Happy Spring! Spring brings vacation, a break from the daily routine, and time to rejuvenate and rebuild energy needed to support us through the rest of the school year. Spring brings new growth and a freshness outside. Let’s bring some of that newness and fresh life into our classrooms too.

I know I’ve felt it, and observed it in many of us – Keeping up the energy needed to stay the course with our instruction is hard! The end of the school year is nearing, we are tired, our students are tired; it’s been a long year.

There is a lot of learning time left when we return to our classrooms after our spring break, time that is essential to many of our students’ continuing growth and reading development. It is no secret that it is a challenge for us to keep up the daily intensity needed when planning lessons for our students and teaching those lessons. I don’t mean to throw a ratchet in the cog of your spring break here! But let’s face the reality that we have some serious teaching left to do and then find ways to rejuvenate our teaching in order to keep our students’ learning moving forward.

This blog suggests ways to stay the course with what you are already doing and then in each area highlighted, ways to switch it up! Maybe these ideas will stimulate memories of teaching methods you have used in the past and forgotten about using!

Decoding Instruction – Stay the Course

Keep a targeted focus through your systematic reading instruction. Do you know what phonic elements your students have mastered and which ones may need some more practice? Consider updating a phonics survey[1] for your lower level students and plan your lessons to target the areas that emerge as needing more instruction and practice.

Switch it Up!

  1. After students read the target phonics practice words, ask them to spell them. Dictate a selection of the words to students. Give them a plastic Dixie© plate with a dry erase marker and eraser. Use this plate as a response board – students write the dictated word on the plate, hold it up for you to check, erase it, and then write the next word. When we reverse the process – first decode and then encode, we help create stronger wiring for the information – quicker word recognition!
  2. Remember meaning. Phonics lessons can and should incorporate meaning. Dictate the word items to students as students write the words on 3x5 cards. Then with their word cards they have just created displayed on the desk in front of them, play the Clue Game. “What word am I thinking of? This is something on an animal. It moves quickly when the animal sees me.” Find it. The students then finds “tail”, reads it, and holds it up.

Vocabulary – Stay the Course

Continue to choose high utility words from student reading materials and your read alouds to teach and use. Just a few a day. Remember, students add words to their breadth of knowledge from hearing them used – our implicit instruction. We also teach vocabulary explicitly, including several dimensions of the word items in our lesson: read the word, note its spelling, provide a meaning and then examples of how the word is used in several contexts, highlight roots and affixes, and other forms of the word, antonyms and synonyms.

Switch it up!

  1. Play Word Wizards to raise a consciousness for the words you choose to teach. Post the words in the room. Every student has a sticky paper on their desk. Challenge your students to listen for you using the words. When they hear you use one of the vocabulary words, they raise their hand. You acknowledge that you used a word, ask one of the students to say the word they heard. The students whose hands were up, give themselves a tally mark on the sticky-paper on their desks. They try to “catch” you using the words.
  2. Then, the next day, reverse the process. Students incorporate the vocabulary words throughout the day as they respond to questions or comment on their learning. The teacher acknowledges when she hears the vocabulary words being used and tallies their use on the board in front of the room.

Writing – Stay the Course

Keep up your daily writing. We know that writing every day, even a sentence or two, or written responses to questions about their learning, helps students become fluid writers.

Switch it up!

Before reading informational text set students up for a writing activity.

  • Give students colored paper. Fold the paper into horizontal thirds.
    • In the top section, ask students to reflect on something in the text they think it is important for others to know. Give students a stem to help them if needed: I think it is important for others to know _______ because _______.
    • In the middle section ask students to write something new they learned (or something they already knew). I learned _______________. Or, My learning was reinforced when I read ________________.
    • In the bottom section, write something they think would be good for a class discussion and then ask students to lead discussions about their choices: I think it would be good to talk about ________________.

Read Alouds – Stay the Course!

I hope that you all have a daily read-aloud time. Read alouds are a favorite way among teachers and students to leave the stress behind and enjoy a good story together. I am sure you have your favorites to read aloud to your students. There is no better way to build empathy, understanding, and hear rich varied vocabulary used than through a well written narrative.

Switch it up!

We are learning more and more about the value of topical reading. One of our past errors, as it turns out, was reading several passages to students, each about different topics! Make sure you are reading informational passages to your students every day, but make it topical reading! Read several books and passages about the same topic. Research is clear about how the brain receives and stores information and by reading from several sources, we build upon existing knowledge with each successive reading, new vocabulary, stronger connections, deeper source of knowledge that actually extends into other known related topics.

  1. Decide upon a topic that will interest the students and you. This can be done through class discussion.
  2. Choose several texts and articles about the topic. Read the materials to students.
  3. As students learn more and more about the topic, ask students to create graphics, charts, visuals with labels, etc., whatever fits with the information. Create a display of the students’ learning. Add to the display with each reading. Watch the students’ learning about your topic grow and develop! What a fun project to end the school year!

Spring brings new life and enthusiasm. The snows are melting, the sun seems brighter and your classrooms can benefit from new life too! I hope you enjoy Switching It Up to keep the learning flowing with the ideas I suggested here!

[1] CORE Assessing Reading Multiple Measures, DIBELS Deep, Read Naturally Quick Phonics Screener, Really Great Reading – Diagnostic Decoding Surveys.