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Help, only 8 on level!


Junior Member
Last year I had a very proficient class in all areas. So....even though we had a class size of 31, even though we have a spiral curriculum (Trophies), even though the class is impoverished with little home support - the "even thoughs" could go on - the class excelled. As a second-year teacher I mistakenly thought I "figured out" how to teach and I had done this to the class.

While I'm sure I played a part I am learning how different each group is and so this year the "even thoughs" are crashing in as obstacles and I feel so inexperienced for the group I have and need help! I have only 8 of my 29 students reading on grade level (E at this point). Most of the class is at level C or below (kindergarten level here). The reading issues are so basic and also, in my opinion, kindergarten deficiencies: inability to track, not retaining sight words like 'was,' and 'the,' not using the letter sounds to sound out words or when sounding out words, not getting the word.

The first month 1/2 of school we worked on letter sounds so extensively b/c we are a Reading First school and the DIBELS showed the kids did not know letter sounds.

So it is now in guided reading that I am realizing the extent of all the other reading problems and feel I focused on phonemic awareness almost to the detriment of other skills. Like, okay, they know the sounds pretty well, but they don't know how to use them (ex. a boy sounded out each sound like this s-t-o-p-p-e-d and of course couldn't read the word), they don't track with fingers or eyes so they miss the second sentence on a page, they don't use picture clues so they are trying to sound out long vowel words even when pictures are right there to give them the clue, they read sight words incorrectly or try to sound them out. A big enough group tries no strategies at all when they get stuck! That is a lot of skills missing for 21 of my students (some or all)!

Now, another problem is, Trophies is a spiral curriculum so they teach one skill, then leave it for a bit, teach something new, come back to the other, leave it, come back, etc. It worked for my past 2 years of classes and I still love the shared reading but the method and pacing for the phonics, grammar, and writing is not working for my kids. To top it off, for the first time in 2 years I can also say that many centers are not conducive to learning for this group. They are very young (a lot of after April birthdays) and unless it has headphones they tend to play at independent times). So I don't even feel they get the most of Literacy Centers.

So, thanks if you read this long. My question for experienced teachers: seeing the needs here, and knowing of course I don't actually have the money to buy a whole new curriculum (plus ours is mandated) what would you recommend for a systematic, daily, repeating lesson to build some of these skills? Being a newer teacher I haven't had any experience teaching phonics or writing, or reading any way other than Trophies. Any advice you could give would be appreciated. What could some of the kids do during guided reading besides centers at their skill level that is engaging and helpful? Keep in mind 31 kids inner city when you make suggestions - it may make a difference. It is a well managed class but they do talk a lot. :-)

I will read all replies, please help, I am working with my school too but doing research as well - I just don't want to fail to help 21 students!



Senior Member
Here are a couple ideas I thought of...

It sounds like they need to be learning some unknown word strategies besides sounding out. Can you teach these whole class through shared reading using big books? You could model for them what to do. Then in guided reading I would model and practice using those same strategies. It sounds like they don't know and they need some other strategies. I would pick on strategy to focus on (maybe each week?). I would probably start with picture clues. Model using picture clues during read aloud, shared reading, and in guided reading.

It sounds like many of them need practice with sight words too. Do you have write erase boards? I would be saying, spelling, and talking about how to remember sight words. Can you make flashcards to practice everyday? I did this at the beginning of the year with my first graders. I made flashcards of the first 25 words from our word wall. Every morning right after morning meeting I held each card up and everyone had to say the word. It took about one minute. When my students were tested every student except 3 (out of 18) knew all the sight words. I tell the students that these are "snap" words. We should be able to read them as quickly as we snap our fingers, because we can't sound them out and we should just know them. Then we practice reading/saying them as we snap our fingers.

For centers-have you heard of or read the book called The Daily 5? This is a really great book for setting up your reading block (what students will do while you are meeting with your guided reading groups). It is very literacy focused (it's an easy read and easy to implement too), and you wouldn't have to implement all parts. The students do: Listen to Reading, Word Work, Read to Self, Read to Someone, and Work on Writing. I'm not implementing Work on Writing until after Christmas break. My students love it! Although my school is not inner city, we are very working class with some low income. The Daily 5 is great for management during that time, and it also gives kids independence and choice. I would recommend getting that book and at least implementing: Read to Self, Read to Someone, and Word Work. Listen to Reading (books with tapes, CDs, or on the computer) would be great too if you have the resources. Students struggling with reading need to listen to fluent readers and follow along in books. It's doable with 31 students-as long as you follow the management part with I-charts, modeling the correct and incorrect ways, and building stamina.

