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Recently, a student shared a poem he had written with me. I was totally amazed at how beautiful and thoughtful it was. He was involved in a creative writing class, and the poem was an assignment. This made me think about the summer as a time to expand writing skills in a fun way. Teens could see writing as something to enjoy instead of a chore to do for school.

Often, teens get stuck on the first step when trying to write—thinking of something to say. This is true for all writers, not just beginning writers! If your child feels this way, my advice is to encourage her to write about her passions. If she has something she really wants to say, it is much easier to get going. It is also important that she does not feel that her work has to be perfect the first time through. I often write, rewrite, let it sit overnight, and revise again before submitting my work. Six Ways to Start the Writing Process might help her get started.

Creative thoughts often come to us when we are relaxed and not focused on any one thing. It might help your child to get away from electronic devices that interrupt his thinking. Many writers say their ideas come to them while in the shower first thing in the morning when they are well-rested. He could take an afternoon walk in the park or sit outside one night and watch for a shooting star. The trick is to give himself plenty of down time when there is nothing scheduled except relax and enjoy life.

Encourage your children to take some time this summer to explore their writing potential. They might find that they enjoy getting their thoughts down on paper. Your children might find out that they love sharing their passions through writing. This is especially true if there is an easy way to share what they write with the world! Teen Ink is a website devoted to sharing writing, reviews, photos, videos, and art submitted by teens. There are more than 65,000 works published on the site. It is fun to read the work submitted by other teens and to rate their work. Perhaps your child will be inspired to submit work for publication this summer, and she will begin to see herself as a writer with important things to say.

Whether your child loves to write stories or is a reluctant writer, a great way to bolster writing skills is to make simple poems. Verse writing is short; children easily understand the rhythm, and see quick results of their efforts!

Here are three easy ways to get started:
Colorful crayon poems
Start with the eight basic colors of crayons (red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, brown, and black). Let your child pick one or two colors. Then encourage him to use descriptive words about these colors. Help him write the words if needed. For example:

Bright yellow sun
Means outdoor fun
Yellow mustard on the bun

Green on the grass
Green on the trees
Oh no, now there’s green on my knees!

After he’s created a poem for each color on a separate piece of paper, staple the pages together to create his book of poems. Let him illustrate each colorful verse.

Pick-a-word notebook

Keep a special small notebook for pages of verse. Together, brainstorm some favorite words such as dinosaur, butterfly, ice cream, etc., and have your child build verses around those works.
Ice cream in the park
Ice cream after dark
Ice cream at the pool
Ice cream is so cool

Have your child draw pictures about the poems she creates. Help her fill the top of some empty pages with random, interesting words she likes. Then she will have verse “starters,” ready to go, in her notebook.

Create greeting cards
Have plain paper handy. Let your child fold it in half and create greeting card verses for family and friends. The themes could include "get well," "happy birthday," "thank you," "congratulations," and more.

Nana, Nana you’re the best
Hope you get some time to rest
Happy birthday!!!

Family members love these homemade greetings!

Try these verse-atile activities with your child—they can spark a real interest in describing, rhyming, and using creative words. They can also teach writing a clear message with fewer (and more descriptive) words.

This year in my 1st grade class, I have been using a terrific new concept passed along to me by my colleague, Kathy. This idea greatly helps our students master their weekly spelling assignments. In both of our 1st grade classes, we have a reading station called “Rainbow Words,” which is a colorful, hands-on way for students to practice and remember vocabulary. I noticed that students who were having difficulty recognizing letters, or hearing sounds in the words, had much better success when they used this concept of color-coded individual letters in words. This would be a simple activity to help your young student practice words at home, as well.

You’ll need:

  • A small package of markers or crayons, in the basic eight colors of red, blue, yellow, brown, orange, green, purple, and black
  • Lined paper

Here’s how:

  • You should start very simply. For example, if your child is learning short vowel “a” words such as at, cat, fan, ran, cap, have her use the red marker to print all the “a” vowels in the words. The beginning and final consonants can be any different color of her choice. This way she will easily recognize the vowel in the words, when printing is complete.
  • Have him practice his weekly spelling or sight words by using a different color to print each letter in the word, creating a “rainbow word.” 
  • If your child is more advanced, have her use one specific color to identify digraphs (th, sh, ch, wh), blends (st, sl, pl, cr, etc.,,) or endings in words (ed, ing, ly, etc.) with the other letters in the word.

