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August 8. 2017

How to Test Students' Knowledge of Vocabulary

While the best measure of students’ ability is to observe them while reading continuous text, you can also learn much about their word-solving strategies by having them read individual words. Certainly students should be able to recognize frequently encountered words automatically and unconsciously. You can create your own informal assessments to detect whether students can recognize and/or pronounce words in isolation.

You can also create inventories that will provide information about their knowledge of vocabulary. To begin:
  1. Create a list of words. Use a graded list, take words from a basal series, or pull words from content areas.
  2. Ask the student to read each word, use it in a sentence, explain the meaning, or provide a synonym or antonym. For a written test, you can have them match words with meanings, synonyms, or antonyms or provide multiple-choice answers.
  3. Look at the results. What do students know about words? What kinds of connections do they make? What can you learn from partially correct responses? The answers will help you plan your word study program and inform your work with students in guided and independent reading.
Keep in mind that there are many ways of knowing words, and any test of words in isolation can only provide limited information.

From Guiding Readers & Writers by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2001 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.
August 1. 2017

4 Tools to Support Shared Reading Instruction

Every teacher needs tools to support their instruction. In shared reading, the following key tools will be helpful to support your lesson as you read and teach from an enlarged text on an easel. You may wish to store these materials nearby for easy access.

  • Plain pointer: A thin dowel rod with the tip painted red or with a pencil eraser on the end works well for drawing children’s eyes to the print and features that you are discussing.
  • Wikki Stix®: These sticky plastic sticks can be formed into letters or used to underline or circle words or letters. They adhere to the pages of a book, are easily removed, and can be reused.
  • Highlighter tape: You may wish to have several colors of tape to help readers identify various elements of print. For example, you may wish to use different colors to draw attention to various spelling patterns or types of punctuation.
  • Masking card: Available in Online Resources in various sizes, masking cards bring sharp attention to words within continuous text. The mask places a frame around a word so that children can isolate and concentrate on it.

For a complete list of tools you may wish to have on hand, see page 26 in the Fountas & Pinnell Classroom System Guide (available Fall 2017) or pages 65–66 in Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades.

From Fountas & Pinnell Classroom System Guide by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2018 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

July 25. 2017

7 Ways to Effectively Teach Phonics to ELLs

You are likely to have many children in your class who not only can speak one language but are learning a second or even a third language. And that is a great thing. If English is an additional language, then it will be important that you understand
and value the child’s expansion of both home and school language. You will want to adjust your teaching to make sure that English language learners (ELLs) have access to your teaching about sounds, letters, and words. Often, these adjustments are minor and easy to implement, but they are necessary to promote essential understandings on the part of these learners.



Here are some ways you can support ELLs in Phonics and Word Study:
  1. Use many hands-on activities so that children have the chance to manipulate magnetic letters and tiles, move pictures around, and work with word cards and name cards.
  2. Be sure that the print for all charts (ABC charts, name charts, shared writing, picture and word charts, etc.) is clear and consistent so that children who are working in another language do not have to deal with varying forms of letters.
  3. Make sure that English language learners are not sitting in an area that is peripheral to the instruction (for example, in the back or to the side). It is especially important for these learners to be able to see and hear all instruction clearly.
  4. Provide a “rehearsal” by working with your English language learners in a small group before you provide the lesson to the entire group.
  5. Use real objects to represent pictures and build concepts in children’s minds. When it is not possible to use real objects to build concepts, use clear pictures that will have meaning for children. Picture support should be included whenever possible.
  6. Be sure to enunciate clearly yourself and accept children’s approximations. If they are feeling their own mouths say (or approximate) the sounds, they will be able to make the connections.
  7. Accept alternative pronunciations of words with the hard-to-say sounds and present the written form to help learners distinguish between them. Over time, you will notice movement toward more standard English pronunciation.

From Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study Lessons, Grade K by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2018 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

July 18. 2017

Teacher Tip: How to Make More Time for Language and Literacy Learning

With ILA behind us, now is the perfect time to reflect and focus on your own professional development. It's not always easy to find time for literacy instruction in the classroom, so here are some suggestions for making more time for language and literacy learning.

