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Brain research tells us that learning needs to be meaningful. We need to connect our learning with things that are important in our lives.

Typically, it's not too tough to convince children that reading is meaningful. In fact, reading has its own reward: as you get better at reading, the books and stories get better.

It's a little tougher to convince children why we practice reading nonsense words. Despite what I've heard from some, it's not to have more successful test scores on the DIBELS tests.

This is what I tell the kids:

When we practice the "sounding out" skill, we'll be better at figuring out new words!

If we practice the "sounding out" skill with actual words, the visual memory can get in the way of this skill, and they're not actually practicing the "sounding out" skill, they're just recognizing the word from the way it looks.  Therefore, we use nonsense words.

Of course, there are some children who are strong sight word readers, and feel they pretty much know all the words.

So we talk about some of those ten-dollar words they'll see as they grow as readers.

Words like Constantinople, or Emancipation Proclamation, or Deoxyribonucleic acid or even supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Here are some activities I do to practice that "sounding out" skill.

Multisyllable nonsense word game: Buggy Syllables

There are some important number concepts that can be practiced just through our daily routine.

Here are a couple of examples:

All my students have a class number. I think it's a great way to keep things in order, plus, it plays a big role in developing counting skills!

Often, when I call on the children to line up, or to go to their next activity, I'll call the odd numbers first, then the even numbers. (Or even, then odd.)

Sometimes I'll go beyond the number of kids I have in the class so they can really hear the pattern. After a while, they anticipate the pattern I'm calling and are super ready when I get to their number.

Sometimes I'll count by 5s, then go 5s +1, then 5s +2, etc, while pointing the pattern out on our class number grid. (5, 10, 15, 20, 6, 11, 16, 21, 7, 12, etc.)

Other times I'll call a pattern like... 1, 11, 2, 12, 3, 13, and so on.  They always watch when I point these out on the number grid as I call out the numbers.

Then there are days I just call out the numbers in order, or in backward order. Sometimes I start with 1, and other times I'll just start with a child who is behaving properly (as opposed to rolling around on the floor, which second graders often see at the end of a lesson!). Then, I've been known to start with a random number off the top of my head for no reason. I like to keep them on their toes!

Another way I keep them thinking about numbers during their daily routine is by consistently writing odd numbers in red and even numbers in green. Why? Because red means stop!  Why do we stop for odd numbers? Because someone or something doesn't have a partner! Since the even/ odd concept is in the common core for second grade, I mention it often, and constantly bring up that odd numbers are odd because they can't be paired off. They know what it's like to be without a partner, and that personal connection helps them remember why even numbers are different from odd numbers!  (Brain research tells us this.)

Here's another thing I do that helps the children internalize number concepts: I change my jobs after each set of ten! Most teachers change their classroom jobs weekly. I used to do that, but I realized how changing after 10 days will help internalize that concept of ten for these kids, especially since sets of ten is huge in our number system!

I've finished my DIBELS, and my kids are all over the ballpark as far as their needs go.

I have noticed that several students had high "Words Correct Per Minute", but their accuracy was low. These kids read loads of words but were adding, changing, and omitting lots of words. These same kids also had trouble with punctuation, and retelling the story. They need work on accuracy!

Here are some ideas for working on accuracy.

1.  Tell them that's what they need to work on. Yes, seriously, give them the feedback they need. That's the number one trick to improvement, knowing what you need to work at! If necessary, revisit the "finger-pointing" stage to help them focus on the words that are really there. (But don't stay at the "finger-pointing" stage, of course!)

2.  Partner reading - One partner reads, and the other partner checks to make sure they're reading accurately. This works best if the children are evenly matched at their own reading level.

3. Read with an adult - Grab a spare adult somewhere to read with students! It might be a teacher assistant, a parent volunteer, or maybe even the librarian, Phys. Ed. teacher or music teacher! Anyone that has a few minutes can sit down with a child and listen to them read. (Make sure they are ready to give feedback!)

4. Have them read "out soft" - often!  The more they read so someone can hear, the more accurate they will become. That "sense of an audience" really makes a difference. When my students come to reading group, I have them bring a book they are working on, and they are expected to sit down and start reading it "out soft". That means: loud enough so that I can hear them across the reading table, but not loud enough to be heard from across the room. They find it a little awkward at first, but it doesn't take long for them to feel comfortable reading their book just loud enough to be heard. This trick also gives me a chance to listen to individuals, give a little extra time to some kids, and has the children warmed up and ready for reading group. I notice huge improvements in accuracy and fluency when I start doing this!

5. Readers Theater - As mentioned above, that "sense of an audience" is a big motivator! Plus, Readers Theater can be fun, which is another plus! There are plenty of sources of scripts out there. Just google it! Just beware of the danger of readers theater: after reading it a few times, they memorize the script. Then it isn't real reading anymore! Find some ideas here: Using Reader's Theater to Help Students Learn Kindness.

