Words ‘taken to fluency’

Words can be solved in many ways. (See Ways of Solving Words for Writing.) Every day the student writes a sentence or sentences during the lesson. The more words that he or she can write down quickly(without a lot of working out), the more time and energy there is to add  further detail to the little story.

High frequency words are words that are used a lot. A high frequency word is often used as a word to take to fluency. As an example, 1 of my students wrote ‘dey‘ instead of ‘day‘. This is a word that will be very useful to know in the future, and as he almost wrote it correctly, it was a suitable word to take to fluency.

He was asked to slide his finger underneath my copy of the word and to look at it from left to right to get a ‘picture of it in his head’. He was then required to write it many times on the working-out page. He also wrote it with his finger on the table. He was encouraged to write it quicker each time so that it was becoming more automatic with each experience.

The next time I see him I will check to see if he is still able to write the word. (If he can’t he will go through the process again. Perhaps also writing it on the whiteboard and in the air.)

An example of taking the word ‘she‘ to fluency.

More writing examples…

During the past week my students have continued to use their books to choose 3 ‘interesting’ or ‘special’ words to include in their daily sentences. The following examples demonstrate their current composing.

Student 1 is still Roaming. He was asked to choose 1 word to include in his sentence: Fat Cat is hungry and he scratched Kitty Cat.

Student 2 is only a few weeks into his lessons and he composed more than he could write (in the time he had) so I wrote the ending for him.
Kitty Cat is eating Fat Cat’s food and he saw her and he said, “Go away!” and he chased her.

Student 3 picked out 3 words from her chosen book and she composed a story that was very different to the original story:
I found a baby chimp in the forest and it didn’t have a mum so then I took it to my house and then I patted it.

Student 4 asked if he could pick a word from 3 different books in his box and he wrote:
I wonder if I could ride a bike at the forest to see a fox.

On another day the same student wanted to write about a very recent experience that was important to him:
The dental van was a little bit scary because I thought they would take out my teeth.
(He definitely did not need any extra inspiration for a topic!)

More writing examples

This week I have  continued  using the same composing idea suggested by our Reading Recovery tutor. (See previous post.)

The students have adapted very well, and some of them anticipate that I will ask them to select 3 words from one of their books. They make comments such as “That would be a good ‘special’ word”.

Here are some examples from the past week:

Dad threw the ball and Jack hit the ball. That was good.

Billy likes bread and he is hungry. The bread was for the ducks.

Sam said, “Please stay with me”. Bingo did not run away.

Fat Cat crashed into the paint. Then the paint went on the grass.

Billy said he likes walking to school with Jack. Mum said, “You will be 5 on your birthday”.

Baby Bear sang, “Honey for tea”. He said, “The honey is gone”. Baby Bear said he is lost.

Baby Bear said, “Boo!” when he was hiding in a little tree house.

The goats ate the turnips and the bee came along and chased them out of the field.

An acorn fell down on Chicken Licken’s head and then Duck-Luck came along.

Max was going to be a wolf but his throat felt sore. Grandad did it.

The Billy Goat Gruff butted the troll off the bridge into the water.

The troll went down the river to a farm to eat the vegetables and fruit.

Here is one of my students holding up his writing book. He used to be quite a reluctant writer. He doesn’t mind the handwriting so much any more as he is keen to get his message written down.

So far the students have been able to view their 3 chosen words on a small whiteboard. 

FYI, mean (a familiar word) was used to write eat, and car (a familiar word) was used to write farm.

Solving words

rainbow-shoelacesStudents need to learn ways to help themselves to solve words as they are reading and writing. The aim is always for the student to use what is already known.

This student composed:
I’ve got new runners that are pink and silver with rainbow shoelaces.
The teacher decided the student could solve that.

Teacher: That… What do you know?
Student: No response.
Teacher: You know the… say the and then say that.
Student: thethat (No comment about the similarity.)
Teacher: They start the same
Student: T-H (Wrote these 2 letters.)
Teacher: What do you hear at the end of the word?
Student: tha – tat ! (Wrote a and t.)
Teacher: That’s right. You knew the 2 parts- th and at.

In this example the student was asked to think about how the beginning of one word (that) was like a well-known word (the), and then to notice the familiar word at to finish it. The aim was not just to learn how to write a new word. The aim was to learn some possible ways of solving words that the student would be able to use independently in the future. (e.g. Do I know another word that sounds a bit like that? Can I hear a part of the word that I can write?)