Children are naturally creative. Using a different color to print each letter in a word helps a child easily recognize those letters and parts of words. This is a great way to improve reading fluency and increase comprehension…while creating word “rainbows”!

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When young authors start to write, they are sometimes confused about where to begin. Often, having one good idea gets them going! Here are six ways to let the author in your child bloom.

  • Use a traditional pattern: Suggest that your child follow a logical sequence: “The gorilla at the zoo was so loud! He hit his chest with his fists. I had to cover my ears. My friend Jason just laughed and laughed! Jason tried to imitate the gorilla all the way home.”
  • Use a different pattern: For example, have her think about an experience that really made her laugh. Let her tell you about it. If the most exciting part is in the middle of the story, let her start there. Then she can go back and add the beginning. Finally, she can write forward from the middle to the end.
  • Rewrite a classic: If her favorite classic story is The Three Bears, have her tell it from Baby Bear’s point of view! Putting a new twist on an old favorite helps her think about the story in a more creative way.
  • Be a reporter: Let her pretend to be a news reporter and interview a grandparent, aunt, uncle, older cousin, or good friend. For example, she might ask an older cousin how he got interested in playing the guitar. Or, she might ask her grandmother what school was like when she was seven years old. Then, she can write a story about her grandmother’s memories.
  • Provide a collection of simple story-starters: On small index cards, write 10 different story-starters that are of interest to your child. Keep them in a small container or box. Some examples might be “What do you like to do on a rainy day? Or, on a sunny day?” “What’s your favorite animal and why?” “Why do you like dinosaurs so much?” Use these to inspire new stories.
  • Create a writing box: Stock a shoebox or other container with paper, crayons, colored pencils, markers, and other supplies so that writing and illustrating is always easily accessible.

Doing simple activities like these with your child can spark a lifelong interest in writing!

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Is Your Child a Backward Printer?Parents often worry when young children keep reversing letters and numbers in their written work.

When young children first begin to print, it is very common for them to reverse letters and numbers. The most common are b, d, g, p, q, s, 3, 5, and 9.

When a child starts school, backward numbers and letters can affect his understanding of math computations and reading comprehension. By the time a child is in 1st grade, he should start to recognize and self-correct as it is very important that these errors don’t become a “bad habit.”

Here are some simple ways to encourage proper formation of letters and numbers:

  • When you notice reversals on homework, gently ask him to check and see whether he notices anything that needs to be changed. Guide him if he has trouble finding the errors. Then, let him erase and correct.
  • Keep a simple chart of capital and lowercase letters for her to reference when she’s doing work.
  • Also keep a small number grid handy to reference number formation for math assignments.
  • Try bringing in another sense. Help her roll out clay and form letters or numbers that are giving her trouble.
  • Or, add salt or sand to a small, shirt-size box to practice writing letters and numbers with his finger, then gently shaking to erase.

Since practice makes perfect, have her rewrite correctly any words on papers containing backward letters. She will soon understand that it’s simpler to write the numbers and letters correctly the first time rather than have to erase and make corrections.

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Getting young students to write good stories is a challenge. Most youngsters can tell a great story, but are reluctant writers. I tell my students that writing is simply “telling” a story on paper. If you can tell a good story, you should be able to write one.

