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Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for March 2024

by Dr. Jan Richardson

For this month’s Lit Tip, I’m posting an excellent webinar by Dr. Maren Aukerman, associate professor of literacy at the University of Calgary. Her message titled, “Toward Comprehensive, Research-Informed Literacy Instruction: Thinking With, Against, and Beyond the Science of Reading,” brings clarity and kindness to the often inflammatory and inaccurate rhetoric circulating around reading science. 

Dr. Aukerman organizes her talk around these important points:

  • Phonics as a Panacea

  • Structured Literacy

  • Comprehension Research-Informed Literacy Instruction. 

 This “must-watch” video should be viewed by every educator.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for February 2024


An Intervention Framework that Works!

by Dr. Jan Richardson

The RISE intervention program is spreading rapidly across the US and Canada. This month I want to briefly explain what RISE is and how it works. 


RISE (Reading Intervention for Students to Excel) is a short-term, Tier 2 intervention based on the integrated, literacy framework contained in my Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. Students rotate every day through four stations that target the elements of skilled reading. At Station 1, students read an engaging book, carefully chosen to match the phonics skills they are learning. Station 2 follows a scope and sequence for explicitly teaching phonics. Students use multimodal activities such as picture sorts, word chains, and Elkonin boxes. At Station 3, they reread the book they read at Station 1 on the previous day, but this time the focus is on increasing oral reading fluency and comprehension. At Station 4, the students write about the book and are given opportunities to practice their newly acquired sight words and phonics skills. 


Does RISE work? An action research study collected data from 1,273 striving readers in schools from Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, and South Carolina. Results showed that students who received RISE instruction for an average of 33 days achieved a 6.4-month gain in reading. A dissertation study confirmed these results, and a recent research and validation study showed that RISE students in grades 1-4 made substantial growth in reading as measured by the Measure of Academic Progress (MAPÒ).


How can I implement RISE?  The RISE framework can be implemented with up to 16 striving readers and one to four instructors, using any curriculum and reading text. One of the instructors should be a reading teacher, but the others can be teaching assistants, special education teachers, hourly teachers, student teachers, librarians, etc. You will achieve the most acceleration when children have 60 minutes of RISE for 6-8 weeks utilizing four instructors. Scholastic has published two RISE intervention kits: the basicRISE kit is for children reading at grade levels K-3, and the RISE Up kit is for students in the intermediate grades who need to improve vocabulary and comprehension. 


This brochure explains what is included in the Scholastic RISE and RISE Up kits written with Ellen Lewis. 

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for January 2024


Text Matters

by Dr. Jan Richardson

This month I am reposting a blog written by my friend, Dr. Michele Dufresne. Michele discusses the importance of using connected text to support the development of phonics. She also mentions the value of exposing beginning readers to a variety of texts—decodable as well as more natural language stories. 

I’ve had numerous conversations with teachers who are struggling with using only decodable texts. The stilted language and overused phonics skills can be tricky for young readers. Decodable texts use language structures that don’t sound like spoken language. They steer kids from using context to decode unknown words, limit the development of decoding flexibility, and are far less engaging.

Decodable books have gained popularity because they give students an opportunity to practice the phonics skills they have learned. However, research has shown that a steady diet of decodable books can hinder a child’s reading fluency and comprehension. What is best for children—decodable or non-controlled texts? 

A recent study by Pugh, Kearns, and Heibert (2023) addresses this question. The researchers studied the effects of using decodable, nondecodable, and a combination of both with beginning readers. They learned that children are best served by reading both types of texts. "There was convincing evidence across the comparisons suggesting that interventions that included both decodable text reading and nondecodable text reading had larger effects than students without both types of text reading" (p. 14). 

So, don’t throw out those complex texts. Consider using both -- because text matters!

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for December 2023

Adapting the Lesson Plan


This month I had the privilege of coaching a first-year teacher as she taught a guided reading lesson. I was impressed with her thoughtful planning and skillful execution of a lesson with fluent readers. 

