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How Can I Teach Literacy Skills in PreK? (Part 4: Embedding Practice Opportunities)

The last one in this PreK series, this blog will discuss meaningful ways to embed brief opportunities to practice skills to develop word recognition throughout the day, not just during “reading time”.

I’ve also used some of these, such as “Say the Password!”, in Kindergarten and 1st grade! Adapt as you see fit. These specific activities aren’t studied in the research literature, but instead support an overwhelming finding that brief, distributed practice opportunities help solidify understanding, curb forgetting, and improve achievement overall!

“Say the Password!” (Grapheme Review)

In order to continue to practice the letter-sound correspondences learned in whole group and small group time, I’d laminate an index card and placed in next to the door frame (this way, I could use a dry erase marker on it. If we had multiple doors (one for recess, on for hallway, for example), I would place one at each door, on each side of the door, entrance and exit (if possible). On it, I’d write the new grapheme (“m”, “a”, or “sh”). Each time the students entered or exited the classroom, they were to touch the grapheme and whisper the password. If they didn’t know it, I would provide it and ask them to repeat and touch. This was a very quick procedure and may have added 20 seconds, if that, to our walk time.

Depending on the time of year, I sometimes had up to three index cards (they touched all three and whispered) on the door frame. I’ve also had times when I’ve differentiated this–the students knew whether to touch the pink index cards or the blue ones, for example–when I had some PreK students significantly more advanced in skills than others.

Stomp it Out (Phoneme Practice To Line Up)

Although research suggests using graphemes to spell words and blend words improves phoneme awareness (PA) over oral PA practice, oral PA practice still gives extra opportunities to build PA in times when graphemes aren’t available or convenient to use.

One way I did this was to have student practice stomping out phonemes as they walked to line up. Students have to line up anyway, why not use this time to build skills and have fun? You can scaffold this as much as needed, until they can do it independently.

For this activity, I’d ask students to stand up and get ready to break up the sound in a word. Every time they said a sound, they could take a step toward the line. I’d try to use content words they’ve been learning, if it fit. For example, if we were studying the life cycle and hatching chicks from eggs, I’d tell students, “Say chick” (Chick!) “Now take a step each time you say a sound.” (/ch/-/i/-/k/!) Good! Now say beak…” I’d model with them the first few times, or mouth it and stomp with them if it was a particularly difficult word. When about half of the student had made it to the line (they learn to take big steps 😉 ), I’d say something like, “Great work thinking hard about sounds–you may all line up!” This added maybe 30-45 seconds to our line up procedures.

Morning Meeting

During Morning Meeting, I’d have a few things we did every morning until most had mastered, from the first day. The amount of scaffolding changed as the year progressed.

The first was to play this YouTube video of the song, Who Let the Letters Out?” During the blank beats, I’d make the sign/gesture for the letter and say the sounds the grapheme represented, following the curricula we used at the school, Johnny Can Spell. You can use the phoneme-grapheme correspondences from your curricula. For example, The song goes, “Who let the A out?” and then has blank beats with no lyrics. During those blank beats, I’d show the a gesture/sign and say “/ă/, /ā/, /ŏ/”. Then it sings, “Who let the B out?” and we’d sing, /b/, /b/, /b/, /b/ to match the beats. If it was a continuous sound, we’d stretch it out during the blank beats. For example, “Who let the F out?” /ffffffffffff/ during the beats.

I’d remind them to look at the letter while saying the sounds. Now, I said I did this from the first day of PreK. This is true. And on the first day, it was basically me singing by myself. But as the weeks went on, they picked up on more and more of the letter-sound correspondences and gestures, and by about October, we’re singing it largely independently.

As a caution, this was not how I introduced letters. This stayed in the same order everyday. During phonics, I still introduced letters according to our scope and sequence, focusing on one about every 2-3 days. And we still shuffled the flashcard deck everyday to review the learned graphemes before each phonics lesson. But this provided exposure and continued practice, giving students who were ready a challenge and students who were falling behind continued exposure and review. This added about 2 minutes (time of song) to our mornings.

Answering “How Do you Spell?” or “What Does this Say?” Questions

This question comes up alot–during centers, in the hallway, during math, at recess–and how you answer it can draw them back to thinking about letters, sounds, and words.

If a student asks, How do you spell “I love you, Mom?,” one way to respond is to say, “Hmmm. Let’s count the words and draw a line for each. ___ ____ ____ ____. Now lets sound them out and write them! I… how do we write the letter I? Yes, straight line down. Love… Sound it out with me, /llll/ /ŭ/ /v/, yes! Lets write each sound /lllll/-L, /uuuuu/, what can spell /uuuuu/? Yes, u can spell /uuuuu/. /vvvvv/… what can spell v? Great, v can spell /v/. Teaching students to be independent writer through inventive spelling (luv for love, for example), means they are likely to write more, practicing building their own phonemic awareness and phonics skills throughout the day.

If a student asks, What does that say? Pointing to a sign in the hallway, or on a math paper, answer it in a way that will teach them we can sound out words to read them–even outside of “reading time”! For example, if the sign says “Wet floor,” I’d ask the students to tell me the sounds (if they don’t know yet, give the sounds) and then have them blend it together, scaffolding this if needed as well (wwweeeetttt-wweett-wet!). If they know the f-l but not the -oor ending, I’d just say, this part spells /or/. Now try it! Then we’d read the entire phrase together and talk about why it says that (the meaning). I love seeing lightbulbs go off that they are readers, they can problem solve difficult words, and they have the power to read! This might add about a minute, if that, to whatever the task at hand was.

In Closing

These were just a few tips on embedding word recognition practice throughout the day, and I’m sure you all have many more! Leave them in the comments if you’d like to share. Maybe I’ll come back to add more later 🙂

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