My word work consists of spelling words and sight words. They use magnetic letters, letter tiles, chalk on black paper, stamps, wikki stix, dry erase boards, etc.

Good luck!
Last edited:

ZacMan's Mom

Full Member
No Experience Here, but...

I have the EXACT situation you have, only I do not have as many students (long story there...)anyway...
I attended a DIBELS workshop the day-before-yesterday that focused on planning curriculum for those students who are not on level. They provided us with forms to 'group' our students, which ended up being exactly how I had mine grouped. Anyway, they also provided us with a link to a website that they said would help. For example, if you have a 'group' of students who have low LNF scores, you can look at this website and find activities to do in small group/centers that will promote that development. The website is listed below. We were warned though that there is a lot to print, so to look at the index and only print what you need. I haven't done it yet, but they did show some awesome examples. I am also going to a workshop on Dec 1st that is centered around the organization that set up this website. It is tied in with DIBELS, so I hope to get more knowledge there.


Best of luck to you! I will also be checking this thread daily to see if I can get some answers.


Me Too!

Donna - I understand your frustrations and where as I do not have all the answers, I can relate. I, too, use trophies and reading first. You are right about skills getting taught and not reinforced for a few weeks. I notice it is day 5 of the story that tends to do this. During my small groups, I use a LOT of reinforcement activities, word work, reteaching, fluency building, review of sounds (flashcard style), echo reading, leveled reading, games (as a motivator 2x a week), and free choice reading (each day). Trophies tend to get easy one week, and twice as hard the next. This makes teaching difficult. I would suggest you add additional phonics sound recognition into your small group sessions (ce says s; ch; etc...) This will allow the students to become comfortable with the recognition and sounds, and when trophies and reading first introduces these phonics, the children are prepared to blend, segment, and manipulate the letters to make words.

Additionally, fluency helps. To gain fluency, have children reread the trophy anthology stories 4 to 5 times a week! The manual really only allows for this to happen 2x. (Day 2 and usually Day 3 or 4). Keep things faced paced during the small groups and don't let any delayed moments to happen. I find that my students meet my expectations if I tell them how many things we need to accomplish in our 30 minute block. (I tend to have 8 or 9 activities planned; most review and everyday things). Here is an example of what my lowest group currently completes in a 30 minute block:
Everyday activities:
1. flash card review of phonics cards (including upcoming lessons)
2. phrase strip reading (this a list of high frequency words in phrases rather than isolation).
3. reread anthology story.
Additional activities: (these may vary a bit day to day)
1.Reread decodable books (highlight phonics sound of the week)
2.read leveled books (these are designed to fit their level of reading) - sometimes they read 2 or 3 depending on the length of each.
3.highlight high frequency words in our consumable dictionaries (we call them words we write - usually this is only 1x a week).
4.word work activities (these are also leveled, might be initial sounds, rhyming, word families etc...)
5.free choice reading (students have individual book boxes with 4 to 5 books at their level - they read the book and each day a student to pulled (sometimes they sign up ) to read the book to the group).
6.fluency timings (up to 3x a week)
7.progress monitoring (depending on DIBELS - 2x a month or 1x a month)
8.writing - sequencing types of things What came first in the story, next, last etc...)
9. games using sight words (for me it is about 1x a week)

It is a lot and it sounds boring and the same for students. Just remember each section increases due to the children's abilities. One thing I noticed with Reading First (this is our 2nd year), we really don't have much writing. Get as much writing in as possible, this helps tremendously. Also, get in more comprehension. Trophies and Reading first really don't have enough. Direct Reading - Thinking Activities (DR-TA)work well with struggling readers; give it a try and see if it helps.

Good luck Donna!


Senior Member

I completely agree with everything kjewelle wrote. And I find it really sad that you have 31 students in an inner city school. Do you at least have an aide? Good luck!


Senior Member
It sounds like you spent a lot of time on individual letters and sounds. The next phase of phonemic awareness would be to teach blending. The little boy you described can not do that. I teach that using whole group strategies and during shared reading lessons. Pick a word they know and have them practice blending each sound. I use Tap and Sweep. They tap for each sound they say and then as they say the sounds faster they blend them together and sweep their hands across. You could also try words families, and sound manipulations (isolation, substitutions, etc.). You received many good suggestions from the PP. I would add that daily practice of phonics rules to review and flashcards are essential. They are not the most exciting thing to do, but it is a quick daily practice that will show quick benefits. I will often do this during guided reading so that on-level/above level kids do not get drowned with practice they dont really need. Good luck.