1. With your grade-level colleagues, design a daily schedule that includes two-and-a-half to three hours of language and literacy teaching:
  • If you encounter problems, think "outside the box:" integrate subjects previously taught separately, rearrange your planning periods, reexamine how you incorporate special areas like music and art.
  • If you have departmentalization and cannot change it, work on a plan for allocating time for reading, writing, and word study, and for regular communication with other teachers so you can make connections over content areas.
  • Compare the time you have allocated for reading with the time you have set aside for writing. Writing is often shortchanged.
  • Talk about ways to incorporate more social studies and science into your literacy blocks.
  • Discuss ways to be more efficient. Could the first fifteen minutes of the day become part of the independent reading block?
  • Try out the schedule for one month and then revise it based on your experience.
2. Reevaluate the existing organizational structures in your classroom. Can some of these be changed? Can you find ways to incorporate some of them into the language and literacy framework?

3. With a group of colleagues, discuss changes you plan to make in terms of time, instructional approaches, classroom structure, or content.

From Guiding Readers and Writers by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2001 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.
July 11. 2017

Teacher Tip: Don't Miss Fountas and Pinnell at ILA 2017

If you are attending the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2017 Conference in Orlando, Florida, here are some tips to make sure you don't miss out on all things Fountas & Pinnell.

1. Attend Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell's sessions:

Teaching for Coherence, A Design for Literacy Instruction
Saturday, July 15, 3:00pm-4:00pm

Responsive Teaching: Four Keys to Effective Decision Making Within the Guided Reading Lesson
Sunday, July 16, 2:00pm-3:00pm

2. Visit the Heinemann Booth #723 to get a sneak peek of all of the new products coming out this year, including the NEW Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™, Leveled Literacy Intervention K-2, Second Edition, and Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study System. We're also giving away a FREE messenger bag on Saturday and Sunday, while supplies last!



3. Follow @FountasPinnell on Twitter and Tweet at us using the hashtags #FPLiteracy and #ILA17.

Hope to see you there!

June 27. 2017

Teacher Tip: 15 Ways to Increase your Students’ Vocabulary

Vocabulary exists in our long-term memory. The process of learning a new word is first to notice and enter it into short-term memory and then to work with in ways that will make it part of the lexicon stored in long-term memory. Sophisticated readers constantly add new words to their vocabularies, but they have been developing their vocabularies over many years. These readers have learned powerful strategies for noticing important new words and deriving their meaning.

You cannot expect less sophisticated readers, and certainly not struggling readers, to pick up all their vocabulary from context as they read or even when they hear texts read aloud. Along with having students read lots of texts, you can use some simple techniques to help them learn the meaning of words:

  1. Introduce them to a wide range of words in interesting texts.
  2. Make sure they encounter a new word many times.
  3. Make sure they encounter a new word in many contexts.
  4. Provide explicit vocabulary instruction related to each text they read.
  5. Discuss word meanings with them.
  6. Teach them how to recognize the important words in a text.
  7. Help them recognize and use meaningful morphemes (word parts in longer words).
  8. Teach them to use context to derive the meanings of words.
  9. Teach them to use the dictionary or glossary as an aid to verifying meaning.
  10. Help them integrate previously known definitions with new ones as they meet them in in texts.
  11. Help them use new words in discussion and in writing.
  12. Teach them to make connections between words to understand their meaning.
  13. Help them understand words that are used figuratively.
  14. Help them develop deliberate strategies for leaning words.
  15. Encourage persistence and recognize success.

From When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2009 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

June 20. 2017

Teacher Tip: Use Games to Help Struggling Readers

Children need explicit teaching, prompting, and reinforcing during reading in order to learn how words work. Adding the engaging activity of a game can help struggling readers practice searching for the visual features of words and develop automaticity in word solving.

Here are some guidelines for using games as part of your instruction:

  • Have children play games with words that are known or that they can very easily solve. The idea is to develop automatic rapid recognition.
  • Be sure that the materials (word cards, for example) used in the game are very clear, standardized print so that children can recognize word features easily.
  • Play a game after directly teaching children how to play it.
  • Make sure that there is a cooperative spirit among the players (it’s only a game).
Some examples of word games you might recognize include:
  • Snap!
  • Concentration
  • Word Ladders
  • Lotto
  • Follow the Path

To learn more about games to play with struggling readers, see When Readers Struggle by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.