The teacher, Christina Catalano, had created an attractive lesson plan that caught my eye. Let me introduce you to Christina…


I love being creative, so I decided to revamp the “Next Step” guided reading plan using Canva. I created a fun, simple template that includes all the necessary components of the plan but provides more space to write. The text boxes are designed so you can add text and color and also bold or underline important parts of the lesson. This keeps me organized and helps me move through my lesson seamlessly. Here is an example of a lesson I did with my fluent readers:

fluent plan 1.png
fluent plan2.png

This Canva template can save you planning time since you can download and save the lesson to use with another group later in the year. You can easily adjust the lesson by revising the text or adding/removing boxes as necessary. The form is completely editable, shareable, and printable. I hope you find this adapted lesson plan useful as you navigate through your guided reading groups.  


I am absolutely amazed at the progress my students are making so far this year! My fourth graders are growing in their fluency, and it is remarkable to see them delve into deeper meaning and thinking.


Click here to find PDFs of the adapted lessons for emergentearlytransitional, and fluent readers.

christina c.jpg

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for November 2023

Teaching Interactive Writing in the Primary Grades

by Courtney Richardson


Let’s talk about the dreaded writing block. Educators often dislike and thereby avoid teaching writing, at least to the extent that it should be taught. But the value of writing instruction is commonly and grossly downplayed. 

Often, teachers in the primary grades believe their students should master reading before writing instruction begins, but this is not true. In fact, “The notion of reading preceding writing, or vice versa, is a misconception. Listening, speaking, reading, and writing abilities develop concurrently and interrelatedly, rather than sequentially” (Sulzby and Teale, 1986).

Writing instruction actually enhances students’ reading ability as it extends comprehension and word knowledge. Science of Reading advocates Dr. Lisa Moats and Dr. Carol Toman agree stating, “Researchers have found that the act of spelling out words in writing reinforces sound-spelling correspondences and helps students strengthen their memory of words” (2019).

So why do teachers avoid writing instruction, and how can we make it more approachable, less frustrating, and even- dare I say- fun? I believe the answer is in the approach. One such approach that is simple and engaging is interactive writing.

The beauty of interactive writing is that it can be incorporated throughout the school day, in a variety of methods, and across any content area. In other words, writing doesn’t have to be limited to literacy blocks alone. It can be incorporated into math, science and social studies, and state standards can be interwoven into this instruction as well. For example, teachers could incorporate a lesson on procedural writing during science, or have students construct subtraction sentences during math. Seasonal writing units are easy to fit into a social studies block, and of course students can write about the books you read aloud to them as well.

Interactive writing is conducted in a whole-group setting. The teacher instructs from a central chart paper while the class sits on the floor and participates using individual lapboards to promote engagement.

Here are the materials you need for interactive writing:


  • Chart paper

  • Marker 

  • Pointer 

  • Lapboards (or similar)

  • Index Cards

  • Pocket chart

  • Individual ABC charts or class poster/frieze cards (for reference)

  • Post-it cover-up tape (for mistakes)

2 boards.jpg

Next, let’s deconstruct interactive writing into manageable steps. 


  1. Choose a Topic. This may be part of a morning message or related to a content area. Examples: shapes (math), weather (science), 5 senses (social studies)

  2. Formulate the Message. This may be dictated by the teacher or negotiated through discussion with students, depending on time and skill level. Pre-select skills to target, such as a specific spelling pattern. Plan to include sight words you’ve recently taught.

  3. Draw a line for each word in the sentence as you have students repeat the sentence with you. 

  4. Share the pen. Call students up one at a time to help write the sentence. While one student is writing on the chart paper, the rest of the class can practice writing specific letters or words on individual lapboards or an alphabet chart with writing space at the bottom. Students can also use a pointer to guide the class in rereading the sentence.

  5. Guide the Process. The teacher guides students to use known letters and sounds. Words should be spelled correctly, and the teacher should draw attention to correct capitalization and spacing. The teacher may write letters or words that students either already know or that they don’t yet have the skills to navigate (e.g. advanced phonics skills).

  6. Finish the sentence by adding punctuation. Once the sentence is complete, reread it together. 

  7. Reconstruct the sentence in puzzle form. The teacher either cuts the sentence (word by word) or pre-writes the words on index cards, then distributes them to students to reassemble in a pocket chart and reread one final time.

photo 1.jpg

The chart paper with the constructed sentence can be kept as an anchor chart in the room for reference if desired. Students can copy the sentence into writing journals and continue adding to the message during independent writing time. 

