Tag Archive: strategies


img_0371I came across this awesome ipad app called Whack-A-Word and thought it was the cutest thing ever.  I don’t have ipad for all of my kiddos so I tweaked what I saw on the app and created my own using sheets for ABCs, blends and digraphs, and Jolly Phonics.  (If you want any of my materials, let me know!)  My teammate also found some stuff on Teachers Pay Teachers, but we created our own to match with what we wanted.

I took a pool noodle and cut them into about 2 inch wide slices and inserted jumbo craft sticks into a slit I made with scissors.  img_0372

The kids LOVED THIS!!! “Ms. Acuff, why haven’t we played this before?  This game is AWESOME!”  The way it works is you tell them something to find and they have to locate it and “whack the word” or in this case–the sound.  “Whack the sound that says ch-ch-ch.”  This has been a great way to reinforce letter identification and word parts for the Kindergarten kiddos who have needed some extra practice without it being so “skill and drill” with them.img_0373

2 Points For…

IMG_0384As you saw earlier this year, I posted my new “theme” for the school year: HARRY POTTER! (Reading is “wand”erfully magical)  With that I decided to change all of my super hero stuff over to Harry Potter things.  I re-did my wall strategies and also made new book marks.  Feel free to comment below or send me an email if you want the updated Harry Potter strategies for yourself.

IMG_0385I also divided my 4 groups into Harry Potter Houses: Ravenclaw, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Gryffindor.  Each house had to come up with their own set of house rules they thought they wanted to operate by and they each have a secret house passcode for when they think they need to be better about the house rules.

We’re now in full swing with groups.  I feel like the extra 2 weeks of summer really delayed everything.  I haven’t felt like we’ve REALLY been in school, but here we are close to the end of October.  I’ll try to be better about posting this school year, but I get so busy that it makes it hard.  I’ve enjoyed hearing from so many of you already this school year.  I hope you’re off to a great start.

1st Grade Word Work

IMG_0351My first graders continue to work super, super hard for me!  We are doing a lot of work on word parts so when we come to unknown words in our reading and writing we can help ourselves by looking for a part we know, seeing if we know a word that looks like it, and trying it!  1st grade is such a big leap into becoming readers.  We keep plugging away.  You can see we are doing some word work with -ot words.

Superhero Strategies

IMG_4473Every year I try to have a “theme” in my room and as you saw in my earlier post this year is Super Hero: Super Reader!

I decided to re-vamp my strategy bookmarks and anchors in my room.  I’m big into super heroes and I’m hoping the change will be something my students enjoy.

IMG_4477My students will get the book mark (on the left) to take back with them to the classroom or to put in their book bags/book boxes and then the photo on the right are the larger ones hanging on my wall as a reference.

As always, if you ever want copies of any of what I use please let me know.  I’m always willing to share.  Cheers to all of you kicking off your new school year.  Here’s to a SUPER 2014-2015 school year.

A Reader’s Tool Box

IMG_8390My 2nd graders have needed some additional reminders/practice on strategies to help ourselves when we read.  I had been noticing some inefficient or no strategies going on while reading.  Looking at the picture doesn’t always help.  Sounding it out doesn’t always help either.  We needed to brush up on other strategies we can use so we have a tool box full of IMG_8388strategies ready at our disposal.

I started the day out with the ‘Warning! Hard hat area!’ sign on my door.  I stood in front of my door with a hammer and my “hard hat” on (AKA surgical mask put on my head…don’t judge.  I’m a teacher who is trying to be resourceful!)  I was extremely serious and told the kids the room was under construction and we all needed to put our hard hats on before we could enter.  They all laughed and told me I looked silly, but they all put their “hard hats” on quickly so they could see what was happening in the classroom.

They came in and I pulled out my tool box and told them how as a reader I can’t use the same tool over and over again.  I need different tools for different jobs–just like a hammer can’t always do the job of a wrench or a screwdriver, a reader can’t rely on the same strategy.

I pulled out my different tools….

  • Saw: Look at the first letters
  • Tape measure: Does that make sense? Sound right? Look right?
  • Wrench: Reread the sentence
  • Pliers: Look at the picture
  • Hammer: Sound it out
  • Screwdriver: Get your mouth ready, look for a chunk you know

IMG_8389After we went over the different tools, I told the students I wanted them to pick a strategy they don’t use a lot and try to use it once during their reading for the day.

It’s still a little rocky for us, but we have to keep going over how we can be better at decoding new and unknown words in reading.  When you are reading with your child ask him or her some of the tools from their tool box and see if he or she is using a variety of strategies when coming to difficult words.

