Developing Orthographic and Phonological Knowledge Using Technology

When I was a literacy coach I always enjoyed helping teachers with their word study lessons. At the time, the only technology available was SMART Notebook. I could do a lot of great things with the software to help teach students about the print-sound system. However, it took lots of time to make the lessons and I could never really find pre-made lessons to fit what I needed. When the first set of iPads arrived my imagination took off with the possibilities for using apps to reinforce word study skills. Unfortunately, my excitement didn’t last long because the makers of the apps didn’t seem to know much about developing orthographic and phonological knowledge in students. So I disengaged in the process of looking for great word study apps.

You might notice I do not talk a lot about apps that teach skills. My focus always shifts to how we can leverage technology to help students in the process of creating, problem-solving, and questioning. However, I am sure there are a lot of great “skill and drill” apps out there and I decided to take a look at a few to see if they fit the bill. But first I think it is important to explain the theory behind my beliefs as it relates to word study. According to Dr. Linda Dorn in the book “Shaping Literate Minds”, there are six common beliefs  about spelling.

beliefs about spelling

1. The first belief is students should not be taught to memorize letters and words but be able to attend to the distinctive features of the letter form. Once students become automatic with letter formation their attention shifts to how these letters come together in a left-to-right sequence to represent whole words. Students will begin to see patterns in words and attend to larger units within words.

2. The next belief is to teach children problem-solving strategies for spelling words. There are several strategies students need to not only be taught but be asked to use when trying to spell words. For example, students should learn how to say the word slowly and listen to the sounds in words and be required to use this strategy often until it is second nature.

3. Children should not be given a laundry list of words. Students should have a minimum of new things to learn, so as not to overload their working memory. If students are struggling it might be because they do not understand how words work and are relying too much on memorization.

4. Students should be given opportunities to use a variety of learning styles when learning new words. Students should be exposed to visual, auditory, and motor functions during lessons and when practicing words.

5. The orthographic system is the bridge between reading and writing instruction. Students should be given opportunities to self-reflect and self-correct their work when writing. This is a skill that must be taught. Ask your students often during

6. Students should have opportunities to work with other students. The social side of learning is very important when implementing a spelling/word study program.

I keep these belief systems in mind when creating lessons and activities for my students in the classroom. Let’s take a look at a few games I made for my students during the holidays.

While I am not going to get into detail about the four levels of analysis in this post (subscribe to my newsletter below if you would like to learn more). I do want to say the biggest problem I have with a lot of apps and games that teach phonics or sight words are the order in which the words are introduced. I believe there is a certain order in which students should be introduced to words.

This is why I decided to make my sight word games EDITABLE so you can add the words appropriate for your students. Here is an example of how it works:

A lot of the games I made allow students to practice their problem-solving strategies when reading and writing. Students build words, record words, and read words during most of the games. I always encourage students to say words slowly as they record words or look to see if the word “looks right”.

Even though I typically only give around 10 words during a spelling test, I did provide 20 form fields in the documents. The reason for this is I believe it is important to practice words from other spelling lists or words that have the same spelling pattern. This way students aren’t memorizing their words but learning the patterns and features.

All games can be played with partners or groups, if desired, and provide lots of opportunities for students to use different learning modalities and self-reflection during the activities. If you are interested in taking a look at the games click on the pictures below:

Preview Cover.001

Preview Cover.001

Fall Freebie.001

As for apps appropriate for teaching sight words to students I decided it would make a great “Be Appy” Monday topic. If you are interested in signing-up for access to my “Be Appy” Monday series along with access to exclusive freebies and my monthly newsletter be sure to subscribe below. This document is filled with a ton of great information including an overview of the four levels of analysis and an app checklist to help you analyze apps you may want to use in your spelling program. I’ve also analyzed four different sight word apps that might be of interest to you. Hope the information in the document helps you.

Be Appy Monday1

Inquiry Learning and Procedural Writing

Procedural text describe how to make or do something. Examples of procedural text include recipes, crafts, and how-to manuals. Since these type of materials are commonplace in the real-world, it is important we teach our students how to read and write procedural text.

procedural text

It is important to keep these guidelines in mind when introducing a unit on procedural text:

1. Start with the text. Examine online resources, recipes, crafts, books, and magazines to explore how procedural writing is structured.

2. Have students analyze the structure of procedural text. Ask them questions about what they are noticing about how it is laid out. Most how-to texts have a common structure students will pick up quickly.

3. Allow students to write their own procedural text once they understand the structure. Start with simple tasks or a common experience to describe each step in detail.

4. Begin to analyze the structure even further by identifying the numeric quantities and measurements used in the materials section or the parts of speech associated when writing the steps. This would be a great time to discuss imperative verbs, point out the adverbs in the text or examine the adjectives the describe the nouns.