N.B. The teacher had decided that the student did not need the more supportive turned pencil bugprompts that she may have used earlier in the series of lessons, e.g. Say the word slowly. T and H make the th sound. You know how to write at. You wrote it here. You just read it here.

If we always give the student the most supportive prompts, we are not teaching him / her to become independent. By giving the open-ended question- What do you know?– the student was given the opportunity to search her own repertoire of strategies. In this instance she needed some support to trigger a response.

Teaching decisions- writing

pencilMiss A is into week 3 of her series of lessons. She is a very quiet English As A Second Language student who is already showing that she is much more capable than her initial testing indicated. (The kind of surprise that I like!)

Miss A has moved from reading Level 6 to Level 9 books. She wrote 16 words independently at the beginning of Reading Recovery, and by the end of last week she was up to 33 words that she can write by herself.


Immediately before the writing section of the lesson on Friday she read Kitty Cat And The Paint. Miss A was invited to show me the part of the book that she liked the most. (She really enjoys the Kitty Cat books. She began tentatively contributing to conversations over a Kitty Cat book. I saw her first smile and heard a giggle.)

In this story curious Kitty Cat would not move away from a can of red paint despite Fat catCat telling her to go away. Angry Fat Cat chased Kitty Cat and in the process knocked over the red paint.

Miss A is not one to freely talk. She quickly told me that she liked the page because Fat Cat ran after Kitty Cat. When I asked why Fat Cat did this she told me it was because she stayed at the paint. I would probably ask other students to tell me more detailed information but I want Miss A to feel comfortable with the process of composing and if I ask too much of her she tends to ‘freeze’.


I said, ‘Let’s write about that. How are you going to start your story? About Kitty Cat or about Fat Cat?’ She said ‘Kitty Cat stayed at the paint’. I had her write that part down before I asked her what happened next. ‘Fat Cat ran after Kitty Cat’. I asked her to read what she had written so far and got her to orally add her ending. I repeated it back to her and offered her an alternative. ‘Do you want Kitty Cat stayed at the paint and Fat Cat ran after Kitty Cat or do you want Kitty Cat stayed at the paint and Fat Cat ran after her? She chose the latter. I would have accepted either response.



Miss A independently wrote Kitty, Cat, at, the, and, Fat, ran (for the 1st time) and her.

I decided that stayed was a good opportunity to show her how a known word could help to write a new word. At the moment she does a lot of solving ‘in her head’. I decided that she could use counters and sound boxes to hear the parts of stayed. She was able to write ‘s’ and ‘t’ in the 1st 2 boxes and wrote ‘a’ in the 3rd box. Then I quickly wrote day on her practice page. (I already knew that she could write this word but to save time I wrote it.) I then asked her to circle the 2 letters that made the ‘A’ sound in day. I then told her that day and stay sound and look the same so she added y to make ay in the 3rd box. I asked her how she was going to finish the word- with d or ed and she correctly wrote ed.

The other 2 words that required assistance were paint and after. She heard pa–t for paint-tin_21083208paint and a-t –for after. I wrote the letters ‘in’ for paint as Miss A could not hear them even when I stretched the word aloud for her. She added the ‘f ‘for after following my slow stretching of the word. I then wrote the familiar word mother and explained how the ‘u’ sound at the end of both mother and after was represented by ‘er’.

The only other teaching decision I made was to have Miss A change her lowercase ‘c’ to ‘C’ for Fat Cat and change ‘P’ to ‘p’ in paint. I could have also asked her to make the ‘s’ smaller for stayed but I let it go. During another lesson I will spend time on the placement of tall and ‘hang-down’ letters.

curious-catThe whole process from the beginning of composing to the finished writing takes 10 minutes of the lesson so the teaching decisions, prompts, and the writing of known words and letters, must be fast. I have to decide what are the best ‘teachable moments’ in the limited time that we have. It is more efficient to show Miss A how to solve words (e.g. analogy- using what is known to get to the unknown) compared to learning to spell specific words. That being said, the more words that Miss A can write on her own, the more time and energy there is to write many varied words. I chose the word after to be a word that would be useful to learn so she wrote it 4 more times on the practice page.

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


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.