Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Behind-the-Scenes Look At A Reading Workshop

We have been having so much fun in our Bookworms reading workshop this month! The workshop focuses on 5 areas of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, sight words, reading fluency, and reading comprehension. Let's take a look at a few of the activities we've done.

Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds-phonemes-in spoken words. Essentially, it's being able to listen and distinguish sounds from one another. For example, the work "tick" has 3 phonemes (sounds): /t/ /i/ and /k/. The final sound, /k/, is spelled with two letters, but those letters make one sound together. Before children learn to read and spell, they must develop these listening skills. 

One of our phonemic awareness activities was identifying the place in which we hear a particular sound in a word. If I asked you to identify where you heard the /i/ sound in the word "tick", you should be able to tell me that you hear it in the middle of the word. I read off a series of words, and our students had to use cards to tell me whether they heard the sound in the beginning, middle, or end of the word. This is a really easy activity to do at home, so they got to take their cards home to practice even more.


Phonics is a method for teaching reading and writing by developing phonemic awareness in order to teach the correspondence between those sounds and the spelling patterns that represent them. For example, the /k/ sound you hear in the word "tick" is spelled with 2 letters, c and k. The /k/ sound can also be spelled with just a /c/ or just a /k/. While phonemic awareness uses ONLY sounds, phonics uses written words. 

Many young readers look at the first letter of a word and then spit out a word that starts with that letter. Sometimes the word makes sense, and other times it doesn't. It's important to slow down and blend each sound together. We use these linking cubes to practice reading through the whole word, identifying words that rhyme, and see that the words rhyme because they end with the same sounds. They sure do love these cubes!

Sight Words

Sight words are words that young readers memorize rather than decode (sound out). Many of these do not follow the rules of phonics, and therefore cannot be sounded out correctly. Instead, we teach children a few of these words at a time. Most of these words occur in beginning text frequently, so they are worth memorizing. 

One of our favorite games involves a popcorn tub filled with popsicle sticks. Each stick has two words written on it, and students take turns pulling one stick out at a time. If the stick is green and they can read both words, they get to keep it. If they cannot read it, I help them out a bit and then it goes back in the tub. If it's red, they have to give the stick to the next student and put all of their sticks back in the tub. We play this for 5-7 every week, and they LOVE it!

Another game they like to play is called "slap". I put some sight words face up on the table. I call out a word, and the first student to find it and slap it gets to keep it. They love this one also. I'm afraid to see how excited they would get if I let them use fly swatters.

Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with expression. Fluency is what bridges word recognition and reading comprehension. In other words, it's what helps us make sense of what we are reading. If you read too slow, your brain has a hard time understanding what it's reading because it's working so hard to actually read it. Young readers tend to sound like robots when they read because they read one word, and then another word, and another word, and so on. A fluent reader is able to reads a series of words as a phrase and gain meaning from what they read. 

One of the fluency activities we did for this workshop focused on punctuation. The students read words with punctuation marks to practice taking pauses and reading with inflections. They were able to take home punctuation posters to help them practice at home. One of our young readers has improved so much now that he's paying attention to punctuation.

Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension is the ability to read text, process it, and understand its meaning. There are many strategies that you use while reading that you probably don't even realize you use. While we read, our brains are busy making inferences, connecting ideas in the text to our own experiences, creating a series of events, and discerning between main ideas and details (just to name a few). In each session of the workshop, we focus on a different strategy. 

In the first chapter of Frog and Friends by Eve Bunting, we had to make inferences from the clues that the author wrote to figure out that "the THING" in the story was just an orange balloon. It was funny for our readers to feel like they had insider knowledge that the characters in the story didn't have. We identified where in the story we found the clues, and we talked about how using text evidence is super important. We practice each strategy with a short passage, and then we apply that strategy to our book for the week. The BEST part is that the students get to take the books home with them!

*A note on the books used in this workshop*: The I Am A Reader! series is absolutely amazing! Even Bunting, for example, is one of the authors in this series, and she's tremendously accomplished. These readers go BEYOND leveled texts. They are clever and funny, and if you have a reluctant young reader at home, I can't recommend these enough. For you educators, the back of each book features the corresponding grade level, guided reading level, RR level, ATOS reading level, Lexile measure, and word count. AMAZING! Parents, you can simply look at the grade level and get a good indication of whether or not it's an appropriate book for your reader. If they can read all but 5 of the words (or less) on the first page, take it home with you. 

The Amazing Machines series by Tony Mitton is also fantastic! The non-fiction books are fun and easy reads, and they have great information in them for curious, young minds.

Next week, we will be reading a book from the Mini Mechanics series that comes with STICKERS INSIDE! There are activity pages throughout the book, and the students use the stickers to go back and locate information. Genius, right?! I know. How come I didn't think of that?

This workshop ends next week, but we will start up a new one in September. We sure hope you'll join us!