Reading / Language Arts

What will be the focus for this school year?

As a teacher, I am required to use the standards set by the state of California. For Reading Language Arts and Math, I have to follow the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS); for Science, the next Next Generations Science Standards (NGSS); for English Language Development (ELD), Social Studies, Arts, Health, and Physical Education, the California State Standards. Common Core State Standards also have literacy standards on other subjects including science, social studies and other technical subjects. The technology standards are also embedded on the Common Core State Standards. To learn more about these, click this page:

(On a different post, I will explain further what these new standards are and how these look like in the classroom.)


How do we work on reading?

Reading has no short cuts. It involves a lot of hard work but if done consistently and with the help of the parents, the students, and technology we will show improvement in reading decoding and reading comprehension. I can not make a blanket statement that everybody will have a dramatic improvement in reading. Some will; some will have slow and little improvements.

My focus can be found in my room. My bulletin boards show “The FACES of Good Readers.

Here’s a picture of my bulletin board in the classroom to show how I highlight the FACES of Good Readers.


FACES is an acronym for

  • Fluency
  • Accuracy
  • Comprehension
  • Expanded Vocabulary
  • Strategies for Test Taking

FLUENCY: Fluency is done with fluency instruction, fluency practice and fluency assessments. We work on word fluency (words in isolation) everyday using PowerPoint slideshows featuring 100 high frequency words. I also send home a list of 20 words per week that students should read daily. Why high frequency words? These words comprised 60-70% of every text the students read. Students should not spend all their energy figuring out words that they should be able to read automatically. Some parents may think the students are just memorizing these words. Students should be able to recognize these words quickly as many of these words do not even follow the rules of phonics (e.g. the, are, many). These high frequency words once mastered will change. We will be working with 1200 high frequency words throughout the school year. As the reading fluency improves, there should also be an improvement in reading comprehension.

Download: High Frequency Words: The first 100 words (Words 1 to 100). HighFreqWords1-100 (click to download). This is a PowerPoint file so you must have PowerPoint, PowerPoint reader or a similar program. We are now working the the second 100 words (Words number 101 to 200).

We also work on phrase fluency. This means students should be able to read a chunk or group of words as a phrase. Students who have reading difficulties read one word at a time sounding like a robot without the appropriate phrasing and appropriate expression.  Other than the list of 20 words that I send home for daily reading, I also send home a story per week for students to read.

Assessments: Students are assessed weekly to see what words have been mastered and to see if the reading fluency rate has improved. Students then graph their scores and are posted on the bulletin board. Each student has a goal of improving their fluency rate by 2-5 words every week. I also administer DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) Progress Monitoring so I have an online record of students fluency rates and retelling scores. The scores and observed reading behavior of students will give me an idea on what to teach the following week.

ACCURACY: There is daily phonics instruction regardless of grade. I focus on the decoding strategies and the use of the curriculum, i.e. California Treasures. This allows me to teach or reteach important phonics rules that will help students decode grade level textbooks and other materials. This is done before we read the story of the week as it helps students easily recognize words used in the story.

One example of a rule that the students have learned this week is the use of “ck” in spelling a word. As a rule, there is a short vowel sound that precedes the “ck” spelling. This will help students read words with this spelling pattern as most words will always have a short vowel preceding that spelling pattern. Why is the word lack spelled with a ck and why is the word bleak spelled using the letter k?

Assessments: At the end of that instructional week, students are “assessed” if they have mastered the lesson. It is not a spelling test. We focus on how to listen to each sound in a word and figure out what letter to write.The words usually start with three letter words. Then it slowly becomes a four letter word, then a two to three syllable word. Again, the focus here are strategies. This will lessen student’s dependence on adults with spelling when they are writing. This will also increase students’ self confidence when writing.

COMPREHENSION: As we read a story a week, we do close reading to dissect the text to better understand the story. We focus on different elements such as

  • word use and vocabulary
  • main idea / central idea / theme
  • plot
  • characters and character traits
  • text structure

Assessments: Depending on the story, students show understanding of the text through the use of:

  • Main Idea: Students, orally or through the use of graphic organizers, identify the main idea and supporting details.
  • Retell: After reading, the students tell the story again but using their own words. Once a week, I also administer DIBELS progress monitoring. The student is asked to read a text that has not been read before. The student is timed for a minute. The student gets a reading fluency rate. There is also a component in DIBELS (benchmark assessments or progress monitoring assessments) that asks students to read a text for a minute and do a retell if the student has read at least 40 correct words per minute. The teacher tallies all the elements that a student answered and also marks grades on the quality and sequence of these elements.
  • Summary: Students may also write the summary after using a graphic organizer.
  • Thinking Maps: These are advanced graphic organizers that students use. For example, when describing a character, students use the Bubble Map. When comparing and contrasting, students use the Double Bubble Map. When showing the plot, students use the Flow Map.


