Setting our Sights on Sight Words

Sight words often get overlooked. We often think of them as simple and easy, so we send them home for homework, put them up on the word wall and call it a day. But sight words are an important part of helping students read. 80% of words in A-E texts are sight words, if students knew them, think of what they could accomplish!

We often think students know sight words if they can read them, but sight words are so much more than that. There are four levels of true sight word mastery. 

1. Does the child recognize the word out of context?

For example:

  • On the word wall
  • On a word card

2. Does the child recognize the word in context?

For example:

  • In shared reading
  • In “just right” books

3. Can the child write the word out of context?

For example:

  • Teacher says the word, child writes it

4. Can the child write the word in context?

For example:

  • In independent writing


Of course there are tricks and tips to help students with mastering each level of sight word development.


For 1:

– Put sight words on a ring and practice reading them

– Play word wall games, such as “find the word” or “read as many as you can”

– Look, Say, Spell, Cover, Write, and Check


For 2:

– Little word wall quizzes where students try to write the words on the  word wall

– Look, Say, Spell, Cover, Write, and Check


For 3:

– Sight word hunts in their book baggies

– Sight word hunts in shared reading

– Writing the sight words on popsicle sticks and having students match them in their books


For 4:

– Sight word hunt in writing folder

– Editing their writing using the word wall


Try to get them to look at the word wall as much as possible. I put Christmas lights around mine to make it pop. I also used name tags that have word wall words on them. Always remember word wall words are their high frequency/sight words. The words that show up all the time. You can use the TC sight word list or another list. ImageImageImage



What Does the Data Say?

When I went over to my friend Jaqueline’s house for Christmas, I was completely overwhelmed. There was Christmas everywhere. There were lights on her house, a wreath on the door, mini little Christmas trees outside the door. When you walked in, again Christmas was everywhere, she had Christmas candles on the mantel, her throw pillows on the couch had christmas trees, garland on the staircase, and there was a Christmas tree, but it wasn’t even the focal point. It felt like I literally stepped inside Christmas. 

This is very different from how I get ready for the holiday. I go get a tree, decorate it, and consider myself done. This is also the difference in ways people look and think about data. I may not have Christmas all around, but I do have data all around.

Some people think data is just the ELA, when I asked “how is your data this year?” they answer  “we predict our ELA scores will go up this year”, or they refer to the ELA scores. Data is not one big test at the end of the year, like one Christmas tree for Christmas. That is part of the data, just like the Christmas tree was part of Jaqueline’s Christmas, but not the whole thing. Data is all around us.

Data is your conference notes, guided reading notes, running records, post-its, students writing folder, and behavior. Data can be taken on how fast kids start reading workshop, or a transcript of partner talk, that we use to inform our own language. Data is literally everywhere and everything. 

Our job as teachers is to recognize what is data, and then use it. For example, if you take a quick recording of partnership talk (thank you trusty iPhone), then listen to it for language. One thing I noticed when doing this last week, was students using simple language to discuss the characters, using the words bossy (which I often say), and helpful (which I often say) quite a bit. I made a note to myself to try to use other words during read aloud, and book talks to model. I stepped up my language a bit over the next week. One week later, I took another quick recording of the same partnership talk, and sure enough, they were using more varied language, such as “arrogant” and “altruistic”, which were two words I had made a point of using during the week. That is how we use data. 

There are 3 steps to using data to inform your instruction:

1. Collect – This could look so many ways. There are two main types.

First is to have planned time where the purpose is to collect data. This could be an on-demand writing piece, or a stop and jot during a read aloud to collect the post-its. It could be a running record, spelling inventory, performance assessment and the list goes on.

Second is the have unplanned data collection, perhaps a students says something interesting during a book club and you write it down, you write a bit of what students say during the active engagement of a mini lesson, or you record a small piece of partnership talk to listen to. It could also be around behavior, quickly time the students when they go off to write etc…

2. Organize – You can organize data for your whole class, small group, or individual student. Below are some examples:ImageImageImage

3. Inform – Now that you have the data, and looked at it, you must somehow change the course of your teaching to reflect that data. If your notice an area of writing that is weaker for your students, beef that area up in your demo texts, add a mini lesson etc… If you notice some strategies are used more often than others, more heavily emphasize the strategies students are not using during shared reading, or add some mini lessons. This last step is important. It is the reason the other two steps exist.

So remember, data is all around you. Collect it, Organize it, and most importantly, USE IT!

How-to Make a How-to Tool Kit


Tool kits are wonderful! Who doesn’t love a cute bag? It is a cute bag, and all sorts of treats that can help you teach in one. I used to have one big writing tool kit. It got to be too much. Similar to my personal bag it was cumbersome and I was beginning to get a fear it would cause me to be a hunchback, and I could never find anything in it. 

