Sunday / July 21

Building the Reading Foundation One Engagement Strategy at a Time 

Learning to read is laborious. Students’ minds are constantly decoding words, remembering what they have read, and making sense of the text. It’s no wonder so many students decide reading just isn’t for them by the middle grades! This doesn’t have to happen, though. Teachers in the primary grades can turn students on to reading for years to come. How? By utilizing highly effective engagement strategies that put students in charge!  

Implement simple, effective routines.  

Routines give students necessary predictability in their days. Well-established routines are the cornerstone of a successful literacy block, as they allow students to fully engage in the content of a lesson, rather than the process. This is not to say that lessons never change—quite the opposite. Our suggestion is to model and practice new routines over the course of several weeks until students follow them precisely. Then change the content and periodically give routines and practice pieces minor makeovers to keep lessons fresh and exciting.  

For example, young readers should practice encoding words daily. Start with a simple dictation routine where students record some words with teacher support, some words independently, and a sentence. When you need to switch it up to add the engagement factor, have students take dictation on their desks with a dry erase marker instead. Students can still focus on the content of the lesson but bending the rules and writing on the desks ups the engagement factor!  

Incorporate various engagement styles into whole group instruction.  

We have all heard over and over to teach to the different engagement styles of your students. This is easier said than done! The key to incorporating various learning styles into whole group instruction is planning. A well-planned lesson with strong content can easily include the engagement factor. Consider lessons that teach to various styles by doing the following:   

Display visuals to serve as a classroom reference point: 

  • anchor charts 
  • Smartboard, Promethean board, or PowerPoint slides 
  • quick reference posters 
  • short videos 
  • real world examples 

Add in movement throughout lessons to aid retention:  

  • Student demonstrations to show responses  
  • Motions to represent key content, such as vocabulary words or phonics patterns  
  • Phonemic awareness games with movement 
  • Requiring students to move to change partners throughout part of a lesson  

Incorporate music and videos to help students remember key content: 

  • Simple songs and chants that help students remember phonics rules, such as “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking”  
  • Videos that personify specific sound-spelling patterns, such as vowel_e 
  • Dr. Jean sing alongs 

Have class discussions that engage learners verbally and encourage students to describe learning in their own words: 

  • Academic conversations 
  • Read and repeat 
  • Question stems   
  • Partner and small group work  

Knowing the content of your lesson and being confident in what you’re teaching allows a you to be creative and create add-ons for different learning styles. You can also seek out well-rounded resources, such as Puzzle Piece Phonics, that are written for diverse students and include the above strategies throughout.  

Give students ample time to work together.  

Along with whole group instruction, students need time to work together to practice their reading skills. This means creating “you do together” activities that encourage students to work with each other in an equally accountable way. Students should be assigned specific roles and taught specifically how to complete partner activities. For example, students can play Read and Trade, a favorite in Puzzle Piece Phonics, Kindergarten. Students each have a card with words containing the weekly focus sound-spelling patterns. Students circulate and partner up with a peer. Each peer takes a turn reading their partner’s card. Students help each other if they get stuck. Then partners trade cards and move around the room to find a new partner. All students are accountable for reading their partners’ words, and the activity incorporates movement and the joy of working together!  

We all know that not all students are on the same working level. This is where simple differentiation in the key! Each child needs to be challenged and successful, but teachers also need to be able to manage their students’ needs. Our suggestion is to teach students the same content, but to differentiate their tasks. For example, teach all students the vowel_e spelling of long a, but have differentiated sorts and practice for leveled groups.  

Celebrate student independence.   

Primary students start off the year needing their teacher for support in reading. They gain independence with each lesson taught. Setting weekly reading goals and holding students accountable for previously taught literacy skills will aide them in finding their independence. Students stay focused and are in charge of their learning.  

An easy tip for this strategy is to implement quick, consistent check points. We suggest a weekly spelling check and/or comprehension check. Each week students and families can see how well students have mastered focus sound-spelling patterns by writing words and by completing a cold read of a text with the focus patterns. Students realize that their efforts during the week pay off. You can also identify student needs intervene—either to remediate or extend!   

Like any instructional best practice, building engagement strategies take time. Once students get the routines down, hone in on their learning styles, work together, and celebrate their independent success. Then take a step back and soak in the view. What will you see? Engagement for all: no matter their ability, level, or background.  

Written by

Puzzle Piece Phonics began when three teachers, Carolyn Banuelos, Danielle James, and Elise Lund, frustrated by the flaws in the phonics resources they used, harnessed their creativity, their curricular understanding, their practicality, and their can-do talents to design a program that reflects how students best acquire phonics knowledge. The result? A unique and engaging curriculum designed with a scope and sequence that teachers can easily adapt, and supported by student resources that encourage young learners to instantly apply phonics concepts to their reading and writing. The authors are available for onsite PD at your school!

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