EXPANDED VOCABULARY: Part of the reading language arts program is learn how to understand the meaning of words used in the text. We focus on different vocabulary strategies that students may use as they read stories and other text. Students look for:

  • context clues: New words are often understood in the context of the sentence or paragraph. Some words with multiple meanings can be best understood in context. Students look for clues within that paragraph to figure out the meaning of the word.
  • This is a picture of a visual aid in my classroom:
    • Context Clues
  • appositives, apposition, comma, or comma sets: Some words are followed by comma or a pair of commas and a phrase. These are known as appositives. Appositives can show the synonyms or definition of the word, a description, or show an example.
  • This is a picture of a visual aid in my classroom:
    • Apposition
  • cognates: The use of cognates allows English language learners to use their home language as a resource for learning new academic words in English. It is particularly helpful for students who speak Latin-based languages, including French. Cognates are words that have a similar spelling, pronunciation, and meaning across two languages. When students recognize words as cognates, they can access unfamiliar English words and better understand what they read. For example, the word abolish can be easily understood by Spanish speaking students if they are familiar with its Spanish cognate “abolir“. Teachers and students should be extra careful since there are false cognates. These are words that may appear to have an equivalent to the other language but have a different definition. For example, the English word camp may have a Spanish counterpart. However, the Spanish word “campo” does not translate to camp but to countryside. The Spanish word for camp is “campamento“.
  • This is a picture of a visual aid in my classroom:
    • Cognates
  • word parts: Sometimes the word can give clues to the meaning of the word. If you break the word apart, students will see commonly used prefixes and suffixes. They might also recognize the base word, the word stripped with affixes. For example, the word exporter can be broken into:
    • ex- : This means out
    • port: This means carry
    • -er: This means one who
    • So the word exporter can mean “a person who carries something out”.
  • This is a picture of a visual aid in my classroom:
    • Word Structure

Throughout the schoolyear, students will learn prefixes, suffixes, and other morphemes not only to help improve their spelling but also to improve in understanding vocabulary.

We also employ other strategies for these words to become more meaningful to students. We use

  • word maps: This is a graphic organizer where a word has
    • synonyms
    • antonyms
    • is used in a sentence
    • drawings or illustrations
    • Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 6.22.29 PMScreen Shot 2015-09-12 at 6.23.02 PM  Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 6.22.08 PM
  • visual imaging: Students associate the word to a mental image.
    • Here’s an example showing a visual definition of the word fiery
    • fiery
  • actions / movements: Students associate a word with a corresponding movement. For example, to remember the words greater and lesser in math, students made the gestures to show big (greater) and to show small (lesser).
  • glossary, dictionary, thesaurus: There are times that you can not use other strategies but use the dictionary. My problem with dictionaries is these are not often available especially during tests. During the recent CAASPP tests, the new state standardized testing, students have access, although limited, to a glossary. When a student hovers the cursor to a word, sometimes a definition appears.


STRATEGIES for test taking: Tests and assessments are a reality in ANY classroom. It can be a paper and pen, it can be a standardized test, and it can also be an informal test where students do not even know they are being assessed. The focus is what to do when given tests so as to lessen test anxiety.

Students are always reminded on what to do during tests and assessments. After each student is assessed, the student and I look at mistakes and how these can be avoided and how students can improve their scores. For example, during fluency assessments, some students would skip a line. That tells me that the student needs help tracking. The student and I would then look for a tracking device (e.g. a bookmark, a ruler, a finger) and try which one would work.


As we work on reading comprehension questions, a strategy we are working on is what is stated in the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) anchor standards for reading. Students should be able to cite evidence to support their answers. The answer may be explicitly stated on the text or it may be implied. Explicit or implicitly stated, students should be able to cite evidence to support their answers.

The students are still working on close reading.


The students are still working on how to do annotations when we are reading a story or any text. Since last wee, we have been reading the story “A river ran Wild”. We use pens to highlight important words. We do it together so we can discuss how to determine important words. We also write the main idea on top of the page. When we do not understand a sentence or a word, we write a question mark.

This book is about the Nashua River and the impact of human activities from 1400s to 1970s. The students have been doing annotations (highlighting important words, writing symbols like ? and *, and writing the main idea on each page). The book does not really specify the years 1400s, 1600s, 1850s, 1960s, and 1970s but the students, after several readings, can figure these out sometimes with the help of the teacher. The annotations will help students fill out a chart by answering these questions. Students’ written responses should include page numbers to show support their answers with evidence. All these questions are to be answered in the 4 time periods implicitly mentioned in the story, i.e. 1400s, 1600s, 1850s, 1960s, and 1970s. I have taken pictures of my students’ written responses.

