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June 27. 2017

Teacher Tip: 15 Ways to Increase your Students’ Vocabulary

Vocabulary exists in our long-term memory. The process of learning a new word is first to notice and enter it into short-term memory and then to work with in ways that will make it part of the lexicon stored in long-term memory. Sophisticated readers constantly add new words to their vocabularies, but they have been developing their vocabularies over many years. These readers have learned powerful strategies for noticing important new words and deriving their meaning.

You cannot expect less sophisticated readers, and certainly not struggling readers, to pick up all their vocabulary from context as they read or even when they hear texts read aloud. Along with having students read lots of texts, you can use some simple techniques to help them learn the meaning of words:

  1. Introduce them to a wide range of words in interesting texts.
  2. Make sure they encounter a new word many times.
  3. Make sure they encounter a new word in many contexts.
  4. Provide explicit vocabulary instruction related to each text they read.
  5. Discuss word meanings with them.
  6. Teach them how to recognize the important words in a text.
  7. Help them recognize and use meaningful morphemes (word parts in longer words).
  8. Teach them to use context to derive the meanings of words.
  9. Teach them to use the dictionary or glossary as an aid to verifying meaning.
  10. Help them integrate previously known definitions with new ones as they meet them in in texts.
  11. Help them use new words in discussion and in writing.
  12. Teach them to make connections between words to understand their meaning.
  13. Help them understand words that are used figuratively.
  14. Help them develop deliberate strategies for leaning words.
  15. Encourage persistence and recognize success.

From When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2009 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

June 20. 2017

Teacher Tip: Use Games to Help Struggling Readers

Children need explicit teaching, prompting, and reinforcing during reading in order to learn how words work. Adding the engaging activity of a game can help struggling readers practice searching for the visual features of words and develop automaticity in word solving.

Here are some guidelines for using games as part of your instruction:

  • Have children play games with words that are known or that they can very easily solve. The idea is to develop automatic rapid recognition.
  • Be sure that the materials (word cards, for example) used in the game are very clear, standardized print so that children can recognize word features easily.
  • Play a game after directly teaching children how to play it.
  • Make sure that there is a cooperative spirit among the players (it’s only a game).
Some examples of word games you might recognize include:
  • Snap!
  • Concentration
  • Word Ladders
  • Lotto
  • Follow the Path

To learn more about games to play with struggling readers, see When Readers Struggle by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.

From When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2009 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

June 13. 2017

Teacher Tip: Write Letters Between You and Your Students

Your goal in using a reader’s notebook is to help students extend and express their thinking about reading. Being expected to write about their thinking places an extra layer of consciousness on readers. They are more likely to remember details and to store up responses they feel deeply about and want to include in their writing.

Letters between you and your students are a collection of thoughts over time as they develop as readers. Think of them as a written conversation about books. You can help children better communicate their thinking in several ways:

  1. You can model and demonstrate ways of expressing thinking through minilessons. Write a series of letters yourself and share them, letting students notice places where you have written about your thinking in various ways—noticing the language of the text, critiquing the text, making personal connections, comparing and connecting texts, and so on.
  2. You can talk with students about their letters during conferences, providing specific feedback.
  3. Students can bring their notebooks to the community meeting, finding places in their letters where they demonstrated their thinking and sharing selected paragraphs from their journals with partners or in small groups.
  4. You can lift or scaffold student’s thinking through your ongoing written exchanges with them.

Once you begin using reader’s notebooks, you’ll find that responding to students is fascinating rather than arduous If you enter into a genuine conversation, keeping strategic actions in mind, you will inevitably stretch your students’ thinking.

From Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

June 6. 2017

Help Students Choose Books for Independent Reading: A Teacher Tip from Fountas & Pinnell

The ability to choose books is not something you can expect your students to know. It is something you need to teach. What you are enthusiastic about and recommend is very powerful.

Here are some suggestions for helping students choose their independent reading books:

  • Have the collection well sorted and labeled by topic, genre, theme, author, illustrator.
  • As you observe student interests, create more baskets for particular topics, authors, or types of books.
  • Have a “book recommendations” rack.
  • Have students help set up new-book baskets.
  • Put books you have used in book talks on display so that they are easy to find.
  • Create book baskets that connect books: “If you liked ____, you’ll love ____.”
  • Create “exclusive” baskets of selections for individual students if needed.
  • Give book talks that motivate and legitimize student book choices (e.g., easy books, more difficult).
  • Provide as many minilessons as needed to help students understand how to choose just-right books.
  • Communicate to the entire class that choosing a just-right book, not a difficult book, is the expectation for the reading workshop.
  • Through conferences, help students learn to evaluate their own choices.
  • Share book reviews from journals or websites.

