Saturday, November 8, 2014

Teaching Letters & Sounds (small group instruction)

Thinking about my first year in a kindergarten classroom is kind of embarrassing. While I was excited about teaching and landing my first job and having my own classroom, I realized I was clueless about teaching kids how to read. I seriously thought my college classes had prepared me for that part of instruction, I mean they told us about running records, reading levels.... for actual readers, but what about Kinders who come in with a clean slate??!!! I mean seriously, education is literally trial and error, you either hit or miss, and when you miss, you better have plan B, C, D, E, F, G etc....  ready to go! I remember going to veteran teachers and asking for help, going on line and googling "how to teach kids how to read" and at the end of the day I still felt so empty handed. Even at our team meetings and planning, I just felt like what I was learning and planning didn't coincide with the foundations student's needed to become emergent readers, something was missing.
One of those weary days I decided to ask our Speech Pathologist for advice. She would come in twice a week and work with several of my students and on one of those days, I built up the courage (she just seemed unapproachable "older" and always on the run ) to ask her what her idea of teaching kids how to read was! Oh my... it was the best day ever (I can still hear angelical choir, voices, and trumpets in the back of my mind) as I was Enlightened on what students needed at that age in order to develop those reading foundational skills: Phonics, Phonemic and Phonological Awareness Skills!!!!!  Let me just add, that she is still working at my school and I LOVE HER TO DEATH, I call her my phonemic awareness Guru! Whenever I need help with anything I go to her first! Anyhow, all along I had been playing, singing, and drilling kids on PHONICS.... PHONICS....PHONICS... and then expecting them to read, boy was I misinformed! That night, I remember trying to remember everything she had told me because what she was saying and telling me JUST MADE SENSE!!! So, for the next month or so I decided I would become an expert on what phonemic and phonological awareness is and was, I researched it, and planned everything along Phonemic and Phonological Awareness, IT MADE THE DIFFERENCE!!

Taaaadaaaa! Here I am today sharing what small group instruction looks like in my classroom. By the end of the year 100% of my kindergartners CAN READ and WRITE, no joke! I previously blogged about what my morning looks like and what the rest of the class is doing, while I teach kids phonemic and phonological awareness skills, to read about it and see pictures click here.  

Part one of Four. This is what beginning of year looks like. In December I will post part two, so you can see and read the difference.

When students come to my table, I have everything ready to go. I set the purpose for the lesson by telling them exactly what we will be learning about. Then I ask them, "what are you going to learn today?" and wait for their response.

1. Letter Matching Activity (5 minutes) Example: 

Teacher: Hi boys and girls, today we will learn about letter names and letter sounds, what will we learn about? (wait for student response)
Teacher: Great! First, we will match the letters in our cups to our chart and say the letter name, what will we do with the letters in our cup? (wait for student response)
Teacher: Ok, here we go, I have a teacher set of EVERYTHING they have so I can model, model, model. (Some may need more modeling than others, depending on their level)

At the very beginning of the year, I give everyone all the letters of the alphabet, just to see how many can actually match "all of them" once I see who can and who can't, I group them by ability level. Then I select 5-7 letters weekly that they don't know, place them in a cup, and work with those same letters all week. I always select the letters in their name first, so they can make a "personal connection!"  It's lovely to hear them say, "that letter in my name!" then I respond, "wow, you are learning to read the letters in your name!" So we do this quickly for 5 minutes, during that time, I facilitate, prompt and guide more than "tell or correct." For lower kids, who absolutely do not know any letters, I pull out a letter, say the name of the letter, then they look for it in their cup, say the name, then match it.

2. Write and Produce Primary Consonant Sounds Activity (4 minutes)Example:

Next, fast, fast, as a snap, we put our letters back in our cups or bags, I pass out their sand trays, and they watch as I have my cup with the selected letters. They don't use the letters here, I do.  I show it to them, they say the letter name, write it and underline the letter from left to write, saying the sound the letter makes. 
For Students who already know all their letter names and letter sounds, I say the sound (don't show the letter) and they write Uppercase and lowercase and say "uppercase M lower case m" while they write and I watch for correct letter formation (I correct letter formation here)...  Then say Mm says /m/ while underlining from left to right. 

Look closely and you can see my notebook, where I write down student observations.
 3. Initial/First Sound Activity (3 minutes) Example:

Once again I pick up sand trays, put them away, and pull out picture cards. I again set the purpose: Now, we will be listening for the first sound you hear in a word, words have sounds, those sounds are the sounds letters make. I then show them a picture card, name the picture and tell them, listen to me say the first sound in a word. 
Ex: picture of a Carrot.
I hold it up, this is a carrot, carrot begins with /c/, what does carrot begin with? They reply /c/
Ok! Let's try some more.
For students that have difficulty understanding the concept, I will use our alphabet chart with pictures and go down the chart saying, "A is for /a/ /a/ apple, B is for /b/ /b/ ball." I also have hand signals for each letter sound. Students associate the hand signal with the sound, so they get a visual and auditory cue. As they master the art of listening for initial sounds we do initial sound picture sorts. Like the following example.

4. Wrap up our mini small group lesson (3 minutes) double check for understanding and rotate! 
The third activity alternates between rhyming, syllables, initial sounds, onset-rimes, spatial concepts, and blending and segmenting as student needs arise. There are weeks, where my third activity is completely different for all 5 groups, because they are not all at the same level. I'm either challenging the ones who need the challenge or scaffolding for the ones who need repetition.

Hope this makes sense! Click here to download the free lesson plan and alphabet checklist!