Category Archives: Reading Workshop

The Power of Three

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In Harry Potter, the Deathly Hallows are three super powerful magical objects believed to give the owner invincibility.  How awesome would it be if we armed our students with 3 magically powerful skills that enabled them to be “invincible” when it comes to reading?  Research on the Generative Theory has shown that there ARE 3 powerful things that create successful readers. Without these three things, readers are unable to self monitor and try strategies to help them succeed. Reading becomes a chore rather than something that comes as natural as breathing.

The Generative Theory of reading is born of the research of Diane Stephens on what matters when helping students become successful readers and writers.  Her “What Matters” framework places heavy emphasis on meeting students where they are and using assessment as a way to know more about how students learn and shape lessons accordingly.

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According to Stephens’ theory, if the following 3 things are in place, the reader will automatically self monitor.  They will stop themselves when something does not make sense and will apply a strategy to help.

  1. The reader understands that reading should make sense. Does the reader understand that reading is about more than just getting the words right?
  2. The reader believes in his/her ability to make sense of text. Does the reader see reading as an attainable goal everyone can achieve rather than an ability a person is born with?
  3. The reader sees reading as an enjoyable event.  Does the reader see reading as fun?

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As teachers, we need to look for and at times create situations for the students to show these 3 things.  To start, here are some activities for helping students understand that reading should make sense.

  • Use easy to read books that are fun and enjoyable and have high interest for students
  • Have students look at a picture and ask them to tell you what is happening in the picture.  If the student is just pointing to objects in the picture and naming them (labeling) rather than crafting a scenario for the picture, he/she does not understand that reading should make sense
  • Tea Party Strategy:
    • Show the students the front/back cover of a book and jot down words they think the author may use in the story.
    • Talk about why the author may use those words.
    • Categorize them.
    • OR Show students various pictures (some actually from book, others not) and have them sort the pictures into 2 groups – Pictures they think will be in the book or will not be in the book.  Discuss reasoning behind the categorizing.
  • Use wordless picture books  to practice telling stories
  • Use 3 pictures, tell a story, and write the story together
  • Teacher talk – think aloud as you read a story to model how a reader self monitors and the meaning making process
  • Oral storytelling
  • Interactive read alouds
  • Performance Literacy:
    • Student draws favorite animal
    • Teacher writes the name of the animal
    • Ask the child if the animal has a name
    • Write 2-3 words that could form the problem of the story (ex: lonely, hungry, or lost)
    • Ask questions: What problem do you want your animal to have? When the lion was hungry what did he do? Where did it go? What did it eat?
    • Write down the student responses to the questions
    • Tell the story back to the child filling in details when necessary.  Use plenty of sounds and movement.
    • Ask the child to tell the story back to you.

As I explore this topic more in my Literacy Beginnings class, I will share more with you!  In the meantime, check out this article:

http://www.debaronson.com/node/94

Or Diane Stephens book:  Reading Assessment: Artful Teachers, Successful Students

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Kindergarten and the Writing Process

“Writing might be magical, but it’s not magic. It’s a process, a rational series of decisions and steps that every writer makes and takes, no matter what the length, the deadline, even the genre.” – Donald Murray

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Say what you will about Lucy Calkins – especially since her mass marketed writing program has been released.  I hold firm to her (and my) foundational beliefs about the writing process.  All children can be writers. We meet writers where they are, capture them with great literature, and inspire them to find the writer within.

The not fun part is when the writing process gets “put upon” students.  It is presented as a series of “must do” steps just to feel that a piece is complete. It can be daunting and disheartening, especially to our youngest writers.

So how do we present these steps to our emerging readers and writers?  I prefer to model the different phases of the process.  You will not see a step by step guide to the process in my classroom.  There is not a poster of the process as a cycle (which is my preference – a piece of writing can always be returned to if the writer chooses).  I teach five and six year olds and the walls of our classroom are filled with anchor charts they have created. You may see a check list of things to remember.  You may see rubric of what our “best work” should look like.  But you will not see “THE WRITING PROCESS” laid out on our walls.

Throughout the year, we build on our writing.  We begin with labeling, progress to simple sentences, and finally (hopefully) we write multiple sentences with details.  We emphasize adding details – both to our drawings and our writing.  We use graphic organizers (brainstorming), 4 squares (rough drafts), iPad apps and paper (publishing).  We read our writing out loud – to a friend, to a teacher, to ourselves.  We check our sight words with the word wall.  We ask each other questions (editing/revising).

The last two weeks, we have been exploring the ocean and all it offers.  My students this year are very interested in animals and habitats.  We started a project this week that allows us to put two of our favorite things together – research and the iPad.  Using the “plan” below, students began researching an ocean animal of their choice.