From Teaching for Comprehending & Fluency by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

May 30. 2017

4 Ways to Provide Reading and Writing Workshops in Limited Time Periods: A Teacher Tip from Fountas & Pinnell

Middle schools are usually departmentalized, with teachers working with different groups of students throughout the day. This kind of schedule can make it difficult for English and language arts teachers to teach comprehension and to get to know their students well as readers and writers in a short period once a day.

If you are locked into a fifty- or sixty- minute period and must teach all aspects of language arts and literature within it, you’ll need to be flexible. Here are some options for providing reading and writing workshops in limited time periods:

  1. Conduct both reading and writing workshops each day. Consider linking the reading and writing work through specific units of study some of the time and promoting self-selected reading and writing topics in between.
  2. Alternate the reading and writing workshop. Have the reading workshop for one or two weeks to include interactive read-aloud and independent reading, with minilessons sometimes focused on a particular genre, author, topic, literary element, or the reading process. Follow up with one to two weeks of the writing workshop to focus on units of study such as writer’s craft, convention, writing process, writing genre, author study, or topic focus. Specific reasons or genres for writing about reading are provided (e.g., letters, two-column entry, literacy essay). During those weeks students do not have reading or writing workshops, but students continue to read and work on writing at home.
  3. Provide a reading workshop for one quarter and then a writing workshop for one quarter. In addition to self-selected reading and writing, include several units of study. For example, focus on reading memoirs, personal narratives, and informational texts in one quarter and follow with writing in these genres the next quarter. Students continue to read and work on writing at home.
  4. Conduct a language/word study workshop to include word study, interactive read-aloud, and a poetry workshop on Monday. Follow with a reading workshop and a writing workshop on each of the other four days of the week.
From Teaching for Comprehending & Fluency by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

April 25. 2017

Six ways to help English language learners benefit from shared reading: A Teacher Tip from Fountas and Pinnell

From the very simple texts that kindergartners and first graders read in a shared way to the more sophisticated poems and readers' theater texts that upper elementary and middle school students enjoy, shared and performed reading are highly productive for English language learners. Here are some suggestions for helping English language learners benefit from shared and performed reading:

  1. Select texts for shared reading that have simple, easy sentences. Learning a new language is much more than decoding words. English language learners are learning new syntactic structures, and they need to absorb simple sentence patterns before they go on to complex ones. 
  2. Once a shared reading text is learned, it becomes a language resource for your students. You can use it as an example, revisiting the text to help children remember specific words or phrases. Individuals can refer to it to recall vocabulary or pattern their own writing after the language structures.
  3. Rhythmic and repetitive texts are beneficial to English language learners. The repetition will give them maximum experience with the syntax of English and will help them develop an implicit understanding of noun-verb agreement, plurals, and other concepts.
  4. Personal poetry books made up of poems used in shared reading are texts older learners can return to again and again to revisit meaning, vocabulary, and language structures. Rereading this material, even overlearning it, will support fluency.
  5. If you are able to find some traditional rhymes or songs from students' own languages, you can use these for shared and performed reading. If they are not too complicated, all students will enjoy reading them in a shared way. 
  6. English translations of traditional rhymes or songs in students' native languages are a great resource. Try "echo" reading with one group reading a line in English and the other group echoing the line in the other language.


Adapted from Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann. 

April 18. 2017

Three Tips for Selecting Texts for Shared Reading: A Teacher Tip from Fountas and Pinnell

In August of this year, there will be a beautiful collection of authentic, original Shared Reading books available for sale with the new Fountas & Pinnell Classroom(TM). In the meantime, here are three tips on how to select texts you can use for Shared Reading in your classroom community.

The first consideration is that the text for shared reading should be worth reading and rereading. The content, the story, and the language must engage the readers. In selecting texts, consider the readers' ages, previous experiences, and levels of expertise in processing text. What may seem too difficult for beginning readers becomes available because of teacher support, and because the texts are so engaging. Consider stories, poems, chants, and songs as well as fascinating informational books.

  1. Choose texts that provide early experiences with print. Children in preschool and kindergarten generally need a simple text with bold, colorful illustrations and engaging content. To get started, choose a text with only one line of print per page with clear spaces between words. Print and illustrations should be clearly separated. In fiction, select simple stories and nonfiction topics that are close to students' own experiences. The language should have some repetition with simple structures. You can also use simple four- or five-line poems for shared reading with young children. After a couple of readings, the rhyme and rhythm carry the readers along. It is easy to read when supported by the group and the teacher's pointer. 
  2. Choose texts that lead the development of an early reading process. Select enlarged texts that are just beyond those that most children can process in guided reading. Students can read more lines of print and more complex stories or informational books with more text. These books should still have some repetition or longer repeating patterns, and language that engages students. 
  3. Choose texts that promote the construction of meaning and the development of language. All high-quality texts support students' attention to the construction of meaning and the talk that surrounds it. Shared reading promotes opportunities for meaningful talk and the development of language structures. Wordless picture books have enormous potential for productive work in shared reading; children can engage in meaning making even without print. 
Adapted from Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (C) 2017 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

April 4. 2017

Six Ways to Guide Student Choice in Literature Study: A Teacher Tip from Fountas & Pinnell

Selecting a book is a complex task, but one that is well worth learning. As adults, we select books that offer opportunities to relax and enjoy ourselves. While we don't specifically choose books to increase our reading skills, we may challenge ourselves to get to know a new author or genre. Students, too, might want to learn to read a new author or genre or increase the variety of their reading. Generally, however, they select books just as we do: they choose one that looks interesting. 