Parents can help their child become a good writer with simple techniques to practice. Here are my top 10 ways to help your child organize their story writing:


  • Help him practice telling stories. Practice should include the stories’ beginning, middle, and end. Once he masters that, practice retelling the same stories with more detail. Encourage additional story elements with questions like “Where did that take place?” “Was it daytime?” “How did that make you feel?”
  • Make writing easily accessible. Have a “writer’s box” with supplies handy. In a shoe box or other small container, keep a small notebook, different types of paper, sharpened pencils, crayons, markers, and other writing enticements.
  • Stress that the first sentence should be a “hook” that “catches” readers and makes them want know more. “You won’t believe what happened yesterday!” Or, “Have you ever heard a dog count?”
  • Don’t overuse “and.” When young writers get good thoughts flowing, they often end up with a story that is one long run-on sentence full of ands! Help them eliminate the and to show that each sentence is one complete thought. For example, instead of “Yesterday I went to the zoo and saw all different kinds of animals and my favorite were the monkeys and they were funny and we had a good time.” Help her break it down: Yesterday I went to the zoo. We saw all different kinds of animals. The monkeys were funny! We had a good time.
  • Help him stick to the topic.
  • Pay attention to sequence. The order in which things happen helps the reader have a better understanding of the story.
  • Use a variety of words and synonyms. For example, help her brainstorm different ways to say “big.”
  • Have him double check for capital letters at the beginning of sentences and proper nouns.
  • Encourage question and exclamation sentences. Have her go back and check her ending marks. “I took my dog out for a walk. All of a sudden it started to rain! Has that ever happened to you?”
  • Go for a “punch” ending that ties the ideas together. “My day at the zoo was the best day I’ve ever had!”

With a little practice you can help your great storyteller become a great author!


> The Five Steps to Phonemic Awareness

> 3 Strategies To Build Strong Reading Skills

Does your child like to collect things? If so, turn those seashells, rocks, action figures, comic books, toy dinosaurs, into useful objects that promote math and Language Arts skills.

Here are three ways to involve math with collectibles:

  • Start by counting the objects different ways. He can count his collection by ones or skip-count by putting the objects into sets of two, five, or 10. Also, have him practice counting backwards, to zero, from the total number.
  • Help your child classify her collection. For example, if she collects seashells, have her sort them by size, color, shape, or markings.
  • When he wants to add to his collection, create a list of jobs he can do to earn and budget the money for new items.

To build Language Arts skills, try the following:

  • Have your child choose an object from his collection and tell or write a short fiction story about it. For example, tell how one of his action figures got “lost” from the others. Together, brainstorm ideas to get started. Or, he could write a short nonfiction story, telling details about the action figure and how he received it.
  • Increase her understanding of describing words by helping her list at least five (or more) different adjectives about an item in her collection. If she likes to collect stuffed animals, for example, some examples of words might be big, small, furry, soft, old, new, faded, cuddly, colorful, etc.
  • Take two or three of his small toy dinosaurs to the library and help him find nonfiction books that match. Help him read why his favorite Stegosaurus has plates on his back and spikes on his tail.

Collections are a wonderful activity for children.  They can also be a great tool for organizing and reinforcing academic skills.

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Writing stories is a learned skill. It’s a process by which the writer uses written words to communicate clear ideas.

In our 1st grade class, we talk about the writer’s responsibility to the reader. For example, the writer has a “picture” of their story in their mind. It’s the writer’s job to provide clear written words so that the reader can make the same “picture” in their own mind. Young children are adept at visualizing what a good writer is saying.

Here’s a simple activity you can do to help a young child become a better story writer:

  • Print a simple sentence on a paper, making sure to start with a capital letter and end with appropriate punctuation. An example could be “I see a bird.”
  • Then ask her to close her eyes and picture what that sentence says.
  • Ask her to open her eyes and tell you what she envisioned. She might say, “I saw a blue bird.”
  • Tell her that was not what you were thinking of, but that’s OK, because as the writer you didn’t give her enough information.
  • Then print another sentence, underneath the first, such as, “I see a yellow bird.” Ask her to close her eyes and make that new picture in her mind.
  • After opening her eyes ask, “Was your yellow bird big or small?” When she answers say, “My fault again, as the writer I didn’t give you enough information to make the same picture that I have in my mind.” 
  • Continue with a progression of three or four more simple sentences, each time asking questions such as, “Where was your bird?” or “Did the bird move?”
  • The last sentence or sentences should look something like this: “I see a small yellow bird in the tree outside. It flew away.” Ask her to close her eyes and make that picture in her mind. Now you both have the same picture of what the story is about.
  • Compare these last sentences to the first one that said “I see a bird.” Help her visualize that when writers use specific, descriptive words it helps the reader clearly comprehend what the writer is saying.