  • What was happening in or around the river?
    • 1400s
    • 1600s
    • 1850s
    • 1960s
    • 1970s
  • How did the people use the Nashua River?
    • 1400s
    • 1600s
    • 1850s
    • 1960s
    • 1970s
  • How did the people change the river?
    • 1400s
    • 1600s
    • 1850s
    • 1960s
    • 1970s
  • Was the change positive or negative?
    • 1400s
    • 1600s
    • 1850s
    • 1960s
    • 1970s


Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 12.58.44 PM

I took many ideas from Dave Stuart Jr.’s site (click to open a new window).

This week, the focus on close reading is purposeful annotations. This may look differently each time. If the purpose is to learn the content:

  • Summarize a sentence or paragraph
  • Paraphrase a sentence or paragraph
  • Circle and define key words

If the purpose is to respond to a specific prompt, then read the prompt first, look what is being as this will guide the reader what to annotate. The list below might be of help:

To annotate purposely, students should:

  • annotate while reading
  • make 2-3 annotations per page as this will make our brains look for what’s most important
  • annotate during the first, second, or third read

I want to point out that “purposeful annotation is meant to make their post-reading work both stronger and more efficient. By choosing to annotate only portions of the text that they want to address further in the writing or speaking we’ll be doing after reading, they’re allowing their brain to leave those breadcrumbs on the page rather than keeping those notes in their brains”.

The core idea is that annotation should help the reader during and after reading. This means teaching students how to annotate appropriately and how this will help them in understanding any text and eventually with their writing.

Post- Purposeful Annotation Image

Comprehension: This week the third grade students read First Day Jitters. This is a fun read for the students. We read the text three times. Students initially thought that the main character is a child so they kept referring to Mr. Hartwell as Sarah’s father. At the end, the realized who Sarah really is. When we did our second and third reading, we focused on the “tricks” that the author and illustrator employed to make the readers think that the main character is just a student. At the end, students created a character map with textual and illustrative evidences to support their answers.

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) English Language Arts (ELA)

Key Ideas and Details

3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

3.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g. their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.

Vocabulary: We have already started working on the following vocabulary. For these words to be fully understood, students should be exposed to the use of these words in different contexts. Fortunately, the reading program California Treasures always have three stories using all these words.

We are also working on different vocabulary strategies. My main focus is always context clues since this is the most difficult but the one that makes sense.


ELA Assessment sites:


Reading Websites:

These are mostly free websites for reading. Many of the sites feature audio books so developing readers can follow along while looking at the book.

