Tip 1: Help your kids learn to break up words and write the sounds they hear in the order they hear them.
Learning to hear a word and segment it into parts is crucial to becoming a writer. For your kids to begin writing their thoughts down on paper, they must first understand how to hear a word, break it into its individual sound parts, and represent each sound heard with the appropriate letters. For instance, when they hear the word "cat," they need to be able to immediately break it into /c/ /a/ /t/, hearing each sound that makes up the word. Naturally, they'll need to know the letters that represent each sound as well...and be able to write them properly as well.
But my kids don’t even know letters and sounds yet! When should I get them segmenting...and how?
If you want your kids to become great writers by the end of the school year, you should definitely start working on segmenting with your kids as soon as possible, preferably by the third full week of school -- even if you have kids who come in with very little letter/sound knowledge. If you are following the Kinders Can! READ and WRITE! letter order, this is easy to do. You will start blending and segmenting words that use the letters you have reviewed and/or focused on so far (t, o, and p). That means that even the kids who only know the letters you have officially gone over will be able to start blending and segmenting right away, reading and writing the words top, pot, tot, and pop! This will help them begin to understand how letters and sounds work together to make words. Each week will further this understanding as you continue to blend and segment new words utilizing all of the letters and sounds you have officially covered. As more and more letters/sounds have been covered, even your least exposed kids should be able to read more and more words with ease. If you also include a daily alphabet review and a number of other activities that go over important letter/sound information throughout the day (read Kinders Can! READ and WRITE! for more information on how to do this), you should really see your kids take off!
Regardless of the program and/or letter order you are using, make sure you get your kids blending and segmenting with whatever letters and sounds they have learned, and do your best to cover all of the letters and sounds as quickly as possible so that a lack of letter/sound knowledge doesn't hold them back.
All of my kids already know letters and sounds. What should I do?
If your kids come to you already knowing letters and sounds, you can bypass going over letters and sounds each week, and jump right into teaching your students how to put their letter/sound knowledge to use! Right away, you’ll want to introduce them to blending and segmenting all sorts of consonant-vowel-consonant words. Ideally, you’ll want to choose words that utilize all of the letters of the alphabet. This will help your kids get a good review of letters and sounds as they learn to blend and segment them. (For free word cards, go to www.KidsCanReadandWrite.com!)
What if my kids are having trouble blending and/or segmenting?
As you go over how to put sounds together and break them apart, make sure you help your kids gain a good blending/segmenting technique. This is key to the reading/writing process. Your goal should be to help your kids actually hear what they are saying as they blend sounds together. I like to have my kids "punch" the first sound (say it loudly and clearly by itself), drag out the middle sound (say it for longer), and quickly but a little more quietly add on the ending. In other words, if my kids were reading the word hop, they would say, "/h/ /oooo/p/, hop!" When first teaching them how to sound out words, I would help them sound out the word three times as a group before putting it together. This helps everyone learn to blend more effectively, and gives your confused kids more time to understand what everyone is doing to get the correct word. As your kids get the hang of how to sound out words quickly and efficiently, however, take your voice out completely and begin to have them sound out each word only once.
As soon as your kids become experts at blending and segmenting cvc words, move them into blending and segmenting words with beginning and ending blends! This shouldn’t take more than a few weeks. Whatever you do, don’t keep them on cvc words for long! That is just the first step and shouldn't be your main focus throughout the year!
Tip 2: Teach your kids the "tricks."
If your kids only know letters and their usual sounds, they’ll never be able to write very much – at least not accurately. Writing cvc words and blends is a first step, but, if you really want to get your kids writing this year, you’ll need to teach them much more than that! To really open up the world of writing to them, you’ll need to teach them the “tricks” as well. "Tricks" are what I call the letters and/or letter combinations that create new sounds when they appear together or in certain positions in words. (Think diphthongs and digraphs!) Regardless of what you want to call them, your kids need to know them. And they need to know them as soon as possible if you want to get them writing well before the school year ends! Holding back knowledge of these important letter combinations and spelling patterns (sh, ch, th, er, ou, or, oo, ing, le endings, 2 vowel combinations, silent e, ed endings, etc.) will make reading and writing anything they haven't memorized nearly impossible for your kids. So bring the "tricks" out early and continue reinforcing them throughout the year. You won’t be sorry!
