A No-Tears Way to Learn Sight Words

After a child has mastered letters and letter sounds, he or she will shortly begin to learn various sight words.  What exactly are “sight words”?  According to one educational website sight word is defined as, “a word that is immediately recognized as a whole and does not require word analysis for identification. Good readers instantly recognize sight words without having to decode them. Sight words are usually high-frequency words, which occur most frequently in our language.”  Learning sight words is truly an important part of learning to read.  It can be described as the on-ramp to becoming a proficient reader.  

What are some fun ways to help your child or student learn their sight words?

Where The Wild Things Are – Listen and Find Sight Words Activities – Free Printables by a staff writer from No Time for Flashcards shares an engaging and educational activity to do with your student or child that reinforces the learning of sight words.  This articles has downloadable printables to use for the well-loved children’s book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  As the children either listens to the book or reads the book himself he can check off or highlight the sight words as he hears or reads them.  If the sheet is completed, the child can get a reward.  Now is a fine time to stock up on discounted candy for this reading practice activity!    

The articles shares a quick warning note regarding this fun activity, however: Make sure they are familiar with these words, this is a practice activity not an initial learning one. This will be incredibly frustrating for a child who can’t find the words at all. If there is one or two words that are not at all familiar go ahead and color those in before the activity. This isn’t a test, it should be fun!”

What is crucially important is to make sure that your child enjoys the process of learning to read.  By making a child’s encounter with books positive, a parent or educator can create a healthy reading habit in their little ones as they grow and learn.   

Each printables worksheet can be adapted to practice new sight words for different books and different age-groups, providing the “just right challenge”.  Children can go from mastering simple words like “the” to recognizing larger words like “buoyant” or “pterodactyl” as they learn to love and appreciate the gift of language.  

TED Talks with Dave Eggers on 1:1 Education

Dave Eggers, author, publisher, and educational activist discusses how he took his dream of helping disadvantaged children with reading and writing and made it into a reality.

Studies have shown that a student who receives 30-45 hours a year with 1:1 attention can get one grade level higher.  Due to large classrooms and limited resources, this is not something schools can realistically provide on their own.  After learning about the literacy rates of children in disadvantaged homes and children who speak english as a second language, Eggers and his group of publishers dedicated their afternoons to helping local children with their reading and homework.   This inspiring and humorous TED talk takes you through his journey of opening up a stigma-free tutoring center/ publishing company that supported their noble efforts to help struggling young readers through a “Buccaneers Supply Shop”. 826 Valencia in San Francisco, California sold all things Pirate.  This concept of 1:1 attention and tutoring expanded, with Superhero and Time Travel stores and free tutoring centers opening up in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and even Dublin, Ireland.

The adult publishers and children were able to work side-by-side and not only get help tutoring but share ideas, collaborate, and create in a fun learning environment.  The children wrote their own stories and learned to love reading and writing because of this 1:1 attention and “cross pollination” between young, creative minds and passionate adult writers and educators.

This heartwarming and funny TED talk ends with a call to action pleading with creative educators and volunteers to help children learn to love reading and writing.



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Performance Gaps in the Classroom: Gender and Economic Factors

According to news article Boys Trail Girls in Literacy and Numeracy When Starting School, a recent government study reveals a considerable gender gap in literacy and numeracy.  Despite the fact that this gap has narrowed, female students continue to outperform their male classmates in writing and learning numbers.  Sally Weale, education correspondent for The Guardian, writes: “The gender gap among the youngest schoolchildren has narrowed marginally, but girls continue to lead the way in all early learning goals, with 74.3% achieving the expected level of development compared with 58.6% of boys.” Experts warn that these figures are significant and a call to action is needed to help turn the tide.  

Another key factor in literacy performance gaps continues to be socioeconomic disparities.  One out of every five children start school already behind the curve, missing the skills needed to succeed in the classroom.  Gareth Jenkins, director of UK poverty at the charity Save the Children, comments:  “The evidence shows it’s the poorest children who are more likely to start primary school already behind, and who are then much more likely to struggle in school, and in life.”  

