Category Archives: Reading Tips

Have You Heard?

Phonological awareness is the ability to hear differences in the ways words sound.   Just as young children need to hear language before they can talk, they also need to hear language before they can read.  Children with phonological awareness can identify initial sounds in words, can count syllables in words, and can identify words that rhyme.  Having a strong phonological awareness is a precursor to being a strong reader.  Let’s take a look at some helpful terminology before moving on any further.

Helpful Terminology

In the following examples, a letter that is sandwiched between two slashes represents the phoneme (an individual speech sound).

phonemic awareness– the ability to break a word down into its individual speech sounds (example: the word cat is made up of three separate phonemes- /c/ /a/ and /t/)

phonics– the ability to match written letters with sounds

onset– the first consonant sound or consonant blend  in a word (example:  in the word black, /bl/ is the onset)

rime– the vowel and consonant sounds following the initial consonant sound (example:  in the word sat, /at/ is the rime)

rhyme– a word that corresponds with another in it’s terminal (ending) sound (example:  hold/cold)

syllable– a sound or word chunk that contains one vowel sound and at least one consonant sound (examples: hat is a one syllable word and doorbell is a two syllable word)

So how can you encourage phonological awareness?   First, remember that this is an oral awareness.  So, you don’t need a lot of resources or materials.  You are simply playing with the oral language.  There are levels of phonological awareness.  Let’s take a look at those levels and some ideas to support children who are developing their phonological awareness.

Awareness of Gross Motor Differences

Hold up two fists.  Then say a sentence together.  As you say each word in the sentence, put up a finger to represent each word.  Count how many words are in the sentence.

Awareness of Rhyme

Recite a nursery rhyme together and identify the rhyming words.   There are also some wonderful picture books available that have rhyming words for children to identify.  Just remember that they don’t need identify the words in print, they simply need to hear them orally.  Here are a few rhyming book recommendations.

Sheep in a Jeep by Shaw

Buzz Said the Bee by Lewison

Jamberry by Degen

Another fun activity is a rhyme hunt.  Ask the child to find something in the room that rhymes with a given word.  For example what rhymes with sock (clock).  Continue with other words and objects.  This also makes a great activity when traveling.

Segmentation of Words into Syllables

I’ve found that simply clapping while saying a word helps a child segment a word into syllables.  Children always like to start with their own names and names of their friends. The word table would get two claps- ta ble.

Awareness of Initial Consonant Segments

Play a game of picky puppet. You will need a simple sock puppet and some picture cards.  Picky puppet only likes things that begin with a sound it chooses.  For example, if picky puppet likes muffins, then it will only want the child to select picture cards that begin with /m/.


Create silly alliteration sentences with family members’ names.  Here are a few examples to get you started.

Jodie juggles jam, jellybeans, juice and jello.

Daddy digs deep dark ditches.

Awareness/Segmentation of Onset and Rime

Play a simple game of I Say, You Say.  Call out a one syllable word such as sun.  Then, one person says the onset which in this case is /s/ and the other person says the rime /un/.  After a few rounds, switch roles so that each person gets a chance to practice saying both the onset and rime.

Phonemic Segmentation, Blending and Manipulation

Segmenting is breaking a word into its individual phonemes.  Say a word such as pen and have the child segment the sounds /p/ /e/ and /n/.  I like to have the child use their hands like a rubberband and stretch the word out as they segment the sounds.  Another helpful activity is the use of sound boxes.  You will need a piece of paper, a pen or marker and a few small objects.  Draw three or four connected boxes horizontally.  Place a small object under each box.  Say a word such as frog.  The child pushes an object into the box as they segment the word into phonemes.   So, for the word frog they would push up three objects as they say /fr/ /o/ and /g/.

Blending is the opposite of segmenting.  Say the individual phonemes and have the child blend them together to form the word.  For example, the adult would say /b/ /i/ and /g/ and the child would say big.   This is another fun thing to do while riding in the car.

Manipulation is the trickiest!  The Apples and Bananas song is a perfect song to sing with a child to work on this awareness though.  You know the one, “I like to eat, eat, eat apples and bananas.  I like to oat, oat, oat oh-pples and bo-no-nos…”

A great resource for more ideas and picture cards and games can be found at this link.  I hope you are inspired to try some oral phonological activities with your children.  Together we can help our readers grow.

Jodie Rodriguez is a National Board Certified teacher, reading specialist and administrator with over 17 years of experience.  She currently stays at home with her son and soon-to-be born son.  Her newest adventure is the creation of the Growing Book by Book blog dedicated to helping caregivers nurture young readers.


