.  Change one letter in cup to make it cub.  Add a letter to cub to change the sound of the vowel and make it cube, etc...  You can make your own lessons, but I have found that these books are great and I just pull a lesson to go with the chunk that we are working on that week.  

After students have made all of the words, it is time to sort words into groups according to their chunks.  

Next is a VERY important step and should not be skipped!  It is the transfer step to see if students can transfer the skill of using chunks of words they know to read and spell words they may not know.  These are written in a different color in this picture so you can see where the transfer words are. 

This is how I keep my letters organized so the letters do not become a chaotic mess.  Lakeshore sells magnetic letters that come a nice sectioned box.  I have two of these.

If you don't have these magnetic letter boxes, you can get plastic fishing tackle boxes at Walmart and set up the dividers inside to section off the spaces.  Then copy off your alphabet, laminate, and cut them out.  I have one for capital letters and one for lower case letters.

I have also just typed rows of the letters needed for the lesson in large type and handed those strips out to the students to cut the letters apart so they can use them to manipulate during the lesson and then just toss in the trash when finished.  So whatever budget you have, this is an activity everyone can do and should do!  It strengthens their knowledge about how letters and sounds work together, how to break words for decoding, using words you know to spell or read words you don't know, etc....   And as a plus, the students really do enjoy this activity and manipulating the letters and sounds.  :)

Join in the organization fun and link up with Ladbug's Teacher Files!!  
We would love to hear how you keep things organized!

RtI~ Tiers 2 & 3

Last Sunday I introduced to you how my school has implemented RtI.  I explained Tier 1 and you can read it here if you missed that part.  This week I am attempting to describe to you how Tiers 2 and 3 are conducted at my school.

We use Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) for our universal screening.  I also use phonemic awareness assessments with kindergarten for universal screenings.  I have set up cut off points for each grade level for where students should score.  If students do not score within these ranges, they are automatically placed into RtI.  If they have never gone through the system, the first step is to be placed into tier 2.  

Once students are placed into either tier 2 or tier 3, then I make decisions based on how they performed on the DRA or phonemic awareness assessments as to what interventions they need.  I also group students according to interventions needed and/or reading level.   For tier 2, we keep  our groups to 6 students per teacher or less.  But I must say that there have been several times that this has been an impossibility for us due to staffing.  I just don't have enough staff members available always to keep the numbers as low as I would like for tier 2.  For those students that have worked their way up to tier 3 due to lack of adequate progress in tier 2, we have groups of 2 or less per teacher.  

Our school has a designated time each morning for RtI.  We split the times for K-2 and 3-5.  That does help with staffing.  I have my tiers in increasing duration and intensity.  For tier 2, we go for 10 weeks in small groups working on 2 interventions at a time.  In tier 3, we intervene one on one or two for 12 weeks with 2 interventions but with more rigorous methods.  

I do not use a program in RtI.  I am not a program person.  I know lots of schools use Aimsweb and other programs.  Our principal bought us Acuity this past year, but I do not use it for tiers 2 or 3.  I prefer to delve more into how the students performed on the DRA or phonemic awareness assessments to decide on what intervention best meets their needs.  I will admit though at times, I think those programs might make my job of overseeing all of this and getting everything prepared for all of my teachers to use would make my life much easier.  But I really think doing what we are doing is working so well and the proof is in the growth evidenced in our scores.  

Once students are placed into groups, teachers who are doing the interventions give students 3 of the same assessments.  This is to obtain their baseline scores for our graphs.  Then those scores are averaged, graphed, and connected on the graph to their goal (might be a certain score or percentage).
Then each week students are instructed in interventions that are best for them.  For instance, it might be rhyming and beginning sounds for kindergarten.  Then every Friday, students are given an assessment to check on how they are progressing.  If they are progressing the way we would like, the points plotted on the graph each week should be increasing.  If not, the teacher may need to adjust their teaching methods or a different intervention may be needed (they might not be ready yet for that intervention).  

The teachers teach interventions, weekly progress monitor (test), and graph the progress on the graph weekly.  Then at the end of 10 weeks or 12 weeks, depending on which tier they are in, a decision meeting will be held to decide if the students made adequate progress or not and whether to change them in tiers or interventions.  Next Sunday, I will be explaining how we run our decision meetings and how we come to our decisions regarding the students and the tiers they are in.  How do our tiers 2 and 3 compare to yours?  I would love to hear about how your tiers are run.  This is definitely a work in progress for us and I am always looking to improve our process for the best interests of our students' learning!

RTI Binders and Graphs for Teachers and Students

We like to keep lots of RTI data on our students.  These binders containing graphs for both teachers and students to track progress may help you with your RTI.  Click here or on the pictures to check them out!  I have binders for each grade, K through 3 with 4th grade coming by the end of July!

RTI Binders and Graphs for Teachers and Students

RTI Binders and Graphs for Teachers and Students

Beach Ball Sight Words

Beach balls and sight words= learning and fun!  I made this sight word beach ball years ago and just recently found it again in my closet (anyone else put things away so well that you forget you have them?).  I got them out again and have been using them with my summer school groups.  And they are having a ball!!  Sorry- couldn't resist that.  :)

*  cheap

*  easy to prepare

*  quick, fun learning

*  simple to store

The reasons above are all I need to tell if something will be worth doing in my room for a quick review of skills.  Beach balls are cheap!  And now is the time to find them in the stores!