Interactive writing provides a good balance of scaffolding while promoting independence and a gradual release of responsibility. It is a powerful instructional tool that will increase both the writing and reading skills of students. Jan tells us, “Reading and writing are interwoven… because they are reciprocal processes” (Richardson, 2016). Don’t skip writing!


*To see a live lesson of Jan conducting an interactive writing lesson with a first grade class, view this video.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for October 2023

The Guided Reading Debate:

Problematic Pitfall or Promising Practice

by Dr. Mary Howard

Dr. Howard granted permission for me to repost this blog she wrote about guided reading. Although the term has been attacked and villainized, the truth is Structured Literacy and the Science of Reading acknowledge the value of differentiated, small group instruction. Dr. Howard clearly lays out the tenants that make guided reading (another name for small group instruction) effective and research-based.


Please read this and share it with your staff and colleagues:

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for September 2023

Dr. Linnea Ehri’s Phases of Word Learning

and the Next Step Reading Stages

by Julie Taylor, Ph.D.


We have a wonderful literacy tip this month by my dear friend, Dr. Julie Taylor. She will tell us how Dr. Linnea Ehri’s word-learning phases align with the reading stages described in my book, The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.


Dr. Linnea Ehri is a cognitive psychologist and professor at the University of New York. She has published over 160 scientific papers and served on the National Reading Panel. In the 1990’s, her research led her to develop a theory on the phases of reading development (Ehri, 1995).  She identifies five phases to describe how children learn to read and remember words. She coined these phases the pre-alphabetic, partial-alphabetic, full-alphabetic, consolidated-alphabetic, and automatic. They range from non-readers to automatic word readers.


Dr. Ehri’s phase theory is a science of reading research tenet that aligns with the Next Step guided reading stages and lesson routines (Richardson, 2016). Dr. Ehri divided her reading phases according to children’s decoding ability, something guided reading teachers take into account when we choose texts and plan small group literacy lessons. The Next Step guided reading framework offers instructional routines for teaching reading, writing and phonics skills that are developmentally appropriate for specific phases of reading. 


In this article I will correlate each of Ehri’s phases to a Next Step reading stage and include a link to a video example of the Next Step lesson activities. You will see how the Next Step framework translates the reading science into practical classroom instruction.


Ehri’s Pre-Alphabetic Phase: (This phase aligns to the Next Step Pre-A lesson routine, Richardson, 2016, Chapter 2). Children at this phase lack letter-sound knowledge and typically identify words by salient letters, visual features, or environmental context. They tend to memorize familiar stories and rarely attend to individual letter sounds when they attempt to read a text. 

During a Next Step Pre-A lesson, children are taught phonological and phonemic awareness, alphabetic knowledge, and sound-letter associations. They also develop concepts of print such as left-to-right directionality, voice-print match, and the concept of a letter and a word. Children learn these skills through lively, multisensory phonics activities, shared reading, and interactive writing - activities that reinforce the relationship between reading and writing. Click here to watch some kindergarten students who identify fewer than 40 letters learn foundational skills.


Ehri’s Partial-Alphabetic Phase: (This phase aligns to the Next Step Emergent  lesson routine, Richardson, 2016, Chapter 3). At this stage, children continue to develop phonemic awareness, learn most letter names, and start to blend sounds in CVC words, although the decoding will be slow and laborious. Because they haven’t learned all the letter-sound associations, Partial-Alphabetic students have a meager knowledge of words they recognize by sight. Readers at this stage tend to confuse similarly spelled words due to weak letter-sound proficiency.


During a Next Step Emergent lesson, children learn letter/sound associations, sight words, and phonemic awareness through reading easy books with the teacher’s support, explicit instruction in segmenting and blending CVC words and sentence dictation. These activities promote and develop orthographic mapping, which Ehri describes as “the formation of letter-sound connections to bond the spellings, pronunciations, and meanings of specific words in memory (Ehri, 2014.) 

Click here to watch the new routine for

teaching sight words via orthographic mapping.


