Spring Contract for Grade (Part 2)

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Workshop-Strengthening Your Students' Phonemic Awareness and Phonics Skills

Presenter-Russell Moore

January 18, 1999

Minneapolis, Minnesota


On January 18, 1999 I attended a workshop entitled "Strengthening Your Students' Phonemic Awareness and Phonics Skills." This workshop was of particular interest to me because I teach first grade. Upon entering the room the day of the workshop, a song was playing called "The Name Game" which uses rhyming words that change to rhyme with any name. Other songs were played that allowed the audience to practice phonetic skills and have fun at the same time. It reminded me that making time for music and rhythm and rhyme is not an "extra" type of activity, but a wonderful phonics tool that would be easy to integrate into my daily routine. This set the tone for the remainder of the workshop.

First grade is a critical year for building a strong foundation in literacy. Phonics is a critical component of a balanced literacy program, along with reading and writing instruction. Teaching students strategies to decode words by taking them apart and sounding them out according to the rules of our language allows students to become independent readers. A phonologically aware child is able to indicate whether pairs of words rhyme, can list words that rhyme with a target word, can count how many words are in a sentence, or break words into syllables.

According to the presenter, Russel Moore, children learn phonics in four ways: hearing and reading literature that provides models, having lessons that draw the phonemic element from literature as needed, practicing the phonemic elements by reading and rereading texts containing the elements, and by practicing the phonemic elements through writing, using temporary (invented) spelling. I utilize these methods but struggle to make it more fun and interesting to my students. I am always anxious to learn new strategies that engage my students in active learning.

I learned about a strategy called "Word Watching" which uses the phonetic skill that is being worked on for the day. After being introduced to the skill, students spend the week searching for words that contain that particular phonetic element. When they find words that contain the element, they write the word on a sticky note, which they place on a chart that the teacher has already started. At the end of the week, the teacher compiles all of the words onto one poster and displays it in the room. The children can then refer to the chart if looking for a particular spelling or word pattern. It gives the students a feeling of "ownership" if they can directly participate in their own instruction. I tried this strategy with compound words and consonant clusters with "r" and my students loved it. It was amazing to see their enthusiasm and all of the fun they had with words. They came up with so many words that I had to find larger chart paper.

One other strategy that I learned was called "Word Play" which involves making words from an assortment of alphabet cards. The teacher instructs students to remove specific letters from a baggie full of alphabet cards. The students are then directed to make as many words as possible from those letters. The students may work in partners or alone. The class then comes together as a whole group and shares the words on the board that they came up with. This is an activity that keeps the mind actively engaged in phonics while having fun. My students enjoyed this activity and I noticed that they became better at pulling parts out of words in order to sound them out. This was also good practice working with others in a cooperative manner.

I received a handbook at the workshop full of other ideas that I plan to develop next year. One idea that I want to focus on is the idea of a "Word Wall." Students in first grade need a lot of help spelling words. The word wall is a classroom-generated list of words that are commonly used or may be vocabulary and/or sight words. The teacher writes the word on a card when a student inquires about how to spell it, and places it in an alphabetical list where it remains all year for student reference. I think this is a wonderful way for students to, again, take ownership of their education. Currently, my students have their own individual "dictionaries" which has a list of words and room to add their own. I will continue to use these, but the word wall idea makes the words visible and available to them at a glance.

I attended this workshop with 5 other first grade teachers. It was a valuable experience to attend with them because they add their years of knowledge and experience to the new ideas presented. On the trip home we had an opportunity to share what we all thought were the best new ideas and discussed ways to realistically implement them.

-- Anonymous, May 16, 1999

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