I have several resources that might help you when teaching procedural text with your students.

Teaching Procedural Writing to Students
Snapguide in the Classroom
Craftivities Freebies (Scarecrow and Snowman)
Craftivity Units
4 Apps to Teach Procedural Writing to Students (Guest post on Technology Tailgate)

Once students get a firm handle of writing simple how-to’s on their own, shift your focus to introducing the concept of using procedures to conduct investigations. As a side note, I noticed something very interesting when searching for resources for teaching procedural text in the classroom. There were a lot of examples for teaching students how-to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, make a craft, or blow a bubble but what I did not see a lot of were resources for teaching scientific procedures.

A big push for inquiry learning is happening in our schools. We need to allow students to wonder and inquire about topics of interest and study.  Scientists use procedures as they conduct investigations and experiments. They must make their procedures as clear and as detailed as possible so other scientists can analyze and replicate their work.

Start small by conducting a simple investigation. Then as a class write a scientific procedure. Students can continue to practice their skills for not only scientific investigations but other subjects as well. Students should also try to follow the procedures written by other students to see if their directions are clear and provide feedback to make it better.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Don’t forget to subscribe to my monthly newsletter for exclusive resources for my readers. Also, I have made a special document for you to try with your students over the Christmas holidays. Use the ideas from this document once you have followed the guidelines above and/or tried some of the ideas from my craftivity units. Click on the picture below to check it out.

Teaching Scientific Procedures Christmas Edition.001

Click here to download on TpT.


New Blog and New Series

I can’t believe it has been over a month since I have posted but I have a REALLY good excuse! You may notice my site looks different. This is because I have made the switch from Blogger to WordPress. There is a lot on the Internet about the importance of using WordPress as a blogger. I kept going back and forth trying to make the decision and finally decided to take the leap. I really didn’t have the control I wanted with my other blog. Using WordPress allows me to customize the way I want. When I first made the decision to move I thought I’d try to do everything myself. I quickly learned WordPress is NOTHING like Blogger. There was definitely a learning curve so I hired someone to move it over and it has taken me about a month to learn how to navigate and make the site my own.

Be Appy Monday


My hope is you will find a lot more value in my blog and resources to help you in the classroom. The first resource I would like to share with you is my “Be Appy” Monday series. Everyone loves a good app so I thought I would brighten the Monday blahs by offering ideas and how-to videos of how to use some of my favorite apps in the classroom. If you are interested in this series be sure to sign-up for my newsletter. This series is only available as an exclusive offer to my readers. Hope you have a great Monday!


 Also be sure to take a look at my new homepage.
I am especially excited about this page and thankful I made the switch.
Would love to hear what you think about the new site. 


The 5e’s of Instruction: More Ideas for Researching with Students

Ok, I admit it I am terrible at writing blog posts consistently. Last week I was determined to write about all of the tools I wanted to share for Explore in the 5e’s. Life happened and I realized it’s been over a week since I’ve written on my blog! I wish I could promise to write a post everyday for the rest of the week but it seems I have another busy week ahead of me. I will not make promises I can’t keep. Hopefully, the quality of my blog posts will make up for the lack of quantity! haha All kidding aside, I really hope I am helping you on your journey to learn more about infusing technology in the classroom.
So today I want to share a couple of tips you might find of interest to help you with anchor standard 8 and 9 of the Common Core State Standards.
  • Anchor standard 8 states, “Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.” 
  • Anchor standard 9 states the learner will, “Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.”
If you read the other two posts I wrote about researching here and here, you will recall I discussed tools students can use during research. As I was preparing for writing this post I realized some of the tools I told you about would be perfect to use when teaching these standards. Now let’s take the sites we have found and do something with the information:
researching with students
Create a Resource Bank
I briefly talked about this in my last post, but I wanted to reiterate the idea. It can be challenging for students to find appropriate resources that are accurate and credible. Allow students to pool their efforts to find resources. Some of the tools I mentioned in my last post such as ThingLink or Pinterest would be perfect. Another option is to research directly from Google Drive when working on a shared document. There is a research tool to help students find the resources they need and cite the information included. By creating a resource bank of sites, students will be able to share the sources they know to be credible and rely on others knowledge. Remember the old saying “Two heads are better than one.” It is still true.
Use Skitch
Skitch is a great app for students to use for close reading. I have skitch downloaded on my MacBook, iPad, and phone. Use this app for students to highlight and annotate the information they have found.
Students Map the Big Picture
Even though students have curated resources to help them with the research, it is still challenging to take the information and synthesize it. One way to help students with this is have students decide on the main points they want to focus on from their research. Students could create maps, timelines, or four-squares to organize their thinking. It is even better when students are allowed to work in collaborative groups or partners.
Avoid Plagiarism
Hopefully the strategy above of mapping the big picture will help students in terms of avoiding plagiarism. However, there are online tools to help you if you suspect a student of plagiarism. One of the easiest and cost effective methods is to simply take the suspected phrase or sentence, put quotes around it and search for it in Google. Other tools include Google Scholar and Doc Cop.
Don’t use Copyright Images
I know this isn’t exactly plagiarism but I think it is important to address. Be sure when students are using images in their research, they don’t use images that are copyrighted. There is a fabulous tip for students to use when Googling images. This is how it works:
Students type in the word in Google – Click on images at the top – Click on Search Tools – Click on usage rights – Then choose one of the filters. The images shown will be images related to the keyword that can be used for presentations and essays. This is important for students to learn, even the very young. There are also a lot of online sites students can use such as Pixabay to find quality photos.
Hopefully these tips will help you when teaching your students to synthesize and evaluate information during research and close reading.

