The Literacy Nest

How To Combine Literacy Lessons With Motor Skills Practice

Thank you, Miss Jaime, O.T. for joining my blog in honor of National Handwriting Day! 
“There’s no time to work on Motor skills!  We’ve got to get these 5 year olds reading!”
Kindergarten just isn’t what it used to be. 
As an Occupational Therapist, one of my concerns is that the children are still given opportunities to use and develop their motor skills throughout a typical school day. Over the past few years,   I am finding that children’s motor skills are decreasing, rather than improving. 
So what can we do? 
Tons of things! 
Reading has become the main focus of curriculum, which leaves less time for all the other things, especially motor skills. 
Why not work on two skills at once?
Use motor activities throughout your literacy lessons so children can get that important fine motor practice they so desperately need.
As we all know, school materials can be expensive!  You can recycle a lot of things and then use Dollar Store materials to supplement. 
*This post contains affiliate links

Here are some simple ways to combine motor skills and literacy:


 Clothespins are so cheap - and you can write on them!  Work on letter recognition or simple spelling for little ones, and harder stuff for your older kiddos.  
Squeezing the clothespins open is hard work for little hands, but it works on the little muscles in the palm and fingers.  These are the same muscles we need for neat handwriting, buttoning, and opening snack. 
The Dollar Tree sells sight word flashcards in different grade levels.  For a Dollar, you get a whole stack of words of different levels of difficulty. Use a sharpie to write the letters of the alphabet (a different letter on each side) on the top of the clothespin.Write extra vowels and popular letters like s and t.
The kids are now reviewing grade level sight words while they practice using two hands together to hold the clothespin and the card at the same time. They’re increasing their hand strength (particularly their Pencil Grip muscles) to open and close the clothespins, too!  
This activity could also be adapted to be a vocabulary lesson.  Use index cards with definitions and write the word on the clothespin. Children have to find the correct definition and pin it onto the matching card.  Or, work on contractions with clothespins and craft sticks.


“ABC” beads are awesome to work on spelling and reading.  It also works on fine motor skills, in-hand manipulation, and bilateral coordination skills.  Write spelling words on index cards.  The child has to find all the letters. They have to WAIT to put them on the wire until they find all the letters.  Otherwise their word ends up backwards!
Tell the children to put a plain colored bead in between the words to represent a space.
Have the children write the words on loose leaf after.  This activity reinforces left to right directionality, spelling, writing, and recognizing sight words.  It also worked on using a pincer grasp to pick up the small bead, using bilateral skills to hold the wire and get the bead on, and left to right tracking to line the beads up properly. 


Legos, Linking Blocks, or Mega Blocks are all great for working on spelling and reading.  Use a Sharpie to write letters on the blocks.
* I suggest putting all your cubes together before you write the letter so they are all facing the right way.  Make a few long towers and then write all the letters, extra vowels, and popular letters.  Then flip the cubes over, and write more letters on the back. This way the kids have double the letters with half the blocks.  You can include some fun pencils in the box, too, so the kids could practice writing the words. Kids love anything novel.