  • ABCya!: Children can listen to short stories read aloud to them as they follow along with the highlighted text.  ABCya! has a variety of educational games in addition to the featured stories.  Free resources and materials are available for grades K through 5.
  • BookShare: Bookshare’s® goal is to make the world of print accessible. Bookshare® is an online library of digital books for people with print disabilities. It operates under an exception to U.S. copyright law which allows copyrighted digital books to be made available to people with qualifying disabilities. In addition, many publishers and authors have volunteered to provide Bookshare with access to their works. By requiring individuals to register as Members and provide a Proof of Disability, Bookshare ensures that only qualified individuals use the service.
  • FreeReading: an open-source, free reading intervention program from preschool to 6th grade
  • Funbrain: created for kids ages preschool through grade 8, offers more than 100 fun, interactive games that develop skills in math, reading, and literacy. Plus, kids can read a variety of popular books and comics on the site, including Diary of a Wimpy KidAmelia Writes Again, and Brewster Rocket.
  • International Children’s Digital Library: Discover books from around the world at the International Children’s Digital Library.  The free site does not read the books aloud, but students can read them independently during Read to Self or free time.  This is a great site for extension activities when learning about different regions of the world and can be used effectively into the middle school grades.
  • Into the Book: is a reading comprehension resource for K-4 students and teachers. We focus on eight research-based strategies: Using Prior Knowledge, Making Connections, Questioning, Visualizing, Inferring, Summarizing, Evaluating and Synthesizing. Try the online interactive activities, or click below to find out how to get our engaging 15-minute video programs.
  • National Geographic Young ExplorersNational Geographic Young Explorers is a magazine designed specifically for kindergarten and first grade students.  Children can listen to the magazine being read to them as they follow along with the highlighted text.  It is a great way to bring interesting non-fiction stories into reading center time.
  • Online Storytime by Barnes and NobleFrom The Kissing Hand read by author Audrey Wood toPinkalicious read by Victoria Kann, Barnes and Noble’s Online Storytime has popular children’s books read out loud.  While there are no supplemental materials to accompany the stories, this free site is perfect for “Listen to Reading” stations.
    • Note:  The first story begins right away when the page opens so be sure that your volume is adjusted accordingly before clicking the link.
  • Oxford Owl: After registering for a free account, you have access to over 250 children’s audio books that can be used in the classroom.  The book text is not part of the presentation, so students will not be able to follow along as it is read to them.
  • RAZ Kids: Online Leveled Books Library
  • Reading A-Z: Thousands of downloadable, projectable, printable teacher materials, covering all the skills necessary for effective reading instruction
  • Reading Rockets: Reading Rockets is a national multimedia literacy initiative offering information and resources on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help.
  • Read to Me: Similar to Storyline Online, Read to Me features popular children’s books being read by famous performers.  There are activity guides with hands-on ideas, discussion questions, and lesson plans that can easily be adapted to the Common Core State Standards.  Entirely free, the site is colorful and engaging.
  • Read, Write, Think: Developed by the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), ReadWriteThink provides educators and students with access to the highest quality practices and resources in reading and English language arts instruction. The site features standards-based lesson plans, interactive student materials and a dynamic literacy calendar.
  • Speakaboos:Speakaboos brings classic children’s entertainment into a digital world. Beloved characters and treasured stories are given new life through amazing celebrity performances, beautiful illustrations, and original music. At Speakaboos, children develop literacy skills while learning about technology in a safe and fun environment.
  • Storynory: Storynory features a collection of original, fairytale, and classic children’s audio stories.  Students can follow along with the story as it is read to them, as the text is also included on the site.  There are also some great features available that give you the option of downloading the audio to your computer, listening to “catch phrase” explanations, translating text into different languages (especially helpful for your ELL students!), and more.
  • Starfall: While some areas of Starfall are part of their premium service, they have many early reader stories available for free.  Students can follow along as the story is read to them and can, in some instances, help create their own story.  The website is highly engaging and a favorite of young readers.
  • Storybird: “Storybird lets anyone make visual stories in seconds. We curate artwork from illustrators and animators around the world and inspire writers of any age to turn those images into fresh stories.”
  • Seussville: Seussville—the official home of Dr. Seuss on the Web—is the place for children of all ages to play and learn with Dr. Seuss’s wonderfully whimsical books and classic characters. The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and all of the Dr. Seuss books leap to life through interactive games and activities that will enrich each child’s reading experience.Dr. Seuss believed that books and learning to read should be fun and exciting for children. The site maintains this spirit of fun and honors the tenets of his work: discovery, imagination, and creativity. Visitors will explore the lush animated environments as they uncover a wealth of games and information, including a comprehensive Dr. Seuss character guide, a searchable Dr. Seuss book catalog, biographical information, educator resources, parent tips, and more.
  • Ticket to ReadTicket to Read® is a self-paced, student-centered online reading program that provides dynamic skills practice and improved reading performance. A motivating and fun reward system keeps students on task to learn critical word attack skills and phonics skills development.
    • Ticket to Read includes:
      • Hundreds of high-interest reading passages and games
      • Interactive activities supported by audio and animation
      • Appropriate reading levels from pre-primer to 7.0
      • Multiple entry points to address individual student needs
      • Automated quizzes and self-correcting guidance
  • We Give Books: A Pearson Foundation Initiative, We Give Books offers students a unique opportunity to read for social good.  Each book that is read results in a book that is donated to a charity for children.  While the books are not read aloud, they allow students to practice “Read to Self” with a good fit book during center time.  There are books for children in preschool through fourth grade.
  • Wonderopolis: Developed by the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), Wonderopolis helps families discover the wonders of learning in everyday life. The daily Wonder of the Day feature offers bite-size bits of learning for families to explore together. With its question-and-answer format, the Wonder of the Day provides a nugget of information about the title question, suggests a family-friendly activity to extend the learning, and lists vocabulary words and additional resources to take the learning even further.

Reading Strategies

Vocabulary Development

  • Ways to develop vocabulary without the worksheets:
    • Use slightly higher level words when talking to your students: My students will never forget the words “pet peeve”, eavesdropping”, and the famous “chopped liver” because I always make it a point to use these words.
    • Make vocabulary a part of the revision process
      • Rank words according to intensity (from the most intense to the least intense): According to Mary Ehrenworth, this will help students consider nuances when writing with synonyms.
      • Create a T-chart with words and student created definitions
      • Students access these lists during the revision process making sure they are paying attention to the nuances of the word, the degree or intensity. For example, when writing about the best gift a child received, should the student use the generic happy? How about a more intense form of happy like ecstatic or jubilant?
    • Talk about vocabulary: Let students talk about how they discovered the meaning of the word. When I was small, I never knew the other form of the word obligation. I always used it as a noun but never as a verb so when I first saw it, I could not pronounce the word as if it is a foreign word. It was a very embarrassing situation but to this day, I still remember how to read and use that word.