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Students used library books, Pebble Go, Brainpop Jr, and other sources (each other) for research.  I modeled adding information to the plan after reading or listening to research.  We learn early on that copying every word from a book or the computer is a big NO NO.  We learn that we must use words from our own heads, not another author’s words.  If we write it, we need to be able to read it!  Not to mention that whole plagiarism thing!

Once the plan was complete, they showed a teacher what they had.  We had conferences about how to use the information in the best way. They could choose an app to make their project or actual paper.  Many students chose to create a paper book about their animal.  Either way, what they produced what meaningful to them – and they learned about the writing process along the way.

Here are some examples, still works in progress:

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This student opted to leave his planning page in his book.  He thought it would make a great table of contents!

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These are writings that I know the students will return to again and again as they learn more.  They have asked to not take them home yet – just in case! Wonderful authors in the making!

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What the Pigeon Wants

Pigeon

 

In my opinion, the Pigeon series by Mo Willems is the literary equivalent of a Hollywood triple threat – he can act, dance, and sing.  He does all of these things to get what he wants – ahem, NEEDS! The Pigeon provides great examples of persuasion techniques (yes, more than one, just ask any fifth grader), creativity, economic principles (needs/wants), and powerful illustrations.

This year, my class has truly fallen in love with this author.  In the media center they did an author study and in our classroom we continue to revisit Willems’ stories when the mood strikes us.  The week leading to Spring Break put us in one of those moods.  We wanted to hear the Pigeon books again.  When I read these books, the Pigeon has the voice of a very stereotypical 1940’s gangster.  I try to pattern my voice after a media specialist friend (Sharon Mitchell), but hers is truly better than mine. Anyhow – the pigeon pleads, begs, and yes – stomps his feet with my attempt at a voice.  We have fun with these books.  Students respond back with NO! and other answers to his persuasive questions.  Even my fifth graders in past years would respond to the persistent guy.

The Pigeon helped us discuss needs and wants this go round.  We read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, and The Pigeon Wants a Puppy. We discussed the difference between needs and wants and created a class T chart.  In the students’ schedule for the day, their word work option was to complete a Pic Collage using the words need and want.

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During her writing rotation, Emma chose to create her own version of The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, The Pigeon Wants a Kitten.  She used the books to model her drawings as well as the pattern of her sentences.  We talked extensively about using the books as models – not copying.  The words in the books belonged to who?  Mo Willems.  And the words on her paper belonged to who?  Emma.  She indeed did some creative editing and the end product was quite cute.

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So – when searching for a mentor text that is worth its weight, and in my case the cost of multiple copies – consider The Pigeon series.  He’ll be your best friend!

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Ideas span grade levels:

  • Persuasive techniques – does the Pigeon beg/whine/wear down, plead, negotiate, bargain, give an ultimatum to get his way? Also compare with techniques used in the Click, Clack, Moo et al series by Doreen Cronin , I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloffand Earrings by Judith Viorst.
  •  Use of illustrations and how Mo Willems shows feelings
  • How illustrators use the technique of hiding characters from other books ( a la Pixar/Disney) – Knuffle Bunny, Elephant, Piggie, Edwina, and Leonardo find their way into the Pigeon books.
  • Needs versus wants – also use The Pigeon Needs a Bath
  • Voice – characters shine through when saying few words

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Über Books for Upper Grades 2

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For me, books have always been a trusted friend.  A friend that is just like me, the complete opposite of me, or me transformed in another world.  Books are mirrors or windows (I think I’ve said this before).  In books, we see ourselves or through to something else.

Reading realistic fiction with my students, picture or chapter books, has always provided opportunities for connections in my classroom. Honest questions are asked, discussions are had, and at times – tears are shed.  And if we are lucky, a student falls in love with a book.  Magic.

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about some of my favorite historical fiction books.  Today, I hope you add some of these realistic fiction books to your classroom.

9780142405444_p0_v1_s260x420 bird by Angela Johnson

A sensitive story of a girl trying to keep her family together.  Bird is thirteen and cannot accept the fact that her stepfather has left.  She follows him to Alabama to try and convince him to return to Cleveland to rejoin her family.  In searching for security, she becomes security for two young boys with problems of her own.

9780399239892_p0_v1_s260x420 feathers by Jaqueline Woodson

Two things led me to pick up this book at the bookstore – the author (one of my favorites) and the main character’s name (characters never have my name!).  Woodson is one of my favorites because she speaks to readers with honesty, compassion, and understanding.  Her books tackle difficult topics such as race, gender, and relationships.  In feathers, Frannie begins to view the world around her in new ways after hearing a quote from a poem at school – “Hope is the thing with feathers”.  A powerful read aloud or book club selection, Frannie helps readers realize the beauty of looking deeper.