 Using Dice to Work On Motor Skills In Literacy
There are so many ways to use dice in your reading and spelling lessons. 
One thing that most teachers don’t realize is that children don’t actually “roll” the dice. That’s because they really haven’t developed the arches in their hands yet.  You need arches in your hand in order to make a “cup” so the dice don’t fall out.  (No throwing or dropping!)
It is easy to think of  ways to use dice for math, but for literacy? 
Make “Roll A Sight Word” sheets for your spelling lessons. You can use the concept with any subject.  It’s simple to assign each number a word or even a definition for older kids.  
For example: a Kindergarten student is practicing simple sight words.  The teacher has a worksheet with a “key”.
     Roll a one:  he
     Roll a two:  she
     Roll a three: they
     Roll a four: it
     Roll a five:  the
     Roll  a six: and
The child rolls the die and then colors in a box with the word in it or writes the word in the box.  The child is using future math skills (probability, graphing) with current math skills (counting, number recognition) as well as literacy skills, recognizing the number, matching it to the word, remembering that the number two is code for “she”. They are also using motor skills to build the arches in their hands to hold the die and “roll” it, rather than drop it or throw it. (They often need to be shown this).  Then, they are working on pencil or crayon grip and fine motor skills to write or color.  That’s a lot of motor skills accomplished within a literacy activity!  The activity can be adapted to fit any teacher’s needs.
Let’s think about the same activity  for a fourth grade teacher.  She can use it to work on social studies definitions and vocabulary.  Fourth graders often study in class by copying definitions from the textbook or from the board, doing fill in the blank sheets, or multiple choice questions.  Here is way to make it a bit more fun AND work on those hand muscles.
     Roll a one:  Definition of longitude
     Roll a two:  Definition of latitude
     Roll a three: Definition of equator
     Roll a four: Definition of plateau
     Roll a five: Definition of peninsula
     Roll  a six: Definition of plains
When the child rolls the die and reads the definition, they have to find the corresponding word on a sheet and color it in. Now the child is working on vocabulary and motor skills at once.  If you wanted to add another component, you could add an extra die, make more definitions, or have the kids write the word instead of color.  You could even have the kids write it in script.  The possibilities are really endless. You just need to think about your typical classroom and homework routine in a different way (aka involving motor skills).

Add sight words, letters, or definitions to cutting practice sheets.  Add “cut and paste” activities whenever you can.  Use regular glue instead of glue sticks.  Squeezing glue is great for fine motor skills. Kids need to learn how hard to squeeze. Let’s get those hands working!

“Start at the beginning and cut until you reach your sight word.  Try to stay on the line!   Tell me the sight word!?”


Literacy is of utmost importance.  Teachers are being evaluated based on their student’s reading scores and levels of success.  Common Core has increased the demands of the curriculum so that Kindergartners are doing what used to be done in the First grade.  As an OT, I am amazed and impressed with what our children are able to absorb and learn. 
But it is still so important that they have a chance to develop their motor skills.  Any movement activity that can be incorporated into a literacy or reading lesson should be. We as educators and parents need to remember to look at the whole child.
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1) Reading is really important, but there are many other skills that help a child to read well.  Visual tracking, language, letter recognition, and postural control are just a few.
2)  Kids need to move!  Movement helps them to maintain an engaged state of mind so they can focus.  It lets them get their wiggles out.  They are still kids!  Research shows that when kids move as part of learning they process information better and the learning stays with them for longer periods of time (Jensen, 2001).
3) Coloring IS meaningful and purposeful for children of all ages.  It is exercise.  Teachers who incorporate coloring and drawing into their lessons are building fine motor strength as well as helping children to create memories associated with pictures or words.  The association of pictures with words or vocabulary can help solidify a child’s learning.

Miss Jaime, O.T. and I have TWO amazing deals for you in honor of National Handwriting Day this week!

The Handwriting Bundle is on sale all 1/22/18-1/26/18!  25% off The Handwriting Book and Printable Pack

My Introduction To Cursive Handwriting resource is 50% off on National Handwriting Day, 1/23/18! 

Introduction To Cursive Handwriting is 50% off on 1/23/18!

Jensen, E. (2001).  Arts with the brain in mind.  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Link for this image:


Jaime Spencer is a pediatric Occupational Therapist with eighteen years experience in Long Island, New York. She currently works in a public school with students Kindergarten to12th grade. She also has ten years’ experience working in a sensory gym with preschool-age children.
She has a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy from Utica College of Syracuse University and a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Adelphi University. She is also certified in Assistive Technology from California State University Northridge.
Jaime Spencer is the author of the Occupational Therapy blog
Connect with Miss Jaime, O.T.!:

Thank you for joining me on my blog today!

5 Fun and Easy Ways to Practice Spelling Generalizations

5 Fun and Easy Ways to Practice Spelling Generalizations

When you are working with children in Orton-Gillingham lessons or other reading interventions, there is often a big discrepancy between our students’ proficiency with understanding a spelling generalization and their proficiency with the application of that spelling generalization. It takes a lot of practice to speed up the process and build automaticity with these orthographic patterns, as well as develop the ability to effectively self-monitor their spelling for accuracy.