And for your viewing pleasure, I have attached the photo of me wearing my “hard hat”.  Once I took a picture of the kids they told me I needed to be in a picture because I look so silly.  Touche, my 2nd graders, that I do!  The things I do to get learning to stick. 🙂



I haven’t gotten a chance to talk about my 2nd graders yet this year so I thought they would be my blog for today.   I was lucky enough to have a few of my 1st graders from last year be in my 2nd grade group this year.  One of the things we are working on is trying to problem solve on your own first.  Many of them come to an unknown word in reading or writing and while I’m working with a student I’ll hear, “MISS ACUFF!  WHAT’S THIS WORD?” or “MISS ACUFF! HOW DO YOU SPELL ______?”

IMG_8219(Quick side bar: Before I could say, “Try one of your strategies first and I’ll be there in a few seconds.” another student from the group said, “You know your job.  Do something….like sound it out.”  I had to smile.  I might have another little teacher in training.)

Last year they were my babies and had them next to me the entire time.  Now, in the way Interventions That Work want us to do it, the kids meet with me as the whole group briefly for letter work and directions/book orientation and then they go off to begin their work.  This gives me an opportunity to come around to each student while they are working and conference with them on their reading or writing.

Every group session it gets easier for them.  They are learning to use the strategies they have been taught–look for parts you know, what makes sense, what do you see in the picture?  In their writing they are getting better at using their writing skills–try it on your practice page, do you know a word that sounds like that word or is similar?, using your word dictionary, using your book for help, trying the word and circling it for me to check when we conference.

IMG_0068I was really proud of the kids today.  They all were doing a great job during IMG_8220writing of going to their strategies first and trying it.  They all know more than they give themselves credit for.  I went over writing strength and goal sheets with the kids and we were making sure they were monitoring their writing and going back to check.  (An example of the sheet I use it to the left)  I try to have my 2nd graders focus on 2-3 things they can work on.  For a lot of them it’s spacing, capital letters, and using the line spacing appropriately.

So we’ll keep chugging along!  I tell my kids the important thing to ask yourself is, “Am I better today than I was yesterday?”  We take it one step at a time and just have to keep making sure that the work we do today is better than the work we did yesterday.

It’s a great day to be a Lowell Cougar…am I right??


I have several inspirational quotes hanging on the wall above my desk and one of them says, “Am I better today than I was yesterday?”  As an Instructional Strategist for reading I’m always asking myself this.  One of the things I realized I wasn’t becoming better at was my level of questioning for students.  I noticed I was doing a lot of “right there”/find it in the book/surface level questions that didn’t require much thinking.  And I want to be better than that.  My students deserve more from their teacher.  So I started a quest on how I could “be better today than I was yesterday” for my kids.

I quickly stumbled upon my good, close, personal friend Benjamin Bloom (I wish)!  Oh Bloom’s Taxonomy.  How could I forget about Bloom’s Taxonomy?  (To learn more about Bloom’s Taxonomy take a quick visit HERE).  I have been on a “mission card” kick lately and thought, “By golly, Sarah, get some Bloom’s Taxonomy mission cards!”  And so I did.  (You can, too, by clicking HERE!)

I’m really trying to get my older students ready for the DRA2 assessment at the end of the month by trying to ask more challenging, deeper questions.  I’ve found myself using the teal (synthesis) and green (application) cards the most.  I would say we are still in an area where evaluation (purple) is a little too challenging for us, but I’m going to be working that way so students are able to make more connections quickly and be reading in a way that has them thinking about the story instead of just reading to get through it.

I didn’t use these with the “Top Secret” envelopes last time and my kids about fell off their chairs.  They love the secret envelopes so I’ll make sure I’m bringing those more regularly.

I use these for not only the reading/discussion portion of the lesson, but also the writing portion occasionally.  This is another great way that I can differentiate and prompt at the different levels students are in the group.  Yesterday my students had to answer questions such as:

  • What events in the story could not happen in real life?
  • What changes would you make to the story?
  • Combine two characters in the story in order to invent a new character, and write a short story with this new character as the main character in your story.
  • Create a new ending for the story.  Share this new ending with your classmates.

This has been a fun and more challenging way to get my students to think deeper, as we prepare for the DRA2 assessment and as we transition into a literature circle group where discussions and deep thinking are going to be essential to reading growth.

IMG_0065Reading with expression continues to be something I need to work more on with my students.  Now that I am teaching Guided Reading Plus, I think I focus less on expression than I used to.  I have to remind myself every now and then that this is still an important part of fluency and the reading process.

