Strategies to Develop Expressive Language Skills in the Classroom

Working in a small district, my Speech-Language Pathologist is only in the building a couple days a week. Which makes collaboration with her very hard. I have a couple of students who have significant expressive language delays that make learning and making progress in reading very difficult for them.

I have used some of these activities to build both background knowledge and vocabulary to help with their comprehension of what they are reading. I have found that their first reads or cold reads of an instructional level text are at a frustrational read but by the second read its an instructional level. My SLP believes that this is because of their language delays.

I have decided to make a point at the beginning of each book to focus on their expressive language as part of their pre-reading. My hope is that by the end of the month these students have moved up a reading level.

Strategies to Develop Expressive Language Skills in the Classroom

  • Opportunities to speak and time to rehearse before speaking
  • Visual clues to help children order ideas effectively before expressing them
  • Vocabulary lists to help with word finding difficulties. Use appropriate and consistent vocabulary
  • Color coding different groups of words/sets of pictures
  • Giving correct models of language structures
  • Repetition and reinforcement of correct language structures
  • Small group work to give children confidence to express themselves
  • Appropriate questioning to give children the opportunity to reply
  • Self-questioning and the development of learning scripts (e.g. What do I know already? What do I do next?)
  • Rhymes
  • Word play
  • Restrict your language to short unambiguous language
  • Story telling – cutting up picture segments and retelling stories
  • Try and keep children ‘on topic’. Be specific, remind children e.g. ‘We are talking about…’
  • Discussing what they have seen or done with an adult or more verbally able peer
  • Puppet play/drama etc.
  • Sharing books
  • Revise links and associations between ideas and vocabulary – categorization/function/
  • context/similarity/association
  • As part of the partnership approach, it is important to detail which of these strategies have been most effective.

Barrier games

  • This can be used for both talking and listening. The child or children either side of the barrier have identical sets of equipment.
  • One child has a picture or constructs an assembly of objects and then gives instructions to the other to enable him/her to duplicate the picture or assembly.

How do I feel?

  • In a small group imagine a situation and talk about how you would each feel and what you might say (speech bubbles resource is good here).

Silly Stories

  • Collection of objects/pictures, e.g., horse, lady, man, child, dog, ball, pirate, dinosaur.  Adult starts story “Once upon a time there was a dinosaur”. Next child (house) continues the story “He lived in a house made of chocolate”.  Next child (ball) “One day he found a ball under his bed” …..


  • Color Coding approach.  Children take one color question ‘Who, What, Where, When’ and sequence a story using their own ideas.
  • Mind Map Activities: An excellent way for supporting new vocabulary and talking.

Defining and describing

  • Have a range of objects in a bag or a range of pictures. One child takes an object or picture and is allowed to give 3 pieces of information to describe their item. The rest guess.

Question Question

  • Barrier game. Once child has an object or picture and the rest ask questions to find out what it is. You cannot say the name of the item.
  • A good resource is Clowning Around or Guess Who?

What do you know?

  • Use a composite picture and take turns in the group (mini circle time). Each child giving a new piece of information about the picture. Extend by talking about a particular object or event in which everyone has been involved.
  • Tell me how to do it
  • Use a classroom activity or event which has already been experienced and get a child to re-tell the event in his/her own words.
  • Allow a child to explain to the others how to play a particular game.


  • In a small group it is possible to think about how we behave during a conversation and make explicit the skills we need. There are a couple of good resources for this.

I look forward to sharing how the next four weeks go. I wish everyone safe travels and a Merry Christmas.

Stages of Reading Development Plus a freebie

Being mid-year, I find that I'm explaining why I'm selecting the text that I am. I walked into out book room and someone asked what I was looking for and I said no more than 2 words on a page with strong (if not in your face) picture support. I have a student that I've been working with on not adding to the text (she loves adding extra words to the story). The teacher in the book room pointed my to the a shelf on Level As. Knowing what text looks like at each level helps me find the right text for each group. I hope this helps you out or something you can share with parents.

Early Emergent Readers (Levels aa-C)

Readers are just beginning to grasp the basic concepts of book and print. They are acquiring a command of the alphabet with the ability to recognize and name upper- and lowercase letters. They are also developing many phonological awareness skills, such as recognizing phonemes, syllables, and rhyme.

Early Emergent readers are beginning to learn sound/symbol relationships--starting with consonants and short vowels--and are able to read CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words, as well as a number of high-frequency words.

Books at this level have:
strong picture support
carefully controlled text
repetitive patterns
controlled, repeated vocabulary
natural language
large print
wide letter spacing
familiar concepts
limited text on a page
is acquiring book handling skills and concepts of print
is acquiring knowledge of letter names
uses pictures to create meaning
beginning to understand sounds of the language (rhyming, same/different, etc.)
beginning to understand letter-sound relationships
typically can read some environmental print (example: “stop”)
uses one to one matching (connects spoken and written words)
uses left to right progression
recognizes some known words and uses picture clues and print to recognize new words
understands the difference between letters and words
has control of most consonant sounds
typical titles at this level have very simple text, less than five words per page, are predictable,
have strong picture cues

    Emergent Readers (Levels D-J)

    Readers at this stage have developed an understanding of the alphabet, phonological awareness, and early phonics. They have command of a significant number of high-frequency words.
    Emergent readers are developing a much better grasp of comprehension strategies and word-attack skills. They can recognize different types of text, particularly fiction and nonfiction, and recognize that reading has a variety of purposes.

