Thursday, December 1, 2005

December 2005: Douglas Christie, Slam Dunking the Alphabet


 December 2005 America Learns Strategy of the Month 

This month's strategy is from Douglas Christie, a member of the University of Michigan America Reads Tutoring Corps

University of Michigan

Douglas created a clever way to assess and expand his students' alphabet knowledge through a basketball game.  When we read the strategy, we immediately wanted to play the game.  We have a feeling that you'll want to play as well!

The Strategy


Created by: Douglas Christie, University of Michigan America Reads Tutoring Corps
(America Learns Network member since 2005)
Topic: Alphabet; Phonics; Assessment
Grade Levels: Preschool – First
Arrangements: One-on-One
Materials: - Construction paper (preferably orange)
- One black and one colored marker
- One plastic cup (preferably a clear one so you can make it look like a basketball net)
- A note card or a small piece of cardboard or tag board
- Tape

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: All three of my tutees said that they liked basketball, so I thought of a way that I could incorporate basketball into testing their alphabet knowledge while helping them learn the alphabet.

I found this to be a good ongoing warm up activity for students learning their letters because it allows you to quickly see if the student still remembers the letters that you worked on during the last few sessions.

Step 1: Set up the game.

Alphabet Basketball Cut 26 circles out of the orange construction paper (make sure that these circles can fit inside the plastic cup that you're using). On one side of each circle draw a basketball pattern, and on the other side write one letter so that you end up with one letter on each ball (this can be done with either capital or lowercase letters).

On the plastic cup, draw a basketball net pattern (usually crisscrossed lines).  (It also helps to use a clear cup so it actually looks like a net.)  Use the note card or piece of cardboard to make a backboard by drawing a colored square in the middle of the card and taping the card to the back of the cup. 

Step 2: Start the game.

To start the game, lay all of the basketballs with the letter side face down.

Tell the tutee that he will be flipping over the basketballs one at a time, and if he can properly tell you the letter, he can shoot a ball into the "net." If he does not get the letter correct, just place the ball aside.

For assessments, this works great because you know the balls in the cup are the ones that the tutee knows. The tutee can then practice with the letters he doesn't know.

Step 3: I found that this can also be used with testing the sounds that the letters make.

Ask the tutee what sound a basketball makes when it goes into the basket. He will probably say something like "swoosh" (or something to that effect). Then tell him that, "Instead of saying 'swoosh' when we make a basket, we are going to pretend that the sound the ball makes is the sound of the letter that is on the back of the basketball."

So when the student puts the basketball in the hoop, he should say the sound for /b/, /d/, /k/, etc. instead of saying "swoosh." You may need to give your student a few examples.

Related Strategies for America Learns Network Members: - Alphabet Dice
- Alphabet Hide & Seek
- Alphabet Show & Tell
- Create Your Own Menu

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Douglas below.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

November 2005: LaTarsha Bernard, Grammar Goddess


 November 2005 America Learns Strategy of the Mont

image This month's strategy is from LaTarsha Bernard, a second year AmeriCorps member with America Reads - Mississippi

LaTarsha developed an engaging, easy to implement arts and crafts strategy to help her students learn what nouns are and how to identify them.  Check out the strategy below!

The Strategy

(Introducing Nouns to Students)

Created by: LaTarsha Bernard, America Reads - Mississippi
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topics: Grammar; Vocabulary Development
Grade Levels: Second - Fourth
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group
Materials: - Age-appropriate magazines
- Poster board
- Glue, paste, rubber cement, tape
- Scissors

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: I created this arts and crafts strategy to engage my students while helping them learn that a noun can be a person, place or thing.
Step 1: Have students cut pictures from magazines that describe either people, places, or things.
Step 2: Draw three columns on the poster board, and label one column as "People," one as "Places," and one as "Things."
Step 3: Have students glue their pictures under the right category.

After the pictures have been glued, use the board to introduce and reinforce the concept of a noun.  You might say, "Take a look at all these pictures.  They describe people, places and things. Whenever we use a person, place or thing in our writing, we can also call that word a noun.  For example, if I wrote the sentence, 'Jimmy is happy,' the word 'Jimmy' is a noun because 'Jimmy' is a person.  A noun is always a person, a place or a thing."