9780689866968_p0_v1_s260x420 deaf child crossing by Marlee Matlin

This book is a window for most students.  The perspective of a deaf child is a rare one in children’s literature and Marlee Matlin does a beautiful job.  Megan and Cindy become fast friends when Cindy moves into the neighborhood.  They are inseparable.  As summer approaches, their friendship becomes tested when they go to camp together.  Matlin explores friendship and all its facets through the eyes of two young girls.

9780064472074_p0_v1_s260x420 Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

I love a book that is told from several different perspectives.  Some readers find it difficult to follow, bouncing back and forth from character to character, but I enjoy getting the whole story from all those involved.  Seedfolks uses a vacant lot to connect neighbors, stories, and lives together in an inner city neighborhood.  Two years ago, a group in my fifth grade reading class chose to read this book together.  I had to make a judgement call.  I knew some of the content was heavy (pregnant teenager), but I also knew where my students were coming from.  I knew why Valerie connected to it after skimming through the pages (pregnant sister).  I knew Eric would idenifywith Kim’s optimism. I knew that Seedfolks was going to be a mirror and a window for my students. Just as the characters saw promise in the soil, I saw promise in this book.

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Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Caulder Game:  A trifecta of awesomeness!  Although considered more mystery than realistic fiction, Blue Balliett’s series sends readers on journeys through art and architecture, friendship and hardship, trials and tribulations.  Secret messages and codes are woven into each story with pentominoes, riddles, mazes, and more.  Readers are exposed to the art of Vermeer, the architecture of Wright, and the sculpture of Caulder while following friends as they investigate mysteries throughout Chicago and England (Caulder Game).

Maybe you have already read some of these with your students, maybe you’ve never heard of them, but I hope you give them a chance.

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Über Books for Upper Grades

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“Our Land is alive, Esperanza…This whole valley breathes and lives…He picked up a handful of earth and studied it. Did you know that when you lie down on the land, you can feel it breathe? That you can feel its heart beating.”
― Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising

If a stranger glanced at my book shelves at home, he or she would never know that I currently teach kindergarten.  An entire shelf plus a row of the next contain chapter books – Multiple copies of the Harry Potter series, Lois Lowry, Jerry Spinelli, and Christopher Paul Curtis wave to me each day.  They are old friends from previous teaching years who have the privilege of being on my shelves at home.  Their spines are worn, well loved, by children and by me.  Occasionally, one finds its way back into my hands to be read once again.  Even better, one is loaned out to a teacher friend to be shared with students once more.

When teaching fourth and fifth grades, I would often stray from the traditional guided reading approach and use literature circles.  With practice and support, these groups would become amazing environments for reading and learning.  They could function independently while I worked with other students or I could sit in and participate as a reader as well.  Being an active participant in the groups meant that at times, I could be reading 3-4 chapter books at once.  I found the juggling of multiple characters and story lines to be worth it in the end though.

As a student, I liked learning about history, but in a round about way.  I enjoyed documentaries, first person artifacts, journal entries, and – most of all – historical fiction.  My love for historical fiction carried over into my teaching.  If you have ever paid attention to the span of time upper elementary school teachers and students are expected to cover in one school year, you know it is absurd.  Yes – students will hear the material again in future years.  Yes – students will go more in depth in future years.  But the fact still remains that an expectation to cover 200+ years is there.  Exploring history through historical fiction proved to be a savior for me.  We could cover content material and students could (hopefully) identify with a character and enjoy themselves along the way.

Some of my favorite historical fiction titles:

Watsons1963Christopher Paul Curtis is, by far, one of my favorite authors of all time.    He has an amazing ability to connect readers with issues of long ago in a relatable, non frightening way.  In The Watson’s Go to Birmingham, 1963, we are transported into the Watson’s home and travel with them to Birmingham at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  Many teachers I know, use this as a read aloud in order to edit some of the content and language (few curse words).  I made a judgement call, and used this for a literature circle group two years ago with fifth graders.  I’m so glad I did.

6702075-MWhen teaching about World War II, I find it important and beneficial to share as many experiences as possible.  Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes  tells the story of a young girl and the impact radiation from the bombing of Hiroshima has on her life.  She uses her knowledge of a Japanese legend to bring hope to herself and her country.  Without fail, each year I read this, we made paper cranes.  I discovered that origami is not really a strength of mine – but there is always a student who excels and helps others fold the cranes.

