Magnetic letters

If you come into Room 12 you will notice that there are many magnetic letters covering the metal surfaces within our room. They all have a purpose.

Each student has different needs each day, and it it makes the lesson go more smoothly if there are multiple teaching areas that can be quickly chosen to suit those needs.

An array of letters is used for quick identification. The student becomes faster at recognising letters as he / she says each line from left to right. Letters are chosen because they are well known to the student and gradually new letters are introduced.



Random letters can be sorted in different ways,  e.g. by colour, by shape, or by size. The purpose is for the student to be aware of differences and similarities between letters, and to quickly search for specific detail.


A student is sorting these letters into 2 groups. 1 group will be lower case letters and the 2nd group will be capital letters.




Sometimes letters are matched to picture cards to reinforce some common sounds, e.g. b-bee, q-queen.





These letters have been chosen for a student to make some specific words. He is learning to use a known word to make or solve a similar word.





He was asked to make a known word- dad- from the selected letters. This was very easy for him. He was then asked to make ‘sad’ which he did. I asked could he make any other words like dad using the letters. He made ‘mad’ and ‘bad’ with a little prompting.


A greater challenge was to make ‘glad’ which required searching for 2 letters to represent the ‘gl’ sound.




The student may be asked to use sound boxes to learn to listen for the individual sounds within words. The word is said aloud as each letter is pushed up into a box, e.g. g-o-t.

Vowels (aeiou) can be quite challenging. This student is ready to listen for the sound and choose the appropriate vowel to go from ‘ran’ to ‘run’.


Another task is to add an ending to a known word, e.g. look, looks, looking, looked.

‘ay’ words were a focus here, e.g. stay, way, lay, play, played

Known words are also broken into parts, e.g. play-ed and with-out. This will help to solve words as he / she is reading (and writing). Students are shown to always search for the biggest known chunks.


These are just some examples of the many tasks that are experienced each day in the Reading Recovery room. Each student will usually only spend a few minutes on 1 or 2 of the tasks within the daily lesson.

Solving ‘ran’

My student was reading aloud and he stopped when he came to the word ran.

I thought that this was a word that he could solve himself with the support of magnetic letters and sound boxes (which he has been using in the writing section of the lessons).

I placed the letters under the boxes and I had him push the letters up as he said each sound. After 2 or 3 times he could hear the parts in the word ‘r-a-n’ come together.

I gave him the book and I asked him to push his finger up and say the letter sounds in the same way that he did with the sound boxes. He was very happy with himself when he easily reread the sentence without stopping. After he finished the book we revisited the word ‘ran’ and he showed me how he had solved it.

Eventually I might just have to prompt him to ‘say it like it is in boxes’ to get the same result.

Remaking the cut up sentence

Today one of my students was remaking his cut up sentence. I noticed that he always placed the sentence in one long line. I couldn’t help but notice as I was being elbowed out of the way to make room for the last few words!

When he pasted his sentence in his homework book at home he did not have the room to make one long line, so I knew that he could remake and read the sentence in multiple lines when he had no other choice.

I moved the words around and asked him if he could read the sentence again which he easily did. I asked him if it was still the same sentence and he agreed that it was. He needs to be flexible in reading lines of words as books (and other texts) have a variety of layouts. I also wanted to rearrange the words to encourage him to phrase his oral reading (i.e. run words together in a natural way as we say them, not word by word).

Each time I rearranged the sentence he read it slightly differently,mostly just pausing at the end of each line. (I emphasized that the word order had to be kept the same.)

He was given the opportunity to remake the sentence any other way he wanted. (See left.) I valued his choice although it wasn’t the best layout for grouping words together to sound like a capable reader.

My student is learning that the same sentence can be rearranged in different ways, but it is still the same sentence. He is also learning to put natural pauses between groups of words that go together as he is reading aloud.


The 1st word can be the hardest

There’s a song that says that ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’. Well I think that the hardest word is often the first word of a sentence. Why? Because there is little or no context (meaning or structure) to support the look of the word.

If your child is stuck on the first word of a sentence don’t think that you’re doing the wrong thing if you just tell him / her what it is to move the reading along.

Sometimes I will tell the word. Sometimes I will give a prompt to action and if that does not work I will tell the word.

Here are some ways that I’ve helped students to get started :

Day after day “We’d probably say ‘every day’ but the author chose ‘day after day’. Say it with me. Day after day”. (‘Day’ might be a word that is usually recognized by this student, but it is not known in this context.)

Kieron “That boy is ‘Kieron'”. (Pointed to picture and pointed to 1st word.) “Can you say ‘Kieron’?” (To become familiar with the look and sound of the word.)

Matthew “Who is still making the card?” (A call to use some visual information and meaning (print and picture) to support a decision.)

They “Does it look like ‘They’ or ‘Then’?” (Reducing the choice to 2 words. Will need to look through the whole word.)

Then “What do you think happened then?” (Giving some context and putting the word ‘then’ into the student’s mix of possibilities.)