From When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2009 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

June 13. 2017

Teacher Tip: Write Letters Between You and Your Students

Your goal in using a reader’s notebook is to help students extend and express their thinking about reading. Being expected to write about their thinking places an extra layer of consciousness on readers. They are more likely to remember details and to store up responses they feel deeply about and want to include in their writing.

Letters between you and your students are a collection of thoughts over time as they develop as readers. Think of them as a written conversation about books. You can help children better communicate their thinking in several ways:

  1. You can model and demonstrate ways of expressing thinking through minilessons. Write a series of letters yourself and share them, letting students notice places where you have written about your thinking in various ways—noticing the language of the text, critiquing the text, making personal connections, comparing and connecting texts, and so on.
  2. You can talk with students about their letters during conferences, providing specific feedback.
  3. Students can bring their notebooks to the community meeting, finding places in their letters where they demonstrated their thinking and sharing selected paragraphs from their journals with partners or in small groups.
  4. You can lift or scaffold student’s thinking through your ongoing written exchanges with them.

Once you begin using reader’s notebooks, you’ll find that responding to students is fascinating rather than arduous If you enter into a genuine conversation, keeping strategic actions in mind, you will inevitably stretch your students’ thinking.

From Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

June 6. 2017

Help Students Choose Books for Independent Reading: A Teacher Tip from Fountas & Pinnell

The ability to choose books is not something you can expect your students to know. It is something you need to teach. What you are enthusiastic about and recommend is very powerful.

Here are some suggestions for helping students choose their independent reading books:

  • Have the collection well sorted and labeled by topic, genre, theme, author, illustrator.
  • As you observe student interests, create more baskets for particular topics, authors, or types of books.
  • Have a “book recommendations” rack.
  • Have students help set up new-book baskets.
  • Put books you have used in book talks on display so that they are easy to find.
  • Create book baskets that connect books: “If you liked ____, you’ll love ____.”
  • Create “exclusive” baskets of selections for individual students if needed.
  • Give book talks that motivate and legitimize student book choices (e.g., easy books, more difficult).
  • Provide as many minilessons as needed to help students understand how to choose just-right books.
  • Communicate to the entire class that choosing a just-right book, not a difficult book, is the expectation for the reading workshop.
  • Through conferences, help students learn to evaluate their own choices.
  • Share book reviews from journals or websites.

From Teaching for Comprehending & Fluency by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

May 30. 2017

4 Ways to Provide Reading and Writing Workshops in Limited Time Periods: A Teacher Tip from Fountas & Pinnell

Middle schools are usually departmentalized, with teachers working with different groups of students throughout the day. This kind of schedule can make it difficult for English and language arts teachers to teach comprehension and to get to know their students well as readers and writers in a short period once a day.

If you are locked into a fifty- or sixty- minute period and must teach all aspects of language arts and literature within it, you’ll need to be flexible. Here are some options for providing reading and writing workshops in limited time periods:

  1. Conduct both reading and writing workshops each day. Consider linking the reading and writing work through specific units of study some of the time and promoting self-selected reading and writing topics in between.
  2. Alternate the reading and writing workshop. Have the reading workshop for one or two weeks to include interactive read-aloud and independent reading, with minilessons sometimes focused on a particular genre, author, topic, literary element, or the reading process. Follow up with one to two weeks of the writing workshop to focus on units of study such as writer’s craft, convention, writing process, writing genre, author study, or topic focus. Specific reasons or genres for writing about reading are provided (e.g., letters, two-column entry, literacy essay). During those weeks students do not have reading or writing workshops, but students continue to read and work on writing at home.
  3. Provide a reading workshop for one quarter and then a writing workshop for one quarter. In addition to self-selected reading and writing, include several units of study. For example, focus on reading memoirs, personal narratives, and informational texts in one quarter and follow with writing in these genres the next quarter. Students continue to read and work on writing at home.
  4. Conduct a language/word study workshop to include word study, interactive read-aloud, and a poetry workshop on Monday. Follow with a reading workshop and a writing workshop on each of the other four days of the week.
From Teaching for Comprehending & Fluency by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.