51zqk1y72TLJust add Laurie Halse Anderson to the list of authors I am obsessed with.  I love how she dives into history and creates strong, dynamic, female characters that are heroines any student can identify with and admire.  Yellow Fever does not usually get much attention in elementary history books.  However, it is a fascinating piece of our history.  I read Fever 1793 out loud to my students.  We then connected it with the nonfiction text The American Plague.  Through the eyes of Mattie, we learn about the spread of the fever and how no one (not even famous historical figures) could escape.  Anderson writes in such a way that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.  Fever 1793, is part of her historical fiction trilogy.  Other titles include Chains (amazing) and Forge (on my to read list).

weedflowerFollowing the attack of Pearl Harbor, the lives of Sumiko and her family are thrown into turmoil.  Once flower farmers, they are separated and sent to internment camps.  Sumiko is sent to a camp in Arizona on Mohave land.  Readers are able to gain perspective of two other groups during World War II through Weedflower.  Cynthia Kadohata writes with genuine emotion and addresses very complex issues while still leaving room for readers to make connections.

51YxIHMJa1LThe Great Depression affected all parts of this nation in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  In elementary history texts, attention is mainly placed on the stock market crash, Hoovervilles, and the New Deal.  In Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan brings us a “riches to rags” story of a Mexican family forced to flee to California after a tragedy.  Once part of a wealthy family, Esperanza becomes a migrant worker.  Poetically told through the growing seasons, with Spanish intertwined, our heroine’s story takes us through different ethnicities and the organization of labor during the Great Depression.

UnknownThe spring after 9/11, I chose this book as a read aloud for a class I was student teaching in.  I was teaching in a rural area, where closed-mindedness still had a home.  Students were making comments about middle eastern people that they didn’t really understand.  My hope was to show students another view of a side of the world completely foreign to them.  The Breadwinner is one of three books by Deborah Ellis that tells of Parvana, a young girl living in Kabul.  After her father’s arrest, Parvana puts her life at risk to take care of her family.  Ellis spent several months with refugees researching young girls’ experiences in Afghanistan.  Parvana is a hopeful, strong, and determined heroine.  Her voice shows that even in oppressive climates, humanity can shine through.

al-capone-does-my-shirtsDiscussions of the 1930’s always led to students becoming intrigued by Alcatraz, Al Capone, and the original “gangsters” of that time.  Gennifer Choldenko created an entire series around Moose Flanagan and his family’s experience on Alcatraz Island.  The spirit of the era shines through Al Capone Does My Shirts and acts as an additional character.  The characters are well rounded, developed, and relatable.  Readers close the pages and immediately want to do research to learn more.

Stay tuned for more über picks – up next, realistic fiction!

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Hickory, Dickory, Tot

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Last week, we began discussing word families and rhyming words. In the past, I have focused on different word families for a few days and then moved right on to the next few – Usually progressing through the short vowel word families.
The first day, we started discussing what it means when words rhyme and if anyone could think of rhyming words. I read I Can Read with my Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss and we showed a thumbs up if we heard any rhyming words. Following the read aloud, the –at word family was introduced. –At words tend to be easiest for students to pick up on and they immediately felt successful as we listed all the words on an anchor chart. They practiced with –at words the next two days at writing and word work centers, with books, flip charts, and word wheels.
During shared reading time, we were reading nursery rhymes. Of course, these timeless rhymes lend themselves to word families very well. Last Friday, we read through some classic rhymes on the Smart Board, such as Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill. Then, students took turns circling the rhyming words they heard.
Once the rhyming words were circled on each rhyme, the fun really began. Students were able to choose any word they wanted to replace the first rhyming word. I modeled scribbling out the original word and writing the new word on top. Each new rhyme was student generated and I did the writing. We sounded each word out together. When a rhyme was particularly difficult, we talked about nonsense words. To make a new rhyme, using a nonsense word, a student would choose a beginning letter and we would add the rime. Since we were focused on practicing with rhymes, we decided the words we came up with did not have to be real words. We made sure each word rhymed with the appropriate partner.

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After the modeling on Friday, my students asked this morning if we could do silly nursery rhymes again today. Of course, I said yes. I pulled up the slides from Friday and erased the rhymes we created. This time, the students were in charge of coming up with a rhyme and writing it on the smart board. This activity proved to be enjoyable once again. A student even reminded a friend that nonsense words were ok – we are focused on rhyming!

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Humpty Dumpty sat on a brig(j)
Humpty Dumpty had a great thig(j)
All the King’s horses
And all the King’s babes
Couldn’t put Humpty together zabes

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Little Boy Blue
Come blow your shoo
The sheep’s in the meadow;
The cow’s in the boo
Where is the boy who looks after the donut
He’s under a haystack, fast blonut”

*The student who contributed donut was thrilled as he often shouts out donut as an inappropriate answer and this time it was ok.