Building Literacy in the Kitchen

Between prepping meals, eating meals and cleaning up after meals, my family spends the majority of our waking time in the kitchen.  Our kitchen also opens into the hearth room which adds to the number of hours spent in this area.  So, this got me thinking about what one could do in the kitchen to help promote literacy development in our youngsters.  The ideas kept flowing, so I thought I’d share some of the better ones with you!

Salt or Sugar Writing

Tactile learners will enjoy practicing letter or word writing with their finger in a shallow container of salt or sugar.  When they are done, store the sugar or salt in a labeled Ziploc bag for future use.

ABC of Spices

Have you had some spices in the back of the cupboard for years?  Pull them all out (Throw out the ones that don’t have a scent anymore!) and let your child put them in ABC order.  Not only will it provide a literacy opportunity for your child, but it will also organize your life.  I’ve had my spice cabinet alphabetized for years.  It makes cooking so much easier.

Menu Creation

For over a year now, I’ve created a weekly dinner menu and posted it on one of my favorite blogs, This Week for Dinner.  I’ve found that it has decreased our grocery bill and has helped me to create more balanced meals.  Creating a menu for a day or week is a great activity to do with your kids.  This especially works well with picky eaters.  If you allow the kids to have some input into planning the menu, they generally will try more foods.  Pull out some cookbooks, and pick out some new recipes out to try.  You are not only helping your child make food choices, but you are helping them develop their reading and writing skills.  Kids could post the weekly menu on the refrigerator or display it on the table for the whole family to see.  Then, get the kids to help you create a grocery list to support the menu!  Oh, the real world writing possibilities!

Tasting Passport

A tasting passport is an extension of the idea above.  Create a passport complete with your child’s picture.  On each page your child can draw a picture of a new food or cuisine they have tried.  Younger children can label each picture using inventive spelling.  Older children can write about each tasting experience.  The goal is to see how many passport pages your child can fill.  What a great way to get picky eaters to try new foods.

Muffin Tin Reading Games

Last year, I posted several muffin tin literacy games that use a muffin tin and a few other supplies.  It is my most popular post to date.  If you haven’t seen it, check it out.

Pancake Letters and Sounds

For an extra special breakfast, make pancakes shaped like letters.  Then, during breakfast, have your child brainstorm words that begin with the sound each pancake shaped letter represents.

aWhy not share the book, Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola during this special morning time too.

A variation of this to idea and use it when baking bread or pretzels.

Spaghetti Letters

Let your youngster form letters using strings of cooked spaghetti.  This is a simple activity for your child to do while you are prepping something in the kitchen.


Have your child create placemats for tonight’s dinner.  Simply give your child some paper and crayons/markers and a literacy starter.  Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  •  Draw your favorite scene from a book you read today.
  •  Pick a letter sound and draw or write as many things as you can think of that begin with that sound.
  •  Divide your placemat into three sections.  Draw a picture of the beginning, middle and end of a story we read today.
  •  Write a note to each family member and then decorate it.
  •  Create and decorate a name poem for each family member on their very own placemat.

M- Memory keeper

O- Outstanding cook

M- Master hugger

Don’t forget some of the common, simple and easy ideas such as using magnetic letters on the refrigerator to spell words.  The refrigerator is also a great canvas for displaying your child’s work.  Or, how about pulling out the cereal box and reading the nutritional label.  How do you help develop literacy in the kitchen?

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Puppet Shows

Before my first son was even born, my extremely talented mom had made him a puppet theater.   She found the old tv cabinet in a vacant building where it was destined for the dumpster.  With a few materials and a lot of imagination she transformed it into a wonderful puppet theater.  Check out her blog, Zoom In, for step by step directions.  My son is now 17 months old and absolutely loves to play with his puppets behind it.  As he grows, I know that we will do countless retellings of stories as well as many from our own imaginations.

Utilizing puppets and puppet theaters is an excellent way to develop literacy skills including retelling, fluency and expression, writing, comprehension and vocabulary development.  You can tap into those learners who are auditory, visual and/or kinesthetic learners.  The more modes of learning that we use, the better our comprehension!

You don’t need a fancy puppet theater to perform your masterpieces.  You can simply use your couch and let the kids kneel behind it to perform.  Puppets don’t need to be fancy or expensive either.  In fact,  The Chocolate Muffin Tree blog did a fantastic job of compiling 18 Creative Ideas for Making Puppets.  It’s a wonderful resource showcasing how you can make puppets from paper bags, boxes, wooden spoons and more.  You can also check out my puppet show Pinterest board for more great ideas.

Pop some popcorn and settle in for your next puppet show!

Be sure to check out the linky party page to see where this post is linked to this week.