    Books at this stage have:
    ·         increasingly more lines of print per page
    ·         more complex sentence structure
    ·         less dependency on repetitive pattern and pictures
    ·         familiar topics but greater depth
    ·         beginning to use knowledge of letter sounds to solve unknown words
    ·         uses language, memory, pictures, and print as major cues to read and understand text
    ·         is able to predict what comes next

      Early Fluent Readers (Levels K-P)

      At this stage, reading is more automatic, with more energy devoted to comprehension than word attack. Readers are approaching independence in comprehending text.
      These readers are experiencing a greater variety of text and are able to recognize different styles and genres. Independence often varies with the type of text being read.

      Books at this stage have:
      ·         More pages
      ·         Longer sentences
      ·         More text per page
      ·         Richer vocabulary
      ·         Greater variation in sentence pattern
      ·         Less reliance on pictures
      ·         More formal and descriptive language
      ·         Analyzes new words and checks them against what makes sense and sounds right
      ·         Uses meaning to begin to self-correct
      ·         Uses known words and word parts to figure out unknown words
      ·         Begins to retell the major points of the text
      ·         Decreases the use of finger pointing as fluency and phrasing increase
      ·         Uses prior knowledge and own experience to make meaning

        Fluent Readers (Levels Q-Z)

        Readers have successfully moved from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Their reading is automatic and is done with expression and proper pauses. Their energy is devoted to understanding, and they have good command and use of the various comprehension strategies.
        These readers read a wide range of text types and do so independently. They will continue to refine and develop their reading skills as they encounter more difficult reading materials. But for the most part, they are capable of improving their reading skills and selection of materials independently through increased practice.

        Books at this stage have:
        ·         More text
        ·         Less familiar, more varied topics
        ·         Challenging vocabulary
        ·         More complex sentences
        ·         Varied writing styles
        ·         More description
        ·         Reads silently; reads fluently when reading aloud
        ·         Initiates topics for discussion about books
        ·         Begins to use comprehension strategies (retelling, monitoring for meaning, making connections, making mental images, making/revising/confirming predictions, questioning, determining importance, inferring, summarizing, synthesizing, critically evaluating) across genre and subjects
        ·         Consistently develops new strategies and new knowledge of texts as he/she encounters greater
        variety of texts
        ·         Is in a continuous process of building background knowledge and realizes that he/she needs to
        bring his/her knowledge to his/her reading
        ·         Sustains interest and understanding over long texts and reads over extended periods of time
        ·         Notices and comments on aspects of the writer’s craft
          I hope everyone has a great week going into Christmas Break. Have a great holiday break and enjoy the Sight Word freebie below.

          Favorite Things Blog Hop

          With Christmas approaching I always take time to reflect on some of my favorite things. One thing I have come to love is snow shoeing. Last year my parents retired to the Colorado Rockies, this was our first Christmas ever spend in the mountains. Go figure-right. I have lived in Colorado most of my life and have never spent Christmas in the mountains. As a family we went show shoeing. We took the dog-mine being Italian Greyhounds-had a grand time.

          I'm donating a gift card from one of my favorite stores-Target. I need a 12 step program.  I love their $1 bins. They are perfect for everything from dressing my dogs to filling my treasure chest. I have to work at staying away. I get most of everything I need from Target. Have fun and enjoy the shopping trip.

          I have a group of struggling learners who have had a hard time showing growth on Nonsense Word Fluency from Dibels. I created a set of cards that I can give students that have them sound out the nonsense word and then blend it back together again. They are perfect for reading centers, RTI Intervention work or struggling readers who need extra practice with nonsense words. This has do wonders to bring student scored up from an average of 40 sounds and no whole words to 15 whole words read correctly. This item is at my store for 50% off. Click on the picture.

          Enjoy you Blog Hop! Have a great and safe holiday!

          Because we value our followers and wanted to treat you to our favorite things Oprah style, we have put together the best giveaway of the season! My bloggy friends and I welcome you to the best, biggest, most cheerful event of the season:

          7 winners for 7 prize packs!

          Come and enter the giveaway and check out my bloggy friends' favorite things:

          a Rafflecopter giveaway

          Pinterest Pick 3 Linky

          This month I'm hooking up with Lisa from PAWSitively Teaching for a Pick 3 from Pinterest. The items I have picked out are ones that I can see my students doing over the next three weeks. Click on each picture to take a closer look on how these teachers created each Pinterest.

          Each December my building has a Christmas/Winter Theme door contest. One of my fifth grade teachers had hers up last week. I have heard that I can expect lots of great ideas and tough competition. I know this is a board but I can see it on my door. Lights and all. I wonder if I could get a group of students to do it for me. 