After “What do you think will happen after school?” (Context for the 1st word, and also a call to think about what might come next (structure and meaning).)

Thunder “Look at the black clouds in the sky. Look at the beginning of the word and think about what might happen”. (Giving some context and a call to crosscheck meaning with the look of the word.)

Everyone “Can you see a part you know? Can you say more?” (A call to take the word apart as I know he knows both ‘every’ and ‘one’.)

You have to know the reader well in order to choose an appropriate prompt. If in doubt- Tell.


Common learning between reading and writing

Reading and writing go together. Reading is a message- getting, problem-solving activity and writing is a message-sending, problem-solving activity.

When you teach reading and writing together, it is a two-for-one deal (From Reciprocity Between Reading and Writing: Strategic Processing as Common Ground by Nancy L Anderson and Connie Briggs)

The strategies that the student uses to read, and the strategies that the student uses to write, are often the same and they support each other. What seems obvious to us however may not be obvious to the student, so we have to help him / her to make the connections in order to make learning easier.

Some of the common strategic actions are:

  • Searching for more information e.g. asking oneself- what do I know about the message, how words go together to make sentences, and how letters go together to make words?
  • Monitoring, e.g. checking if the message makes sense and looks right. You cannot fix a problem if you do not notice that there is a mismatch.
  • Self correcting, e.g. rereading to change a word that did not look right / sound right.

Common Ground Between Reading and Writing


Creates ideas with an audience in mind, e.g. a letter to Grandma, a story for the class library.


Uses the written message to construct meaning, e.g. what did the author want me to know / think about / enjoy?

MEANING Checks that the message makes sense.If it does not sound right then I have to check what I want to say and search for a better way of writing it. MEANING Checks that the message makes sense. If it does not sound right then I have to check what I think the author is telling me, and search for errors.
STRUCTURE Chooses the order of words based on a knowledge of what we hear / see during reading experiences, and how we put words together in sentences when we are talking (e.g. grammar, punctuation, Can I say it that way?) STRUCTURE Groups words together that sound right based on a knowledge of what we hear / see during other reading experiences, and how we put words together in sentences when we are talking and writing (e.g. grammar, punctuation, Would I say it that way?)
VISUAL INFORMATION Uses knowledge of how letters, words, and print work (e.g. letter-sound connections) to write the message. VISUAL INFORMATION Uses knowledge of how letters, words, and print work (e.g. letter-sound connections) to construct (make meaning) from the message.
MONITORING Checks and finds any mismatches between the anticipated message and the written words. MONITORING Checks and finds any mismatches between the anticipated message and the written words.
SELF CORRECTING Notices errors and fixes them. SELF CORRECTING Notices errors and fixes them.

Dr Ann Ballantyne wrote some examples of teaching explicit links between reading and writing:

The child read was for went: Teacher “You can write that word. Write it quickly. What did you write?’

Child stumbles on a partly known word in reading. Teacher: ‘that’s an important word. Have you seen it before?…That was in one of your favourite books (shows him). You can read it and you can learn to write it.” (teaches writing)

Anderson & Briggs prompted:

“Think about how you say words slowly in writing. That will help you in reading.”

If you would like to read the article called Reciprocity Between Reading and Writing: Strategic Processing as Common Ground by Nancy L Anderson and Connie Briggs click on the link (title).

Teachers might also like to take a look at Reading and Writing: teaching for reciprocal gains by Dr Ann Ballantyne.

Faster progress in writing

On Friday we attended our last Reading Recovery Ongoing Professional Learning session for the year. We discussed some research that had looked into the differences between a group of Reading Recovery students who had demonstrated fast progress in writing and the students who had made slower progress over the same amount of time.

Interestingly, the students who made the faster progress by the end of the study were not always the students who knew the most about writing at the beginning of the study.

A main difference was that the students who had made the faster progress often reread their writing as they were producing it. Rereading seemed to help them to work out what the next word(s) should be in order to make sense, and to continue the thought. They did not need to be prompted to recall what they had originally intended to write. They were also easily able to add or change words ‘on the run’ to contribute to the original idea.

As well as rereading, the students who made the faster progress could often be heard saying the next word(s) or the beginning sound(s) of the next word. (My friend Colby stayed at my house for a s / sl (sleepover). They were more likely to say the parts of the word as they wrote them (sl-ee-p-ov-er) and checked themselves and made changes if they were not happy with the look of the words (slipova – sleepova – sleepover).

We all reflected on our teaching. Were we letting our students become more independent, or were we doing too much of the thinking, checking and problem solving for them (i.e. holding them back)? I am going to make sure that I give my students every opportunity to reread, check, and help themselves before I intervene with their writing in order to promote faster progress.

Say it like it is in boxes

One way of solving a word during reading is to think about how it could be broken down during the process of writing.

During the writing component of the lesson, the student has been shown how to match sounds to (probable) letters through the use of sound boxes. The student pushes counters into boxes as he / she slowly says the word. This is repeated until all of the sounds are heard and represented.