The most obvious time to incorporate practice and review of the spelling generalizations is during SOS (Simultaneous Oral Spelling). However, I find that with so many new concepts to review and the abundant practice that spelling generalizations require, my students are more successful if I weave in practice in other places in the lesson as well. By choosing one of these techniques on a regular basis, it gives students the opportunity to practice the skill in different ways and to become flexible and fluent with their knowledge.

1.      Warm-up
I will often write 6 or 8 fill-in-the-blank words on the white board. At the beginning of the lesson or right before introducing the new concept, I will have the student fill in the missing letter. This is especially useful when introducing a similar spelling generalization. For example, warming up with the k/ck generalization is a natural segue to introducing the ch/tch generalization, while the ou/ow generalization review lends itself to the introduction of the au/aw generalization. I like to do this with white board markers, but it could just as easily be done on a half sheet of photocopy paper in a group setting.

2.      Phonemic Awareness
I frequently make a brief phonemic awareness activity part of my practice with new or recent spelling rules. Since the spelling choice often depends on hearing the sound that precedes the phoneme in question or the placement in a word, this is a natural extension of a phoneme segmentation activity. Using blocks, tiles, bingo chips or pennies, students segment the sounds in a word. However, instead of using a blank block or tile for the targeted spelling rule, students choose between tiles with the 2 spelling choices. This builds the connection between hearing the short vowel sound and the visual pattern that should follow.

3.      Filler Activity
When a student needs extensive practice with a spelling generalization, I like to use this technique because it is so time flexible. Depending on how quickly other portions of the lesson plan go, we can do just one or two words or a larger number. Begin with a randomized list of words that are within concepts that a student has been taught, but exhibit the spelling rule. For example, a student in Level 1 may have words like truck and snake and milk, while a student further along in their Orton Gillingham sequence may have those words as well as speak, stork and chunk.

Using a game board with a colored pushpin on a bulletin board or a graph to color to keep track of progress, students are asked to spell a word. For each word that they spell correctly, they can move forward one space or color in a square on the graph. Another variation is to have the student pick a number within a certain range. For a quicker round, ask for a lower number, if you have more time you can have the student choose a bigger number. Students spell a word correctly in order to roll the dice. Keep a running total. See how close they can get to their target number without going over.

4.      SOS & Dictation
While there is not always room in the lesson plan to explicitly choose spelling rule practice as part of SOS and Dictation sentences, but words that apply spelling generalizations frequently appear. It is second nature to us to review the spelling rule if a student makes an error. However, all too often it seems like students choose “the other one” if they think they’ve made a mistake. So, rather than only reviewing the spelling generalization if a student is incorrect, I will frequently draw their attention to a time that they spelled a word correctly and ask them to explain why they made that spelling choice. For example, many students become proficient at spelling the word lunch because they see it on the schedule daily at school. However, to explain why they use ch rather than tch, they need a clear understanding of the rule. If they can’t do so, you have another opportunity to reiterate the rule.  For more SOS practice, read Taking A Crack At Spelling. 

5.      Exit Ticket
Before letting students go at the end of a lesson, you can have them choose the correct spelling similar to a fill-in-the-blank activity. There are lots of fun ways to randomly select one word and keep things exciting. With some simple color coding, you can even have different spelling generalization practice going at the same time.
·         A jar of popsicle sticks that have challenge questions such as: k or ck? sna____
·         Index cards with different fill-in-the-blank spelling choice
·         Rolling a write-on wipe-off die with an unfinished word on each side
·         Using a fortune teller game with a spelling question inside

The exit ticket is also a great way to quickly see which students may need more practice in a group or whole class setting. Have each student choose their own card or stick and choose the correct spelling and return their card as they line up or leave the room.

Just learning a spelling rule isn’t enough. Students need abundant opportunities for review and practice in order to make new learning truly their own. When you see a struggling student correcting a classmates spelling because they’ve mastered a rule, the pride they feel in their achievement is unmistakable. For more spelling tips, check out Visualizing Spelling Strategies.