6.  Reading song lyrics - Music is very closely related to the memory. If they already know the song, they'll be able to read the lyrics. Give out song sheets and have them "finger read". As above, just make sure they are truly reading, not reciting something that they have memorized. (There's nothing wrong with memorization, but that's not the skill we're trying to improve!)

7.  Practice sight words and phrases - In order to read accurately, they've got to know the words! Experts recommend that children learn sight words in context. See the freebie below for several phrases using the Dolch pre-primer list. There are plenty more of these for other levels, too!

I love going all out for Constitution Day!

My students wear red, white, and blue, and the whole school recites the pledge together, outdoors at the flagpole.

We have 1700s USA flags for the kids to color, and copies of the school promise to sign with a quill pen. Sometimes even George Washington and Benjamin Franklin stop by the classrooms with a little skit about the signing of the Constitution.

Of course, I might read a book or two:

Here's one of my favorite Schoolhouse Rock Videos!

Here's a Constitution Trivia Boom Learning Activity:

And, of course, I have a couple more Patriotic resources:

Here's an explanation of 6 USA holidays, and some suggestions on celebrating our country.

Here's another fun resource: a variety of writing paper with a USA theme:

I've got some kids that totally need practice counting by 5s!

This is a pretty important math concept, as it is needed to count money as well as tell time.  As they get older, it will help with multiplication.

Plus, it's in the Common Core State Standards for second grade:  CCSS.Math.Content 2 NBT.A.2: Count within 1000; skip count by 5s, 10s, and 100s.

Yes, that does say within 1,000!  That means they should be able to start at 825 and keep going by 5s through 1,000!
That's why I brainstormed this list of

Five Ways to Practice Counting by Fives!

1.  Here is a YouTube Video that's great!  It combines music, rhythm, visuals, and fun!  That's a brain-based recipe for learning!

Counting by Fives Song  by Have Fun Learning

I'll bet if you googled "counting by 5s" on YouTube, you'd find plenty more!

2.  Learning Games!  I posted about this game just the other day. It's great for learning any sequence that needs to be memorized. To download the directions, explore the image for the link, or go here: How to Play Countdown.

3.  Let them see the pattern!  I like to have loads of laminated copies of number grids around the room for the kids to look at, talk about, and mark up with their wipe-off markers.  They can call out the numbers by 5s as they circle them.  It really helps those visual kids to see the patterns. (Brain research tells us ALL students benefit from visuals! You can download a color-coded number grid here: Color Coded Number Grid.(or see  the image.) Plus you can download your color-coded grid to 1,000 grid here: Numbers 0 - 1,000.

4.  Get physical - and funny!  Kids need to move, and we know that movement and exercise help bring oxygen to the brain, therefore helping the memory!  We do loads of movement while counting, such as follow the leader, brain gym exercises, jumping jacks, push-ups, and just about anything we can think of to get the counting to be automatic.  Since laughter also brings oxygen to the brain, it's fun to do the counting with a funny voice. For some reason, I often break into a southern accent while counting by 5s, and the kids giggle like crazy and join right in!  (Waving y'all to all my southern friends... feel free to break into my Boston accent with your kids!)

5.  Don't stop at 100, and leave out the "and"!  I know, this isn't actually a 5th idea, but it's a pet peeve of mine.  My second graders are learning that counting by 5s keeps going after 100!  Those first 2 rows after 100 on the hundred grid are the toughest for the kids to learn, so it's important to go at least past 120!  Did you realize the proper way to say 105 is "one hundred five" without the word and. Technically, the word "and" stands for the decimal point, so "one hundred and five" really means 100.5.  (OK, you'd really say "one hundred and five-tenths", but let's get the kids in the right habit now so the kids won't get confused when they learn decimals!)

I started playing a game during Math the other day that I hadn't played in years!

We were practicing skip counting in my second grade class, and I realized a lot of these kids really need to practice skip counting a whole lot!

After all, research on brains and learning tells us that practice makes permanent. (This is good if they're practicing the skill correctly, not so good if they're practicing the skill incorrectly! I suspect we all know the pain of unlearning a bad habit!)

So in order to practice the skill of skip counting, I remembered this game:  Countdown!

The children stand in a circle. The teacher decides which numbers will be repeated for the game. To start, we counted by 5s from 5 to 35. A child was chosen to start the game by calling out "five". The children went around the circle calling out the next number in the sequence. Whoever said 35 would sit down. They repeat the sequence, eliminating the "35" person each time, until there is only one left standing, the winner!

Luckily, they enjoy the game, so they're glad to repeat it, with variations on the counting pattern! Plus, brain research tells us that adding an emotional element (fun) improves the memory!

This game works for ANY sequence that needs to be learned. Here are some examples:
• the seven continents
• the states of matter
• the seasons
• the times tables
• prime numbers