          I work with preschool students and students who need to practice counting and one to one correspondence whenever I can build it in. Making snowmen would be perfect to tackle both of those. I could even see them cutting them out to work on fine motor skills. Who knew by creating snowmen that I could cram all those skills into them.

          I love the idea of taking a snowman and building it to be the length of a student name. My preschool students are working on letter identification-most importantly the letters in their name. Most can write their names but with stamps student could do it on their own.  Shape identification could also be done, I'm not sure because of the size of the circles I would have students cut out their own. But the could dress it without any problems. 

          Have a great week. Be sure to stop by the other blogs linking out this month to get other great ideas that you could use in your class.  

          What is RtI?

          What is RtI?
          Response-to-Intervention (RtI) is the practice of providing high-quality instruction/intervention matched to student needs. Progress is closely monitored and changes in instruction are based on data collected from on-going assessment.

          RtI represents an educational strategy to close achievement gaps for all students, by preventing smaller learning problems from becoming insurmountable gaps. (NASDSE, 2006)

          Tier 1:
          Whole Classroom: Quality core instruction provided to all students 80%-90%

          Tier 2:
          Small Group: Supplemental needs based instruction 10-20%

          Tier 3:
          Intensive:  individualized instruction 5-10%

          What do the tiers mean?

          Tier I
          ALL students receive Tier I interventions, also known as “Best Practices.” Tier I interventions will be successful with 80- 90% of the student population. Classroom teachers provide Tier I interventions and supports.

          Tier II
          Based on academic school-wide screening, students who are not meeting grade level benchmarks and for whom Tier I interventions are not supportive enough will receive Tier II interventions. They receive the same instruction as students in Tier 1 as well as targeted interventions. Tier II represents 5-10% of the population. Tier II interventions are provided by the classroom teacher as well as support staff when necessary.

          Tier III
          Students who are not making adequate progress at Tier II will receive Tier III interventions. Tier III interventions include intensive instruction, specific to the student’s highest area(s) of need. Tier III should only represent 1-5% of the population. Tier III interventions are provided by the classroom teachers as well as specialists in the specific area of skill deficit.

          Description of Critical Elements in a 3-Tier RtI Model
          The following table outlines the essential features of a three-tier model of RtI including suggested ranges of frequency and duration of screening, interventions and progress monitoring. This is intended as guidance as they determine the various components of their RtI model.
          Tier 1
          Core Curriculum and
          Tier 2
          Supplemental Instruction
          Tier 3
          Increased Levels of
          Supplemental Instruction
          Size of instructional
          Whole class grouping
          Small group instruction
          (3-5 students)
          Individualized or small
          group instruction
          (1-2 students)
          Mastery requirements
          of content
          Relative to the cut points identified on criterion screening measures and
          continued growth as
          demonstrated by progress
          Relative to the cut points identified on criterion screening measures and
          continued growth as
          demonstrated by progress monitoring
          Relative to the student’s level of performance and
          continued growth as
          demonstrated by progress monitoring
          Frequency of progress
          Screening measures three times per year
           (DIBELS, AIMSWeb, iReady)
          Varies, but no less than
          once every two weeks
          Varies, but more continuous and no less than once a week
          Frequency of
          intervention provided
          Per school schedule

          Varies, but no less than
          three times per week for a minimum of 20-30 minutes per session
          Varies, but more frequently than Tier 2 for a minimum of 30 minutes per session
          Duration of
          School year
          9-30 weeks
          A minimum of 15-20 weeks

          What are the Benefits of RtI?

          • RtI ensures a shared approach is used in addressing students’ diverse needs.
          • Parents are a very important part of the process.
          • RtI eliminates the “wait to fail” situation, because students get help promptly within the general education setting.
          • The RtI approach may help reduce the number of students referred for special education services while increasing the number of students who are successful within regular education.
          • RtI helps to identify the root cause of achievement problems.
          • RtI’s use of progress monitoring provides more instructionally relevant information than traditional assessments

          How Parents/Guardians can support at Home:

          • Reading is Fundamental (These tips have been adapted from Reading is Fundamental (
          • Invite your child to read with you every day.
          • When reading a book where the print is large, point word by word as you read.
          • Read your child’s favorite book over and over again.
          • Read many stories with rhyming words and repeated lines.
          • Discuss new words and ideas.
          • Stop and ask about the pictures and what is happening in the story. Encourage your child to predict.
          • Read from a variety of materials including fairy tales, poems, informational books, magazines and even comic strips.
          • Let your children see you reading for pleasure in your spare time.
          • Take your child to the library. Explore an area of interest together
          • Scout for things your child might like to read. Use your child’s interests and hobbies as starting points.
          What should parents do if they believe their child is struggling?

