We have six scheduled literacy blocks each week. During a literacy block, children may be engaged in one of several structures that we refer to as writing workshop, reading workshop, word study, and handwriting.
Writing Workshop often begins with children coming together for a mini-lesson in which we give the children explicit instruction on skills they need. The children then go off to write at their own level while teachers meet with each child to individualize writing instruction. During writing workshop children will generate their own ideas for writing, will respond to writing prompts or questions, will engage in group writing projects, and will experiment with narrative, opinion, and informative writing as well as poetry.
Just Right Books: During Reading Workshop the children have individual book boxes that contain “Just Right” books selected by the teacher.“Just Right” books for children who are beginning to read include predictable language with text and pictures that match each other closely, so the children can use the pictures to figure out unknown words. For children who are already reading, a chapter book may be “Just Right” for them.
The “Just Right” books we use are referred to as leveled books in educational jargon. A book’s level is based on such attributes as text length, text variation, pictures, etc. In general, kindergartners read books in the level A-C range and first graders read books in the level C-I range. We’ve included a leveled guide in this packet that explains the characteristics of each level. This guide can help you pick out “just right” books for your child at the library or bookstore. We update parents about their child’s reading level several times a year.
Strategy Mini-Lessons: During Reading workshop we often introduce and reinforce reading and comprehension strategies. We will model each strategy and then send the children off with their “Just Right” books to try the strategy independently or with a buddy.
Phonics Books: Each child has his/her own phonics book appropriate to his/her level of phonetic awareness. They may work on these during part of reading workshop.
Poem Book: Several times a month, we introduce poems to the children on big chart paper. We read chorally and circle any rhyming words or letters or words we recognize. The children then get an individual copy of the poem to decorate and it goes into their poem book for repeated reading during reading workshop.
During word study we focus on skills as basic as understanding that words are made up of letters that carry sound and meaning to more complicated skills like learning how to write words with unique spelling patterns such as words that end with a silent e. The children work on word study and word recognition components including phonics, phonemic awareness, word families, high frequency word recognition, and language standards pertaining to oral and written conventions and vocabulary acquisition and use. We use mini-lessons and a variety of engaging games, puzzles, and activities to teach these skills.
Each child has a handwriting packet. We focus on formation of the upper and lowercase letters of the alphabet. To make this more engaging, teachers employ different strategies such as practicing printing on dry erase boards, sky writing the letters, and employing exercises to strengthen finger muscles such as playing with play dough or clay before completing the printing page in the handwriting packet.
Additional Language Arts Practices:
Read Aloud: After lunch, we read a few chapters of a chapter book to the children. We encourage the children to make connections from the book to their own lives, make predictions about the plot, make comparisons to other books they’ve read, ask and answer questions about the book, and identify the story elements to increase comprehension.
Theme Books: Every year we have a theme to base our learning around. This year’s theme is “Journeys.” Throughout the year, we read to the children countless fictional and non-fiction books to examine key ideas and details, explore craft and structure, and to integrate knowledge and ideas in the context of our thematic learning.
Morning Message: Each day we write a message to the class on the board. This is a multi-tiered activity where children practice reading, recognizing letters, words, and even punctuation marks.
VIP: Very Important Person of the week is the new version of show and tell. The child who is the VIP for the week gets to bring in personally meaningful things from home to show to the class. We get to know each other that way and each child feels very important. It is a language arts practice because it is often a child’s first introduction to public speaking and at the end of the week, the VIP receives a special book made by his or her classmates. Teachers will let you know when it is your child’s week to be the VIP.
Traveling Pet: Each class has a pet that spends the weekend with the child who was the VIP for the week. You will get a tote bag that contains the stuffed animal pet and a notebook. We want the child to record his or her adventure with the pet in the notebook. Children who can write should try it on their own, children who are still learning to write can have your help with spelling, or you can write down what they say. We also want to have a picture of the child and the pet taken to accompany the writing in the notebook. If you have a digital camera of your own, you could help us out by taking a couple of pictures and printing them out yourself or you could email them to us. Those without access to a camera can get their picture taken at school with the pet.
Book Projects: Book projects are to be done twice a year for homework. The child reads a book or has a book read to him at home, creates a visual or project related to the book, and summarizes the book and project to his classmates. The purpose of this is to practice speaking and listening to others as well as the ability to retell or summarize a book. Don’t worry we give you several months to complete them and they can be very simple. The first one will be due after winter break and the second one will be due towards the end of the school year. We will provide you with specific dates and directions in the future.
A Note About Writing and Reading in K-1:
A child’s journey to independent reading and writing is a long one!
Writing: At the beginning of the year, some children will pretend to write, just like they may pretend to sing like a star or steer an airplane like a pilot. Emergent writers tell their stories primarily through pictures combined with random strings of letters or letter-like scribbles. This progresses to labeling their pictures with labels that contain one or two letters. Once those labels become more complete, we encourage children to begin writing sentences under their pictures. A child’s first sentences will be hard to read, which is why we try to write tiny translations along the edge of the page. The sentences will become easier to read as the child learns to leave spaces between words, learns and uses a repertoire of familiar words, and become more skilled with using phonemic awareness and phonics.
You can be certain that we will monitor and celebrate your child’s progress so that your child moves step-by-step toward being able to write more conventionally. This is our job; your job is to admire whatever your child brings home, to make your child feel like a famous author, and to enjoy the brave, smart work your child does when he or she is just learning to spell and doesn’t yet have it right but is willing to try anyhow!
Reading: The first books children learn how to read have very predictable language. The child is mostly memorizing the words and not decoding. This is one of the first steps in learning to read and should not be devalued.
As the child gains more letter-sound associations, awareness of sentence structure, and comprehension strategies, the child will be able to make better use of the strategies we teach, for example, using pictures, sounding the words out, etc.
Children will learn to read when they are developmentally ready. Many expect their children to read simple books by the end of their kindergarten year. While we also hold this high expectation, the reality is that children develop differently. Children must have letter-sound awareness and phonemic awareness before they can truly benefit from reading instruction. This awareness does not happen for all children at the same time.