More Than the ABCs: Vowel A

More Than the ABCs: Vowel A

Last time, I showed you how to help students own the alphabet as more than just the ABCs. Each symbol or letter is a picture of sound. Our job is to teach kids how to attach the sound or sounds that each symbol represents.

 

We’ll start at the very beginning with the letter  A a . As you can see, I printed both the capitalized version and the lower case versions. I do that because children need to see and use both forms. I start with A a,  not because it is the first letter of our alphabet, but because it represents the first three vowel sounds I teach. I repeat…it has THREE sounds that should be taught right out of the starting gate: a, a, a. Click the play button below to hear the correct

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More Than the ABCs: Owning the Alphabet

More Than the ABCs: Owning the Alphabet

Lately, I have been pondering my linguistic journey. Over the years, it has been a journey of self-discovery. A journey that led me to use a fascinating method to teach systematic phonics and phonemic awareness.

If you could have visited my first and second grade combined classroom about 20 years ago, you would have noticed that I displayed traditional alphabet cards above my chalkboard. I didn’t really use it as a reference tool. It was more of a standard classroom decoration than a tool for learning. That is, until I gained some knowledge about teaching letters NOT as letters of the alphabet, but as pictures of sound. I didn’t realize the power the alphabet has when it is considered as a code made of symbols that allows learners to attach sounds to them.

The fact remains, we have an alphabetic language. In other words, letters provide us a way to encode sounds of speech into symbols…the letters of the alphabet. But for years, that information was lost on many a teacher. When I realized how the code system works, it rocked my linguistic world!

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Micro-comprehension: Gap-filling Inference

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Last time, I introduced the concept of building micro-comprehension skills in young readers, starting with words. Often, students need direct instruction in the various areas of micro-comprehension to become efficient readers. I started with words because they are the foundation upon which to build the other skills.

With a strong word base, students can begin the arduous task of comprehending the meaning of strings of words and phrases. In order for that to happen, students must be able to infer meaning. Inferring (or inference) just means that the student’s brain will have to do some gap-filling to understand basic information as it is shared through the words, whether reading the words themselves or hearing them read.

When I first began my career, teaching inference was a big deal. At that time, I was simply following the standards in the state where I was teaching. But, the most effective way to teach inference was a mystery. Once I grappled with helping students get a strong vocabulary base, teaching inference became a lot easier. It was clear that students who had a good bank of words made inferences more readily. Those students who had poor vocabulary exposure didn’t fare as well. 

As I improved my teaching skills, I learned that inference skills in reading were basically just the activation of the gap-filling ability in their brains. Brains are absolutely amazing! Brains are always seeking information, and for the missing pieces, they call upon special neurons that “fill-in” the missing information to make the existing information make sense. Now, sometimes, the brain can get it all confused—it’s normal. But, wise reading teachers will help kids recognize the comprehension errors by using a strategy called “Unpack Your Thinking.” To unpack one’s thinking just means to say out loud what thoughts you have as you read. Teachers can model this by slowing down their own reading process and then saying aloud what it is that makes them able to comprehend what they read. When they share that thinking out loud with the kids, it serves as a powerful model! Look at the following example:

After watching the sad movie, Sarah grabbed a tissue. 

Now, read the “unpacked, out loud thinking”:

“I know that Sarah is probably sad because she just watched a sad movie. I also know that when people are sad, they often cry. I can infer that Sarah must have cried because of the sad movie and needed to dry her eyes with a tissue.”

In this example of “unpacking your thinking,” it helps to state aloud the parts of the information that are included in a passage because it accentuates what IS NOT included. I like for kids to say, “I know that…” to begin each out loud idea. Then, it is a small leap for the teacher to ask: “How do you know Sarah was probably crying?” 

This kind of question is actually a macro-comprehension question. Students who have a clear mental model will deduce that people often show emotion when watching a sad movie. Notice, the example passage about Sarah did not explain that she was actually shedding tears, but the micro-comprehension work the brain does makes it obvious that she was crying and needed a tissue.

I am sure you have discovered in your students the gap-filling ability or the lack of it. As you read aloud to your students or as you listen to them read aloud, try to be more aware of opportunities for them to practice accurate gap-filling inferences. I think you will be surprised how adept they can become.

In my next post, we’ll move into sentence structure processing and the role it plays in micro-comprehension. Please join me!