          • Contact your child’s teacher
          • Request a parent/teacher conference
          • Access the parent portal and other daily means of communication
          • Review your child’s work to see if there is progress
          • Talk with your child to ensure they know you are supporting them at home as well as in school

          125 × 125Be sure to stop by my Teachers pay Teacher store for great RtI progress monitoring tools during the 2-day Cyber Sale all items 28% off. My students love  my RTI: Nonsense Word Fluency Activities. Its a great way to open guided reading so students to practice going from the individual sounds to the whole word. 

          Guided Reading and a freebie

          What is Guided Reading?
          According to Fountas and Pinnell, guided reading is an instructional setting that enables you (the teacher) to work with a small group of students to help them learn effective strategies for processing text with understanding. The purpose of guided reading is to meet the varying instructional needs of all the students in your class, enabling them to greatly expand their reading powers.

          Keep in mind, guided reading is only one piece of a literacy program. Guided reading gives students the opportunity to read at their just right level, which means that the books provide them with a moderate challenge. They are grouped with students who are similar in ability, needs, and strengths. Instruction is then finely tuned to meet the needs of particular students.

          I plan my guided reading books using students Instructional Reading level which is 96% to 98% accuracy. I have found anything lower than 96% is too hard and it takes a long tie to get students to move. I also want students to do 95% of the work. I strive for each student to make two years worth of growth each year. This really means looking at each students daily data from their guided reading session and making the most of the the next. Looking at what they need to better access the text the next day. Like thinking about how I structured my questions and how the student responded.  I never afraid to change it up if they are not moving-then something needs to change. I always go back to their data.

          Making the Most of Guided Reading
          • Ensure that the heart of each guided reading is actual reading and practice. Commit at least 2/3 of total guided reading time to actual reading practice.  Never do anything that isn't aimed directly at the goal of independent reading.
          • Let students’ needs drive instruction. When your guided reading groups meet, keep students’ individual goals on the front burner. Don’t deviate, and give them time to mature the skill.
          • Highlight the three top needs in your class, integrate and repeatedly focus on them throughout the day, no matter what you are teaching.
          • When teaching independent reading strategies:
          • model it; when the class reads together, ask “does that make sense?” and show them what to do when it doesn't; remind students to ask the same question when they read independently; explicitly describe to students the strategy you used.
          • Dissolve and create new groups whenever students’ needs change.

          Suggested Mini-Lessons
          • Story Elements
          • Vocabulary
          • Sequencing
          • Character Development
          • Predicting
          • Fluency
          • Decoding Strategies
          • Making Connections (personal, to another text, to the world)
          • Inferring
          • Summarizing
          • Analyzing
          • Critiquing
          • Skimming and Scanning
          • Retelling
          • Word Meanings

          Prompts to Support Learners with Strategies

          To support the control of early reading behaviors
          • Read it with your finger
          • Do you think it look like __________?
          • Did you have enough words?
          • Did it match?
          • Did you run out of words?
          • Read that again and start the word

          To support self-monitoring behavior
          • Why did you stop?
          • It could be __________, but look at ________.
          • Where's the tricky work? (after error)
          • Try that again.
          • Were you right?

          To support Cross-checking
          • Check the picture.
          • What could you try?
          • Try that again and think what would make sense?
          • Do you know a word that starts with those letters? Ends with those letters?
          • Check it. Does it look right and sound right to you?
          • What part do you know?
          • What do you know that might help?

          To support phrased, fluent reading
          • Put your words together so it sounds like talking.
          •To support searching for cues

          • Try that again.
          • You said__________. Does that make sense?
          • Look at the picture.
          • What might happen nest, in the story?
          • Did that make sense?
          • What would make sense?
          • Try __________, would that make sense?

          • Does it look right?
          • Can you say it that way?
          • What would sound right?
          • Try __________. Would that sound right?

          • Does it look right?
          • What do you expect to see at the beginning? at the end?
          • Do you know a work like that?
          • What does it start with? Can you say more than that?
          • What do you know that might help?

          To Support Self-Correction
          • You're nearly right. Try that again.
          • I liked the way you worked that out.
          • You made a mistake. Can you find it?
          • Something wasn't quite right.

          This guided reading checklist focuses on the many skills taught during guided reading. When a child isn't reading fluently, it is usually because one or several of the following reading skills require more support. This is a helpful resource that I use when planning for the next day. Make sure to grab your below.

          Ideas to To Spice Up Vocabulary Work

          Moving school districts means that this year I have had to create new ways for my students
          to work with the vocabulary. One thing with Storytown I have come to love is the Intervention series vocabulary matches the grade level vocabulary. The teachers have also requested that I run one week ahead of them. This is nice because students work through the vocabulary with me before they have to do it in class. I can help students understand with word with examples but also they can practice how to apply the word using the story as a background. I also have to make sure that I give real life or real world examples of the word—in most cases these are words that they will come across in middle school but will never use with writing or in a conversation. (Which doesn't help them with text access.)

