Thursday, 27 March 2014

bead spelling

After a full day of school, Sasha often isn't terribly enthusiastic about focusing another hour and a half of her attention on practicing her literacy skills. She often wants to do things like jumprope or play on the swings or sing and dance or work on a craft project. However, she also knows that our tutoring time is designated reading and writing time.

But Sasha is clever. She has started figuring out ways to incorporate reading and writing into these other activities. And she knows that as long as she can find a way to include reading and writing, I'll almost certainly say "yes" to whatever she wants to do.

Recently, she really wanted to make a necklace. So she proposed a spelling activity. Each bead she picked up correlated with the next letter in the word she was spelling aloud.

Although this just looks like a regular necklace, she made it by spelling night, bright, slightly, might, knight...

High fives,


Made Sasha some Bingo sheets with our latest word set (words with gh).

This game is super easy to make, since you can draw a grid and fill it with any sight words you're working on learning, and use nearly anything for markers -- I had some colorful gemstones on hand, but pennies or legos or dry beans or torn scraps of paper work just as well.


Sunday, 16 March 2014

word bubbles

After noticing Sasha's interest in comic books like TinTin and Babymouse, I wanted to find a way to incorporate elements of graphic novels/comics into our literacy lessons.

So this week I brought some pre-printed word bubbles.

 I also brought scissors, colored pencils, paper, magazines, and glue sticks.

We did two different activities with these word bubbles.

First, we used the word bubbles to imagine what the animals in National Geographic photos might be saying. These examples both use Sasha's "best guess" spelling, which is appropriate for Sasha's current level of cognitive development. "Best guess" spelling requires her to problem-solve by making good guesses based on her developing sense of phonemic awareness, rather than simply copying down the letters an adult dictates. I don't correct her spelling at this stage unless she explicitly asks me to. I usually remind her that as long as she can read it, the spelling is not important in activities like this.


"ready for take-off"
Then Sasha decided she wanted to use a piece of posterboard she dug out of a closet to convey a scene.

I also did some research on comic books and graphic novels aimed at emergent readers. I'm hoping to get some of these from the library this week! Here's the list:

Adventure Time
Zita the Spacegirl
Little Adventures in Oz
The Scary Godmother
Lunch Lad
Geronimo Stilton
Flora & Ulysses

I'm excited to see what else we can do with comics as a format for literacy activities. Maybe develop our own short comic book!

High fives,


I introduced Sasha to a new literacy game recently. I actually got the idea from El, whose son (close to Sasha's age, and also in a similar developmental stage in regards to literacy) invented a similar game himself using a Scrabble board and tiles.

There are only two rules:
1. Players take turns using letter tiles to invent new words. Only made-up words count, no words that are already real words.
2. You have to say your word out loud and give it a definition.

A big area of development for Sasha right now is phonemic awareness, which is basically the correspondence between letters and sounds. This shows up in both her decoding efforts (also known as "sounding it out") and her spelling and writing attempts.

This variation on Scrabble or Bananagrams is great for helping kids work on their phonemic awareness. Yes, the words are silly nonsense words, but that takes the (enormous) pressure off of reading or spelling the words "correctly." But the game still has players working with the basic building blocks and rules of the written English language. It doesn't feel as intimidating as spelling and reading "real" words, plus it makes kids feel powerful to invent their own words -- the sillier-sounding, the better -- and definitions. Providing literacy opportunities for kids where they can feel powerful and in control helps build their confidence in their emerging reading and writing skills. For kids like Sasha for whom literacy is a challenge and a frequent source of anxiety, I cannot overstate how essential it is to prioritize confidence-building activities like this one.

When we played, at Sasha's request we just turned all of the letter tiles face up and chose whichever letters we wanted; you could also play a version more like Bananagrams or Scrabble, where players receive a certain number of face-down tiles at the beginning, and replace them with more randomly-selected tiles as they place their tiles on the board. The grid paper in the photo was something I made to provide Sasha with a little bit of structure; lots of our words extended off the edges as we continued playing. As an added challenge, you could color-code the board and add a points system like Scrabble (or just use an actual Scrabble board!).

As her own extension of the activity, Sasha suggested that we use our invented words to create a secret language. She diligently wrote down every word we created and its translation, and then constructed sentences in code. She had a lot of fun with this activity, and we'll definitely keep adding to our secret language dictionary as we replay the game!