For more easy game ideas to practice spelling generalizations, check out Low-Prep game boards.

Low-prep games to use with ANY lesson!

Thanks for stopping by my blog today!

How To Organize Phonological Awareness Supplies

phonemic awareness

(Contains an affiliate link.)

Phonological Awareness contains a mixture of foundational literacy skills which are critical for reading success. It's hard to argue against the need to provide a strong phonological awareness curriculum, particularly in the younger grades where we can identify and remediate early to avoid later reading failure. We want to hit em' hard and often in grades Pre-K-2!

One question I get asked a lot is how to organize supplies for phonological awareness. It's a lot! There's children's books, manipulatives, printables, game materials and so much more. Trying to find a way to make a robust, phonological awareness curriculum work logistically is sometimes half the battle.

Things to consider may be:

  • How to keep supplies centrally located
  • Are they easily accessible
  • Will they be durable for long-lasting use
  • Where are some kid-friendly containers I can use.
  • It has to be easy to assemble once. I won't be required to repeat prep, which takes a ton of time
I hear you loud and clear. Today, I am going to do a run down of the materials you might want to consider purchasing and how to store them. If you purchased my Phonological Awareness Bundle, you'll want to listen up, because I will be referring specifically to this resource quite a bit.

phonemic awarenessa activities
Phonological Awareness Bundle

Printing and Storage

What I am about to explain might feel overwhelming at first. BUT, if you do this one time prep, you won't have to do it again. It's true! You'll be able to reuse the materials over and over. If you have a helper to cut things out for you before laminating and after, that's great. I highly recommend finding a helper for the prep. A parent helper, or even a middle or high school student looking to make a little extra spending money will easily be able to cut things out and save you some time. 

Before you print out the phonological awareness bundle, prepare for it with ink cartridges, copy paper binders, three hole punch, page dividers and tabs, OR hanging file folders, whichever you prefer. When you hit print, commit to a long print job or bring it to an office supply store. 

Teacher Task Cards

The very next thing I want you to do is pull out the TOC and place it aside from the stack of printed pages. After that, pull out all of the teacher task cards. These have the lessons on them. Cut them out, and sort them into stacks according to the phonological awareness skill they practice. For instance, make piles of all the listening task cards. Then, laminate each card, cut and trim, and hole punch where the guide holes are at the top of each card. This portion is probably going to take the most time to set up. 

When all the teacher task cards are done, you can hang them all on the photo stands, on metal rings, or store them in the IRIS craft keeper cases by skill. They fit really nicely for me in the craft cases until I am ready to pull them out and hang them on a photo stand. You won't be able to fit every task card for the entire unit on one stand, but you will be able to hang about 20 cards at a time easily. 


This bundle includes an assessment portion in a separate file in the zipped file. I recommend printing out the whole file as your master copy and storing in a skinny 1/4 inch binder to make it easy to flip through. When you are ready to assess a child, take the master copy and print the whole assessment of the subtests you need. 

Student Materials and Games

Now that you have printed the task cards and assessments, use hanging file folders in a crate to drop in pages for the different skills. This may end up being a temporary organizational solution, but will help you separate out what you need for each skill. Keeping the TOC and sorted task cards handy, go through the printed bundle and file the student materials pages and game materials according to the file folders you have. Once that is done, go through each file folder, one by one. Cut laminate and trim materials from each folder. 

At this point, you can either store small game cards in baggies and slide them back into hanging file folders, OR, use IRIS craft keeper cases for each skill and put a label on each box. Those little craft boxes are great for storage game cards. The game boards won't fit, so that's why you might want to use the hanging file folder system. If you travel, use a binder for the game boards. The nice thing about the IRIS craft keeper case is that all the small cases fit into slots in a large carry case with a handle, making it really easy to transport.