(This post is part of a series on Micro-Comprehension. To start at the beginning, click here.)

Micro-comprehension: A Foundation of Words

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In an earlier blog post, I pointed out that early reading might best focus on micro-comprehension strategies before exploring the macro-comprehension kinds of questions that are found in most reading programs. But why? To start with, a reader won’t have clear macro-comprehension without clear micro-comprehension. A deep and wide vocabulary makes the micro-comprehension much more accurate!

Make Words Concrete: I like to think of words as “containers.” Some have a lot of sound-symbols (letters)—quite roomy! Others don’t, but kids can see words as concrete rather than abstract with this kind of metaphor. These sound containers (words) have limited meaning outside of context. To build deep and wide vocabularies, keep context front and center. Help kids expand their word banks, using these strategies:

1.  Label everything in the learning space. If you are a home educator or classroom teacher, label the items in the students’ learning space. In lowercase letters (except for proper nouns), write the name of the item on index cards or self-stick name tags.

2.  Use synonyms. On the same index cards or other signage, also write under the most common word for the item any synonyms associated with the original word. For instance, a box of crayons may have the original word crayons on its label, and beneath it, you might also write the word colors.

3. Focus on Early Reading books. Many early reading books contain illustrations with similar labels, like I described in item number 2 above. Keep these kinds of books handy for young learners and call attention to the items and their labels.

4. Include poetry. Be sure to read a new poem every day! Start with short rhyming poems. Branch into longer poetry with repetitive sections and cadences that children like to repeat aloud.

To launch into the next several blogs about early reading, establishing a baseline around micro-comprehension makes sense. You can take the lead and help students build a strong vocabulary. Students have to be able to hear words, interpret their meanings, choose the correct meaning, and apply that within the context of the story they are hearing or reading—no small task—but doable!

On your next visit, stay tuned for gap-filling inference, an important step in building micro-comprehension skills…until then!

Sound and Spelling Rules: How to handle the "ei" vowel pair

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I am sure you have seen posts like this before. I know I have, and I get a charge out of them. Whether or not you like to teach systematic phonics and spelling, you probably have a hard time getting kids to lock in certain sounds and spelling rules…and this one can be a doozy!  

Let’s look at this dastardly duo up close. You have probably heard the old rule “I before E except after C?” Well, the rule doesn’t really end there. Nevertheless, this rule doesn’t always make spelling words that contain an “ei” vowel pair any easier. Let’s try it this way.

 

Teach a Sound Rule AND a Spelling Rule

1. Teach students that “ei” will sound like one of the following FOUR sounds in most English words, where an “ei” is found together in a word:

ē (Long E sound)  

ā (Long A sound)   

ĭ (Short I sound)  

ī (Long I sound)

2. Teach words together that use both an “ei” or an “ie” in the middle and follow this simple rule:

Use ei after the letter C and to say /ā/; otherwise—use ie.

See how easy it is to spell these words right using this rule?

chief               tie                   field                beige              niece              heirs              weird

 

We already see either an “ie” or an “ei” in each word, so all we have to do is look at the letter in front of each vowel pair to be able to get their order right. If there’s a C, it’s “ei”; if not, it has to be ie. Then, to pronounce the vowel pair correctly, use the four sounds we learned earlier:

    ē (Long E sound)           ā (Long A sound)       ĭ (Short I sound)        ī (Long I sound)

 

Yes, a few exceptions exist, but by getting more direct with the rules, the exceptions won’t present a major sound or spelling roadblock. In future posts, we’ll check out some other letter combos that give us fits. See you then!

 

The Playbook of Literary Success: Vocabulary

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What if elementary teachers approached the subject of Language Arts as if it was a competitive sport?  Just think of it… every K-8 teacher would be part of a coaching staff charged with developing players’ language arts knowledge and skills.  In this analogy, the playbook contains plays designed to help each team member achieve literacy success, which is the ultimate goal of the game!  The knowledge and skills learned by each team member will grow into great competence, and every time these competencies are used to practice or compete, confidence will grow.  

Every coach has a secret book of plays, right? Wouldn’t you want to know the secret strategies from the coach’s playbook? Over the next few weeks, we plan to give you a sneak-peek at the playbook and a checklist for each play, including vocabulary, grammar, composition, and writing for all purposes. You will be able to use the checklist to ensure that your special team executes each play with competence and confidence.