Ehri’s Full-Alphabetic Phase: (This phase aligns to the Next Step Early stage, Richardson, 2016, Chapter 4). At this phase, children have full letter-sound connections and can segment, blend, and substitute phonemes with ease. Now they are ready to decode words using word parts such as onset and rime, syllables, and inflectional endings. Children’s orthographic mapping skills are strengthened as they continue to map sounds to letters to build a growing sight word vocabulary. Decoding becomes a self-teaching mechanism (Share, 1995) in that children implicitly learn new phonics rules and spelling patterns as they independently attack the pronunciation of new words. As their accuracy and automaticity improve, more cognitive attention is shifted towards comprehension.  


During a Next Step Early lesson, children are explicitly taught the silent e feature and complex vowels. They learn to break words at the onset and rime (ch-ip) and at the inflectional ending (stand-ing). Children continue to apply orthographic mapping skills to build a large bank of sight words that do not need to be decoded. Fluency and comprehension grow in importance as children’s accuracy and automaticity improves. Writing is a crucial component of every Next Step lesson, but at the Early stage, children move beyond writing dictated sentences to create their own responses to the text they read. Go to this link and watch second graders write about the nonfiction book they read in the video titled “Guided Writing 2.”


Ehri’s Consolidated-Alphabetic Phase: (This phase aligns to the Next Step Transitional reading routine, Richardson, 2016, Chapter 5). Children begin to use multi-letter units to solve unknown words. They also use analogies, which is the strategy of using known words and word parts to teach themselves unknown words. For example, if a student doesn’t automatically recognize the word square, they might use the sound of are in care to decode square. At this point, their orthographic mapping skills are firm, and the process of reading transitions from an activity of learning to read to reading to learn. During this phase, children use their advanced orthographic mapping skills to learn new vocabulary, which further develops their comprehension of complex text.


Next Step Transitional lessons focus on explicit teaching of spelling patterns, complex vowels, and morphemes to assist students in reading and writing unfamiliar words. During reading, students are prompted to read in chunks rather than sounding out words letter by letter. Research shows that proficient second grade readers never sound out words letter by letter; instead, they usually work with large, sub-word level units. In Kaye’s (2006) study of second grade proficient readers, she found that the second graders demonstrated more than 60 different ways to overtly solve new words. Transitional word study and phonics activities include building and taking apart words by onset-rime, syllable, and inflectional endings. Click here and watch some third graders use magnetic letters to make and break apart a multisyllabic word (Word Study: Making Big Words).


Ehri’s Automatic Phase:  (This final phase of word reading (Ehri & McCormick, 1998) aligns with the Fluent stage in The Next Steps lessons, Richardson, 2016, Chapter 6). Most words children encounter have become sight words. The few unknown words they encounter are quickly decoded and stored into the reader’s lexicon. Automatic word recognition frees the reader’s attention to focus on comprehension. Proficient readers in 5thgrade and higher are most often at this phase. 


During Fluent Next Step guided reading lessons, the instructional focus is on extending vocabulary and prompting students to engage in deeper comprehension. Hundreds of studies have proven the effectiveness of explicitly teaching comprehension strategies (Shanahan, 2023). Comprehension strategies slow down the reader and force them to think more deeply about the text. In chapter 7 of The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading, Richardson includes 29 instructional modules for teaching the 12 major comprehension strategies: comprehension monitoring, retelling, developing vocabulary, asking and answering questions, identifying main idea and details, analyzing characters, inferring, summarizing, using text feature, and understanding text structure. Click here to watch lessons with  fluent readers that focus on comprehension and vocabulary.


I have shown how Dr. Ehri’s phase theory of word reading aligns with the Next Step guided reading stages and lesson routines. It’s a wonderful example of how the Next Step framework can translate theory into practice.



Ehri, L.C. (2014) Orthographic Mapping in the Acquisition of Sight Word Reading,

     Spelling Memory, and Vocabulary Learning, Scientific Studies of Reading, 18:1, 5-21,

     DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2013.819356.

Ehri, L. C. (2013). Orthographic mapping and the acquisition of sight word reading,

     spelling memory, and vocabulary learning. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18(1), 5-21.

Ehri, L. C. (1995). Phases of development in learning to read words by sight. Journal of

     Research in Reading, 18(2), 116-125.