You use permanent marker and divide up the sections any way you would like on the ball.  Then write one sight word per section. Students toss the balls around to each other while sitting or standing in a circle. When they catch the ball, where ever their thumbs land those are the words they read.  I have two beach balls- each with their own set of words.  I write the grade level on the top of the ball so I can keep track of which set of words we are using.  

We also like to toss the beach ball and play thumbs and pinkies.  Instead of just reading where your thumbs land, you also read the words your pinkies are on.  Gives them more words to practice!

And as I mentioned above, they are so simple to store when not using them that you may even forget you have them!

I had a brainstorm today while thinking about this activity.  I would love to get some small, hand size balls to use.  These could be individual review balls with individualized word lists to fit a student who is having trouble with a set of words.  Or I might do balls with words that begin with "wh" or "w" or "th".  Words like where, were, what, with, want, etc... really seem to be difficult for some of my students to remember.  When they had a couple of extra minutes in a day, they could get out the one that they need the most review on and roll it around in their hand to practice.  I have got to get to the store and get me some small ones now!

RtI~ Love It or Leave It?

How is your school coming along with the process of Response to Intervention (RtI)?   Is your school finding success with it or are you still in the process of trying to find your way?  I have found that a lot of schools are still trying to find what works for them. 

We have been implementing RtI in our school for several years now.  Each year, the process gets tweaked and improved, but I think we have found a system that works for us and more importantly is helping our students.  

Our school uses the 3-tiered model.  Tier 1 is where all of our students are considered to be at within our school.  Tier 2 would be small group targeted instruction and Tier 3 is where your most intensive instruction is conducted one-on-one or one-on-two instruction.

I am going to try explaining how our school implements Tier 1- hopefully in a short, concise, easy to follow manner!  Tiers 2 and 3 will follow in coming weeks.  To include all 3 tiers in one post would be too much information!  I would like to keep you sane and not drive you INsane!  It is summer vacation after all!  :)

Tier 1:  
~  all students in the school start in this tier
~  uses scientific, evidenced- based core instruction
~  data driven decisions
~  universal screening 
~  80% of your students should be successful in this tier

At our school,  we have many support systems in place to help our students find success in Tier 1.  These include but are not limited to:
~  scientific, evidenced-based core instruction (if too many of your students 
     are not being successful in Tier 1, you will need to look at your core    
     instruction- for example how you teach reading or math- to see if your
     school needs to make a change
~  we use Acuity to help us get ready for state testing and is aligned to our 
    grade level expectations- this provides our school some of the data to use
     in making decisions on whether students are being successful 
~  Developmental Reading Assessment 2 (DRA) is what we use for our 
     universal screening.  We also use phonemic assessment tools for the 
     younger students (k-1).
~  assignment books for grades 3-5
~  after school tutoring for grades 1-5
~  progress reports sent home every two weeks
~  Title 1 reading and math services

So to recap...We give students the DRA and/or phonemic awareness assessments to all students several times per year for our universal screening.  Then I (our school's reading specialist) take a look at students' scores and determine who is below grade-level and how far.  If students are below whatever cutoff point we have decided on for each grade level, they are then placed into Tier 2.  I will explain how Tier 2 works next week.

All other students who are progressing proficiently, stay in Tier 1.  Tier 1 for us happens in the regular classrooms.  Teachers use their data from Acuity, DRA, and common assessments to form groups within their class to reteach skills and strategies that some students are still needing to improve upon.  It is like a continuous cycle of learning.  We have a set time period every day for RtI- 30 minutes.  Teachers can form groups within their own class or combine with other same grade-level teachers to form groups. Then each teacher teaches what the groups that she is in charge of needs.

I hope that you found this explanation of Tier 1 helpful and informative.  It's a dry subject, but an important subject to understand.  RtI can be so helpful to students and teachers once you find a way to make it work for your school.  Each school is going to make it be successful in slightly different ways.  Just like anything in teaching, you have to learn it and then tweak it to make it your own!  I would really love to hear how your school is doing on this journey of RtI and how it is working for you.  :)

If you or your team is struggling with RTI and the documentation needed for it, these binders and graphs may help you with that.  The binders have graphs for data plotting for teachers and a separate booklet for students to track their own progress!  Students love that and it is very motivating!
Tracking RTI progress with graphs

Tracking student RTI progress

Tracking RTI progress with graphs for teachers and students

I have binders for each of the grades of kindergarten through third grade.  Just click here or on the pictures above to view them!

You Know It's Summer Vacation When...

How do you know when it's summer?  

Do you sleep in every day?  
Do you have time to read something other than professional books?  
Maybe your alarm clock gathers dust as you sleep in every day!  

My husband always said he knew it was summer time because I always spent more money during the summer than I did during the school year.  You know, traveling, White Water, shopping, baseball games, sports camps, etc.... All of the fun stuff!!

Go to Jeannie's blog:  Kindergarten Lifestyle and see all of the other You Know When It's Summer Vacation ideas.  Lots of fun ideas!!

Free Resources