This is when I decided to make a tool for each unit. This is what I put in my writing tool kit for How-to (but these materials can go in any writing unit tool kit).


1. Mentor Texts

– these are read aloud, used in mini lesson, used in shares, copies put in writing center, as well as in the tool kit

– My personal favorite mentors for the how-to unit are

Walk On by Marla Frazee

How To Potty Train Your Monster by Kelly DiPucchio

My First Soccer Game by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

Everyone Can Learn To Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka


2.  Checklists and Rubrics 

– I use the teacher facing rubrics and student facing ones from writing pathways. These always help me when I don’t know what to teach. I can look at them and see what the student is not doing, then teach that! I can also use the checklist to help students self assess.


3. Student samples and my samples.

I think it is important to show students other students writing as well as your own writing in conferences to help them see what you are talking about, and know that other students did it, so they could too,


4. Pictures of charts

This will help them remember your mini lesson and can be visuals you leave with them in their writing folders to support them.


5. Extra paper, pens, revision strips, scissors, extra booklets and tape

Nothing slows down a conference like having to take a trip over to the writing center to get the materials you need to help the student continue their writing.



Put it all together in a cute bag/folder and you are ready to confer and take on the world!

It’s December and They Can’t Read!!!!!! Stay Calm and Teach On

In Kindergarten this is the time of the year where most students are in leveled texts and we can breathe a sigh of relief that students are beginning conventional reading. But sometimes it doesn’t happen so easily (by sometimes I mean almost always) and there are a few that are yet to be reading conventionally. Before we begin to panic and think they have learned nothing up to this point, remember what Marie Clay says “—Attention to the formal properties of print and correspondence with sound segments, is the final steps in a progression, not the entry point to understanding what written language is.” Which basically means getting to leveled texts is the last step in the process. We must make sure concepts of print and emergent story book skills are mastered before we can begin with conventional print. Yes unit 1 and 2 are in fact over, but sometimes we need to still be teaching concepts of print and emergent story books in order to move kids into conventional reading. Here are some tips for helping students with concepts of print….

Remember concepts of print are:

—Book Handleing
—Pictures vs. Print
—Left to Right and Top to Bottom
—Return sweep
—Page sequencing
—One to one matching
—Difference between letter and word
—Know what punctuation is

Keep Track of who has mastered which concepts of print

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 6.13.04 PM

Ways to Help Certain Concepts of Print (COP)

1. Using finger lights can help with one to one matching.

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 6.13.24 PM

2. Using this letter catcher and going on letter hunts in shared reading can help students distinguish between letter and words.

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 6.13.13 PM

3. Using a highlighter can help students with one to one matching.

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 6.13.19 PM

4. Practicing reading shapes, colors, body parts etc… can help students with the return sweep.Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 7.50.18 PM

5. Going on sight word matching hunts in books can help students develop sight words, and feel more confident with their reading.

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 6.13.42 PMScreen Shot 2013-12-18 at 6.13.47 PM

Shared reading and interactive writing will also be major supports for struggling students. Most importantly have patience and practice practice practice.

Self Assessing Using Rubrics!



1. My new favorite thing to do is to create student facing rubrics with students so they can watch them being made, participate and gain ownership of them and determine their own next steps.

2. They are fabulous to use for inquiry lessons and inquiry based small groups.

3. Conferences where students can hold their work up to determine their own goals!


1. Look at student work

2. Decide of what skill you would like to break down into rubric form

3. Look at what students are doing with that skill and make some piles

4. Name exactly what students are doing with that skill and give and example

5. Add one or two levels are above even your highest students so they have something to aspire to


1. Make it super clear using kid friendly language

2. Have examples for each level

3. Make it touchable so kids can have copies, or come up to it or take it to their seats

Image Image


You Gotta Keep Your Head Up, Oh Oh, You Can Let Your Hair Down, Eh Eh

Education in NYC right now is in an overwhelming and scary state.

I spent the Thursday studying the new teacher evaluation alongside my colleagues at TCRWP and representatives from the Danielson group. I tried to focus on understanding the teacher eval system as email after email from administrators poured in about how and when to administer the MOSL’s, what to do about their growing class size, how are the evaluating special education, what is the word on the test this year etc… I left the day with my head down and feeling overwhelmed about how I could help schools swim through these muddy waters.

That’s when the genius of Andy Grammer spoke to me via the loud ipod from the guy sitting next to me on the subway. As the lyrics played “you gotta keep your head up oh oh, and you can let your hair down eh eh” my attitude shifted. If this song can make my attitude shift and get me inspired, what about the kids? I quickly added to my playlist as soon as I got above ground and able to get my 3G up and going.

