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.

Becoming A Writer

Last week was my first week back after minor surgery. With 2 professional development days, and being absent in the middle of the week, it was a rather slow start for my students.

On Friday the Reading Recovery teachers went to Ballarat for our latest Reading Recovery Ongoing Professional Learning session. The overall theme was writing. This included watching a video of Noella Mackenzie. She talks to parents about how young children explore writing at home, and during the early years of preschool / school. Children learn many things, including talking and writing, by observing, copying and interacting with those around them.

It is worth watching the video, even if you no longer have very young children.

To view the video click on the picture to the left.



You can download the accompanying brochure from Noella Mackenzie by clicking on this picture. (Or here for a different version.)


A valuable quote from the transcript of the video is-

As you talk with children you help them to develop their language use, you help them to build their vocabulary and they will notice more about the world around them.  Knowing lots of words helps with reading and writing.

Taking risks when writing

I know that the students who are going to be the easiest-to-teach are usually the risk takers. They are the ones that are not scared of making mistakes and they’ll have a go at every task.

When it comes to writing, the risk takers do not wait to be told how to write every word. They do not stick to writing words that they can already write.

2 students wrote about their own experiences at a swimming pool after reading a book about Emma and Matthew at the pool with their dad.

STUDENT A wrote: I like the pool.

STUDENT B wrote: Smtims I go dn the sid at the pola. We dedt wont to get let so we got chad wle fast.
(TRANSLATION: Sometimes I go down the slide at the pool. We didn’t want to get late so we got changed really fast.)

Student B used ‘invented spelling’ when she didn’t know how to spell a word. Her focus was to get her message written down.

Of course it is important for students to learn how to spell correctly or else others will have trouble understanding the intended message, but it is equally important for the students to be able to write their thoughts down quickly. (While the thoughts are still ‘in the head’. To have time to write more.) Student B was able to tell us much more about her experiences at the pool than Student A.

If we limit our students to only writing words that they already know how to spell, we may stop their desire to try communicating at all. Some students resist being risk takers because they have been ‘told off’ or corrected so many times it is totally discouraging.

During the Reading Recovery lessons I help the students to learn ways of solving words:

  • Say a word slowly and listen for the sounds
  • Use an alphabet chart, or a previous piece of writing for help
  • Listen for a similar known word family, e.g. cat, that
  • Think about word parts or chunks that you know, e.g. pl-ay-ing
  • Write one syllable (hand clap) at a time, e.g. yes / ter / day.

I also value all the attempts that the student makes. ‘That was a fantastic try at writing sometimes. You wrote down all the sounds that you could hear’. I do not expect the student to work on every word. I write parts of words and sentences for the student. (This varies from student to student, and more help is given early in the series of lessons.)

When your children are writing messages for you at home tell them how pleased you are that they are writing. Value the message and praise their ideas. Don’t feel that every word has to be fixed.

Discontinued students

graduateReading Recovery takes place with students in Year One in order to catch those who are already slipping behind the other students in the class. After 15 – 20 weeks of intense instruction the student graduates from Reading Recovery, but he or she is not to be considered ‘fixed’. He or she will probably need to be given extra assistance within the classroom (and at home) to ensure continual advancement, and no slipping back into bad habits.

As Marie Clay wrote:

The child has come a long way in a short time, but still has a long distance to travel (to become an independent learner) … (after Reading Recovery) some children may react with new doubts about their ability to cope. ( Literacy Lessons Designed For Individuals)

How can you help at home AFTER Reading Recovery?

Keep doing what you have been doing. Continue to hear your child read EVERY day. Keep up the momentum of all the good habits and strategies that your child has been using.

Think about these questions as you listen to the reading:
– Is your child reading smoothly or word by word?
– Are you jumping in to help without giving ‘wait time’?
– Is your child expecting you to do the reading work if he  / she is stuck?
– Is your child slipping back into a bad habit that you have not seen in a while, e.g. ONLY saying a few letters to guess an unsuitable word?
– Is your child rereading, taking words apart, checking that the reading sounds right and makes sense, and trying again?
– Is your child using the meaning of the story (by rereading, checking the picture) to support taking the word apart to solve words?