Doing simple exercises like these helps a young child know that creating an organized structure for their writing is important. It engages the reader and demonstrates understanding of what the author is communicating.


> Use "Story Starters" To Help Young Writers

> Help Your Child Build Writing Skills

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Many teens spend a great deal of time on social sites networking with friends. One concern I have about that relates to language skills. It is acceptable on these sites to use improper grammar and spelling, and we often blame autocorrect features on our digital devices rather than taking responsibility for posting poorly constructed sentences and misspelled words. Perhaps that can be something we as parents require of our children—to write correctly on social networking sites.

One of the most frequent errors is the misuse of the homonyms there, their, and they’re. Here is how I help my students remember which one to use.

  • Apostrophes in the middle of words often mean there is something left out. They’re is a shortened way to write two words—they are. Other examples are “don’t” for “do not” and “shouldn’t” for “should not.”
  • Their contains the word “heir,” which is a person. The word their always refers to a group of people. “Shoppers normally park their cars next to the grocery store where they are shopping.”
  • There contains the word “here,” which is a place. (This refers to the core meaning of the word “there.”) I can be here. I can be there. “The car is parked over there next to the grocery store” uses the correct homonym. There are other uses of the word, “there,” (such as the first word of this sentence), but this memory aid will often help make the decision which one to use. This rule of thumb especially helps when used in combination with the first two “rules.”

Parents should always be monitoring what their children are posting online. When you see your child use grammar incorrectly such as using the wrong homonym, you can use it as a teaching moment. Perhaps that will encourage him to practice writing correctly. He should not blame his smartphone (or other device) for the errors he posts. Everything posted online should be proofread. The extra time spent proofing also gives her time to think about whether what she is about to post is appropriate and thoughtful of others, but I will save that for another blog topic!

> Impulsive Students Need Guidance When Online
> Talk With Your Child About the Internet

Very often young children are reluctant writers because they simply don’t know how to start a story. One way to circumvent this is to provide them with a “story starter.”

Story starters are prompts. They can be a picture, a list, an art project, a simple sentence, or a question. They are an interactive tool that can spark writing and creativity.

Here are five examples of easy story starters to use with young writers:

  • Picture starters can be photos, drawings, or art projects that a child can describe. For example, a picture of a puppy might start a great story about how to be a good pet owner. 
  • List starters are great for organizing thoughts about favorite games to play, trips to the museum, etc. A list of three favorite dinosaurs and their characteristics could easily be turned into an interesting nonfiction story.
  • Sentence starters can be the beginning of a fiction, nonfiction, or fantasy story. For example: “This morning my dog started to talk!” “I love playing soccer because…”  “If you were a superhero what would you do?”
  • Event starters such as “Yesterday my cat had three kittens!” “Nana and Grandpa are coming to visit in a week,” or “Mom and Dad told me I’m going to have a baby sister,” make great openings for stories. 
  • Tie writing to reading. After reading a good book together, have your child draw and write about a favorite part, tell the story from a different setting, or write a different ending.

Becoming a good creative writer can have a very positive impact on a child’s success in school—and in the years beyond.

> Have Kids Practice Writing by Capturing Summer Memories

> Help Your Child Build Writing Skills

Young students can be reluctant story writers, even when they are good readers. However, understanding a simple sequence often gives them the confidence to give writing a try. This is a basic writing sequence that’s been successfully used by many teachers over the years.

  • First we learn letters
  • Letters make words
  • Words make sentences
  • And sentences make a story

This sounds so simple! Yet from a young child’s point of view it clarifies why he has to learn all this new (and seemingly unrelated) information.

To help your child:

  • Practice letter recognition with letter “partners” like Bb. This is more practical and helps make an easier transition to print.
  • With index cards, label objects around your child’s bedroom in lowercase letters. While lying in bed, she can “read around her the room” (window, chair, closet, floor, door, etc.).
  • Once she can easily read the words around her room, turn the words into sentences with additional index cards. For example, “Here is a window.” “I see a closet.” “This is a desk.” “I like my bed.”
  • When she can read the sentences with ease, help her create a simple story using one of the sentences as a story starter. For example, “I like my bed because it’s so soft. Sometimes I read in it. Sometimes I jump on it! I can stand on my bed and look out the window. I like having a nice bed!” Then she could illustrate her story. 