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LITERACY PLAYBOOK: Part 1, Vocabulary

The first play in our Literacy Playbook is vocabulary development. Why? Because students need a broad knowledge of words that they can manipulate to make meaning. When students can expertly use words to communicate precisely, it will up the odds that they will be top contenders in a competition that stretches far past the boundaries of our analogy.  Students who can wield their words with confidence have a greater advantage in their future careers. To help them achieve such a “win,” teach students vocabulary in a “play-by-play” approach that includes the following aspects:

For the primary levels:

·Basic alphabetic principle, letter/sound relationships and spelling

·Phonics, word patterns, and syllabication

 For the intermediate levels:

· Word meaning in multiple contexts

· Word relationships (homophones, homographs, synonyms, antonyms)

· Word analogies

· Word etymology

· Figurative language and literary devices (similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, etc.)

In Shurley English, vocabulary study “goes deep and runs wide,” and every student who is versed in the study of each of these areas of vocabulary will acquire the built-in word knowledge to become a competent and confident master of language.

As you reflect upon your current practice time with vocabulary, consider running these plays like you would run with any other team sport. Using a checklist like this will help you become a reflective teacher, one who always thinks about their craft and conducts active research about what works and what doesn’t. Use the areas listed above like a list of plays you want your students to practice and master.  Observe your students carefully and check for their level of engagement.  If they need more practice, call for extra practice!

Start with this question: “Am I stretching my students’ word knowledge by adding in …”

· Word meaning in multiple contexts?

· Word relationships (homophones, homographs, synonyms, antonyms)?

· Word analogies?

· Word etymology?

· Figurative language and literary devices (similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, etc.)?

 

Don’t worry, Shurley English provides the “playbook,” and when you teach it like you would the secret plays from a coach’s playbook, your students will gain the competitive edge they need in the future. Their ability to read, write, and speak in a variety of situations and for various purposes will equip them with the excellent communication skills that are in high demand in every field. Stay tuned for our next installment!

Early Reading: What is microcomprehension?

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I read some information today about what’s missing in reading comprehension instruction, and the research that was provided jumped off of the page for me!  I had to get used to some new terminology, but it all made perfect sense!

The article stated that the latest research in early literacy found that there is an extra step between decoding and comprehension that most of us don’t know about.  They even had a name for the missing skill: microcomprehension.

In a nutshell, microcomprehension is described as the work you do to build a mental model or “visualized graphic organizer” from a text during reading­­­.  The language skills that are required to create a mental model are absolutely critical to comprehension. 

To help you understand a solid mental model of a text, take a look at this passage from The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh:

It’s a very funny thought that, if Bears were Bees,

They’d build their nests at the bottom of trees.

And that being so (if the Bees were Bears),

We shouldn’t have to climb up all of these stairs.

 

If I removed the passage from in front of you and asked you to explain what you read, you probably couldn’t recite it word for word.  However, you could use the mental model you hopefully created to tell me the gist of it. 

Basically, it said that if bears were bees they would build their nests down low in the tree, and if bees were bears, they could just build their nest up high without having to climb all of the branches.

Reading research now tells us that developing readers do not need more practice working on answering comprehension questions.  What they do need is better microcomprehension.  They need to learn the skills that will help them to create a better mental model to help them make sense of what they read. 

I can honestly say that Shurley English covers all of the microcomprehension skills necessary to create a mental model in true Shurley style!  Repetition, of course, is key!  Students learn how to apply this beneficial extra step between decoding and comprehension and to use it automatically. 

Are you ready for strategies to improve microcomprehension? Are you ready to explore multi-sensory approaches to help your early readers break the reading code? We invite you to STAY TUNED, as we will discuss these topics and much more in our latest blog series entitled, Early Reading.

Teaching Silent Final E: The Catch-all Rule

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If you have been tracking with my series of silent final e posts, you don’t want to miss Part 4: The Catch-all Rule. My students always enjoy this one because of its name and how it works!

So far, you know the first 3 rules for why an e appears at the ends of some words. It is important that I remind you of those rules before discussing Rule 4. As students become more and more familiar with Silent Final E words, they will be able to use them as a sort of litmus test for new Silent Final E words they encounter. When students find new words to read and spell, they will be able to analyze them and even code them. (To learn more about word coding, check out the Shurley English website: www.shurley.com.) But for now, I can explain Rule 4, The Catch-all Rule, if you understand the first three rules.