Ehri, L. C., & McCormick, S. (1998). Phases of word learning: Implications for instruction with 

     delayed and disabled readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties,      14(2), 135–163.

Kaye, E. (2006). Second Grader’s Reading Behaviors: A study of variety, complexity, and change. 

     Literacy Teaching and Learning. 10(2), 51-75.

Richardson, J. (2016). The next step forward in guided reading: An assess-decide-guide 

     framework for supporting every reader. NY: Scholastic.

Richardson, J. (2023). Guided reading and reading science.

Shanahan, T. (2023). Knowledge or comprehension strategies – What should we teach? 

     Shanahan on Literacy

     or-  comprehension-strategies-what-should-we-teach

Share, D. (1995). Phonological recoding and self-teaching: sine qua non of reading acquisition. 

     Cognition, 55(2), 151-218.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. MA:

     Harvard University Press.


Click here to view the complete summary

of Ehri’s phases and Richardson’s stages. 

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for August 2023

A Really Good Story

by Sandra Weaver, Next Steps Consultant

I met Jameson in February. He was in a first-grade traditional classroom receiving only whole group instruction that emphasized phonics. Since Jameson was a year below grade level, his classroom teacher recommended tutoring to his mother. His mother contacted me. After meeting with the mom and Jameson, I immediately assessed him using a variety of assessment tools. Here is a list of his strengths:

  • Oral language

  • Background knowledge

  • Listening comprehension

  • Read and write about 30 high frequency words

  • Consonants and the short e

  • Able to orally segment and blend phonemes in short words

  • When reading connected text, he would attempt to sound out unknown words

  • Reading comprehension


Although Jameson had some phonics knowledge, he wasn’t able to transfer that knowledge to reading. He successfully read text at level B. Grade level for this time of year would be level G.


Based on his assessments, I developed the following instructional goals:

  • Increase phonemic awareness, especially short vowels

  • Hear and record phonemes in CVC words

  • Teach sound-letter connections for medial vowels, digraphs, and blends

  • Build a stronger bank of high-frequency words

  • Teach decoding skills and strategies

  • Teach letter formation for lowercase letters

  • Write a short retelling that includes key details

  • Increase text level reading to reach grade level expectations

We started 30-minute tutoring sessions, two times a week. I followed 
Jan’s new integrated lesson framework.


On Day 1 I taught 15 minutes of phonological awareness and phonics instruction and 15 minutes of reading a challenging book. On Day 2 we reread the book for fluency, had a comprehension conversation and did guided writing.


Jameson started to make progress immediately.  In fact, after our very first lesson, his mother sent me this message: “I wanted to touch base and let you know that Jameson was very positive after his session yesterday. He came home and knew exactly what he needed to do for homework. I haven’t seen him that empowered in a while and so I’m excited to see his progress moving forward.”

After 18 tutoring sessions (a total of 9 hours of instruction), Jameson progressed from reading at a level B to reading on grade level (text level I) with accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. That’s a really great story.

I credit Jameson’s success to Jan’s lesson framework that integrates phonics, reading and writing. In each session I explicitly taught all the reading pillars identified by the National Reading Panel (2000) and more: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, writing, and oral language. I also monitored his progress and used authentic assessments to establish weekly goals based on his strengths and needs.

This is one of thousands of success stories from using The Next Step framework.  
You can watch some videos of Jameson do Making Words and reading grade level text below. 

For more information on remote tutoring or professional development, please contact 

Sandra Weaver

Or visit

Daisy ran to the door
and looked outside.
"Come on!" she called to Jack.

"Let's go outside and play."
Jack ran out the door, past Daisy, 
and down the steps.
He was wearing his Super Dog cape.
"I'm faster than a speeding bullet," 
he said. "Try to catch me!"

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for May 2023

Updated Making Word Procedures 

by Jan Richardson


The Making Words activity is an excellent instructional procedure for explicitly teaching phonics skills. Children manipulate magnetic letters to make a series of words that contain the same phonics skill but differ by one or two phonemes. For example, if children are learning about digraphs, you could dictate hat-chat-chap-chip-ship-shop-chop. Using a series of words that differ by one or two letters, helps students attend to letter sequence and synchrony (the connection between sounds and letters). Making Words has been part of my “Next Steps” lesson framework for decades, but I have recently updated the procedures to teach both encoding (spelling) and decoding (reading). Here are the steps for the updated version of Making Words:


Step 1: Identify a target skill (short vowels, digraphs, blends, silent e, or vowel patterns).