Step 4: Add a border around the board and display it in the classroom, hallway or another public place.  The students will love this activity!
A Few Other Grammar Strategies for America Learns Network Members: - Verb-athon
- Repairing Run-on Sentences
- Possessive Words (Helping Students Understand Apostrophes)
- Past, Present & Future (Learning Verb Tenses)
- "I Spy..." (Reinforcing Subject & Verb Agreement)

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for LaTarsha below.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

October 2005: Amy Chajkowski, Sharks and the Alphabet



October's strategy is from Amy Chajkowski, an America Reads tutor at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Amy developed her strategy when her kindergarten student was having a hard time recognizing her alphabet letters and the process of reviewing flashcards time and time again just wasn't holding the student's interest.

The Strategy


Created by: Amy Chajkowski, America Reads tutor at the University of Pittsburgh
(America Learns Network member since 2003)
Topics: Alphabet
Grade Levels: K – First
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group
Materials: - Alphabet flashcards
- Masking tape

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: I was tutoring a student in kindergarten who was having a hard time recognizing her alphabet letters. At first, I used flash cards to quiz her but after a few minutes, she was losing interest.

I decided to create a letter recognition game with the flashcards that would hold her interest. The game was set at the ocean and in the water. We had sharks swimming around us so we needed to keep "safe" from them by standing on and recognizing the letter on the flash cards.

Step 1: Set up the alphabet flashcards in a large area, but not too far apart; that way, all the letters can be seen from any one point. Only use about 6-8 letters at a time.

America Learns Note:
You may want to print out the flashcards on heavy paper so that they do not rip and tape the cards to the floor to prevent your student from slipping and falling on them during the game.

Step 2: Start the game off and describe the situation to your student. Explain to your student that you're going to "swim" around the ocean (by walking around the cards), and when you see a shark, you'll call out "shark!" to your student and your student will become "safe" by standing on a letter and calling out what the letter is.

America Learns Note:
For advanced learners, ask your student to not only yell out the letter name, but also the sound(s) that letter makes. If your student has mastered both letter names and sounds, challenge him/her to yell out one word that begins with that letter.

Step 3: Take turns and encourage your student when he/she provides the correct answer. When he/she gets it wrong, make sure you provide the correct answer so he/she will become more familiar with that letter.
Step 4: Repeat Step 3 for awhile until your student becomes more familiar with the letters. Concentrate each session on only a few letters; that way, it won't be overwhelming for the child.
Related Strategies for America Learns Network Members: - Alphabet Aerobics
- Alphabet Hide & Seek!
- Alphabet Safari (Discovering Letter Formations in Your Local Community)
- Create Your Own Menu
- What's in a Name? (Reinforcing Print Awareness & the Alphabet for English Language Learners)

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Amy below.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

June 2005: Frances Hardy, Tackling Big, Unfamiliar Words


 America Learns Strategy of the Month    

June's strategy was submitted by Frances Hardy, a member of the NC LiteracyCorps, an AmeriCorps program managed by the Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

University of North Carolina
Frances had to help her second grade student learn to pronounce "big unfamiliar words" the student came across while reading.  We hope the strategy becomes useful to the children you serve.

The Strategy

(Tackling Tricky Words)

Created by: Frances Hardy, NC LiteracyCorps
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topic: Decoding & Sounding Out Words
Grade Levels: First & Second
Arrangements: One-on-One
Materials: - Slips of paper 
- Pen/pencil

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: One of my second grade students has trouble pronouncing big words. These words often have smaller words or chunks in them that may help her understand and pronounce the word. However, big unfamiliar words intimidate her and instead of trying to understand the word, she often gives up.

Following are a few strategies I use to help my student out in this area.

Step 1: In order to help my student understand that words can be broken apart, I often write tricky words on little slips of paper and then cut the word into two separate parts (these parts are often words themselves, like rain and bow for rainbow). I then ask my student to read the word on each slip of paper. Once she does that (proving to herself that she can read both parts of a word), I put the slips of paper next to each other and ask my student to read the entire word.
Step 2: Sometimes, I will say the word out loud and then ask her to tell me the two parts that form the word.

(Note for America Learns Network members: If the word cannot be easily broken into two distinct words, look for common word endings. Here's how to introduce this: "ack!" (Learning Common Word Endings).