How can I teach my kids the "tricks?" I'm not sure I even know them!
Don't worry! You and your kids can learn the "tricks" together! You can do a "daily trick review" where you quickly go over all of the most common tricks (just like you would the alphabet), stating the letters in each "trick," the sound they make when together, and a keyword that represents the use of each trick. A great time to do this is before starting your reading/writing lesson for the day. This can help you both learn them! You can also focus on a new "trick" each week, teaching the "trick" and having your kids learn to read and write all sorts of new words with the "trick." If you are using the Kinders Can! READ and WRITE! program to teach your kids to read and write, our special letter order will help you introduce the "tricks" as well -- as you teach your kids letters and sounds! If you go to www.KindersCanReadandWrite.com, you can also get our special Tricks Practice Cards to help you lead a daily review. Make sure you also post a copy of each "trick" up on your wall to help your kids remember them. After all, they are every bit as important as the regular 26 letters and sounds of the alphabet. Almost every word your kids will want to read and/or write will contain one or more “tricks!”
Tip 3: Read and write REAL TEXT with your kids as often as possible, breaking words up and putting them back together as you go – and making your kids do most of the work!
For your kids to become great writers, they need to have a LOT of experiences with reading and writing real text -- both under your watchful eye and alone. One of the greatest ways to give them this experience is to read and write Interactive Literacy Charts with them on a daily basis. Basically, Interactive Literacy Charts are any charts you have your kids actively help you read and/or write!
For reading, you can use charts already up in your room, such as calendar displays, lunch choices, Student of the Week charts, etc. For best results, you will also need to craft charts that go along with what you want to teach your kids. These charts might include word problem charts, correction charts, or comprehension charts. They could also contain recipes, daily news, or science experiments! Basically, any chart full of real, unpredictable text you can read with your kids can count. The important thing is that you vary them and get your kids reading as many charts as possible throughout the day. It's also crucial that you get your kids doing as much of the reading work as possible!
To read an interactive literacy chart with your kids, tell your kids that you will point to the letters in the order they need to be sounded out, but that they will be the ones in charge of making the actual sounds those letters represent! Then, starting at the very beginning, point to the letters and wait for YOUR KIDS to actually sound them out and blend them back together, moving your pointer forward as they do so. Obviously, you will need to help your kids sound out words in the beginning. Once they get the hang of what to do, however, take your voice out as soon and as often as possible! Your goal is to get your kids reading the charts on their own as soon as you can.
When reading charts with your kids, you will need to point out and teach any unknown "tricks" and "rule breakers" (words that can't be sounded out even if you know the "tricks") as you run across them. Simply stop when you run across one and say something like, “Does anyone know what the s and h say when they’re together?...They say, ‘/Shhhhh/!'... What do they say?” (Wait for your kids to say, “Shhhhh!”) Ask this same question 3 or 4 times in a row until all of your kids are shouting back the correct answer. Then, continue sounding out the word. When you come across a word that can’t be sounded out, regardless of "trick" knowledge, simply sound it out the best you can and adjust it into what it really says, making a joke about what a funny word it is and how its an “outlaw word” – one that doesn’t follow the rules! Keep doing this every time you come across a “trick” or “outlaw word” until your kids can sound out the “tricks” and/or adjust the “outlaw words” without assistance. Make sure ALL of your kids are participating and learning as you go through the charts. Be enthusiastic and make reading the charts fun!