The 5e’s of Instruction: 6 Tools to Help Explore Content

Today I would like to introduce six online apps and tools to explore content with your students. If you have been reading my posts over the last couple of weeks you will be familiar with my series on the 5e’s of Instruction. You may recall I shared with you six tools to help engage your students. Earlier this week I discussed the second “e” known as explore. I believe exploring concepts doesn’t have to be just for content units of study. There are a variety of ways in which we can explore concepts, strategies, and skills. However, for this particular post I want to concentrate mainly on tools I use for inquiry and research.

Six online apps and tools to explore content and research with your students.

My last post introduced you to three anchor standards from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These standards require students be taught how to research, analyze, and reflect on topics and texts. I want to focus on anchor standard seven which states:

  • “Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.” 

Exploring concepts when introducing a unit, strategy or activity is so important especially for problem-based learning or inquiry units of study. I envision the process like this…let’s pretend our brain has pieces of velcro all over it. In order for information to stick to the velcro connections need to be made. In order to make connections, students must develop background knowledge of the topic at hand. Therefore, exploring the concept or topic is vital. However, just because students research doesn’t mean they understand.

I think one of the biggest challenges teachers and students face when researching a topic is the simple fact the material is too difficult for students to read. Therefore, students need scaffolding to assist them in understanding the content so the content will stick (to the velcro). So let’s look at the tools to help you provide the biggest scaffold.

Aurasma – I absolutely love this app! I love it because I can customize the user experience, which is why it is the tool that can provide the biggest scaffold for a student. To be honest, your options are limitless. For example, let’s say I want a student to read an article online but I know it may be a little difficult. So I create a trigger image for students to scan. When scanned, a video will pop up to help the student in some way. It could be a video with directions, a video to help build background, or a video lesson. Once watched, the student can then tap on the video to read the article online.

ThingLink – I typically use ThingLink when students are researching to allow them to curate all of their resources into one easy location. This way they can refer back to the resources throughout the unit. However, piggybacking off of the idea above with Aurasma, I could see how ThingLink would be a great way to house the sites, videos, etc. students would need when doing research. You could even embed a Google document into the ThingLink for students to take notes.

QR Code Reader – I like to use QR codes to send students to specific sites especially for younger students. This diminishes the time factor problem that always arise when allowing students to actually search for their own resources. It also ensures students are reading the appropriate materials at their level.

Pinterest – Have you ever thought about using Pinterest for your class instruction? I have never tried it out myself but this is how I imagine it to work. Create a class Pinterest account. Whenever you are doing research students could pin content to a specific board named for the unit. Every student would have access to the findings which would be super helpful. I would think you could set a timer for pinning. Another way to use Pinterest would be to have students actually do the research within Pinterest. There is such valuable information on Pinterest with a wide range of topics. One last option would be to actually have content already pinned to a board for students to research. This would be especially appropriate for the younger students.

Newsela – This is by far one of my favorite online resources for reading nonfiction articles. What I love about this tool is it can be differentiated for each student. Create a classroom account, add your students, and assign the article. The differentiated part is each article can be read at different Lexile levels. Just assign the appropriate level to the appropriate student at their “just right” level. It is that simple! Other great features include the ability for students to take online quizzes as well as highlighting and note taking feature. This is great for close reading assignments. It looks like there is a Pro option which would allow the teacher to track student progress and results.

National Geographic Young Explorers – My last tool is for the little ones. I love this site! My only wish is that it worked on the iPads. I guess it could if you had a flash enabled app. Anway, this is a great site to use with K-1 students doing research. Remember, even the little ones have shared research projects. Students can listen to and read online magazines; most written about animals.

So now you know six of my favorite tools for exploring content. However, I’m not finished exploring this topic. Next I want to show you a few simple tricks you can use to teach anchor standard 8. So be sure to subscribe by email so you don’t miss out!
What are tools you use in the classroom? I’d love to hear more about them.