          • Tally-Ho!-Display the vocabulary word card. Add a tally mark beside the word each time a student uses the vocabulary word in conversation.
          • May I Have Your Autograph?-Display an enlarged print vocabulary word card. Allow students to autograph the card each time they use the vocabulary word in conversation.
          • Vocabulary String-Scan and print the cover of each book from which vocabulary words are pulled. Attach a kite “tail” of string, yarn, ribbon, etc. to the cover. Print out vocabulary word cards and glue each card on the tail. Allow student to write their name on a clothespin and clip it to the word card each time they use the word in conversation.
          • Don’t Lose Your Marbles!-Display the vocabulary word on the outside of a small jar. Add a marble to the jar each time a student uses the vocabulary word in conversation.
          • Stick With It!-Display the vocabulary word card. Each time a student uses the vocabulary word in conversation, have him add a small sticker to the card.
          • Just Scrolling Along!-On a computer that is visible to students, set the screensaver to scrolling text and type in the vocabulary words and/or definitions. Set the screensaver to come on after 5 minutes or so.
          • Rock On!-Make a vocabulary jar by gluing a vocabulary word card to the outside of a jar. Allow students to drop a rock in the jar each time they use the vocabulary word in conversation.
          • Vocabulary Vine-Make a crepe paper vine to wind across the walls in your classroom. Cut out leaves and write a vocabulary word on each leaf. Attach the leaves to your vine and watch students’ vocabulary grow!
          • Word Wizard-Purchase clear name badges. Write the vocabulary word on a card. Slide the card into the badge holder. Allow a student to be the “Word Wizard”. He will wear the vocabulary word and should use the word throughout the day.
          • Chain, Chain, Chain!-Cut out construction paper chain links. Each time a student uses a vocabulary word in conversation, have him write the vocabulary word on the link and add it to the chain. The chain will hang straight down from the ceiling. Display this poem:
          For all the vocabulary words you say,
          You’ll add another link today.
          And when the chain and floor do meet,
          (Teacher’s Name) will bring us each a treat!

          • Vocabulary Pop!-Set a large jar on the counter. Each time a student uses a vocabulary word, drop a small handful of popcorn kernels in the jar. When the jar is full, have a popcorn party.
          • Movin’ On!-Take a piece of yarn the width of your classroom and hang it above you. The yarn should start on one side of the room and stretch across it horizontally to attach to the other side of the classroom. On the far side, attach a blown up balloon. (Before blowing up the balloon, slip a piece of paper inside with the treat to be given written on it—class homework pass, 5 minutes extra recess, etc.) Attach a sign that says “Our vocabulary is moving on!” with a gym clip. Each time a student uses a vocabulary word, move the sign a bit toward the balloon. When the sign reaches the balloon, pop the balloon and read the prize. You can then start over with a new balloon and a new secret prize.

          Here some ideas that I have used with my students that are more aligned with their learning styles. Most of these I have students do at home for practice. This gives them the chance to pick how they want to practice the words. It works great with spelling as well.

          • Backwards Words- Write your words forwards, then backwards.
          • Silly sentences -Use all your words in ten sentences.
          • Picture words – Draw a picture and write your words in the picture.
          • Words without Vowels – Write your words replacing all vowels with a line.
          • Words without Consonants – Write your words replacing all consonants with a line.
          • Story words – Write a short story using all your words.
          • Scrambled words –Write your words, then write them again with the letters mixed up.
          • Ransom words – Write your words by cutting out letters in a newspaper or magazine and glue them on a paper.
          • Pyramid Words – Write your words adding or subtracting one letter at a time. The result will be a pyramid shape of words.
          • Words-in-words – Write your word and then write at least 2 words made from each.
          • Good Clean Words –Write your words in shaving cream on a counter or some other surface that can be cleaned safely.
          • Etch-A-Word – Use an Etch- A-Sketch to write your words.
          • Secret Agent Words – Number the alphabet from 1 to 26, then convert your words to a number code.
          • Popsicles – Make words using popsicle sticks.
          • Newspaper Words – Search a newspaper page from top to bottom, circling each letter of a word as you find it.
          • Silly String – With a long length of string, “write” words using the string to shape the letters.
          • Backwriting – Using your finger, draw each letter on a partners’ back, having the partner say the word when completed.
          • Choo-Choo Words – Write the entire list end-to-end as one long word, using different colors of crayon or ink for different words.
          • Other Handed – If you are right-handed, write with your left, or vice versa.
          • Cheer your words – Pretend you are a cheerleader and call out your words! Sometimes you’ll yell, sometimes you’ll whisper.
          • Reversed words – Write your words in ABC order - backwards!
          • ABC order- Write your words in alphabetical order.
          • Puzzle words – Use a blank puzzle form. Write your words on the form, making sure that the words cross over the pieces. Then cut them out (color if you wish) and put them in a baggie with your name on it.
          • Pasta Words – Write your words by arranging alphabet pasta or Alphabits.
          • Sound Words – Use a tape recorder and record your words and their spelling. Then listen to your tape, checking to see that you spelled all the words correctly.
          • 3D words – Use modeling clay rolled thinly to make your words. Bring a note if done at home.
          • Dirty Words – Write your words in mud or sand.
          Have a great week with your family. I hope these ideas help are we are looking for new ways to spice up vocabulary work.