Watching my 16 month old’s oral and listening vocabulary develop over the last few months has been absolutely amazing. I know that developing a strong oral and listening vocabulary leads to an even stronger reader. Vocabulary knowledge is strongly related to reading proficiency and ultimately school achievement (Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L., 2002).   Repeated encounters with a word over time help to build understanding of the word.    So, I take as many opportunities as I can to read, talk and play with my son.  There are an abundance of ideas for vocabulary development for every age.  Today we are going to look at some of the best vocabulary development ideas.

Word on the Street Junior

Out of the Box graciously sent me a requested copy of Word on the Street Junior to review.  I was immediately impressed with the game after playing it one time.  Players are divided into teams which helps to promote cooperation, negotiating, and group decision-making.  Each team takes turns selecting a category card (examples: another word for big or, something that is folded ).  The team brainstorms words that would fit into the category and then decides on a word to play.  They then spell out the word pulling each letter a lane closer to the edge of the game board.  The first team to pull eight letters off  the board wins.  The game promotes vocabulary development, spelling practice, strategizing, and working together.  On top of that, it’s great fun!  The game is recommended for ages 8 to adult and retails for $22.99.

Talk, Converse, Gab, Chat

Talking with children is probably the cheapest and one of the most effective ways to develop a child’s incidental vocabulary.  So, how can you generate some great discussions?  Let’s take a look at a few scenarios.

The Car

We’re on our way to grandma’s house.  Can you tell me the directions to get there?  What landmarks will we pass along the way?

We’re entering a construction zone.  What construction vehicles and equipment do you see?  How are these items utilized?  Why do we have to slow down while driving through a construction zone?  What might happen if we didn’t slow down?  Can you think of other times when we need to be cautious?

The Grocery Store

Tonight we are going to have a fruit salad with our dinner.  What ingredients should we add to our salad?  How can you tell if a fruit is ripe?  Can you think of a fruit to buy that we would need to peel?  Is there a fruit with a skin that we could eat?  This sign says that the produce is organic.   What is a benefit to buying organic foods?

The Dinner Table

What was something that happened today that made you feel giddy, grumpy, proud or curious?

Tell about a new discovery you made today or a new word you learned.

Let’s make up a story.  I’ll start.  Once upon a time…  Now, you add the next part.  Continue going around the table having each person add to the story.

Books to Share About Words

Reading with your child is also another inexpensive activity to promote vocabulary development.  Here are two books that focus on the magic of words.

Donovan’s Word Jar by Monalisa DeGross is a chapter book about a boy who collects words in a jar.  When the jar becomes full, he searches for new ways to collect his words.  However, he learns that it’s more meaningful to share his words with others rather than just collecting them for himself.

Max wants to collect something after everyone admires his brothers’ stamp and coin collections in Max’s Words by Kate Banks.  So, Max decides to start collecting words.  Pretty soon the word collection grows so much that he’s not sure what to do with all the words.  Then he discovers that all of those words would make a great story.

Learning School Vocabulary Lists

Unfortunately, many schools still have students look up vocabulary words in the dictionary and write the definitions down on paper.   This is such an ineffective exercise!  Dictionaries are written to use the least number of words possible to define a word.  Not very helpful for a child trying to learn the meaning of a new word.  There is one dictionary that I feel does a better job of giving a more extensive description of each word.  It’s the Collins COBUILD Student’s Dictionary.  There are things you can do to help a child with a school issued list of words that are much more helpful for learning new words.

  • Make meanings visual.  Create webs, concept maps or pictures.
  • Make it personal.  Connect words to prior experiences or act them out.
  • Try them out.  Use the words in conversation and writing as much as possible. Define the words in kid-friendly language.

One activity that fits this bill is called four corners.  Take a piece of paper and fold it in half and then in half again.  Open the sheet back up.  In the top left corner, the child writes the vocabulary word.  In the top right corner, the child creates a visual depiction of the word.  The bottom left corner is used for a kid-friendly definition of the word.  In the bottom right corner, the child uses the word in a sentence.

Do you have vocabulary development activities that you have found to be helpful when working with students?  Please share your ideas.

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Texts for Modeling Comprehension Strategies

Yesterday we delved into useful strategies to model reading comprehension.  Today we are going to explore some of my favorite books to use when modeling each strategy.  Let’s get started.

Making Connections

It is so important to find books that you really connect with when modeling this strategy.  It’s pretty hard to have a text-to-self connection with a story when you have no background knowledge (schema) for the text.  These are some texts that I like to use because I do have a connection with them.

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

My Great Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston

The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry


When selecting texts for this strategy, you want to select authors who do a great job at crafting visual images.  Look for juicy descriptive words that describe both the setting and the characters.

*Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett

*Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Meteor by Patricia Polacco (Almost all of Polacco’s books are great for visualizing and most other comprehension strategies too!)

*Note- I don’t like to use either of these books if the child has already seen a movie version of the story.


Texts for this strategy need to have a meaty problem/solution or a deep meaning to generate lots of good questions.

How My Parents Learned to Eat by Friedman

Big Al by Andrew Clements

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Determining Importance

Non-fiction texts work really well with this strategy.  I love to use kid’s magazine articles for determing importance.  My favorite magazines include Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids and Sports Illustrated for Kids.


Don’t be afraid to use wordless books when introducing this strategy regardless of the age of the learner.

A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting

Any of the Carl books by Alexandra Day which are wordless books.  Wordless books are great for teaching inferring.

Fables by Arnold Lobel


Texts that really make you think or where your thinking changes over the course of the text work best for modeling this sophisticated strategy.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus

Stone Soup by Jon Muth

These are a few of my picks.  What are your favorite books to use with each strategy?

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Modeling Comprehension Strategies

Time after time I hear from teachers and caregivers that they have a child who is great at saying all the words right (decoding), but that they have no clue what they have read.  Unfortunately, this is a common problem with our young readers.  Generally a great amount of effort is directed to teaching a child to decode words yet the comprehension piece is not addressed with the same vigor. Decoding, comprehending and being fluent are all important pieces of being a strong reader and in my opinion should all be given equal modeling time.  This week we are going to look at how you can model comprehension strategies for your child.

There are several comprehension strategies that readers can use when reading.  These strategies can be modeled for very young children and work equally well for adults.  The key is that we model our thinking for each strategy to the learner.  When we model, we think aloud while reading to or with the student so that they can hear our thinking about what we are reading.  Let’s look at what this would sound like as we delve into each comprehension strategy.

Making Connections

Readers make connections to the text (books, magazines, etc.) using their background knowledge (schema).  There are three types of connections: text-to-self (connecting a text to something in your life), text-to-text (connecting a text to another text) and text-to-world (connecting a text to something in the world).

What does it sound like when we are modeling our thinking to a child?

This part of the story reminds me of….

This makes me think of…


Creating a mental picture of the story as you are reading enhances your reading comprehension.  I like to tell kids that as you read you turn the words into a movie in your head.  Letting children draw pictures about something they have read also helps to develop this strategy

What does it sound like when we are modeling our thinking to a child?

When I close my eyes, I can see…

My mind picture is changing as I read because…


Questioning helps to clarify and deepen understanding of text.  We often categorize questions into two categories- thin and thick.  Thin questions generally have one right answer and can be found by referring directly back to the text.  Thick questions generally have more than one right answer and require the reader to use their own thinking plus information found in the text to answer.

What does it sound like when we are modeling our thinking to a child?

I wonder why…

What would happen if…

How can…

Determining Importance

Determining importance involves deciding what information is important and what information isn’t essential.  This is a key strategy to use when navigating non-fiction text.  It’s crucial to teach children the features of non-fiction text such as captions, titles, italicized and bold-faced words, graphs, etc. so that they can utilize that information to determine importance.

What does it sound like when we are modeling our thinking to a child?

I think the key idea is…

I’m going to pay special attention to this part because…

I’m going to look through the table of contents and the pictures first to help me get a feel for this text.


When we infer, we read between the lines.  This can be challenging for students because they have to use the text and their own thinking to develop meaning.  Inferring involves predicting, drawing conclusions, finding meaning and using evidence from the text.

What does it sound like when we are modeling our thinking to a child?

When I read_____, I think_____, because_________.

As I read, I’m going to jot down notes of things that I think are important.


From Reading-Comprehension-Assistance

This is probably the most sophisticated of the strategies because your reading and thinking is constantly evolving.  You have to summarize, draw conclusions, pull things together and respond.  Basically, you are using all of the other comprehension strategies together to shape your understanding.

What does it sound like when we are modeling our thinking to a child?

These are the facts____ and this is what I’m thinking____.

I think the author is trying to…

Reading this passage has or hasn’t changed my mind about…

As I read, I’m going to jot down notes of things that I think are important.

Though it’s helpful to model each strategy separately, it’s important to remember that we utilize multiple strategies when reading and that some are more useful than others when navigating text.  Spending time modeling these strategies when reading to or with your child will help your child develop their comprehension while reading.

Would you like to read more about helping your child with comprehension strategies?  A great resource for parents and teachers is the 7 Keys to Comprehension by Susan Zimmermann.  Susan is also the co-author of one of the best and first books on reading comprehension called Mosaic of Thought.