During reading, this knowledge of sound boxes can be used to match letters to  (probable) sounds to solve a word. The student runs his / her finger underneath the unknown word to slowly look through the word as if it was in sound boxes, and chooses sounds that could match those letters, e.g. l-i-tt-le. (See Slow check and sound boxes)

I have recently been making this task more explicit by actually using the magnetic letters and a magnetic board with sound boxes drawn on it.

The student had read ‘got’ instead of ‘get’. I placed the letters for ‘get’ under the sound boxes and asked him to push each letter up as he was saying the corresponding sound. This helped him to make a better connection between the look and sound of the word.

Some other words which were solved this way by various students were:



Some students worked out a word before pushing up all of the letters. Other students needed to push up the letters a number of times before being successful. We would not want to be doing this task very often as it takes the student away from the book, but it is a very useful scaffold when extra help is required.

What is a rocket card?

Sometimes students return to school after the holidays reading slower than they were before the missed lessons. If I think that a student is still capable of reading faster I might reach for a masking card.

I use a card that looks like a rocket.This card encourages the eyes to sweep ahead of the words being said out loud. As the student reads a known book, I move the card along the line of the print (just a little behind the student’s oral reading, but at a constant speed). If the student is reading too slowly the card will cover the words before he / she sees them, and therefore the student is greatly encouraged to look ahead as quickly as possible.

Some students (who are very familiar with the rocket card) pick up the pace of their reading when they see me reach for the card. They realise that they need to speed up, and they want to show they can do it without my interference!

I do not use a rocket card on the new book as the ‘reading work’ is understandably slower, and I want to promote problem solving over guessing. (If there is too much emphasis on reading quickly the student can treat it as a race and neglect the meaning or look of the words.)

A masking card can be a very useful tool but it should be used sparingly and l would not recommend that you use it at home as it can be a distraction or a hindrance if it is not used very carefully.

Effective Literacy Practices

Every now and again the media reports that Australian students are not learning to read the ‘right way’. Some ‘experts’ have their own preferred style of teaching reading (e.g. an emphasis on phonics) and do not acknowledge the benefits of  ‘Whole Language’ (an emphasis on meaning and strategic actions). During Reading Recovery, and across our school, the students learn to use what they have already learnt about language through listening and speaking. They learn that the stories they hear (and write) are made up of sentences, sentences are made up of words, and words can be broken into chunks and individual letters / sounds. ‘Phonics’ (sounds within words) IS taught within Whole Language, but it is only a part of reading, not the starting point of learning to read.

The following 2 videos are from the Reading Recovery Council Of North America. They show some practices that your children experience at our school during Reading Recovery and within their classrooms.

Effective Literacy Practices – Learning About Phonology & Orthography

Teachers explore ways that children learn about relationships between letters of written language and sounds of spoken language.

Effective Literacy Practices – Making It Easy to Learn

Teachers build on a child’s strengths to create situations where the child will experience success in early literacy learning.

The main points of the videos are:
Teachers should start with what the children already know and build on those strengths.
Students enjoy a challenge that is within reach.

A writing sample

One day last week Miss N was told she could write about anything, and I would not be helping her with the spelling. (I wanted to check what she would do by herself.)She chose to write about a familiar story from her book box. Grandad had helped Max to rehearse his role as the wolf in the class play. Unfortunately on the day of the play Max was not well and Grandad took his place.  Miss N wrote:

Max was sick because he had a sore throat. Then Grandad pretended to be the wolf.

Miss N showed that she could easily compose 2 sentences that made sense. She began each sentence and name with a capital letter and she finished each sentence with a full stop. She confidently wrote the words that she knew and she willingly had a go at unknown words. She regularly reread what she had written so far and she often said the next words aloud before she wrote them. She made some changes as she went. She self corrected ‘he‘ and she crossed out ‘a’ but then chose to write it again.

What she did not do was stretch out any words aloud in order to hear the parts. After she was finished I helped her to think about the words that were not correct. I drew a letter box for each letter of a word and I slotted in the letters that were correct in her version. She easily recognised what was missing from ‘sick‘ to make it look right. (She wrote ‘ck’ in the one box until I clarified that only one letter was to go into each letter box.) After I pronounced the word ‘throat‘ for her she easily added ‘th‘ to replace the ‘f’ in her version. I told Miss N to stretch out ‘sore‘ before she wrote it and she quickly realised that the word contained ‘or‘, a word she knew, and then she added the ‘e’ on the end herself.

The trickiest word was ‘pretended‘. Together we said the parts pre-ten-ded. She wrote pre-en-ted, so I had her slowly say each part again until she heard all the sounds in order.

The following day Miss N independently stretched out some words as she was writing. Every day there are opportunities for Miss N to try out ways of solving words. She knows that some letters go together to make a sound, e.g. ‘oa‘, ‘th‘. She knows that some words are a bit like other words she knows, e.g. or / sore, and she thinks about what she would expect to see, e.g. ‘e’ on the end of sore.