          Text Access Ideas for Below Grade Readers

          Its difficult to meet the readers needs of all students. For some its too easy, others to way to hard, and for many its just right. Using guided reading to move students takes time--time that I don't have when students are struggling in the classroom. My reading program just doesn't cut it when it comes to meeting the needs of my readers who are three or four years behind.

          Like many my daily schedule is already jam-packed, and it's challenging to add one more thing. Here are three ideas that won’t take a lot of extra time and will support your striving readers as they move toward reading independently and comprehending increasingly complex texts.

          1. Read aloud texts that may be challenging, providing all students the opportunity to boost their comprehension and engage in collaborative conversations.

          Reading aloud is such an integral part of my daily instruction that my students and I keep a read-aloud tally (pictured below), using one tally mark for each read-aloud experience. The essential literacy practice of reading aloud is also endorsed by the authors of the Common Core's ELA Standards in Appendix A (p. 27). I do the grade level reading and grade vocabulary works as a read aloud and ask higher order thinking questions.

           2. Guide readers individually and in small groups. To make the most of the time you will spend guiding readers one-on-one or in small groups, it is wise to pinpoint their strengths and areas of need. The best way to do this is by using a reading assessment that includes a running record. This will enable you to know your students' instructional level and, as important, whether your readers are struggling with decoding, fluency, vocabulary or comprehension. Armed with this information, meet with students as often as possible to prompt and coach them to apply decoding strategies for figuring out unknown words and comprehension strategies to better understand the text. If your reading program provides leveled texts, these will work well for guiding readers in small group. I spend three days a week working as a guided reading group, where we read instructional level text. I always have a written assignment on these days to push them to use the resource (spelling, sighting text).

          3. I have a couple of students that this is not enough for them to access the material. So I use Boardmaker and Google Images to highlight the key part of the text in a picture based sentence strip. I tape the strip on the the story, so that the students have the original text but can read the sentence that I added to understand the text.

          I hope these ideas help you in the classroom. I've been playing with student access and have created a couple of adaptive books for a student who is working on her shapes and colors. Enjoy them free below.

          Color Adaptive Book

          Shape Adaptive Book

          Supporting Struggling Readers

          As parent/teacher conferences approach (or in my case later this week), something to keep in mind to think about changing up ideas to support struggling readers while talking with parents and to try as students are brought to an RTI team. Sometimes rethinking the basics is all students need.

          • The teacher's knowledge matters: knowing which skills to teach and when, teaching reading skills in balanced reading programs.
          • Classroom organization matters: access to books and writing materials, classroom routines, community reading, "just right" reading, "on your own" reading.
          • Reading choices matter: levels of difficulty, genre, topics, cultural representation, task difficulty and achievement.
          • Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics matters: effective word study instruction, assessment, building decoding fluency.
          • Explicit and strategic instruction in comprehension matters.
          • Response to reading matters: types, contexts, purposes and assessing reader response.
          • Assessment matters: frequency, context and type.
          • The amount of text that children read matters.
          • Fluency matters: correct words per minute, tone, phrasing.

          Fine Motor Skills

          If the child has difficulty with handwriting and/or fine motor skills . . .

          Handwriting problems are frequently the result of neuro-developmental dysfunctions and their associated information output and integration problems. These occur in children who have: a) fine motor-coordination problems; b) trouble expressing their thoughts on paper; and c) short attention spans with impulsivity. In my experience, I have seen many different reasons for handwriting difficulties: sensitivity to paper due to a neurological side effect of chemotherapy, and vision or eye disorders. If you believe that your student has a "handicapping condition," contact your administrator about a 504 plan for modification of work and support from the school.

          The following are some suggestions that may help improve the writing abilities in children with severe problems:
          • Always encourage the child while avoiding public criticism. We adults may need to change our attitudes based on a proper understanding of the reasons for the writing problem.
          • Minimize or modify written work. Such an agreement may remain private (i.e., not known to the child's peers, who will frequently tease the child for problems they do not understand). You may want to assign an Alphasmart keyboard to the child or allow them to do written work on the computer in the classroom. If you have a strong feeling of "community" within the classroom, other children will understand the modification. Contact your student's parent about accepting computer generated homework as well.
          • Increase time allowed for written task completion. By reducing pressure and anxiety, the child frequently responds with better written output.
          • Vary priorities required during writing. On one task, emphasize organization, good ideas, and legibility, while on another, stress only the mechanics of writing (e.g., spelling, punctuation, capitalization). Many children with developmental dysfunctions can only effectively concentrate on one or two priorities at a time - they may "come unglued" when expected to handle multiple tasks they have not yet mastered.
          • Stage long-term tasks. For example, a book report or research project could be broken down into units, with the child turning in a summary of each chapter, note cards, outline, etc. This will also teach study skills that will be a benefit throughout school.
          • Grade to allow for success. Comments should be positive. The child who thinks he can't tends to give up.
          • As soon as possible, introduce the child to typing and/or word processing. School typing should be allowed to completely replace written work, if needed in severe cases.
          • If an ink pen is difficult or to messy to use, try alternative writing tools such as pencils or felt-tip pens. Graph paper for writing math problems helps with the organization and alignment.
          • Allow printing if cursive writing is too cumbersome and frustrating for the child.
          • Try placing a rubber pencil grip on the pen or pencil. Teacher supply stores have a wide variety of styles, colors and composition (some are softer than others). Find one that works!
          • Reteach the pencil grip. Many children (and adults) have acquired an awkward pencil grip. 