Keeping your phonological lessons hands-on, interactive and multisensory will make them engaging for your students. You don't have to break the bank on expensive supplies, especially when you might only need small amounts for working 1:1 or in a small group at a time. For that purpose, prepare a manipulative kit for eight, which will include enough for six students, for you to model, and for one extra student or if something gets lost. You can use craft cases again for this or put them in individual bags and store them in a clear plastic bin. If you want individual kits, use plastic pencil boxes and fill them with enough manipulatives for one student to use. Then, all you will have to say is, "Take out the ...," and they can access them easily.

I have a supply list included here for you to print out. I tend to choose red, yellow and green to signify the colors on a traffic light. These colors can be helpful with blending, segmenting, and phoneme recognition in different positions. The photo below shows the suggested manipulatives.

Children's Books

Having a collection of children's books to model the skills you are teaching can be a powerful asset. Even if you only own one book of nursery rhymes, you can do a LOT with that! But, if you are looking to build up your classroom library, I have written 6 Children's Books For Phonological Awareness Part One and 6 More Books For Phonological Awareness in a part two post. Check your local library, the Scholastic book orders, and used book sales. Store them in a special basket or on a small book rack. I like to place a circle dot sticker on the back cover telling me which phonological awareness skill the book will help me with when I read it to my students. Consider a color coded system. So, for all the books with examples of rhyming, place a yellow circle dot. For all the books serving as good models for phoneme manipulation, use a red dot. You get the idea. ;)

May I give you a super important tip? Anytime you hear of a library having a used book sale, RUN. I have gone to a used book sale in Williamstown, MA (a beautiful little town in the Berkshires on the Massachusetts/New York border if you want to make it a road trip) for years. They have one every April, and it's usually in the third week, hosted in the elementary school gym in town, because it's HUGE. You have to line up outside early before the sale opens up (at least 45 minutes before), but it's worth it. My husband, also a teacher, and I have FILLED boxes of books all for 25 cents, 50 cents or hardcovers for $1. It is a STEAL. Plus, it's for a good cause. All the proceeds go right back to the local library. My husband especially loves the silent auction in addition to this used book sale for a chance to win rare first editions of books. 


Now that you have set up your materials, the manipulatives and your children's books are ready to go, think about the time you will need to devote to the lessons. Most of my lessons are short, only about 15 minutes at the most. Use them as warm ups or review. The assessment portion will take you the longest, but will be highly informative. The data you receive will show you where to target your instruction. If you know your students already are weak in phonological awareness, you might want to just start in on the lessons and save the assessments as a way to assess whether they are progressing as a result of the lessons you are giving them. When your students are ready, you can begin to plan to use the advanced phoneme manipulation activities designed for children who are a bit older. 

phonemic awareness

I hope this post has given you a clearer image of how to get yourself organized. If you haven't had a chance to do so already, I have a six part email series about the importance of phonemic awareness. It is packed with great teaching tips and a phonemic awareness games freebie is included for signing up! 

Phonemic Awareness Games Sampler Freebie

Do you have any personal tips that have worked for you and your students? Let me know in the comments. Thank you for stopping by my blog today!

The Top Five Tips When Looking for An Online Reading Tutor

The Top Five Tips When Looking for An Online Reading Tutor

orton-gillingham online

Please welcome, Ann Mitchell from Learning, Literacy and Family to my blog today! 

Do you have a child who struggles with reading? Is there constant resistance when you are trying to help? The only thing you wish is that you had a magic wand to make it all better for them. I understand I’ve been there.  Now that the holidays are coming to end and the new year has started. Let’s make a resolution together to help your child close the gap in reading.
Hi, my name is Ann Mitchell, I’m a wife, a parent, a Special Educator and a tutor/entrepreneur. I own Learning Literacy and Family which the home of Castle Rock Tutoring and The Online Reading Expert . Let me share with you the five of the most important tips in finding an online tutor.