Step 3: Other times, when she comes across a challenging word while reading, she must identify and combine the chunks of words all by herself without me telling her what she is looking for.
Step 4: To apply this to her reading, I always keep a piece of paper on hand that can be used to split apart a tricky word into smaller parts. After viewing the word as two or three manageable parts, she has more confidence to solve unknown words.
Additional Resource for America Learns Network Members: Here are two additional strategies that may help your student tackle new words:

Find a plethora of other strategies here.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Frances below.

Monday, May 2, 2005

May 2005: Motivating Readers by Giving them a New Perspective on Words



May's strategy comes from a terrific tutor from the University of Utah’s America Reads Federal Work/Study program.

University of Utah

The tutor had to think outside the formal curriculum he was using to help his student rediscover his interest in reading while working on word patterns.  We hope you find this strategy useful for the children you serve.

The Strategy

(Learning Common Word Endings)

Created by: America Reads at the University of Utah
Topic: Decoding & Sounding Out Words
Grade Levels: First – Third
Arrangements: One-on-One
Materials: - Ideal: dry erase board & dry erase markers
- Alternative: pencil & paper

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: I had to get my student interested in reading again. (I had one child who had become bored with our sessions. Although I tried to vary activities each time, he became restless sitting in his seat and would not listen or participate in my lessons.)

For word work, we had been following the word patterns outlined by the Early Steps program (a one-to-one tutoring intervention). The student had been struggling with short a, i, and o when combined with -ck, so I thought I'd try something a little different to get him a little more into the lesson.

Step 1: Rather than sitting at our usual table, I instead had the student stand at the large whiteboard in the front of the classroom. I wrote '__ck' on the board, then proceeded to ask the child to fill in the blanks to make the 'ack' 'ick' and 'ock' chunks, and to then repeat the sounds.
Step 2: Once the student could recognize which sound went with which letter, we began writing words. We would leave '__ck' written on the board and change only the beginning sounds to make words (e.g., lack, sack, pack). The student enjoyed seeing how the word chunks he now knew could make so many different words, especially on a larger scale (the whiteboard).
Step 3: For the final part of our activity, I again wrote the three word chunks, and then asked the child to see if he could find three new words that we hadn't spelled yet. It was a bit of a challenge for him to think away from the other words we had already written, but I gave him some space for a while and he was able to do what I had asked.
Step 4: I found this to be a very successful activity in that the student was again interested in participating because he had a new perspective on the words, and he also more quickly mastered his sounds.
Additional Resource for America Learns Network Members: Here are some other strategies that may help your student tackle new words:

Find more than 40 other relevant strategies here.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

We’d love for you to share your thoughts on this strategy by typing in a comment below.

Monday, April 4, 2005

April 2005: Building Close Relationships with Students While Maintaining Boundaries


April 2005 America Learns Strategy of the Month

What do you do when your student asks you to call her at home so you can talk some time, but you're unable to accept her phone number?   It's so important that tutors and mentors are equipped for these types of situations, especially as the tutoring and mentoring year begins to wind down in many communities.  This month's strategy is from a tutor with the University of Pittsburgh’s America Reads program who handled this situation effectively.  We hope it's helpful to you and to any children you serve.

University of Pittsburgh 

The Strategy


Created by: America Reads at the University of Pittsburgh
Topic: Your Relationship with Your Student
Grade Levels: Preschool - Sixth
Arrangements: One-on-One

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: I had to explain to a young child why I could not accept her phone number and call her at home while making the child feel important and maintaining professionalism.
Step 1: One day, I was helping a young lady in the second grade classroom I was working in get a knot out of her shoelace. She had been taking an unusually long time changing her shoes. When I attempted to motivate her to get ready faster, she handed me a small piece of paper with a bunch of numbers scribbled on it. When I asked her what it was, she drew me in closer and put her arm around me. "That's my phone number. I want you to call me," she replied in a matter of fact tone.
Step 2: Then I explained to her that while I was extremely flattered, we were the type of friends who do all of our talking at school. In order to not hurt her feelings, I set aside special time each week for the two of us to get caught up on each other's lives.
Step 3: I want my students to feel like they can come to me with anything, whether it's their problems at home or their excitement about a new video game. I strive to be very involved in my students' lives. This was a learning experience for me because I had to find a way to connect with my student and maintain professionalism while doing so.
America Learns Note: If it's the end of the year, and if you can first get permission from your supervisor (and possibly even your student's guardian), consider offering to exchange mail or e-mail addresses with your student.  This could be a good way to not only stay in touch with your student -- letting her know you're still interested in her life and well-being -- but also a great way for your student to practice her spelling, letter-writing and handwriting skills. 

