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Teaching English Language Learners Phonological Awareness Skills: Learning To Rhyme

Learning to rhyme is a very important phonological skill that will lead students to future reading success. You can read about its importance here

Phonological awareness skills are especially import when teaching second language learners. To teach these children skills such as rhyming, it takes strategic teaching and knowledge of the fact that some phonemes are not present in a student’s native language (for example Spanish speakers use half the amount of phonemes as English speakers). Because of this, the vocabulary, context of the word, and pronunciation (including mouth positioning) must be strongly considered to make the rhyming practice meaningful and productive.

The first step in teaching ELL’s to rhyme is to start with traditional "lap time" activities. "Lap time" activities are known as such because they are the activities that a mother would typically engage in when playing with language with a young child on her lap, i.e. nursery rhymes, finger plays, and songs. We have to start with these primary activities with second language learners, because, for them, this is their primary language experience.

Start with activities that are easily memorized. Call attention to rhymes in songs, fingerplays, and rhymes as you sing them with your students. Use full or cross-body actions that will increase brain-power. Don't be afraid to start small, intact starting small is a must! The students do not need to learn how to rhyme in one week or even in one semester. Start with words that rhyme with cat. I love these little rhyming tubs. Children love the little objects and the auditory/visual connection assists ELL learners. To begin, I simply dump out the -at tub of objects in a pile, pick them up one-by-one, and identify them.  We take the time to discuss each object's label and definition. Don’t take anything for granted. Not all children know what a baseball bat is. Always throughly define the item. 

After all objects are named, I then pick them up again one-by-one saying only their name and ask, “Does anyone see anything these words have in common?” If there is no answer, I again pick up each object and exaggerate each word, opening my mouth wide, holding my chin, and pointing to my mouth (giving the children visual cues for clarity). I again ask the question, and usually a child will quickly mention my mouth. I will then say the word cat and ask students repeat the word as they place their hands on their cheeks. All of these objects are rhyming words and so my mouth is the same for each word. At this point I pull out my hand mirrors and ask students to say the name of each object as they watch their mouth. After we have watched our mouth “speak” each rhyming word. I ask the students to say a word that uses complete opposite mouth positioning such as chip. I then have the students hold their cheeks as they say the words in the object pile: cat, rat, bat, sat, mat, followed quickly by chip. “Did you feel your mouth move differently?” Well that word can’t rhyme with cat then, because your mouth must stay the same at the end of each rhyming word. 
I continue this process for the first several sessions with these students, reviewing a learned rhyming family at the end of each lesson, always having students hold their cheeks (or jaw if the words contain jaw-dropping vowels) as we list the rhyming words. I do this review in a my-turn, your-turn fashion. For example. I hold my cheeks and say pig and then point both hands at the students while they say pig.

After I have taught the vocabulary that I want rhymed, the mouth positioning, and practiced rhyming families, it is time to slowly ask students to produce and then generate rhyming words using meaningful games and activities. This process to teach rhyme may seem labor intensive. It is, but it also doesn't take as much time as you might expect, and, spelling out the workings of language in such an explicit way is essential for students who come from a different language background.

Math Timed Test: Are They Valid?

If you are not a member of, you should be. It's a great resource for teachers and parents about the most current research into how to teach math. The site was set up by Jo Boaler, professor of Mathematics Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, who is a mathematics hero.

One of Boaler's points for which I have strong personal feelings, is that timed tests in mathematics are absolute garbage (absolute garbage are my words, not hers, but that's because of the personal connection). Timed tests were something I dreaded as a child. I knew that I could never pass them with the required speed. All I could hope for was to get them over with without too much embarrassment. They absolutely convinced me that I was no good at mathematics. I wish I'd have known then what I know now, which is:

Mathematics is not about speed. It is about depth of thought. If you want an example of this, you can read about Chinese mathematician Shing-Tung Yau.

Children with exceptional math skills are just as likely to preform poorly on timed tests as children with poor math skills.

Timed tests create a situation of anxiety, which actually shuts down the brain's ability to think.

Perhaps the worst thing about timed tests is that they don't teach anything. Children with poor math strategies try to use those poor strategies quickly and children with excellent math strategies try to use their excellent strategies quickly. At the end of the test, nothing has changed about the way the children are approaching mathematics. This is a major problem, because the thing that really separates children's mathematical ability, is the way they approach problems. Children who struggle with math use clumsy and inefficient strategies. Children who excel at math use elegant and efficient strategies. For example, imagine you gave a kindergartener two piles of objects, and ask them to count the piles separately. One pile has 6 objects and one pile has 4 objects. You then ask him how many there are all together. A student whose strategies are underdeveloped starts counting all of the objects again--even though they previously counted both piles. A student whose strategies are more efficient might start at 6 and count on. A student with excellent strategies might move one of the objects in the pile of 6 to the pile of 4, creating a problem of 5+5=10. It is the method that students use that leads to efficiency, not the time in which they do the task. Timing our inefficient mathematician is only going to result in him trying to count faster.