Initially, they may not know how to choose well, so you will want to teach them how to think about selecting a book that works best for them. Here are six ways you can show students how to choose books.

  1. Listen to a book talk and match characteristics of the book to their interests.
  2. Examine book covers, cover copy, and illustrations.
  3. Sample a bit of the text to get a feel for the language and the author's style.
  4. Think about the topic, considering their interests and previous knowledge.
  5. Think about how the book matches their own reading background and experience and whether they would need to listen to an audio version or another person read it to them.
  6. Consider whether the book will offer challenges or opportunities to expand their knowledge or skill.

Adapted from Guiding Readers and Writers by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2001 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann. 

March 21. 2017

12 Suggestions for Supporting Fluency through Whole-Class Instruction: A Teacher Tip from Fountas & Pinnell

Fluency is a critical aspect of our students' development as readers, and we cannot assume that they will develop it on their own. Many children will require careful teaching in whole-group, small-group, and individual contexts; the lens of fluency can be applied to all three. Here are 12 suggestions for supporting fluent reading through whole-class instruction:

  1. Provide consistent, daily demonstrations of fluent phrased reading.
  2. Draw students' attention to aspects of fluency as you have demonstrated them in each interactive read-aloud.
  3. Focus on the meaning of the text, and reflect the meaning with your voice.
  4. Demonstrate rereading to gain fuller understanding.
  5. Draw attention to language that evokes images or has a poetic quality.
  6. Use shared reading of a common enlarged text.
  7. Teach students to use partner reading.
  8. Use readers' theater to help students find the "voice" in dialogue.
  9. Engage the whole class in choral reading of poems and longer texts.
  10. Have students select some poems to memorize.
  11. Provide many easy books in the classroom library that students can "sail through" for pleasure.
  12. Create a listening center with audio books.

Adapted from Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

March 14. 2017

Guidelines for Selecting Books for Interactive Read-Aloud: A Teacher Tip from Fountas & Pinnell

Sometimes teachers are tempted simply to pick up a handy book and read it, and it is certainly true that students can enjoy and benefit from any wonderful book. But if you want to get the most instructional power from interactive read-aloud, it is important to plan for teaching in a more precise way. Here are some guidelines for selecting books for interactive read-aloud.

  • Look for texts that you know your students will love (funny, exciting, connected to their experiences, able to extend their thinking.)
  • Select texts appropriate to the age and interests of your students.
  • Select texts that are of high quality (award winners, excellent authors, high-quality illustrations).
  • Plan selections so that you present a variety of cultures; help students see things from different perspectives.
  • Choose texts that help students understand how people have responded to life's challenges.
  • Consider books on the significant issues in the age group--peer pressure, friendship, families, honesty, racism, competition.
  • Especially for younger readers, select texts that help them enjoy language--rhythm, rhyme, repetition.
  • Select different versions of the same story to help students make comparisons.
  • Evaluate the texts to be sure the ideas and concepts can be understood by your students.
  • Plan selections that appeal to both boys and girls.
  • Mix and connect fiction and nonfiction.
  • Repeat some texts that have been loved by former students.
  • Vary genres so that students listen to many different kinds of texts--articles, poems, fiction, informational texts.
  • Select informational texts, even if they are long; you can read some interesting parts aloud and leave the books for students to peruse on their own.
  • Choose texts that will expand your students' knowledge of others' lives and empathy.
  • Choose texts that will help students reflect on their own lives.
  • Select texts that you love and tell students about them.
  • Select texts that build on one another in various ways (sequels, themes, authors, illustrators, topics, settings, structure).
  • Link selections in ways that will help students learn something about how texts work.
  • Select books that provide good foundations for minilessons in reading and writing.
  • Consider the curriculum demands of your district; for example, link texts with social studies, science, or the cor literature program.
  • Select several texts that help listeners learn from an author's style or craft.
  • Select texts that offer artistic appreciation.
  • Select fiction and nonfiction texts on the same general topics.
  • Consider "text sets" that are connected in various ways--theme, structure, time period, issues, series, author illustrator, and genre.
Adapted from Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.