          Second Language Learners

          I have found that ideas and strategies for Second Language learners work very with special needs students especially those with language based disorders. If the child is a second language learner is they:
          • should hear stories read frequently in small groups in order to hear many different types of stories;
          • observe verbal and nonverbal cueing strategies (pauses, exaggerated intonation, gestures, and so on);
          • hear thought-provoking questions to promote interaction during story reading;
          • be exposed to predictable books and be encouraged to "read along;"
          • hear and read well-illustrated books so that the pictures provide additional clues to meaning;
          • reread favorite stories to reinforce vocabulary, language patterns, and awareness of sequence;
          • do follow-up activities using different formats and materials;
          • use story grammars to analyze story elements;
          • write and illustrate language experience stories that access prior knowledge;
          • participate in dramatizations and have direct experiences with concrete objects and activities;
          • have vicarious experiences (films, filmstrips, puppets, pictures, etc.);
          • develop functional oral language;
          • be exposed to the Language Experience Method of teaching reading;
          • have opportunities and materials for primary language reading practice for those who can read in their primary language;
          • experience realia and apply lessons to real life situations;
          • have teachers who preteach a concept (into);
          • experience fill-in-the-blanks (word substitutions/cloze);
          • use pictures first and then replace with words;
          • have access to technology and videos for building schema in the content areas;
          • and learn to use graphic organizers for summarizing and/or retelling.
          Have a great week! 

          What is Number Sense?

          A person's ability to use and understand numbers:
          • knowing their relative values,
          • how to use them to make judgments,
          • how to use them in flexible ways when adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing
          • how to develop useful strategies when counting, measuring or estimating.

          What is number sense?

          The term "number sense" is a relatively new one in mathematics education. It is difficult to define precisely, but broadly speaking, it refers to "a well-organized conceptual framework of number information that enables
          a person to understand numbers and number relationships and to solve mathematical problems that are not bound by traditional algorithms". The National Council of Teachers identified five components that characterize number sense: number meaning, number relationships, number magnitude, operations involving numbers and referents for numbers and quantities. These skills are considered important because they contribute to general intuitions about numbers and lay the foundation for more advanced skills.

          Researchers have linked good number sense with skills observed in students proficient in the following mathematical activities:

          • mental calculation
          • computational estimation 
          • judging the relative magnitude of numbers 
          • recognizing part-whole relationships and place value concepts and;
          • problem solving 

          How does number sense begin?

          An intuitive sense of number begins at a very early age. Children as young as two years of age can confidently identify one, two or three objects before they can actually count with understanding. Piaget called this ability to instantaneously recognize the number of objects in a small group 'subitizing'. As mental powers develop, usually by about the age of four, groups of four can be recognized without counting. It is thought that the maximum number for subitizing, even for most adults, is five. This skill appears to be based on the mind's ability to form stable mental images of patterns and associate them with a number. Therefore, it may be possible to recognize more than five objects if they are arranged in a particular way or practice and memorization takes place. A simple example of this is six dots arranged in two rows of three, as on dice or playing cards. Because this image is familiar, six can be instantly recognized when presented this way.

          Usually, when presented with more than five objects, other mental strategies must be utilized. For example, we might see a group of six objects as two groups of three. Each group of three is instantly recognized, then very quickly (virtually unconsciously) combined to make six. In this strategy no actual counting of objects is involved, but rather a part-part-whole relationship and rapid mental addition is used. That is, there is an understanding that a number (in this case six) can be composed of smaller parts, together with the knowledge that 'three plus three makes six'. This type of mathematical thinking has already begun by the time children begin school and should be nurtured because it lays the foundation for understanding operations and in developing valuable mental calculation strategies.

          What teaching strategies promote early number sense?

          Learning to count with understanding is a crucial number skill, but other skills, such as perceiving subgroups, need to develop alongside counting to provide a firm foundation for number sense. By simply presenting objects (such as stamps on a flashcard) in various arrangements, different mental strategies can be prompted. For example, showing six stamps in a cluster of four and a pair prompts the combination of 'four and two makes six'. If the four is not subitised, it may be seen as 'two and two and two makes six'. This arrangement is obviously a little more complex than two groups of three. So different arrangements will prompt different strategies, and these strategies will vary from person to person.