Only ask for her address if you are completely committed to writing.  Asking for her address but never using it can hurt your student's feelings, making her wonder if she did something to upset you towards the end of your tutoring or mentoring relationship.

If your organization is an America Learns Network member, find a number of related strategies.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

We’d love for you to share your thoughts on this strategy by typing in a comment below.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

March 2005: Spelling Practice with Gel Pens & Construction Paper!


March 2005 America Learns Strategy of the Month

Sometimes, tutors and mentors best support their students by simply changing the tools they're using (as opposed to altering an entire tutoring or mentoring process).

University of Utah

This month's strategy highlights how one University of Utah tutor introduced new, nontraditional tools into a teacher-directed process of learning spelling words.  While your own students' teachers may not require that students learn spelling words in the same way, we hope the tutor's strategy will inspire you to think of simple tools you can use to reach and engage students.

The Strategy

Using Nontraditional Writing Utensils & Surfaces

Created by: America Reads at the University of Utah
Topic: Spelling
Grade Levels: Kindergarten – Sixth
Arrangements: One-on-One
Materials: - Construction paper
- Gel pen

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: My student has a spelling test every Thursday, and was not the least bit interested in studying for one of them.  For homework, he was supposed to write each spelling word down every day for practice.  These practice sheets would not be turned into the teacher.
Step 1: To help make the assignment more interesting for him, I gave him a dark piece of construction paper and a gel pen to write his words with.

This made all the difference. The really simple idea made writing the words more fun for him, and I found that he began to look forward to the spelling part of our tutoring sessions.

Additional Resource for America Learns Network Members: If you need strategies describing new spelling practice processes, check out these links:

Find more than 50 other relevant spelling strategies here.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

We’d love for you to share your thoughts on this strategy by typing in a comment below.

Monday, January 3, 2005

January 2005: Great Game to Help Students Distinguish Between Homophones



This strategy was submitted during our year and a half long pilot of the America Learns Network in 2003 and 2004.

The strategy was created by a service learning student who was trying to help her mentee grasp the concept of homophones.  Check out the awesome game the mentor created!  We’re sure you’ll find it useful for your students.

Long Beach BLAST 

The Strategy

(Learning to Distinguish Between Homophones)

Created by: A service learning student mentoring with Long Beach BLAST
Topics: Spelling; Vocabulary Development
Grade Levels: First – Fourth
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group
Materials: - These puzzle pieces

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: Learning to distinguish between homophones: words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and do not mean the same thing.
Step 1: I noticed that my student would confuse the meaning of words because they sounded the same. I used a game I call They Sound Alike, where pictures of words that sound alike match up and explicitly show the difference in spelling. For example, the two words RAIN and REIGN would be matched-up puzzle pieces.
Step 2: I first created puzzle pieces of words that sound alike but are spelled differently, and included the spelling of the words on each piece. When appropriate, I also drew a picture to illustrate the definition of a word.

For example, NOSE and KNOWS would be puzzle pieces that fit together.

Step 3: Since my student likes to read and figure out patterns, I placed the puzzle pieces on the table and asked my student to match up the words.

Download sample puzzle pieces that you can use with your students here.

Step 4: After my student made the matches, we discussed the differences between each homophone pair. Afterwards, I encouraged my student to write out a sentence for each word, separating and acknowledging the difference in the words. To help my student practice his new learning, we would go back through the words, covering up the picture to where only the word is exposed. Then I’d ask him to tell me the meaning of the word based on the spelling itself.

During this step, I realized that my student still misunderstood some words, so after reviewing each word, I reminded him, "See, it sounds [pointing at my ear] alike, but means something different [pointing at the pictures]."

Step 5: After working on this, I allowed my student to choose an activity since the They Sound Alike!game was my choice. He decided to read me a story. Throughout the book, we ran into homophones from our game -- and I would point at the word and ask him to give me the meaning, which he did correctly.

How Have You Addressed this Issue?

We’d love for you to share your thoughts on this strategy by typing in a comment below.