IMG_0066My 2nd and 3rd graders (specifically 2nd grade) need some work with expression.  I found some phonics chant cards online, which you can download for free HERE, and have been trying them out with my 2nd and 3rd graders.  There are 16 different cards ranging from reading in a baby voice, clapping each syllable as you read, reading like a pirate, being a volcano and starting in a whisper voice and then getting louder until you get to the end of the row, to even reading in a monster voice or a squeaky mouse voice.  Not all of them are appropriate for every situation so I let the kids pick from 2 or 3 cards I’ve selected for them.

IMG_0067My goal is to have some fun reading in different voices to get them use to actively reading  with some sort of expression–even if that means reading like a mouse or a monster.  From there we are going to work our way to reading naturally with expression.  It’s a work in progress to become phrased, fluent, and have expression, but you have to start somewhere.  This is something I have the kids work on while I am checking for accuracy through a running record.  They can do it with a partner or individually, but it’s something different than what they normally do.  I had the cards laminated and then punch a hole in the card so I could keep them on a ring.  If you’re looking for a way to boost expression with your kids, consider giving this a try.  It’s a new and creative way to get kids thinking about the way they read out loud.

My 1st graders have really been struggling with contractions when we come to them in books.  If the word is can’t they say can not.  If the word is can not they say can’t.  The same with I am and I’m.  I was looking for a way I could really help my 1st graders remember contraction.

I had briefly read online about contraction surgery.  There wasn’t any information or details so I kind of just had to run with it.  I work part time for an orthodontist and I was able to get some surgical masks and exam gloves for each of the kids in my group.  The day before this activity we worked on turning I am into I’m, do not into don’t, and can not into can’t.

Today I played it up like we were all doctors.  I greeted each student as Dr. (first name).  I asked them to suit up for surgery and they all got super excited.  It was a lot of fun seeing the kids put on their gloves and their masks.  Some jumped up and down and some clapped.  From there I handed them their “doctor tools” and asked them to prepared for surgery.  They were each given “scalpel scissors”, “scar markers” and glue (I didn’t have a clever name for that.)

We started with the easiest work I am.  Students had to cut in between I and am.  I asked them what letter they would need to surgically remove to make I’m.  Once they had gotten rid of the ‘a’ we then had to glue ‘I’ and ‘m’ together.  We used our “scar marker” to give the new word a little “scar mark” or apostrophe where we put it back together.  They were then supposed to write the 2 words we used to make the contraction.  We did this for can not and do not.

This was so much fun.  Students were clapping after each “successful surgery” and saying, “Good job, Dr. (first name)” to each other.  It was absolutely adorable.  Some students struggled with different portions of the contraction surgery, but they really came together as a team to help each other figure out the parts.  I’m hoping after 3 successful surgeries the students will read these a lot more accurately when they come to them in group.

I was finding my students kind of grumbling when it came to discussion after reading a new book.  Normally this is an opportunity for me to check their reading and comprehension.  I decided I needed to make this time of the lesson a little more fun.

I decided to make my own Top Secret comprehension cards.  Really Good Stuff makes their own cards, but I wanted to customize my cards based on what we’re working on in the classroom.  I ended up with about 30 cards.  I tried this today with my 2nd and 3rd graders and they absolutely loved it.  I started out by telling them to read their story carefully because I would be giving them an ultra-top secret mission after they finished reading.  Students began to giggle, but they were all very curious what this secret mission was.  They read and as they were reading I went through my cards and picked out the card I felt was most appropriate for each student.   On little envelopes I wrote TOP SECRET and slid the mission cards into an envelope for each student.

As they finished reading and were waiting for their card I totally played it up.  I made them promise they would keep it completely top secret–that they would show no one their card.  It was for their eyes only!  Each student had a ginormous grin.  Who doesn’t love a good secret??  Some students were so into the secret that they went and go dividers for their desk so no one could see what they were writing.  It was so cute to see students carefully slide their card out of their envelopes just far enough to read it and then push it back into the envelope until they needed to check it again to make sure they had written down the correct information.

From there students wrote their answers either in a journal or on a post it note.  We did end up sharing our secret notes at the very end, but it was really cool to see students looking back in the book for information, taking their time, and really thinking about the story.  They were all so bummed when group was over and secret mission time was over.  I promised them these cards would be back.  I’m super excited to see how these cards will continue to help students read more carefully, comprehend more information, and take their reading to the next level.