Full Member
Curriculum Problems

After reading your post, it sounds to me like there is not a teaching problem, but a curriculum problem. I am assuming Trophies is a reading basal program. I am also "mandated" to "teach" from my basal program. I use it for the phonics and sight words only (in addition to things I add to the curriculum.
I think principals are beginning to realize how bad these basal programs are, and they are beginning to require teachers look for outside resources to add to the classroom program. I am sorry your principal has not realized this. FYI, i use reader's workshop for comprehension. Once Upon a Reader's Workshop is a blog on this website by Bookmuncher-EXCELLENT.
I would say for you, you seem to be a very good teacher because you have realized what your kids need, and you have also realized your reading program is not enough for your kids.
Trophies does not know your kids- YOU know your kids. You are going to have to bring in outside resources. At the end of the year, your principal will ask why didn't YOU have your kids reading? S/He will not ask why didn't Trophies have your kids reading?
You mentioned you are a reading first school, which I am assuming leaves little time during reading instruction for the extra things your kids need. I would suggest you teach it during guided reading. Your kids cannot learn to read if they can't blend letter sounds into words. You have to model, model, model.
Show the kids how to make /b/ /a/ /g/ into /bag/. After this guided practice a few times, give them some practice time. You can buy cheap magnetic letters at Walmart for $0.88. Buy 5 sets, so a group of 5 can make words at your guided reading table. When they do get it, praise, praise, praise-Look at you --, you are reading!!!!!
You also must remember maturity levels. Some first graders are not mature enough to "get" reading yet. Keep drilling and never give up-they will get it. After Christmas break, I have een a lot of struggling readers just go.
Also, for sight words, check out this website, she is an excellent kindergarten teacher (your kids don't have kindergarten skills-so this may help). The page link is to some sight word games. Nothing wrong with making learning fun. http://www.littlegiraffes.com/literacysightwords.html
It comes down to what you have to do for your kids. Good Luck!!!!


Senior Member
I agree...

with dlynneteacher. Bookmuncher's blog would be a great place to visit and I also do a reader's workshop and it isthe best thing anyway...another great book you could get is Kathy Collins Growing Readers. It is an invaluable resource for beginning readers.

One thing I did notice about all the other posts is that there seemed to be a focus on phonics and phonemic awareness. Although this is an important part to reading there also needs to be a balance of the whole story. I didn't hear this mentioned and maybe you are already doing it but I would add tons of read alouds and tons of shared readings. Students need to hear what the written word sounds like and they need the model of a good reader. Song books are another invaluable tool. Children will be able to "read" these long before anything else adn take on the identity of a reader, feel confident, and practice their reading skilss.

Good luck!


Senior Member
sight words

I know a Kindergarten teacher who has her class read daily from the word wall. She always turns out a class of readers every year. I came across a game on the internet called Johnny Jump Up that would probably make reading sight words more fun and promises to engage every student. Within your sight word cards, you would make up cards either with a picture if a stickman jumping, or the words Johnny Jump Up and every time the kids see those cards, they jump up saying Johnny Jump Up! I would love to try that game, but we have an open air building, so that game is out. I also know of a teacher who has a lot of success with his students. He is great teaching reading strategies. One of the things he has taught me, is that sight words are sight words. The students need to learn to recognize them without sounding them out. It's okay to let them sound them out at first, but once they start to feel comfortable, you need to push them to recognize those words. If we have a child who seems to get stuck on a particular set of sight words, I will have that child read a story from the anthology that contains those sight words. That seems to help. Another teacher took a seminar on the "LIPS" program which teaches letter sounds. She is using that in the classroom and her students love it. It looks promising. I'm afraid I don't know enough about "LIPS" to share that with you.


Senior Member
RE: below level class

One thing no one mentioned is using printable books for independent practice in the classroom and at home. I use lots of printable little books with high frequency words I have collected from various sites over the years( Cherry Carl's, Enchanted Learning, etc.). We use a light colored crayon to "highlight" the word wall words or any chunks we know while we are sitting at the group area after we have read the little book several times. I send these paper books home every few weeks so the kids have their own familiar books collection to read at home on school holidays and when they have to miss school. It can be very difficult for parents to find appropriate level material for their kids to read at the library. This way they can build fluency by reading and re-reading their familiar books.
I had just this kind of class last year. The second grade teachers are complaining about them this year, but they have no idea how hard we worked last year to get them as far as they did go. It was a class with major discipline issues and little family support. No matter which class, each one was the same story and little forward progress could be made when there was a constant struggle to get the class to listen and stay on task during instruction or independent practice. It was an exhausting year! Good luck!


Junior Member
Thank you so much

There are so many good ideas to implement here I don't know where to start. I think I'll print them all and highlight. I am so glad I asked. I may have follow up as I go. I really appreciate this so much!! :-)