Let’s say a student is aware of a new Silent Final E word. The word is seize. After discussing the word’s meaning and using it in several sentences, it is time to lock it into memory so that the spelling becomes easy…except, the silent e at the end just doesn’t seem to fit any of the rules. It isn’t there to make the interior vowel long. We know this because

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So, what is the only solution? Simple, the e is just there BECAUSE IT IS! If the silent final e isn’t there for any of the first three rules, then it meets Rule 4, The Catch-all Rule. Some linguists call this a “lazy e” because it is just there and does nothing except occupy space.

Believe me, kids love to analyze Silent Final E words if they know the system. Just you wait, when you notice kids purposely identifying WHY a Silent Final E resides at the end of a word or syllable, their spelling ability soars.

For more helpful spelling (…and reading) hints, take a look at our first and second grade levels of Shurley English. You’ll be surprised at just how dependable and predictable the rules are!

(This post is part of a series on Silent Final E. To start at the beginning, click here.)

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David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.

 

He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.

Silent Final E: The –le Ending Rule

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Back again with Part 3, which I call The –le Ending Rule for Rule 3.  If you have been checking in with my blog posts, I have been delving into the hows and whys of Silent Final E. (So far, we have discussed Rule 1 and Rule 2.)

Students easily understand this Rule 3 because it only has two major guidelines: 1) the word has to be more than one syllable long, and 2) the last syllable ends with –le. Sometimes, the last syllable may end with an “R” and needs a Silent Final E, but not as often in early vocabulary. Look at these examples. Imagine how they would be pronounced without the silent e.

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Did you notice that the pronunciation doesn’t really need the e in the final syllables? That’s because the last syllables in each of these examples contains an “L” (or an “R”). In the world of linguistics, “L” is sorta bossy…it likes to act like a syllable all by itself, even without a vowel to go with it. In an English syllable, that’s a No-No. So, we fix it by adding a Silent Final E after the syllabic “L”.
 

To recap, Rule 3 generally applies ANYTIME a multi-syllable word ends up with only consonants in its last syllable. Since all English syllables must have at least one vowel, we use an e. Look at the last syllables in these examples for a review. Now do you know why the e is there?

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Next time, we’ll conclude this series with The Catch-all Rule for Rule 4!

(This post is part of a series on Silent Final E. To start at the beginning, click here.)

Comment /Source

David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.

 

He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.

Teaching Silent Final E: The V-C-G-U Rule

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In Part 1 for Silent Final E, I discussed how Rule 1, The Split Vowel Spelling Rule, can ease students into the concept of a silent final e that makes a middle vowel sound long. This installment will further explain why many English words end with the silent final e—but for a different reason that is easy for kids to recognize.

One of the attributes I love about words is that they come into use in English from far and wide. They come into use from other countries and other times in history. Sometimes the remnants remain intact, particularly when it comes to spelling the words. For this reason, it helps kids to know that there are several groups of words that follow an easy to recall pattern. I call this Rule 2, The V-C-G-U Rule. You see, these four letters will not stand by themselves at the end of words that originally derive from English. Notice, I said “words that derive from English.” This is another way of saying that words from English will not naturally end in one of these four consonants. They won’t stand alone at the end of English words; instead, they will be followed by a silent final e. Take a look at this short list:

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You may have noticed that I placed the phrase short i in parentheses after the word live. Because live can also be pronounced with a Long I sound, I needed to clarify it. If the word were pronounce with the Long I sound, then we would be referring back to Rule 1, The Split Vowel Spelling Rule. Once again, teaching like this provides logical, systematic explanations for the wonderful—but quirky—thing we call the English Language.

In each of the words listed, if the e WAS NOT THERE, it would leave a V, a C, a G, or a U, standing there—all alone—at the end of a word. It just isn’t supposed to happen! If it DOES happen, then students have a baseline of understanding that the particular word seems like an exception…well, it is—sort of. If you see that a word is ending in a V, C, G, or U and is NOT followed by an e, then we know something important about that word—it did not derive originally from English. It came to us from some other language. This becomes very important information, especially for young students who are trying to wade through spelling issues.

Next time, I will introduce you to Rule 3 for Silent Final E. It’s called Rule 3, The –le Ending Rule. Stay tuned!

(This post is part of a series on Silent Final E. To start at the beginning, click here.)


Comment /Source

David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.

 

He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.