For writing, you can create any type of chart that suits your needs. You can brainstorm beginning sound words, a new theme, or what they want to learn about. You can record your students' thoughts, feelings, and/or fun adventures. You can even write fun stories together or recap lessons taught. Anything you'd like to write with your class will do! Just make sure you break up each word that needs to be written into its individual sound parts, and have YOUR KIDS tell you what letters to write to represent the sounds you are making as you segment the words and make each sound! In other words, after deciding on a word or sentence to write, sound out it out for your kids, but have THEM tell you the letters to actually write down. When writing a sentence, make sure your kids tell you when to put capitals, periods, etc. as well! Like before, stop to teach these concepts as they come up, as well as any unknown "tricks" and/or "outlaw words" that surface. As with reading charts interactively, your goal should be to get your kids quickly telling you all of the answers as soon as possible! The more charts you write together in this way, the sooner they should be able to do this.
Tip 4: Make daily journal writing time a PRIORITY!!!
Of course, if you want your kids to become great writers, you need to give them lots of time to actually experiment with all they are learning on their own. An easy way to do this is to make daily journal writing time a priority. After all, all the knowledge in the world doesn't mean much unless you can actually put it to use.
If possible, start your day out with journal writing and let your kids draw/write about whatever they wish in their very own spiral notebooks. Give them plenty of time to do so. As they practice sounding out words and/or writing sentences to go with their drawings, circle around the room and help as needed. Give little mini-lessons to your kids in order to move each student forward from wherever he or she happens to be. Some may need help sounding out words to simply label their drawings, while others may need help learning how to write sentences with proper capitalization, spacing, punctuation, etc. Give each child the help he or she needs. Move from child to child, getting to as many as possible each day. This is when everything you've been working on throughout the rest of your day should come together. This is when real writers are made.
I've tried journal writing before, but all my kids do is SCRIBBLE!
Even if your kids' beginning journal entries are less than impressive in the beginning of the year (as they are sure to be), keep journal writing a DAILY practice. Oooh and aaaah over neat work, holding it up for all of your kids to see. Encourage everyone to write more and more on a daily basis. Rave about any progress you see, no matter how slight. And, most important of all, keep your students moving forward from wherever they are! In other words, once your kids get the hang of labeling their drawings, move them into writing sentences, showing them how to start with a capital, space between words, and add the correct punctuation at the end. Once your kids understand how to write one sentence, move them into writing more sentences. Keep moving them forward on a daily basis, urging them to write as much as they can before time is called (NOT simply 3-5 sentences!) If you are doing all you need to be doing, the quality of their work should improve GREATLY (albeit gradually) over the year! By the end of the year, it should be an amazing record of their progress.
How long should I give my kids to write in their journals?
Make sure to give your kids more and more time to write in their journals as their skills develop throughout the year. 20 minutes is fine in the beginning of the year when they are just learning to label their drawings, but 30 or 40 minutes (or more) is important as their skills grow. They need time to really get their thoughts rolling, and there really is no better way to practice writing than to write! If you want your kids to be advanced writers, give them the time they need to write whole paragraphs and/or pages...and praise them as they do so! If you teach your kids what they need to know and encourage them to write more and more each day, giving them the time they need to do so, before you know it, they'll be writing long stories full of words and sentences you can actually read!
Tip 5: Display your students' work!
Most students (as well as their parents and principals) enjoy seeing samples of their work on the wall. You can plop their journal entries on a colorful background and hang them in the hall for everyone to see. You can also post some of the charts you have read and/or written together, surrounding them with a collection of free response writing pages that goes along with the chart/theme at hand. This will help your kids' parents and your principal see the progress your kids are making, and they are sure to take notice when they see that your kindergartners are writing sentences full of words many first, second, and third graders can't even write!
Remember, your kids are counting on YOU to teach them what they need to know to become great readers and writers. Focus your time and attention on teaching them what really matters – letters, sounds, blending/segmenting techniques, “tricks,” and some “outlaw words.” Then give them lots of practice using this knowledge to actually read and write words. By the end of the year, your kids should not just be impressing their parents and your principal, but THEMSELVES as well.
All the best and much success,
your set of Tricks Practice Cards. You can also go to www.Amazon.com to get the Kindle version.