The more a young child understands how this basic writing sequence works, the more likely she will learn to love writing.

> Helping Good Readers Become Good Writers

> Help Your Child Build Writing Skills

In “Help Good Readers Become Good Writers, Part 1,” I explained the “six traits of writing” that many school districts use to teach young authors. This week’s focus is on the three types of writing most required by Common Core State Standards in the early grades. They are:

  • Opinion writing (explain and defend an opinion)
  • Informative writing (writing to inform or instruct the reader)
  • Narrative writing (fiction or non-fiction that tells a story)

Here are some simple suggestions for parents to help their young child successfully navigate these three types of writing. You will need three readily available items to get started:

  • A notebook (to keep writing in one place)
  • A pencil with an eraser
  • A box of 16 colored pencils. (I recommend colored pencils rather than crayons because pencils allow children to layer colors in their illustrations, adding more detail to pictures.)

For an opinion writing piece: On one or two pages of the notebook, have your child draw and write about a book you read together, and why she did or did not like it. She can draw the picture and you can scribe her reasons, or she can write a few sentences to explain her opinion.

For informative writing: If your child is a dinosaur lover, have him draw and write about his favorite dinosaur, using only facts. For example: “A Triceratops has three horns. It uses its horns for defense.” Another example could be helping him write the directions of how he made something with Legos.

For a narrative writing piece: Help her write and illustrate stories about learning to play a new sport, taking karate lessons (non-fiction) or being an astronaut (fiction.) Remember to help her organize and sequence the story by what happened in the beginning, middle, and end.

For all types of writing, help your child practice different ways to say the same thing. For example, instead of using “little,” try “small” or “tiny.” Instead of “good,” try “terrific” or “great.”

Gently help your child edit their writing for spelling, capital letters, and punctuation.

As most good writers are well-read, good reading and good writing go hand in hand!

Help Good Readers Become Good WritersBeing a good reader does not automatically make your young child a good writer. Like reading, writing is a learned skill, and there are simple ways to help her learn to write well.

Many school districts across the country base writing instruction on the “six traits of writing.” In this post I explain and simplify the traits. Then, next week, I’ll share some easy ways that you can support these traits when writing with your young child at home.

For the Common Core State Standards, these traits apply most often in the early grades to opinion writing (“I liked that book because...”), informative writing (“Did you know that spiders are not insects because...”), and narrative writing (“One day when I was at the zoo...”).

For early elementary students, I like to put the traits in this order:

  1. Content or ideas (what the story is about)
  2. Organization (beginning, middle, end)
  3. Word choice (simple yet descriptive words)
  4. Sentence fluency (easy to read, makes sense)
  5. Voice (writer’s personality, as the writer would speak)
  6. Conventions (capitalization, spacing, spelling, and punctuation)

Now that you familiar with the “six traits of writing,” be sure to check out “Help Good Readers Become Good Writers, Part 2” for some simple yet fun activities to help your young student become a better writer!

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Have you ever wondered why some people can speak and read well but are terrible at spelling? In order to understand why, you have to take a look at language in general. Not long after a baby is born, he begins to babble by mimicking others around him. Before you know it, he is saying words and then sentences. This is pretty natural, and many experts believe humans might have been speaking to one another for at least 100,000 years. Communicating through oral language is easy for us.

But reading and writing came along much later (about 5000 years ago), and learning to read and spell is more difficult. And, if we examine the difference between reading and spelling, it is easy to see why spelling is much more difficult than reading. There are a limited number of sounds in any language. For example, there are approximately 44 different sounds in the English language with some variations because of different accents. Once a person learns the possible sounds different letters or combinations of letters can make, she can then decode (figure out) what a given word is when reading. If she sees the letter combination /tw/ she thinks, “That ‘w’ can be silent like the ‘w’ in ‘two’ or it can make a sound like it does in ‘twin.’” There are only two possible ways to say the word. It she is trying to read the word “twelve,” it is obvious what the word is since it only makes sense one way. She probably wouldn’t even have to go through this thought process because it is rare that “w” is silent and she would have tried the most common pronunciation first.