          If mental strategies such as these are to be encouraged (and just counting discouraged) then an element of speed is necessary. Seeing the objects for only a few seconds challenges the mind to find strategies other than counting. It is also important to have children reflect on and share their strategies. This is helpful in three ways:

          • verbalizing a strategy brings the strategy to a conscious level and allows the person to learn about their own thinking;
          • it provides other children with the opportunity to pick up new strategies;
          • the teacher can assess the type of thinking being used and adjust the type of arrangement, level of difficulty or speed of presentation accordingly.

          To begin with, early number activities are best done with movable objects such as counters, blocks and small toys. Most children will need the concrete experience of physically manipulating groups of objects into sub-groups and combining small groups to make a larger group. After these essential experiences more static materials such as 'dot cards' become very useful.

          Dot cards are simply cards with dot stickers of a single color stuck on one side. (However, any markings can be used. Self-inking stamps are fast when making a lot of cards). The important factors in the design of the cards are the number of dots and the arrangement of these dots. The various combinations of these factors determine the mathematical structure of each card, and hence the types of number relations and mental strategies prompted by them.

          Consider each of the following arrangements of dots before reading further. What mental strategies are likely to be prompted by each card? What order would you place them in according to level of difficulty?

          Card A is the classic symmetrical dice and playing card arrangement of five and so is often instantly recognized without engaging other mental strategies. It is perhaps the easiest arrangement of five to deal with.

          Card B presents clear sub-groups of two and three, each of which can be instantly recognized. With practice, the number fact of 'two and three makes five' can be recalled almost instantly.

          Card C: A linear arrangement is the one most likely to prompt counting. However, many people will mentally separate the dots into groups of two and three, as in the previous card. Other strategies such as seeing two then counting '3, 4, 5' might also be used.
          Card D could be called a random arrangement, though in reality it has been quite deliberately organized to prompt the mental activity of sub-grouping. There are a variety of ways to form the sub-groups, with no prompt in any particular direction, so this card could be considered to be the most difficult one in the set.
          Card E shows another sub-group arrangement that encourages the use (or discovery) of the 'four and one makes five' number relation.

          Obviously, using fewer than five dots would develop the most basic number sense skills, and using more than five dots would provide opportunities for more advanced strategies. However, it is probably not useful to use more than ten dots. (See the follow-on article focusing on developing a 'sense of ten' and 'place value readiness'). Cards such as these can be shown briefly to children, then the children asked how many dots they saw. The children should be asked to explain how they perceived the arrangement, and hence what strategies they employed.

          What games can assist development of early number sense?

          Games can be very useful for reinforcing and developing ideas and procedures previously introduced to children. Although a suggested age group is given for each of the following games, it is the children's level of experience that should determine the suitability of the game. Several demonstration games should be played, until the children become comfortable with the rules and procedures of the games.

          Deal and Copy (4-5 years) 3-4 players

          Materials: 15 dot cards with a variety of dot patterns representing the numbers from one to five and a plentiful supply of counters or buttons.

          Rules: One child deals out one card face up to each other player. Each child then uses the counters to replicate the arrangement of dots on his/her card and says the number aloud. The dealer checks each result, then deals out a new card to each player, placing it on top of the previous card. The children then rearrange their counters to match the new card. This continues until all the cards have been used.

          Each child can predict aloud whether the new card has more, less or the same number of dots as the previous card. The prediction is checked by the dealer, by observing whether counters need to be taken away or added. Increase the number of dots on the cards.

          Memory Match (5-7 years) 2 players

          Materials: 12 dot cards, consisting of six pairs of cards showing two different arrangements of a particular number of dots, from 1 to 6 dots. (For example, a pair for 5 might be Card A and Card B from the set above).

          Rules: Spread all the cards out face down. The first player turns over any two cards. If they are a pair (i.e. have the same number of dots), the player removes the cards and scores a point. If they are not a pair, both cards are turned back down in their places. The second player then turns over two cards and so on. When all the cards have been matched, the player with more pairs wins.

          Increase the number of pairs of cards used. Use a greater number of dots on the cards. Pair a dot card with a numeral card.

          What's the Difference? (7-8 years) 2-4 players

          Materials: A pack of 20 to 30 dot cards (1 to 10 dots in dice and regular patterns), counters.

          Rules: Spread out 10 cards face down and place the rest of the cards in a pile face down. The first player turns over the top pile card and places beside the pile. He/she then turns over one of the spread cards. The player works out the difference between the number of dots on each card, and takes that number of counters. (E.g. If one card showed 3 dots and the other 8, the player would take 5 counters.) The spread card is turned face down again in its place and the next player turns the top pile card and so on. Play continues until all the pile cards have been used. The winner is the player with the most counters; therefore the strategy is to remember the value of the spread cards so the one that gives the maximum difference can be chosen.

          Try to turn the spread cards that give the minimum difference, so the winner is the player with the fewest counters. Roll a die instead of using pile cards. Start with a set number of counters (say 20), so that when all the counters have been claimed the game ends. Use dot cards with random arrangements of dots.

          Number Sense plays into how well order students grasp onto the more difficult concepts such as rounding, place value, and learning the basic math facts. Look for more information to come. Have a great week!

          About Me

          Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.

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