When I was a student, I was deeply embarrassed of the fact that I couldn't remember all of my multiplication tables. I was terrified that my math teacher might discover that I could never remember what 8x6 was and always had to start with 7x6=42+6=48. Now I've discovered that this kind of flexibility with numbers is exactly what mathematicians need. In fact, my computer programmer husband and I have had many discussions about the math classes he took in college and how they were about teaching him this kind of flexibility on a higher level, how they taught him to problem solve, and about how accuracy was always more valuable than speed.

So, if we want to improve our student's ability to do math, please, please, please, never pull out a timer, because we never want our children to get the idea that math is about speed. Just like good writers are concerned with how well something is written, and not how fast they can type, and good scientists are concerned with how accurate their results are, and not how quickly they came up with the results, good mathematicians should be concerned with the processes of mathematics, not the speed of their sums.
                                                   --- Contributed by Lyndsey

Holiday Shape-up

Shapes are all around us. In addition to the traditional math units on shapes, we can meet geometry standards through construction or art projects. Using triangles, circles, squares, and rectangles, students can create trees, Santas, elves, and reindeer. These projects give students practical and hand-on opportunities to work with shapes of various sizes and orientations. Construct projects also provide opportunities for students to draw shapes and use shapes to form larger shapes. 

According to the Common Core Kindergarten intro, math instructional time should focus on numbers and shapes. Use art projects during the holiday season and throughout the year to learn about shapes in a fun and meaningful way.

Be assured that you are teaching the Common Core by using this Common Core Geometry Unit for kindergarten. There are two lesson for each geometry standard. 

Contents include: 

Shape Walk: Finding Shapes in the Environment

Shapes Guided Reading Book: Identifying Shapes in the Environment

Shape Bingo: Identifying Shapes

Shape Memory: Identifying Shapes

3D Match-up: Identifying Three Dimensional Shapes

Shape Graph: Describing and Graphing Shapes

X The Shape: Analyzing and Comparing Shapes

The Shape Song: Learning Shapes Through Song

Touch the Shape: Analyzing and Comparing Shapes

My Shape Me: Building a Person Drawing Shapes

Making Shapes: Making 3D Shapes with Clay

Shape Puzzles: Composing Shapes to Make a Larger Shape

Triangle Duck: Composing Shapes to Make a Larger Shape

Rectangle Giraffe: Composing Shapes to Make a Larger Shape

A Giant Christmas Sale

Merry Christmas to all!  Enjoy 20% off all our products December 13-16! Be sure to grab a great thematic unit to make that last week before vacation a great one.







  Each of our Thematic Units contain at least one guided-reader! To add to the teaching of reading in your classroom, you will also want to include these emergent readers!      


And a timely Christmas Game!

Santa Gets Dressed: A Segmenting Game

Children who are able to orally blend and segment sounds together become better readers. This imperative oral skill transfers very quickly to the printed and written word. Because there are numerous research studies that substantiates that fact, strengthening a child’s phonemic awareness is of upmost importance in all early-learning classrooms. 

Children love this game, Santa Gets Dressed! Who wouldn’t want to help Santa prepare for his journey to deliver Christmas presents to the boys and girls of the world. And, as children play, they are able to practice crucial early learning skills that will lead them to become proficient readers. This game includes over 100 segmenting cards that also can be used in many other classroom activities.

Mentoring Minds Vocabulary Adventure

Today during intervention hour, I was working with a small group of students who needs the strategic teaching of rhymes. I chose the book “The Night Before Christmas” because it is not only perfect to hold student interest in the weeks before the season, it is packed with rhyming words. Everything was going great until I read this page:

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.”

At that moment, I was given a look of horror by one of the students. “Yuck!” he said. “How do you throw up a sash?” “It just means to open the curtains.” I replied. “What? You mean you throw-up after you open the curtains?” I could plainly see that it was time for some vocabulary instruction. And, it reminded me just how key vocabulary instruction is to build comprehending, fluent readers. Strategic vocabulary instruction is sometimes overlooked by busy educators as it is assumed that students already know the definition of words. 

There is a company, Mentoring Minds who offers (among many other products) some great tools to extend and deepen students' understanding and expand their vocabulary, especially in the areas of math and science, subjects that are packed with academic vocabulary. You can request a sample here, it is available at several different levels. If you are a parent, you may wish to slip some of these great  supplemental learning products under your tree.