After listening to the song a few times, my Kindergarten teacher self kicked in. This song is full of sight words, and ryhmes! This song has rhythm and a great theme! (predict what I will do next, using all you know about me)


Write it out on chart paper and have yourself a little sing along, and always remember – You gotta keep your head up oh oh and you can let your hair down eh eh! No matter what happens with politics and the DOE this year, we have little ones coming into our rooms every day, and we can’t lose focus on what is important for them. We have to make our classrooms full of joy and fun and learning.

Technology Can Solve All Our Problems

I am getting ready to lead a twitter chat on the use of technology in the classroom. That statement could not have been made last year, and the types of things I am likely to tweet about probably didn’t exist last year, and definitely not when I started teaching (and those of who know me, know I am not that old). Twitter, Facebook, blogs, smart boards, and doc cam played little to no role in our schools years ago.  When we think about how the classroom has changed over time it is dramatic. However, as dramatic of a change as many of us feel is happening with technology in the classroom, it is still lagging beyond the use of the technology in the “real world”. Most corporations, businesses, and organizations either are websites or at least have one. I was at the cutest little clothing story in Atlanta last week. I asked if they had a website and was devastated and shocked to find out they didn’t. It is expected businesses have websites and tweet and are on facebook at the very least. Social media was changed the way people communicate. Websites have changed the way the world does business. The internet has changed how people get information and learn. When we think about the impact technology has had on the world in the past 10 year, it is massive. When we think about the impact technology has had on the classroom it is minimal. 


If technology is changing the world, it should also change the classroom. But completely turning everything we know on its head could be a challenge. I try to think about problems that we have in our classroom and how can we use technology to solve them.

Problem #1 ITS TOO LOUD

There are actually apps that monitor sound as well as websites for the smart board. You can even plug your smartphone into the smart board (smart squared), so the students can see the sound meter. This can be used to make sure students don’t get too loud and can create independence as they monitor the sound in the classroom themselves, during reading and/or writing workshop. Remember some sound is good, as we want students reading, talking, and the sound of working.



Technology can solve this problem as well. Record kids using iPhone or iPad or flip cam. You can then watch the videos on the smart board and have students evaluate what they were doing well and what they need to improve on. You can also video exemplar students partnerships to show. 



There are apps like toontastic and puppet pals where students can create stories using puppets and cartoons on the iPad or iPhone. Who doesn’t want to write or story tell using those.



Video tape students doing things like tying their shoes, or making peanut butter and jelly. Play back the videos over and over again as they write their how-to’s. Press pause after each tiny step so they can write about it.



Create an email list with all the parent emails. Shoot out emails about school trips, wear green day, and reminders to bring a painting shirt on Tuesday. Save paper and get tech savy.



There is an app for that as well, my favorite one at that. Confer is the name of an app that can keep track of all your conference notes. You can also email them to yourselves and print them out, if you are one that still needs a hard copy (or have to hand them into someone).


As problems arise if we think about how technology can help us, we can incorporate it more into the classrooms. The more the better. It will be a while until schools can catch up to rest of the world, but we can do it one app at a time. 





Summer is time to reboot, rest and shop!

When I think about summer, I think lemonade, tans, sleeping late, lobster rolls, clam bakes, trips to the shore (I may be thinking about a Reese Witherspoon movie, I usually work at a camp or now teach summer institutes). Whether you do spend your summer eating lobster in the hamptons, doing head counts of 6 year olds at the pool, or teaching summer institutes, one thing is for sure….it is shopping season.

As we pack up our classrooms we may notice that some favorite books are now missing pages, or some of the favorites may be completely missing (don’t panic, that student just couldn’t bear to go on vacation without their favorite book, it means you taught them to love reading). Either way it is a good time to discover new reads and new products and spend hours in the book stores browsing. 

I just came back from my first shopping trip of the season. I picked up some new copies of books that were falling apart, some new finds, and some classroom supplies, because who does’t love giant post-its.

1. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Appelgage *warning – have tissues nearby


2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio



3. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by James Dean – Great for shared reading!



4. Ralph Tells A Story by Abby Hanlon – Great for reluctant writers, I think this author was in my classroom for writing workshop.



5. The Superstorm Sandy Hurrican by Josh Gregory – A great nonfiction text that the kids can really relate to (especially new york kids).



6. Speech Bubble and Thought Bubble Post-its – Making the reluctant post-iters excited.



7. Finger lights – Put them on to light up the words as they read, helping kids develop one to one matching, leave spaces between the words, and pretending to be a jedi.



8. Maribu Pens – This is just because they are so cute, I couldn’t help myself.



I stopped myself there. Having some self control is necessary so you can still buy yourself cute shoes. The first shopping trip of the season already has me thinking of all the great lessons and work I can do next year. Happy shopping and don’t forget your coupons and teacher discounts!

I failed my diet but my kids are reading!