However, when spelling a word, she has to figure out which spelling is the correct one to use. There is nothing on the page to help her, and she has to know all the possible ways a given sound can be spelled. Think about the word “delicious.” The /sh/ sound can be spelled 13 different ways! (Is it delitious? Delishus? etc.) This doesn’t even take into account how to spell the rest of the word! Fortunately, if she can get close enough to the correct spelling, a spelling checker can help fix her mistakes. Even that isn’t perfect, though. I often have students who pick the wrong word from the list of choices the spelling checker offers. They might write, “The apple pie was delirious,” which was one of the choices my spelling checker gave me for “delitious.”

This can help to understand why children who are receiving remediation for reading and spelling learn to read more quickly than they learn to spell. There are fewer choices to make when reading than when spelling, and fewer rules to learn for decoding words.

If your child is a poor speller despite working very hard at it, it is reasonable to ask a child’s teacher for accommodations that help. They should at least be allowed to use a computer to produce their written work.

For more about spelling problems, see my earlier blog about accommodating for a spelling disability.

I teach at a school for students who have language learning difficulties. One of our students (I’ll call her Janel) makes excellent use of technology to help her overcome her difficulty with reading and writing for herself. To help her to read her assignments, she often uses digital books that can be read to her with Natural Reader (a free text-to-speech reader for both Mac and PC). Anything that is in digital form can be read with text-to-speech software. When surfing on the web, she can simply copy and paste what she wants to hear into her software. For a fee, the personal version will read directly from a web browser.

Janel also downloads some of her literature books from sites that provide either free audio or digital copies of them. Gutenberg and Manybooks are sites she frequently uses.
Janel also uses the Livescribe Pen to help her take notes in class, complete her homework, make study cards at home, and annotate in her books as she reads. She uses the post-it note paper that can be purchased to use with the pen to annotate in the book. At the end of each chapter, she sticks a post-it size sheet in her book. She then writes one or two words on the page and begins recording with her pen as she orally summarizes the book.

Similarly, anywhere she needs an annotation, she uses a small piece of the specialized paper that comes with the pen, pastes it on the page, and uses the pen to record her voice annotation. To make a study card, she cuts a piece of the paper into a small rectangle and writes the word followed by a question mark. As she writes the question mark, she records the definition of the word. When studying, she reads the word, tries to remember the definition, and then taps the question mark to hear its definition. In this way, she knows whether she said the correct definition.

One of our teachers told me about AudioNote, an app for iPad and Android devices, that works similarly to the Livescribe Pen. It is available at low cost through iTunes and there is a free version for Android. While I have only briefly tried it myself, I can see some powerful possibilities for getting help for students who have trouble either taking notes in class for themselves or trouble getting their thoughts down on paper when doing homework.

I have written on the topic of homework help in the past. For more information about students who struggle with homework, read my earlier blog.

> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

> Homework 911

If you're the parent of a child completing 1st or 2nd grade, how do you know if your child has mastered the skills necessary for moving up to the next grade? The following academic checklist can help. While it isn't a comprehensive listing of all that is covered in 1st and 2nd grades, it highlights 12 major academic standards that your child should meet by the end of these grades. (For an academic checklist for preschoolers and kindergartners, see Preschool, Kindergarten End-of-the-Year Academic Checklist).