Step 2: Create a chain of words that contain the target skill and differ by one letter or letter cluster. The following are examples of a Making Words activity that targets specific phonics skills. You can find more examples in The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics (Scholastic, 2019).

  • Short vowels: had-hid-rid-rig-rag-rug

  • Digraphs: dish-dash-mash-mush-much-such

  • Initial blends: crab-slab-grab-grub-snub-shrub

  • Final blends: lift-lint-list-last-cast-past-pant-pint

  • Silent e: pal-pale-pane-pan-man-mane-mine-pine-pile

  • Vowel patterns: see-seed-weed-week-cheek-creek-creep


Step 3: Give each student a tray of magnetic letters and tell them the letters they will need to remove to make the list of words.


Step 4: Dictate the first word for students to make. As students make the word, tell them to say the individual sounds. This helps strengthen their orthographic mapping skills (Ehri, 2014).


Step 5: Teach them how to break the word at the onset and rime. The onset is the letter(s) before the vowel,and the rime is the part that begins with the vowel. For example, in the word stamp, the onset is st and the rime is amp. Teaching children how to break words between an onset and rime helps them recognize common patterns within words. It also helps children efficiently decode and spell new words After they break the word, have them point to each part as they say it. Then they should remake the word and read it, blending the parts quickly.


Step 6: Now tell them to change a letter or letter cluster in the word. Don’t tell them the new word they are going to make. For example, if the children are working on initial blends, you might say change the letters S-T in stamp to the letters C-R. After they make the new word, they should break the word at the onset and rime (cr-amp), say the parts, and read the word. This activity helps them develop good decoding skills.


Step 7: Now tell them to make a new word. Dictate the next word in the chain but don’t tell them which letter(s) they should change. Say, “Change the word crest to crept. Slide your finger under the word crest while you slowly say the word crept. Which letter do you need to change? Break it, say it, and read it.” This activity helps them develop good encoding skills.


Step 8:  Children continue to make the words in the chain you created. Alternate having children change a letter or letter cluster (step 6) with dictating a new word for them to make (step 7).


This video demonstrates these updated procedures. You can download and print this handout to help you remember the new steps.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for April 2023

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Jeremiah Short, a reading intervention teacher from Houston, Texas. He has a podcast called The Phenomenal Student. Jeremiah calls himself a structured literacy teacher, but he actually uses a variety of approaches based on his students’ needs (something I really like!). It was great having a pleasant and respectful conversation with him about current trends and challenges. After I clarified some common misperceptions about guided reading, he and I realized we have a great deal in common. Click here to watch a recording of the interview.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for March 2023

Guided Reading and Reading Science

This month's lit tip is special.

Please click here to check out what Jan has to say.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for February 2023

The New 15-minute Lesson Plan

I’ve spent countless days and hours in classrooms this school year, working with students and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers. When students returned to school this fall, teachers immediately recognized that many children, especially those most dependent on in-person instruction, had fallen behind and desperately needed intense, differentiated instruction. Teachers repeatedly ask me, “With the limited time I have, how can I teach additional small groups? How can I provide more differentiated phonics instruction?”


That’s why I developed my new 15-minute guided reading lesson plans. By teaching a 15-minute lesson instead of the traditional 20-minute, a teacher can add an extra small group each day! One of my new lessons specifically targets phonics, the others target reading and writing. Each of the three easy-to-follow lessons weaves phonics skills into the reading, writing, and word study.


The phonics lesson, for example, directs increased attention to the specific needs of students by including a quick review of previously taught skills, explicit modeling of a new skill, short blending and segmenting drills, and a series of hands-on word study activities that target the same phonics skill. During the reading component, students are quickly introduced to a challenging text and then guided to read the text with accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. The writing component extends student comprehension and cements the phonics skills by having students write about the book they just read. Click here for the new lesson plans. They’re free!