As the year comes to an end, habits start to slip. Things we once did with vigilance, suddenly turn into “opps it is 10 p.m. and I haven’t gone to the gym yet”. The weather is warmer, there are new episodes of Game Of Thrones, and everywhere I look I can see an end of school year countdown. Some teachers post them on their doors, some cross out in their plan books, and some have a large class one that doubles as a way to teach kids to count backwards. Call it spring fever, post-test antsy pants or end of year itches…habits are slipping.

It is often hard to think about today, when every meeting is titled “planning for next year”, “creating 2013-2014 pacing calendars” or even “summer institute planning”. However, if teaching has taught me anything, it is that everyday counts. We need to not think “19 more days, just get through 19 more days”, but think of the possibilities of what kids you learn in 19 days! That is longer than a fruit flies entire life.

Everyone has things they do to jump start their diet or exercise program. For me it is often getting a new app to track my exercise and eating (I am on my 7th this year). My husband buys a new work out outfit (for once I have the cheaper habit!). My every now and then it is time to reboot the routine to keep focused.

My plea to you is to try a routine booster. Make the last stretch the best. Just like I find that little last crumb at the bottom of my cheetos bag, squeeze the last bit out of this year. That could also explain why I am on my 7th fitness app of the year.

Routine Booster # 1 GET NEW BOOK BAGGIES – New running shoes always make me a run a bit longer so I can stretch them in and show them off. Why not book baggies.


Routine Booster # 2 BRING OUT SOME NEW BOOKS – Refresh your library is a great way to invigorate your readers. If you have exhausted all your books this year, find a friendly neighbor, especially the grade above as many of your readers are probably getting ready for the grade above books anyway.


Routine Booster #3 FRESH AIR – Especially in New York, since I have begun to count the breeze when a subway car whooshes by as fresh air, it is time to get out. Reading outside can be invigorating and that is why they created glare free screens!


Routine Booster # 4 WHAT WOULD PIGEON DO? –  When pigeon wants to drive the bus, does he ask once then give up? Does he ask until almost the end and then say “fine i’ll walk”, nope. Pigeon keeps trying and trying and trying and that is what we will do!


Routine Booster # 5 CHANGE YOUR SPOT – Sometimes I get really crazy and go to a different elliptical machine at the gym. What can I say, I live on the edge? Try a different reading spot!


Good luck with your last reading boost. You wouldn’t leave chips at the bottom of the bag, so don’t leave your class without that last bit of teaching!

Whose up for a little debate?

I watched an amazing teacher (Kelly Boland Hohne) do a debate with an upper grade class. I love how it really engaged the students. There was so much talking and working by the students. It combined opinion, informational and narrative reading and writing as well as numerous speaking and listening skills. I set out to figure out how it would look in a K-2 classroom. I have been playing around with the structure, however, what I did find out is that 1) kids love it! and 2) the possibilities are endless.

The first debate I tried out was “Do skunks make good pets?”  I broke the debate down into 3 steps 1) Listen 2) Caucus and 3) Debate. The basic outline of the debate it below.

What might a debate look like in my classroom?

1. Listen

You can read aloud a text or do a video aloud on a text  (announce the debate question before, so students can listen with the lens of the debate).You can show multiple texts around a topic. The purpose of the listen step is so students can gather reasons around the question. You can also teach students to take notes during the listen portion for the debate. For the skunk debate I read aloud “A Pet for Petunia” and we watched a video called “skunks 101”. These two text provided students with reasons on both sides and were a combination of fiction and nonfiction as well a combination of video and text. You can assign students a side or let them choose. Line students up in 2 lines facing each other, they can then shake the hand of the student across from them (their opponent) – tell them to remember their opponent

2. Caucus

Students gather with the students of the same side (example: All students that are pro-skunks as pets can meet together) Students share ideas and the reasons to support their argument they were thinking about. The purpose is so students can strengthen their arguments and prepare for the debate.

3. Debate

Students meet the person they are debating from the other team. The person whose hand they shook. They can find a quiet spot around their room to sit facing their debate partner.  They tell their debate partner the reasons they have and talk back to the reasons their partner said.Image

What makes a good debate question?

– Something open ended, where there is evidence on both sides.

– Students need to argue both side so make sure there are reasons on both sides that show up clearly in the texts.

What can I debate?


– Debates are good in any unit

– Fairy tale example : Who is more evil the stepmother or the witch in Hansel and Gretel?

– Nonfiction example: Are snakes dangerous?

– Series example: Is Junie B. Jones selfish?

– Cross genre: Are skunks good pets? (after reading a story and listening to an informational book on skunks)

What can I teach into?

– Debates hit many Common Core standards around speaking and listening as well as the opinion/argument standards

– Possible lessons around debate

– Sticking to your position

– Using text evidence

– Listening to your opponent and asking them questions

– Taking notes to support your side

– Content area knowledge