Monday, September 26, 2011

How I plan for my first grader's reading block

I wanted to write a post to explain how I've been planning reading for my first grader in case it might help some of you out there.  As a former special education teacher who worked with struggling readers, I have pretty firm beliefs about what components should be included daily for beginning readers to build a solid foundation of reading and writing skills.  Therefore, our reading/language arts (R/LA) block each day has the same general components or activities which include:  writing, guided reading, re-reading, working with words, and independent reading.  During our R/LA block I work directly with my little guy for the most part.  We can usually complete everything in about 45 minutes give or take, and I don't usually time it, so that's an estimate.  During the time I work with my first grader, my fourth grader is doing his own 30 minutes of independent reading from a self-selected text as well as reading the next chapter of our focus literature text.

We usually start with writing, but not for any particular reason.   I am using my son's interest in Legos to encourage his writing.  To start the school year I had him create a scene with his Legos.  Then I had him act out the scene.  I took "action" photos as he moved the pieces and narrated the story.  Then I printed all the photos out on printer paper, one per page, and he wrote his own book using his ideas and his own Lego creation as a basis for the story.  He wrote one page per day until this book was finished.  Below you can see the first page of the book.  He never complained once about writing!!  He finished his fire truck story and is now working on writing a page each day in a Lego Mini-Figure book I made for him.  He writes two sentences in this book each day.  I'll try to remember to post photos of that book sometime soon.

Guided reading is a "teacher" term that simply means reading with some adult support.  I use printed books from Reading A-Z as the basis for my first grader's guided reading texts right now because most readers that are commercially available for young readers are either a.) too phonetic or b.) too hard.  Reading A-Z offers a range of printable books with lesson plans (which I don't use, but they're very well-done) for the most beginning readers (one or two words per page) through about the fifth grade reading level.  For my example in this post, I'm showing the book Scaredy Crow, which I chose as our focus text last week. Once I selected that core text, we pulled skills from it throughout the week which I'll show in a minute.  The first day, my son and I looked through the book at the pictures and talked about the story.  I pointed out a few words I knew he wouldn't know and also told him and pointed out the names of the main characters.  We also talked about some features of the text such as quotation marks around the words the characters spoke.  Then I had him do his "first reading" of the book.  The next day and one other day during the week he re-read it to me.  More about that below.  In the photo you can see the book along with a cut and paste worksheet I found with -ow words.  Since the book made reference to "scarecrows" and "crows", we used -ow words for some of our word work this week.  

 Re-reading previously read texts is very important for emerging readers and may be something you haven't thought to have your students do.  Here's why it's so important.  The first time a child reads a new text, they are focusing so much on pulling the words off the page that their fluency (how smoothly they read) does not have a chance to develop.  Additionally, they are working so hard to solve unknown words that their comprehension may be somewhat affected as well. sure to have them go back and re-read at least short bits of text they've previously read.  I always have my little guy re-read a new book at least one time.  Poems are also a great type of text to re-read several times because their rhythmic nature can really facilitate reading fluency.   This week I found two poems about crows and scarecrows online.  I printed them out and read them to my first grader on Day 2 of our week.  I had him select the one he wanted to learn, then we read it together a few times.  He continued to practice this poem throughout the week and read it to his grandmas on the weekend.  And boy did his fluency improve!!!  I had him illustrate the poem and we'll put it into a poetry binder along with other poems we use and learn in this way.

Our "word work" time each day always consists of working with both sight words and decodable words in some way.  I wrote some about our sight words and word wall in this post.  Each day we review the sight words on his "word ring" and practice spelling them in some way (i.e. writing on marker board, writing with gel pens on black paper, spelling with magnet letters, stamping with letter stamps).  Additionally, we do more word work either with a lesson from All About Spelling (3 times per week) and/or with a skill I've pulled from our focus text.  This week as I said above, we worked on words with -ow (long o sound) since it tied into our story and poem for the week.  One day I spelled the word scarecrow with our magnet letter tiles (on a burner cover........these are great, cheap magnet boards!) and had him rearrange the letters to make new words, then he wrote those words in his spelling notebook.

One final extension we did this week was making a "scarecrow" book.  I found a simple graphic in Microsoft Word and printed three pages with the text "My scarecrow can scare away _________" and my first grader filled in an animal name and drew it next to the scarecrow.  The last page said, "But he doesn't scare me!!"   You can see one of his pages below.

So that's how I plan a well-rounded, interest-driven reading program for my little guy.  I'm really happy so far with how it's going.

OOPS!  I almost forgot!  I also have him read for about 15-20 minutes to himself each day.  He can choose any of the books we've done with guided reading, but he usually chooses from a box of Scholastic Lego Readers that we have.  One funny thing........he loves to go into his little "reading cave" to do this.  He uses a laundry basket with blankets draped over the top and sits inside to do his reading.  Luckily, I can hear him reading inside the cave so I know he's not just chilling out in there!!  The photo below shows his little reading cave.  In this photo he's sitting on a chair in our schoolroom, but now he usually sets it all up on the end of the couch.  His little stuffed kitties go inside the cave with him and he lines it with pillows, then puts his box of books in the laundry basket part.  He sure couldn't read this way in public school!!  It's great to be a homeschooler!!!


  1. You are awesome! Wish you had been homeschooling last year.
    My son also LOVES Legos. I am going to do the story book. He loves to write stories. I also did not know about scholastic Lego books. Buying some today!

  2. The Scholastic LEGO books are awesome. I'm sure he'll love them. We have every single one that we've been able to find!

  3. This is really, really helpful! I'm learning a lot from you on how to teach my kindergartener to read in a systematic way. You are fantastic!

  4. Hi, Jamie! Good to hear from you! I'm glad you are finding it helpful. I'll try to post something every week or so about how I'm planning reading for my emergent reader.

  5. Laura: I cannot begin to tell you how helpful this post was to me! My first grader is really struggling to develop fluency and I was struggling to know how to help her. This post helped me clarify my thoughts on our reading time, as well as adding more extension activities and rereading. Thanks SO much!

  6. Hi Laura, I am a 3 1/2-4 1/2 yr old daycare teacher, and want to express my heartfelt thanks for all of your postings on My Montessori I found this marvelous resource a couple of months ago, and have gone over and over your July 2008 postings on Montessori reading with profit. I made the sandpaper letters, got many interested comments from other teachers at my center on the salt tray (I just give the credit to Maria Montessori!), and made sound books and picture books with Google images--all as you suggested.
    I wonder if you can give me other ideas for reinforcement of letters, because while the kids so far are accepting of rubbing their fingers a couple of times a week over sandpaper letters and doing the salt tray, I can foresee their balking in the future as they get accustomed/bored with the same-old same-old. Can you refer me elsewhere?

    I wanted you to know that your earlier blog is still being used by people who stumble upon it by accident, and then get caught up as I did in the wealth of info contained therein. I am so grateful and in your debt for all of your fantastic ideas and tips in this blog which I have used and also passed along to my co-teachers. You will surely reap your reward in Heaven (I'm serious) for all your hard work. Thanks so much for all you do.


  7. We are like-minded when it comes to reading instruction for emerging readers. I taught kindergarten for six years and now I am deciding on curriculum for my own kindergartener! Would you recommend All About Reading or a subscription to Reading a-z?

  8. Thank you for your time and efforts. I stumbled upon your site through pins. I plan to return and apply to aid my 5 & 6 yr old boys.