1st Grade Academics: By the end of 1st grade your child should:

  • Be able to read grade-level text accurately and fluently
  • Understand what she has just read
  • Know the difference between fiction and non-fiction texts
  • Apply known skills to sounding out new and unfamiliar words
  • Be able to use a dictionary or other reference aids
  • Be able to write simple stories that have a beginning, middle, and end
  • Count to 100 forward and backward
  • Skip count by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s forward and backward
  • Complete simple two-digit addition and subtraction (no borrowing)
  • Understand and solve simple word problems
  • Tell and write time to the hour and half-hour, on both analogical and digital clocks
  • Be able to divide objects into two or four equal parts

2nd Grade Academics: By the end of 2nd grade your child should:

  • Read on-level texts with purpose and understanding
  • Read a variety of genres including fiction, poetry, informational texts, history, social studies and science. 
  • Ask and answer the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” questions to show understanding of key details.
  • Be able to show evidence from the text to support ideas
  • Write an opinion story, supplying reasons that support the opinion
  • Use temporal words when writing (first, next, then, last, etc.)
  • Determine the meaning of unknown words based on the content of the story
  • Understand three digit numbers (For example, knowing that 367 means 3 hundreds, 6 tens, and 7 ones)
  • Count within 1,000; skip count by 5’s, 10’s, and 100’s
  • Tell and write time within 5-minute intervals on both digital and analog clocks
  • Solve word problems involving dollars bills, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies
  • Represent and interpret data, such as bar graphs and picture graphs


These skills are usually sequential, and allow students to build new skills on ones already mastered. The skills found above are from the Common Core Standards that have been adapted by 48 of our 50 states.





Moms, I’m here to let you know that all those little things you do for your children are noticed!

During these past two weeks, my 1st grade class has been preparing for our annual “Mother’s Day Tribute.”

This event always takes place on the Friday before Mother’s Day. Moms are invited to our classroom for an hour, and are treated to beautiful words, written and recited by their children.

Prior to writing, we brainstorm ideas. First drafts usually start with “She takes me…” “She buys me…” but, I remind them that it is not about them; it’s about noticing all the little things that makes their Mom special. This class really put their lessons about metaphors and similes to good use, and have been working extremely hard, writing about why their Moms are special to them.

Without giving too much away, I’d like to share how their writing evolved into descriptive, caring words, straight from a child’s heart:


“She is like a piece of jewelry, shiny and valuable.”


“Her voice is like the ocean waves, soft and clear.”


“She’s as beautiful as a rose.”


“She smells like raspberries.”


“I would never trade her for another Mom.”


“Her soft brown eyes are like a puppy’s.”


“When she gets dressed up for parties, she looks like a queen.”


“Her laugh is music to my ears.”


“I love everything about my Mom.  She is perfect.”


“She has a great smile, and she is a fast runner.”


“Her hugs feel squishy and warm.”


“When she smiles she reminds me of a rainbow, shiny and pretty.”


“Her eyes are brownish-green, like sea glass.”


“She is a good influence to me.”


“Her eyes look like Hershey’s Kisses.”


“She is a great cook…I love her crispy chicken.”


 “She has beautiful brown eyes, like mine.”


“I love her so much I could glue her to me.”


So, Moms…the next time that you are stressed out and feeling underappreciated, know that your little ones love and appreciate you very much.

Happy Mother’s Day!



Ever since writing my earlier blog post about whether we really need to teach cursive handwriting, Do Children Still Need to Learn Cursive?, I have been thinking more about it. Many parents are concerned that their children are not being taught cursive writing any more, and they wonder whether it is going to be a problem.

Louise Spear-Swerling, professor of special education and reading and the area coordinator of the graduate program in learning disabilities at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, addresses this topic in a great article at LDOnline.org called “The Importance of Teaching Handwriting.”

She brings up some points I never thought about before. For example, when children are learning to form the letters on the page, they are also practicing the sound the letter makes. Most likely this is occurring silently, although some teachers may have the children say and sound out the letter as they write. This sound-symbol relationship is required before children can become fluent readers. Therefore you might say that learning to write helps develop other language skills.

 Another point Spear-Swerling makes is that children need to learn to write in manuscript—printing instead of cursive writing—since that is the form they will most often read. One problem with manuscript, however, in terms of helping a child in school, is that many children make several strokes with their pencil when printing each letter. This takes more time than using a single stroke, which is more often done in cursive. Legibility and speed are important for school success since students often need to take notes, respond to questions on tests, or write down their assignments rather quickly; and, they need to be able to read what they wrote.