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity… it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.” – Kofi Annan. 

By improving the quality of early childhood education, society can help all children have a fair chance to succeed in their academic endeavors and thrive in the classroom.  Dedicated parents and educators can (and do) play a significant, positive role in bridging these performance gaps.

Building Lesson Plans Around Educational, Biographical Books

Me: In Poetry, Song, and Art by Michelle Currin, writer and teacher, discusses what she learned at a particularly meaningful and inspiring professional development course, a “Picture Book Read In.”  At this educators event, Currin and other teachers, were able to explore new books that were especially geared towards our right-brained, creative side.  This Playful Learning blog focuses on biographies and autobiographies for children about poets and artists. The three books highlighted in this piece are Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess (about poet  e. e. cummings), Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews (an autobiography about a musician), and Draw What You See by Kathleen Benson (about fine artist Benny Andrews).  

The value of sharing educational, factual books with children is enormous. Currin writes: Picture books easily engage children in non-fiction text, and these books can easily integrate reading, writing, and the arts. The more connections children can make across domains, the more effective learning opportunities become.”  

What is especially fantastic about using a non-fiction book like Trombone Shorty is that the book can be easily adapted to suit different ages, populations, and grades.  An entire lesson plan can be built around learning about e. e. cummings.  For example, have the class read the book Enormous Smallness followed by an ELA teaching lesson on wordplay and poetry.  Depending on the grade level, the children can close the activity by writing their own autobiographical poem.  Currin comments: “Extending the reading of a book with supplemental experiences enhances children’s’ understanding as well.”

For older grade levels, the teacher can present several biographies and then compare and contrast the lives of the artists, how each found inspiration, and developed their talents (ie: Venn Diagram-collage hybrid activity). In teaching reading comprehension, one of the primary goals in processing non-fiction is to find and break down factual information.  Using picture books like the three Currin features can help children process non-fiction material in an interest-arousing and engaging way.  

Sharing stories about artists and poets can have a profound impact on the life of a child.  There is no greater achievement for a teacher than to inspire a student to reach their potential.Each of us has a spark of life inside us, and our highest endeavor ought to be to set off that spark in one another.” – Kenny Ausubel.  

Note: One of the books Two Right Feet presents, Rap a Tap Tap: Here’s Bojangles- Think of That! by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon is about the innovative and gifted tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.  We build a lesson plan around learning about this talented, American-born dancer and how we can express ourselves through dance just like “Bojangles”.

Components of Learning to Read: Phonemes, Phonics, and Vocab… Oh My!

English Language Learners and the Five Essential Components of Reading Instruction by Beth Antunez discusses how to get children to become literate, frequent readers.  The article defines and outlines key components of learning to read and how to use this knowledge to assist new readers and english language learners become literate.  For the sake of simplicity and brevity, this piece will focus solely on understanding the five components of reading instruction (a future blog will be dedicated to the art of teaching english language learners to read).  

The first of the five components of reading instruction is phonemic awareness which means understanding the basic, smallest parts of speech sounds in a word.  The example the article uses is “shop” which has three basic speech sounds, or phonemes: “sh/o/p”.  The reason that phonemic awareness is so crucial in learning to read is because once these phonemes are understood, a student can then string the sounds together to form words.  What can truly help children to master the concept of phonemes are songs that are rich in rhyme and repetition.  Think back to your school days as an elementary student.  Jump rope rhymes like “Miss Mary Mack” helped you to grasp speech sounds by way of a musical rhyme.  

After phonemic awareness comes phonics, another key component in becoming literacy.  Phonics is defined as, the understanding that there is a predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds of spoken language) and graphemes (the letters and spellings that represent those sounds in written language).”  The relationship between speech sounds and letters representing the sounds allows children to recognize letters and sight words while decoding words that may be unfamiliar.  This is the exciting start to a child gaining literacy skills and learning to read.  Antunez continues, The goal is to help children understand that there is a systematic and predictable relationship between written letters and spoken sounds (CIERA, 2001).”  