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for December 2022

Teaching Sight Words


I’ve had several conversations recently with a friend of mine, Dr. Jan Hasbrouck, a researcher, author, and highly respected Science of Reading expert. Jan and I have had several discussions about the Science of Reading and guided reading. She shared this definition: “The Science of Reading is a vast, unfinished, continuously growing and evolving interdisciplinary body of scientifically-based research about reading and issues related to reading and writing.” The words in blue are Jan’s; those in black are taken from the Reading League’s "Defining Guide” 

( The truth is, no one knows everything there is to know about the reading process. As we acquire more knowledge, we need to incorporate the gained knowledge into our teaching. As Mark Seidenberg (2020) once said, “We know more about the science of reading than about the science of teaching reading based on the science of reading.” With that in mind, I’ve decided to offer some more tips on how to use my Four Steps for teaching a sight word.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for January 2023

On Christmas day, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six, wrote a poem called, “Christmas Bells.” It reflected the conflict he was personally experiencing at that time in our nation’s history. The Civil War was raging, Longfellow’s wife had been killed in a tragic fire, and his oldest son had been paralyzed in battle. One of the final stanzas to the poem reads, 


And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"


A decade later, the words to Longfellow’s poem were set to music, and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” became one of America’s favorite Christmas songs.


Now, 160 years later, the world (even the education world) is still searching for peace. A “Reading War,” fueled by biased social media reports, is dividing our schools, promoting unkindness and widespread disrespect. It breaks my heart to see teachers name-calling and school districts mandating some reading programs while banning others – all based on questionable, unverified “research.” 



As readers progress, they need to develop a large reservoir of sight words —words that are automatically recognized and do not require the reader to decode them. Research shows that beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships when they learn words are better able to bond the words in their memory (McCandliss & Noble, 2016; Ehri, 2020). 


The Four Steps I created have always emphasized the phoneme-grapheme connections. However, I realize we may need to make those connections more obvious to children, especially children who have difficulty learning words. In the following paragraphs, I review the Four Steps and explain how to explicitly teach orthographic mapping, the bonding of sounds to letters, to help children remember words.


What’s Missing? – Tell students the word they will learn and have them segment the sounds in the word. As they say each sound, write the letter or letters that represent that sound on a dry-erase board. Point out the graphemes that match each sound and draw attention to any unusual spellings. Then remove a letter and ask students what’s missing. They can repeat the word slowly if necessary to recall the missing grapheme. Repeat the procedure removing one or more letters on each turn.


Mix and Fix – Give students the magnetic letters to make the word. As they make it, they should segment the sounds and place the letters in sequence. Then tell them to segment the word again as they push up the letter or letters that represent each sound. Next, have them mix up the letters and remake the word. Tell them to check the word by pointing to each letter as they say the word slowly.


Table writing – Have children use their finger to write the word on the table, saying each sound as they write the letter(s) that represent the sounds. Using the fingertip to write the word helps build a memory trace (Fernald, 1943).


Write and retrieve – Give each student a white board to write the word. Make sure students say the word slowly as they write it, matching the sound they say to the letter(s) they write. Then dictate a familiar word for students to write, prompting them to say the word as they write it. Finally, repeat the new word for them to write. By this time, the students should be able to quickly recall the word and write it fluently.


If we consistently draw children’s attention to the letter-sound connections as they learn a new word, they will bond the spelling of individual words to their pronunciation and build a process for remembering words.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for November 2022

Leveled books can be decodable books


For this month’s tip, I’m sharing a blog written by Michele Dufresne. Michele has written over 800 books for children. Each of her books has been leveled to help teachers match their students to books they can read. The truth is, every book can be leveled in some way, either by a readability formula, a grade level, or a Lexile. A well-written leveled book has words children can decode as well as high-frequency words beginning readers need to learn. Check out Michele’s blog to find examples of how leveled books can also be decodable books.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for October 2022

"Next Steps" and the Science of Reading


There are common confusions about the “Science of Reading;” there are also confusions about guided reading and whether it aligns with reading research. I’ve written a white paper that clarifies some of those confusions. One reason I authored my first book, The Next Step in Guided Reading, is that I had witnessed too many guided reading lessons that were not aligned with reading research. My framework has always aligned with reading science. It includes these essential research-based components:

  1. Small flexible groups

  2. Differentiated instruction 

  3. Explicit focus based on on-going assessments

  4. Teacher scaffolding

  5. A balance of direct instruction and application

  6. A gradual release model

  7. Integrated framework that includes decoding skills, reading fluency, systematic phonics instruction, vocabulary support and reading comprehension strategies.