Use opportunities for reading and writing within your daily life. Here are just a few of the many websites that are full of ideas:

petaaParents’ Guide To Helping Children At Home With Reading And Writing




Ideas to help with Reading, Writing and Maths




reading children11 Ways Parents Can Help Their Children Read




developingDeveloping Writing and Spelling at Home




You may also wish to read an earlier post about Discontinuation.

Flexibility in problem solving

teacher-1415225-mWe have just had another session of Reading Recovery professional development. We looked at many examples of excellent teaching strategies, including a webcast of Mary Fried (Ohio State University) presenting Flexibility in Problem Solving During Writing.

She gave some examples of what we might expect our students to contribute to their own writing during various stages within their series of lessons. (This is only a guide. Some students will be able to contribute more themselves earlier in the lessons, and some students may need longer time.)

This sentence example could have been composed at any stage of the lessons but we would expect the student to demonstrate an increasing amount of problem solving. In the following examples Mary Fried has anticipated what a student at various levels might contribute. This is demonstrated by the red letters / words / word parts. The fictional teacher chose the underlined words to work on.


My mum took me to the library yesterday. I got movies and books.

The student would be asked- Can you write ___? (mum, me, the) Another question would be- What can you hear? (Some 1st and last sounds.)

EARLY STAGE (Levels 3-6)

My mum t-oo-k me to the library yesterday. I g-o-t movies and books.

Sound boxes could possibly be used for took and got.

MID STAGE (Levels 6-11)

My mum took me to the library yesterday. I got movies and books.

Analogy would be prompted- If you know look, you can write took. Look at how you wrote took. It will help you to write books. Clap the 3 parts of yes-ter-day. Can you write yes …and… day? Sound boxes would be used for movies.

LATER STAGE (Levels 12-16) (16-20)

My mum took me to the library yesterday. I got movies and books.

Clap yes-ter-day. Try it on the practice page. Try writing movies in letter boxes. The student might write move_es independently.

The students always contribute the parts that they can. At first they may only write a few letters that they can hear. They may already know how to write some words. Some words may only be tentatively known (or mostly known), and the student may be asked to write it a number of times in order to learn it.

Some words may be partly solved and the teacher contributes the tricky parts, e.g. ter in school_clipart_boy_writtingyesterday. Some words are easier to solve if you clap the parts, e.g. yes-ter-day. Some words are solved using sound boxes (What can you hear?). Some words are easier to solve if you compare it to a word you already know, e.g. look / took / books and some words are solved using letter boxes (What would you expect to see?)

The teacher needs to adjust her prompts throughout the series of lessons. The aim is to teach the students how to be flexible when solving words by using a variety of strategies.

An example of a lesson


Here is a new youtube video of a Reading Recovery lesson. It is interesting to hear the prompts that the teacher uses to scaffold (help) her student to check and solve words as he is reading and writing.

The lesson is made up of-

Familiar reading (well known books). Usually that there is less help needed during familiar reading, and the reading should sound smooth (not word by word).

Running record. The student read independently.The teacher was recording what he was doing well and what needed attention. After the reading she made some decisions about which teaching points would be the most valuable at this time, and which errors she wanted him to work on again.

Making And Breaking. He made the word play with magnetic letters. He was asked to make a similar word– day. The word pay was harder for him to read showing that he didn’t quite understand that ay had a constant sound in the different words.

Writing. The student composed a sentence based on one of his books. The teacher and the student shared the pen. (We have a marker each. We would do the cut up sentence next. This was left out of this lesson.) The teacher and the student worked on various ways to solve words: clapping the parts, sound boxes, and stretching out the word.

New book. There was some discussion to familiarise the student with the overall story and some of the words and phrases in the book. She left out the ending for the student to discover during the 1st reading of the whole book. He read this book with the most amount of expression in his reading voice.

This teacher has been very generous in allowing this video to be posted. It kids-readingdemonstrates that a student does not always easily follow our prompts and we need to constantly adjust what will help him or her. We need to know what is not working for this student at this particular time. We need to know what to keep working on and what to leave for another day. Our students are certainly unpredictable.

Assisting with writing

writing1This student is well into her series of lessons and she is experiencing various ways of solving words as she is writing her daily sentences.

After a discussion about her text “A Bike For Alex” she composed a sentence about her own bike

She wrote- I got a new bike and it was broken but my Mum and Dad fixed it.

new bike

Some words were already known and she needed no intervention from me: I, got, a, new, and, was, but, my, mum, Dad, it.