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Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of dogs
Jack fell candy cane
and broke his ane
And Jill came tumbling ogs

We will continue working on word families and writing well past our holiday break. Being able to apply this new skill to familiar text helps the students make connections. The use of nonsense words helps them feel successful. We have more activities to come… Writing our own rhymes and creating word family displays with our iPads. Stay tuned!

For more fun with familiar rhymes and songs check out Alen Katz’s and Bruce Lansky’s popular books:

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Phonetic, Phonemic; Tomāto, Tomȯto

“Potāto, Potȯto; tomāto, tomȯto
Let’s call the whole thing off”

When speaking about phonetic versus phonemic, things are not as simple as this song.  Phonemic and phonetic are often used interchangeably when discussing skills an emerging reader has.  Although these two words are connected, they are two different aspects of learning to read.

phonemic awareness vs phonics blog

My interpretation of the two terms:

Phonemic awareness is a student’s understanding that individual sounds make up words.  Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill!  Although there are 26 letters in the alphabet, there are 43 distinct phonemes (18 vowel, 25 consonant).  The minute your lesson involves printed word, it becomes a lesson of phonological awareness (phonetics).

Phonological awareness is a student’s understanding that individual sounds in words are associated with a specific letter (grapheme).  A student understands that words can be segmented into syllables, onsets and rimes, and letter sounds.  They use their knowledge of phonemes to phonetically spell during writing, chunk words while decoding during reading, etc.

Phonemic awareness falls under phonological awareness, phonological awareness is part of phonology, etc.  If you really want to blow your mind – read this The Phive Phones of Reading.

Confused yet?  The differentiation between the terms is not necessary when teaching – the concepts are more often than not taught simultaneously.  Below is a great table I found from Literacy Resources, Inc.

Phonemic Awareness Phonics
Main focus is on phonemes / sounds Main focus is on graphemes / letters and their corresponding sounds
Deals with spoken language Deals with written language / print
Mostly auditory Both visual and auditory
Students work with manipulating sounds and sounds in words Students work with reading and writing letters according to their sounds, spelling patterns, and phonological structure

The times that I find the differentiation important, is when I am working with struggling readers.  This year, I have been thinking about it a lot.  When assessing a student in my class, I found that she did not identify some letters just by looking at them.  If I prompted her with the letter sound, she would then identify the letter correctly. For example:  I hold up T. She stares blankly. I say /t/. She says T.  However, the reverse was not always true.  I could ask, “What does T say?” and receive a blank stare.  To me, this was a conundrum so I asked colleagues and did some research.  I wanted to find activities to add to the poems, rhymes, songs, chants, and games I was already doing.

I’ve compiled some great resources for you – resources I’ve actually tried.  I’m happy to report my student is making great progress with both phonemic and phonological awareness.

Phonemic Awareness activities – Remember this is an auditory skill:

Amazing presentation from the 2008 Reading First conference – Info and activities: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/readingfirst/2008conferences/sound.pdf

Patti’s Electronic Classroom (some typos on the website, but you’ll get the gist of the activities):
http://teams.lacoe.edu/documentation/classrooms/patti/k-1/activities/phonemic.html

Michigan Learning Fundamentals: Pages 6-14
http://www.michigan.gov/documents/Kindergarten_Literacy_Activities_66523_7.pdf

Always love Reading Rockets:
http://www.readingrockets.org/article/388/

Sing a Song of Poetry, Fountas and Pinnell (book for purchase):
http://www.heinemann.com/products/E00655.aspx

Phonological Awareness/Phonics activities:

Reading Rockets breaks down the development of phonological awareness:
http://www.readingrockets.org/article/28759/

PBS Kids:
http://pbskids.org/lions/games/ears.html
http://pbskids.org/lions/games/pounce.html
http://pbskids.org/lions/games/
http://pbskids.org/island/preview/games-phonemicawareness.html

Michigan Learning Fundamentals: Pages 14-22
http://www.michigan.gov/documents/Kindergarten_Literacy_Activities_66523_7.pdf

Florida Center for Reading Research:
http://www.fcrr.org/Curriculum/pdf/Gk-1/PA_Final_Part3.pdf

Fountas and Pinnell Phonological Awareness Assessment:
http://www.heinemann.com/shared/onlineresources/e02819/oa_b1initialsounds.pdf

Letters, Words, and How They Work – Fountas and Pinnell (book to purchase) :
http://www.heinemann.com/products/E00407.aspx

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