Each of the above elements is supported by more than 40 years of research. Click here for a complete description of what “Next Steps” guided reading is, and how it aligns with current reading science. 

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Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for September 2022

Teaching for Fluency


Research shows there is a strong correlation between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension. Students who read with appropriate speed, accuracy, and expression are more likely to comprehend connected texts (Fuchs, et al. 2001). The important question is how do I help students improve their oral reading fluency? The answer to that question will reveal the best intervention for accelerating our students. 


The first step is to analyze the running record to determine why a student isn’t reading with appropriate speed and accuracy. 

  • Is the text too difficult?  Obviously, if the text has too many unfamiliar words, the student will read slowly. This is one challenge of taking a one-minute fluency probe on grade-level text. If the children are reading below grade level, they will not do well on this type of assessment. When analyzing fluency, be sure to use a text that is at the student’s instructional or independent range (at least 90% accuracy).

  • Does the student struggle to read one-syllable words? Analyze the one-syllable words the child misses. Do they have short vowels, digraphs or blends? Do you notice that the child misreads words with vowel teams (ai, oa, ou, etc.)?

  • Does the student have trouble reading big words? Many intermediate readers are challenged by multisyllabic words, especially those with prefixes and suffixes. 

  • Does the student struggle to read high frequency words? High frequency words are words that appear frequently in English texts (e.g. to, the, up, where, come, etc.) If children misread or pause on these words, it is because the words have not become sight words. Sight words are words the child reads automatically because they have been mapped into the brain’s long-term memory. The more sight words students master, the fewer errors they will make.

  • Does the student read accurately, but mostly word by word? There could be several reasons why a child reads accurately but slowly. Perhaps he is being overly cautious not to make any mistakes. Some children read word-by-word because they are not phrasing within sentences. For example, all the words in a prepositional phrase should be said together. As the child reads orally, note the words the child reads as a phrase. This might help you determine your next step in instruction.

  • Does the student read accurately but without appropriate expression? If a child is reading in a flat monotone, his reading lacks prosody. When a child is reading prosodically, oral reading sounds like speech with appropriate phrasing, pausing, stress, and general expressiveness. The student is “reading the punctuation” so that someone who is listening will understand the character’s feelings. Prosodic reading, or reading with expression, is widely considered to be a strong indicator of solid comprehension. 


Once you’ve analyzed the child’s oral reading to determine why the child isn’t fluent, it’s time to teach for fluency. The following chart provides suggestions for teaching students which each type of fluency challenge:

Fluency and Dyslexia

There is no agreed-upon definition of dyslexia (Johnston 2020, Hasbrouck 2022). A common characteristic of dyslexia, however, is difficulty with accurate and fluent reading. Although many struggling readers can become fluent with phonics and decoding instruction (and lots of accurate reading practice), some profoundly dyslexic readers may never become fast readers (Reid 2018). With dyslexia, there may be neurological factors that interfere with the process of quickly recognizing words. Nevertheless, with explicit instruction that integrates reading, writing, and phonics, these students can still learn to read with reasonable accuracy and sufficient comprehension. We must never forget that, although fluency is highly desirable, comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for June 2022

The school year is over or ending soon for most of you, but I wanted to share a brand-new resource I wrote this year with Pioneer Valley Books. It is a Shared Reading curriculum for whole class instruction that integrates reading, writing, phonics, and phonemic awareness. I tested the materials for several months with first graders and saw amazing growth.  Click here to learn more about the Shared Reading curriculum and watch me teach a phonics lesson.  
Pioneer Valley now has kits for Kindergarten, First Grade and Second Grade. This link will take you directly to their website where you can find out what is included in the kits and how to order them.

I have samples of the lesson plans on my website.  Click here and scroll down to Shared Reading to download them for free.

Enjoy your summer, stay well, read some good books, and have fun with your friends and family.  See you in September.

Warmly and affectionately,



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