 In my post, I never really said what I thought. I believe we need to teach our students how to write legibly and quickly. We should teach manuscript first since they are learning to read manuscript letters first. Then we should teach cursive to see if the fluency of cursive writing can help them write faster. If they later migrate to manuscript (or some combination of manuscript and cursive), we should allow it as long as they can write legibly.

 Legible handwriting needs to be automatic as well, so that it does not occupy thinking space while working on higher level writing tasks. Read my earlier post about Helping Kids by Reducing Demands on Working Memory, to understand the importance of this.

 Someday, there may not be a need for everyone to be able to write by hand. However, until we no longer need it, we have to teach it. We also need to teach our students how to use the keyboard efficiently. My earlier blog on selecting typing software is about how to learn to type. I also wrote a longer article, Learning the Keyboard, about the importance of students’ learning keyboarding.


April is National Poetry Month and this Thursday, April 26, is “Poem in Your Pocket Day.” Both are national celebrations of poetry whereby adults and children are encouraged to share a poem with someone.

Introducing your child to the world of poetry gives him an opportunity to stretch his imagination, practice rhyming, phonics, vocabulary, and other reading and writing skills.  Here are 5 easy ways to introduce poetry into your young child’s world. 

1. Instead of a bedtime story, read some classic Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.  For example, “Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle…” When reading the rhyme, explain that fiddle is another word for violin. Let your child draw and color a picture of a cat and a fiddle. The next night add a cow and a moon. Then later, add a little dog, a dish, and a spoon. Type, or print the rhyme, attach it to your child’s drawing, and then hang it up where she can easily see it and recite the poem. Do similar activities for her other favorite rhymes.

2. Have a family poetry night. Recite a favorite poem that you learned as a child. Let other family members take turns reciting their poem. Saying poems aloud helps your young child hear rhythm, cadence, and correct expression.

3. Together, write a funny poem about your family. “Mom drives a lot, Dad likes to cook, and Mike sweeps the floor, while Meg reads a book!”

4. At the library, get a book of poems for children. Let your child copy or help him write down a few favorites. Keep them in a binder or notebook. As he learns new poems, add them to the collection so they can be read over and over again.

5. Act out a poem. The next time you give her a push on a swing, together recite “The Swing” by Robert Louis Stevenson. “How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue?  Oh, I do think it’s the pleasantest thing that ever a child can do…” It’s a wonderful, classic poem, written from a child’s point of view, about swinging through the air.

Poems can be about any subject. They can make you happy, sad, or even make you giggle. Most importantly, poetry plays a crucial part in helping a young child enrich the language skills needed for good reading and writing. So, encourage your child to put a poem in their pocket and share it this week!


Remember how lovely it was to get a beautifully handwritten note from a friend? Some people say that letter writing is a lost art but I’m here to say it’s alive and well—at least in the 1st grade!

For the past few weeks my 1st grade students have been learning about letter writing. In order to make our letters more meaningful, we decided to write to the older brother of a student in our class.

This older brother is a young Marine, away from home, and really missed by his youngest brother.

During pre-writing discussions the students wanted to know if they could ask questions in their letters. They wondered if it would be okay to include pictures they drew? Could they tell him about their own lives?

We brainstormed some vocabulary, so they would have a reference list. Then my students began their letters. For a week they wrote, edited, drew pictures, and wrote some more. At the end of the week we had final copies, and they were fantastic! 

Some questions asked in the letters were insightful: “Why did you want to be a soldier?”  “How do you defend against bad guys?”  “Why did you pick this job?”

Some questions were more basic: “What do you eat?”  “Where do you sleep?”  “What do you wear?”

All students realized the importance of a Marine’s job, which they expressed in their writing: “Thank you for your service.”  “Thank you for keeping our country safe.” “Thank you for protecting us.”

Some students made a personal connection: “Your little brother is my friend.  We play at recess.”  “He loves and misses you.”  “Will you come and visit us when you get home?”

The students’ thoughts were touching, sweet, and poignant, especially the one from the Marine’s little brother: “I miss you a lot! When will you come back?  I pray for you…only on the days that I am not late for bed.”

Any wonder why I love this job?!



Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?