Phonics, Fluency, & a Deal of the Day!

Today we're talking all about fluency and phonics.    First we're focusing on phonics and then we'll get into the fluency portion.  And if you love practicing reading fluency like I'll do, you'll LOVE today's deal of the day!!!

Do you have a specific phonics curriculum you follow in the classroom?  Saxon?  Horizons??  
Or do you just make it up as you go?  
I'm asking because I'm genuinely curious.  
I've only taught in one district where we were required to follow a phonics curriculum.  If I'm being honest, I didn't think it was effective or appropriate.  I feel like it's more important to know your kids and their abilities/needs before determining how you are going to approach phonics instruction. 
Maybe that's just because I didn't like the curriculum and I was more comfortable doing it "my way".  Not that it was the right way, but it was the approach with which I was more familiar.  

My kids learned.  And they learned a lot.
I  differentiated my phonics instruction as needed. My kids were never all on the very same page with the very same skills, so differentiation was a it is with most subjects.

If you read my first Phonics Friday post last summer, you might remember saying that there are two schools of thought when it comes to phonics instruction....some of us think it's valuable, some of us think it's not.  I think we could say the same thing about everything we do as educators,right?!  
I personally think that phonics instruction has a place in the classroom.  I've seen the value and while I might not have liked the particular curriculum I had to work with, I do see the value in the instruction.  That, of course, is based on my own personal experience ;)

Now let's look at the WHY.  Why do I, and many other educators, feel that phonics instruction is important?  

In my experience, I have seen that a strong foundation in phonics typically increases a student's accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.  All key components in become independent readers.  The key to establishing a strong foundation in phonics is giving our kiddos many opportunities to decode words both in and out of context.  But do we fit that in?!

Direct, explicit instruction happens during our whole and small group time together.  It's during these times that I teach my kids specific phonics skills. I introduce these skills and we practice them.  They're constantly reinforced.  Most of the independent practice they get with phonics skills happens during our literacy stations.  They get LOTS of opportunities to independently decode words both in and out of context.  This happens through hands-on games and activities, interactive journals, puzzles, and lots of other activities.  With constant reinforcement, practice, and repetition, a strong foundation in phonics is inevitable.  

The first step in establishing a strong foundation in phonics is alphabet instruction.  Our kids need to have a working knowledge of letters and letter sounds and need to know these concepts like the back of their hand.  They need to be able to identify letters and link them to sounds with automaticity.  This is the first step.

If you want to read more about how I teach the alphabet (NO letter of the week!!!!), you can check out a detailed description HERE and then be sure to check out the follow-up post to that HERE.

Once our kids have a solid foundation in the alphabet, we move on to short vowels & CVC words.  I introduce the vowels and vowel sounds when we're learning about the alphabet.  I start with this fun little song...

Then we incorporate short vowel/CVC word skills and concepts into our daily routine  Morning work, calendar, whole/small group, shared/interactive writing, literacy tubs, etc.  I give my kids opportunities to work with short vowel (manipulate and decode words) all year long.  They have lots of independent practice and review during literacy tubs.  I create lots of activities to fit their needs and ability levels.  Lots of activities that give them opportunities to decode words in and out of context.

First, we start with sorts.

The key to establishing a strong foundation in these skills is consistent and repeated opportunities for practice and reinforcement.

When I can tell that the majority of my students have a strong understanding of short vowels and CVC words, I introduce long vowel/CVCe words.  Again, this is done through direct, explicit instruction first.  Then we move on to independent practice through hands-on activities in literacy tubs.  Whole and small group activities also help me to reinforce this concept.

Blends and digraphs also play an important part in my instruction.  We see so many words in context with our guided readers that have these phonics patterns that I want my kids to be familiar with them so that they can practice identifying and decoding those words when they see them.  I want my kids to be successful when learning to read and I need to be able to provide them with the tools to become independent readers.  

You can see more of my digraph fun in action HERE.

Many of these phonics skills can be difficult to understand at the onset.  When I started teaching 13 years ago, I realized I had to think outside the box if I wanted my kids to grasp concepts that were challenging.  Since that first year in the classroom, I've created lots of different ways to introduce and explain concepts and skills.   Different ways to engage all of my learners....many of these through characters and stories.  My kids always LOVE a good story and tend to connect with them and recall them when trying to recall specific skills/concepts.

via:  Digraph Kids

Now what does it mean when we finally have a strong understanding of these phonics skills?  What do our kids actually do with this knowledge?!  Well, once they're able to decode words both in and out of context, their reading accuracy, comprehension, and fluency enhances.  
Fluency is always an area where our kids can improve...much like everything else ;)

I've done lots of things in the classroom to improve my kids fluency over the years, but the best thing I ever implemented was my fluency center.  I wanted my fluency materials to reflect the sight words we were studying (Dolch words), so I created a set of leveled fluency cards containing only the sight words from each Dolch list.  So, not only were my kids using this center to become fluent readers, but I noticed a significant improvement in their sight word recognition as well.   Win, win!

My kids visit the fluency center each week...sometimes multiple times within the week...and also practice rereading a "fluency book" (aka:  familiar read).  This is typically a book that's already been sent home after a guided reading lesson/activity.  The book stays with them for an additional week after their cold read.  My fluency center is housed right next to my sight word center and my kids love to visit it often.  It's important we give our kids opportunities to practice their fluency out of context and give them options to practice it in different ways.  My kids love using their fluency phones and voice cards to hone their skills.  The microphone comes in at a close second.  My kids love to be "on stage" ;)  

And speaking of fluency, my fluency bundle is on sale as the "Deal of the Day"!  This will be the lowest price of the year, so if you're looking for easy-to-implement fluency activities that can be differentiated to meet the needs of all learners, grab it before the price goes back up!

Readers Theater scripts provide our kids with lots of fluency practice AND give them opportunities to be "on stage".  My favorite Readers Theater scripts come from A Teeny Tiny Teacher.  They are PERFECT for enhancing so many different skills...fluency, accuracy, reading, etc.  I love that they're differentiated and FUN!!!  Something we could use more of in the classroom, but that's another topic for another post ;)

In addition to Readers Theater, my kids keep a fluency folder filled with various fluency passages.  These passages give my kids the opportunity to compare their reading time during the span of a week.  They love trying to beat their previous time and I love that their fluency improves day to day.  They also love their hands-on fluency games I keep in this center, too. 

As you can see, there's definitely a common theme when it comes to phonics and fluency instruction.  Consistency and repeated practice.  LOTS of opportunities for decoding words both in and out of context.  I hope this post gives you a glimpse into my method for planning instruction for my little learners ;)

Now it's time for me to get ready for my son's 9th birthday tomorrow.  Y'all...where did the time go?!  I am NOT okay with him being a year closer to double digits!!!!!  Bless!!!!


  1. Awwww!!! Thank you so much for the shout out!!! :)
    I agree with everything you said in this post! :)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi Cara, I am just curious why you chose the Dolch sigh word list instead of the Fry? This might be a silly question, but I'm a relatively new teacher and my school uses the Fry list. I am interested in your Fluency packet, would it still be relevant to me even though we teach from the Fry list?

  4. I loved this post. I like how you took the time to explain your approach and why. I wish more bloggers would share their insight and knowledge like you do. This helps us all as educators to stop and think about how and why we do things in our classrooms. It is so easy to get caught up in just the products and not the reason behind them. Thank you!