Sunday, April 23, 2017

4 Tips to Motivate Struggling Readers to DECODE, not GUESS!

As phonics teachers, we spend most of our time teaching our children to READ, and READ some more.  This is not always an easy task.  We take on this responsibility and are continuously searching for the right strategies and tools that will provide our young readers with ample opportunities to feel successful and look forward to reading.  I have a few tips and tricks to share with you!

Young readers are training their eyes to identify the many phonics rules as they read.  As we read, we are constantly on the look out for word chunks that will help us decode new words we encounter in the books we love.  To help my students locate these "word chunks" we have a color coded system that we call "gumballs".

My students use this system all day.  They color code their sight words, the articles, poems and word problems we read.  They even love to "gumball up" their own writing!  It is a wonderful sight to see how they thrive using this visual and kinesthetic approach to phonics.  And their work looks beautiful.  To learn more about our Gumball Collections click HERE.

Up until now, my students were simply using their crayons or highlighters to gumball up the word chunks during our phonics activities.  But look at what I discovered at Oriental Trading!!!!

They work like a charm.  The dot is the perfect size for printed text for primary grades!

Before reading the passage, students do a bit of word work by hunting for the spelling pattern. One dot and their pages are color coded with the current phonics rule we are focusing on.  Then when it comes time to decode the text, their eyes are able to identify the word chunk immediately.

In the photo above, you can see how one of my students is highlighting the /ea/ phonics rule with one quick dab of the Washable Mini Dot Markers.  The kids love using them, I love them because they come in a variety of match our color coded system!  It's a win-win!  Be still my teacher heart. I'm in love with them!!!

I have also found providing my students with a Phonics Goal to encourage them to take ownership of their learning. I have created a set of 22 posters with "I can" statements to help my firsties focus on the spelling pattern we are studying in our differentiated Word Study Groups. If you would like to learn more about how we go about this click HERE.

Have you found some of your reluctant readers having trouble with one-to-one correspondence when reading from leveled texts?  This is such an important skill for emerging readers.  However, it can be frustrating when they slide their fingers across the text and just GUESS!

Look at these Arrow Finger Readers I discovered at Oriental Trading to motivate my struggling readers to slow down and decode each word:

My firsties were so excited to use these new tools.  It's amazing how your tactile learners thrive when you give them a simple tool to manipulate.  These Arrow Finger Readers were proven to motivate my young readers!

Using these simple yet effective manipulatives along with a little encouragement and reminders...

"Get your lips ready, kiddos and make that beginning sound...  
Look for the word chunks...
Stretch out the word until it makes sense..."

young readers begin to utilize the strategies you have taught them. They know them by name!  In fact we have "Reading Buddies" in our classroom that remind us of what to do when we come across a tricky word:

You can find this set of 8 Reading Strategies Posters with "I can" Statements at my TpT store:Reading Strategy Goals with "I can" Statements Poster Set

And there you have it.  4 Tips to Motivate Emergent Readers to

If you are interested in BOTH the Reading and Phonics Goal Posters Sets you can download both HERE as a bundled set:

Disclosure: The K Files & Oriental Trading partnered for the purpose of this post. I received free samples of Oriental Trading products, but all opinions are my own and 100% honest.


  1. Lori, I love this! I love the GUMBALLS strategy and the poster set. I have a kindergartner and although he is reading, and I don't think he learned strategies like these. These strategies are effective and fantastic. I can definitely use some of these strategies when he gets stuck! Thank you!I'll pass this along to my kindergarten teacher friends too!
    ~Chrsitine at For The Love of Teachers

  2. Lori, this is so great! Sometimes it's the little things that can keep kids engaged! Great ways to keeps students motivated to reach their reading goals! Love the gumball idea!
    Lisa Fain - The Primary Sisters

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