Interested in texts that can be used to model each comprehension strategy?  Then, join us tomorrow for a special bonus post this week.  I will be highlighting some of my favorite texts to use to develop each strategy.

Outdoor Literacy

From time to time, I plan to highlight books geared towards caregivers that help to promote literacy with children.  I’m super excited about today’s book.  15 Minutes Outside- 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids by Rebecca P. Cohen is a goldmine of simple ideas to promote outdoor togetherness with your children during every season of the year.  In this age of technology, we tend to spend more time indoors and less time outside exploring nature.  Boy, are we missing out on some great benefits of the outdoors such as sunshine, fresh air and physical activity.

Cohen offers 365 ideas of activities to do with kids outside.  Though the book’s primary purpose isn’t about developing literacy outdoors, she does offer several suggestions for doing just that.  In January, she encourages you to keep a nature journal or do some star-gazing with a guide-book such as The Kids Book of the Night Sky by Ann Love and Jane Drake.  In April, try gathering sticks and twigs to create your ABCs or words.  As fall rolls around, let your kids do their homework outside or collect some vegetables or herbs from a garden and then follow a recipe to create a dish.

I was inspired to brainstorm some other outdoor activities that could promote literacy.  I hope that you will try some of Cohen’s ideas or find some inspiration below to enjoy the outdoors with children during every season of the year.

1.  Digital ABC Hunt

Arm yourself with a digital camera and hunt for letters in nature.   Develop your pictures (black and white looks best) and create word art such as your child’s first name, your family’s last name or an inspirational word.  My mom created the art below to spell out our family’s last name.  She framed each letter and then attached a magnet to the back of each frame.

2.  Jump Rope Rhymes

Jumping rope is great physical exercise.  Sing a rhyme while jumping and now you also have a great literacy workout.  The book, Anna Banana Jump-Rope Rhymes by Joanna Cole has over 50 pages of rhymes to chant.  How about this one that predicts the first letter of your future sweetheart?  I remember having great fun with this type of rhyme when I was young.

Strawberry shortcake, cream on top.

Tell me the name of my sweetheart.


3. Act Out a Story

There are so many great adventurous picture books that can be acted out in your backyard, in a park or on a playground.   We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury and We’re Going on a Lion Hunt by David Axtell are two repetitive tales that beg for some action movements outside.   Children can pretend to swish through the grass, splash through the water, squish squash through mud and tiptoe through a cave all while searching for a bear or lion.  Your youngsters could even create their own version of a We’re Going on a __________.  Hmmm…   Hello Toes!  Hello Feet! by Ann Whitford Paul is another great action story.  Hopping, clumping and clomping, leaping, skipping, jumping, stamping, shuffling and creeping are just some of the great words your child will learn the difference between in this super cute tale.  This book is great for vocabulary development.


4.  Paint Your Words

Time to study spelling words again?  Gather a bucket, some water and a paint brush (the big painter kind- not the little watercolor brushes) and head outside.  You can “paint” your words on the sidewalk or if you have brick house that works even better.  If it’s really warm outside, your words will disappear like magic.   Of course, sidewalk chalk also works great for this activity.

5.  ABC Scavenger Hunt

Go on an alphabet scavenger hunt.  Search your neighborhood for things that begin with each letter of the alphabet.  A-alley, B-bark on a tree, C-cumulus clouds, D– dog and so on.

6.  Read and Write Outside

When I was a 2nd grade teacher, my kids loved to take their independent reading books outside, sit on the playground equipment and read.  On the next warm sunny day, why not find a cozy spot outside and unwind with a good book.  Maybe you could even do this after a walk to your nearest library for some new reads.  Or, you might even try taking your journal outside and do some writing.

7.  Create Stationery

Gather some art supplies (cardstock or heavy construction paper, crayons, paint and a clipboard) and head outdoors.  Create stationery (cards and letter writing paper) to send to friends and family.  You could do a crayon rubbing of tree bark or paint a scene of your backyard.  Stay outside or head back indoors to write a letter or card to someone special.

8.  Sight Word Hide and Seek

Write sight words or vocabulary words on individual cards.  Hide them throughout the yard.  Now you are ready to seek them out.  Have someone call out a word and then try to find the hidden word.

Though I checked out 15 Minutes Outside from the library, it’s one title that I’ll be adding to my “books to buy” list!  Do you have a favorite literacy activity to do outdoors?  Please share your ideas.

Linking to:  ABC and 123, Playing with Words 365, No Time For Flashcards, I Can Teach My Child, The Magic Onions, Mama Pea Pod, Sunny Day Today Momma