Bike was solved by comparing it to a known word- like (analogy). I asked her to spell like and I quickly wrote it on the top page and I told her she could use it to work out how to spell bike, which she easily did.

For broken and fixed she used letter boxes. Each box represents one letter and she was required to think about which letters she would expect to SEE. This is different to just thinking about the sounds that she can hear (sound boxes). (HRSW)

For broken she quickly wrote bro. I had asked her if she expected to see a c or a k and she correctly chose k. She then wrote brokne. I helped her to change the ending by covering it with tape and asking her what else it could be.

Before I gave her the outline of the letter boxes for fixed I asked her to try to write it herself. She wrote ficet. She tried it again using the letter boxes and she quickly wrote fix. The ending puzzled her until I had her compare it to looked. (The ending sounds like a t but it is represented by ed.)writing1

Lots of work goes into the 8 -10 minutes of writing!

If you would like to explore this topic further you may like to download the following article. It is written for Reading Recovery teachers but if you skip past the wordy beginning you can read some more examples of assisting children to solve words as they are writing. Powerful Teaching Interactions in Writing: Lessons from Reading Recovery Teachers

26 letters but over 40 sounds

jumbled-letters5-2g46iqj.jpgI am always careful not to tell my students that a letter will only represent one sound, or that a sound will be exclusively represented by one letter.

I will ask- Tell me a sound that could go with that letter or those letters (when reading). Tell me a letter, or letters, that you could write for that sound (when writing).

While there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, there are approximately 43 – 44 sounds.

For example, say the following words to yourself and listen to the different sounds represented by the letter ‘a’ in cat, make, wash, grandpa, always and Thomas. The student can be even more confused when he sees words like walk, beach, boat, sausage, and Niamh, if he is only told that ‘a’ will always have the ‘a in apple sound’ or the ‘a in ape sound’. (If you are confused by the name Niamh you are not alone. It is pronounced Neeve.)

If my student writes bic for bike I praise her for choosing a letter that does sound like it could be that letter. I might say- You know another word that sounds like bike. Write like and then have a go at writing bike underneath it. I don’t talk about spelling ‘rules’ because there are just too many exceptions to ‘the rules’. I help the student to make confusedconnections to words she knows well to assist her with unknown words, and I point out that this does not always work either! I never pretend the English language is easy.


At our last Ongoing Professional Learning session we were shown this video about Ba-Da-Bing. It is about adding extra information to make sentences more interesting / exciting. The student starts with a simple idea and then thinks about: Where did I go? What did I see? How did I feel?

Our tutor gave us the starting sentence ‘I watched the football’. In pairs we added more information using the 3 questions above, e.g. Last season I watched Carlton play St Kilda at Etihad Stadium. It was great to see the Carlton fans madly cheering and waving their flags as wins didn’t happen very often. l was so excited that there was hope for the future.

Here is another video about applying Ba-Da-Bing using slightly different questions (that mean the same thing).

Teachers can use 3 pictures ( e.g. feet, eyes, thought bubble) to prompt the students to think and talk about what they are going to write. Talking is important for getting ideas and picturing an event or topic in our minds so that we can describe it to someone else. This will help students to clarify what they are going to write. We came away from our session planning to try Ba-Da-Bing with our students.

Word Solving Prompts for Writing

writingHere are some word solving prompts I have recently used when my students have been working out how to write an unknown word. I have a list of all the words that each student has independently written before so l know which words will be useful for comparisons. I might also refer to books that were just read, or refer to previous pages in the writing book.

Say it slowly. Do you know a word like that? (zoo)

Say the 2 parts. Think about he. You know the ending.

Do you think it will be c, k or ck? Are you going to write n or en? (What would you expect to see?)

You know a word that rhymes with book. (look)

What will go on the end to make it look right? (Same prompt had been successfully used for bike.)

It ends like mother, father, monster.

Look back at this page. Look how you wrote rain. Circle the 3 letters making the ‘ain’ sound. Use them in paint.

Baby Bear asked a question – Who makes honey? Think about who in the book. How did it start? Can you write more? Let’s check it.thinking

When a prompt is given you are asking the child to activate his / her thinking.