Tip #1: Find A Specialized Tutor
  • When looking for an online tutor, you want to find one that specializes in the specific area that your child needs help.  These tutors have specifically spent a lot of time perfecting their craft and know how to teach to your child’s needs.
  • When you get a tutor that teaches a little bit of everything you run into the problem of them not knowing the little tricks to close the gap quickly.  They may be very good at helping with homework, but you want to hire someone that can get real results.
  • I have been teaching reading since 2008 and I am passionate about helping your child close the gap in this area. "We absolutely loved Ann and the patience she had with our son."                                                             Norma S. – A parent and small business owner

Tip #2: Personality is Everything. 
  • Personality is everything.  Some people believe a teacher just needs to teach and that everything else will follow, but that is not true.  If your child does not like the tutor that they are going to work with, then you will not get the most out of your investment.  The whole point of finding an online tutor is to get results, but if personalities clash, then the tutoring becomes ineffective.
  • The great thing about finding the right online tutor for your child is that many online tutors have YouTube videos.  You can check out one of mine here. Ann Mitchell - Learning Literacy and Family
  •  Find one that you want your child to watch to see if this tutor would be a good fit for him or her.  That way your child is investing a little bit into this process in the beginning as well.
  • Some tutors are too bubbly for your child, while other tutors may be too serious.  You know your child best, so peek around the web.

Tip #3: Online Presence
  •  Look for an online tutor that has an online presence.  These tutors are the serious ones in the industry.  You should be able to find them on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, and Instagram.  Click and you will find my profiles for each of these. 
  • Be wary of tutors that you cannot find on social media.  The more information you can find about a tutor, the more trustworthy they are.  Why? Because they are not the kind of tutor that is going to disappear overnight.  These tutors have a vested interest in their business.
  • Also, the sites listed above are places where you can find reviews about their services.

"Ann helped our son go from below grade level to excelling above! She is always on time, very patient, and uses lots of different methods to help our son. We are very happy with her services and would recommend her to anyone who needs a tutor!"  Allysa – Parent

Tip #4: A Powerful Website
  • Does the tutor have a website?  Many tutors will advertise their services on other websites but haven’t invested their time into creating their own website where you can learn more about them.  Check to see if they have a Frequently Asked Questions Page, About Me Page, and a Blog.
  • Each of these areas will continue to help you learn if this is the right tutor for you.  On the home page, there should be something that connects you to the problem that your child is having.  If it is all about the qualifications of the tutor, you may find that they have a hard time connecting with kids and the specific problems that they are having.  However, if you look at the homepage and it feels like it is talking about the specific needs of your child, then you have a winner.
  • To see if my home page speaks to your child’s needs check it out here.         
  •   Learning Literacy and Family

Tip #5:  Free Assessment or Consultation
  •  Start with a tutor that offers either a free assessment or consultation.  Having one of these opportunities allows you to get to know the tutor personally.  You have done a lot of research on the right tutor up to this point by checking out their social media presence, videos, and looking at their website.  Now it is time to take that next step.
  • See if the specific tutor you have been checking out has a free assessment or consultation.  You will be able to check out their work and see how dedicated this tutor is to your child.  Just having one conversation with the tutor will let you know if you have in fact found the right tutor for your child.
  • During this time with the tutor pay attention to 3 things.

      1.  Do they try to learn about your child’s specific interests and needs?
      2.  Do they have a way to track progress?
      3.  Does it seem like your child is responding well to the tutor?

      Sign up for a free assessment with Ann from Castle Rock Tutoring. Go to my website and fill out a contact form, and I will set up a time with you.  If you have found another tutor that will be a good fit for you during this process, then I am glad I was able to help.

If you have ever thought about learning more about becoming an online tutor yourself join our Facebook Group. It is a group that has individuals from all around the world. We share funny stories, ask questions, and provide support. I have been there for quite some time. I will continue to support others.
Listed here are several of the different groups that are available:

You can follow me and learn more about us at  Learning Literacy and Family Blog

The world of communication, learning, traveling and tutoring has exploded to an online platform!

This guest post has been written by Ann Mitchell is a wife, parent, Special Educator and a tutor/entrepreneur. She is the business owner of  Learning Literacy and Family which the home of Castle Rock Tutoring and The Online Reading Expert. Thank you, Ann for sharing your expertise!

Thanks for stopping by my blog today! :)

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