Once a child gains ground in the reading components of phonemic awareness and phonics, he or she can then begin to develop their growing vocabulary.  Vocabulary development involves learning words, their pronunciations, and their meanings.  Learning and memorizing the reading and writing of sight words enables the student to grow their collection of vocabulary words.   It is important that not only can a child sound out the word and read it, but that they also understand the meaning of the words; vocabulary development is closely linked to reading comprehension.  If the child does not understand the word they are sounding out in a storybook, there is no way to determine whether or not the word makes sense in the context of the story. Two Right Feet’s blogs and facebook posts have dedicated several pieces on fun, interactive, and multi-sensory methods of of learning sight words, their definitions, and building a more extensive vocabulary.  

The final two segments of reading instruction are reading fluency which includes oral skills and reading comprehension strategies.  Reading fluency can help a child read with momentum, fluidity, and ease.   Learning to read fluently will turn a frustrated and struggling reader into an avid and frequent reader because they are able to quickly and simultaneously recognize words and associate them with their meanings.  Antunez writes: “Reading fluency is a critical factor necessary for reading comprehension. If children read out loud with speed, accuracy, and proper expression, they are more likely to comprehend and remember the material than if they read with difficulty and in an inefficient way.”  Reading comprehension, the fifth and final component, is a cornerstone and ultimate objective in becoming a literate student.  It is interrelated to the other facets of reading comprehension, promoting the proficiency of each component whether it be: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, and reading fluency.  What is interesting to note is that, “NRP found that reading comprehension is clearly related to vocabulary knowledge and development. The NRP also found that comprehension is an active process that requires an intentional and thoughtful interaction between the reader and the text that can be explicitly taught through text comprehension instruction.”  

One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is the gift of reading.  Former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy once wrote: “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”  Do not just teach children to read books, but show them how beautiful, enlightening, and empowering reading can truly be.  

To learn more about how to take this knowledge of teaching literacy and applying it to new readers and english language learners visit Beth Antunez’s article English Language Learners and the Five Essential Components of Reading Instruction.  

The Strong Correlation Between a Toddler’s Vocabulary and Kindergarten Success

Hit the ground crawling.


Psych Central’s article Strong Vocabulary at Two Linked to Kindergarten Success by Traci Pedersen discusses the strong correlation of oral language and academic success.


A recent study conducted by researchers from Pennsylvania State University, University of California, Irvine, and Columbia University noticed an exciting trend between the vocabulary of two year olds and their academic performance in kindergarten.  The greater the oral vocabulary of the toddler, the greater his success in kindergarten.  The study took notice several factors affecting the child’s vocabulary including: socioeconomic differences, the health of the mother, birth weight, and the home environment.


George Farkas, a co-author and professor of Education at the University of California, Irvine comments:These oral vocabulary gaps emerge as early as two years. Early interventions that effectively increase the size of children’s oral vocabulary may help at-risk two year-olds subsequently enter kindergarten classrooms better prepared academically and behaviorally. Interventions may need to be targeted to two year-olds being raised in disadvantaged home environments.”


Not only were children with stronger vocabularies better prepared for learning to read, but they also excelled in their social and communication skills, behavioral self-regulation, and mathematics.  These children also experience fewer outbursts and bouts of anxiety within the classroom setting and interactions with their peers.  


The importance of building a child’s oral vocabulary cannot be stressed enough.  Early intervention in disadvantaged homes can help shrink the performance gap between children who have greater vocabularies due, in part, to having more resources within the home and those who are less fortunate is vital.  


Children’s growing minds can absorb and retain more than we can possibly imagine.  By taking the time to read to them, talk to them, and teach them we give our children a chance to succeed in kindergarten and in all of their academic endeavors that will impact their lives.  


It’s never too early to start.