The Literacy Nest

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! :)

A Year In The Life of The Literacy Nest

Wrapping up a whole year as a certified dyslexia practitioner, I look at the accomplishments, the progress made and the people I have reached. Through the power of the Orton-Gillingham approach, a structured literacy methodology, and dyslexia awareness spread through social media, I've been able to reach parents and other educators all over the world. I am so grateful for the bridges built and the connections I have made with all of you!

Today, I am taking time out to reflect on the most popular blog posts written in 2017. Thirty posts were published on my blog in 2017 and admittedly, I'm a bit in awe. I'm been blog writing since 2013, and the urge to share valuable content with you has never been stronger. I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog as much I have over the years! And so, without further delay, I give you the top ten most popular blog posts in order. The tenth post in the list was the most popular.

The Top Ten Blog Posts in 2017!

  2. The Top 6 Picture Books For Building Phonological Awareness 
  3. AND THE MOST POPULAR POST OF 2017 IS... 12 Children's Books With Dyslexic Characters You Can't Miss  

Which post was your favorite? Did it make the list? Here's one of my personal favorites for 2017. What Does An Orton-Gillingham Lesson Plan Look Like? was recently published at the end of November. It is jam packed with info! Be sure to check that one out. 

So... some people ask me what I have planned for 2018. Here's a quick run down of some things to look forward to in the new year:

  • More ready made, bound copies of my materials available for purchase and shipping
  • More reading passages (including comprehension questions)
  • Games for Orton-Gillingham lessons and beyond
  • Organizational Tips for The Phonological Awareness Bundle
  • Materials for Older Students
  • Plans for a new web design with some extra special features (Not saying what they are!)
  • More high quality blog content published monthly
  • Organizational Charts for both Complete OG bundles.
  • More time for book groups!
  • And some surprises that I hope you will stick around to see. ;)

As a special thank you for a fantastic 2017, my store will be on sale on December 31, 2017. All resources will be 20% off, plus one dollar deal. There will be dollar deals on 12/31/17 and half price deals on 1/1/18, so be sure to check in both days! 

I wish you all a happy, healthy New Year surrounded by the people who mean the most to you. 

5 Sneaky Ways to Improve Handwriting

tips for teaching handwriting

Students with dyslexia frequently struggle to have legible and fluent handwriting. In a world surrounded by computers, it can be easy to let handwriting slip through the cracks or decide it is unimportant. However, there are several good reasons to spend some time on cursive handwriting practice, whether you are a classroom teacher, support teacher or tutor with an Orton-Gillingham lesson plan to follow or using a different method or program for reading intervention. 

Research has shown a link between manuscript instruction and learning letters and sounds. Even more surprisingly, there is also a link between learning cursive and fluency. Students may be embarrassed by not being able to write legibly or have a cool looking signature. Spelling is hard enough for those with dyslexia, but having things marked wrong because the teacher couldn’t tell if a letter was an “a” or a “u” is that last thing they need. 

Also, whether or not it is fair, the appearance of a written product often makes a powerful impression that can lower a grade even if the content is sound. Finally, learning cursive is a big deal to kids and they are going to try to write in cursive, whether or not they are taught. Better to build patterns that are correct right from the start.  Not all work to improve handwriting needs to be time consuming or frustrating. 

Here are some ways to incorporate engaging activities that will build fine motor muscles and prepare children for written tasks.
  1.  Building hand musclesAn important step in improving handwriting and reducing fatigue, particularly in younger students is to strengthen the muscles used in handwriting. If you have access to an OT, they are full of wonderful tips to help develop the writing muscles. 
  • Using tongs or tweezers to pinch and pick up small objects is a great way to hone the writing muscles. This could be a homemade pompom game or a commercial game such as Sneaky Snacky Squirrel or Operation. 
  • Using Play-Doh or clay is a popular activity in preschools because it is so good for developing hand muscles. Rolling balls, making snakes, squishing the Play-Doh flat are all stretching and building stamina in the hand muscles. Making letters out of the Play-Doh even allows the reinforcement of letters and sounds. 
  • Clothespins are a great strength builder. They are typically more difficult to squeeze than tongs, but have a billion and one purposes. From hanging clothes on the line or keeping a bag of chips closed to clip cards or silly games, there are no shortage of ways to build this into your day or lesson. Clipping clothespins to the back of someone’s shirt without them noticing is a delightfully rascally activity. The more clothespins they wear, the harder it is for children or adults to keep from giggling. A basket of clothespins and a timer is all you really need for a minute-to-win-it type challenge. How many clothespins can your student clip onto poster board in 30 seconds or a minute. 
    tips for teaching handwriting
      2.  Practicing Handwriting without WritingSince handwriting is made up of lines and curves             and different kinds of pencil strokes and reliant on fine motor skills and the eyes and hands                 working in concert, there are some fun and sneaky ways to improve these skills in even the                 most reluctant handwriting student.

·         Learn to Draw Activities: Learn to draw worksheets or books with step by step instructions not only are fun, but build skills with fine motor control.
·         Mazes: Kids LOVE mazes. They are super easy to fit into an Orton-Gillingham lesson because they take only a minute or two. As a teacher, it is fascinating to see how our students approach this task. Many find the path completely with their eyes far quicker than I am able to. Others work deliberately or employ strategies such as starting at the end or working from both the start and finish. In addition to finding the path, challenge the student to get through the maze without bumping any walls. For students that really struggle, I may have them complete the maze first and then try to follow the line with a marker or pen smoothly without bumping the walls.  
tips for teaching handwriting

·         Using a light box to trace a picture: This is a fun and engaging way to turn anyone into an artist and practice fine motor skills at the same time.
·         Spirograph: Making pictures with a Spirograph promotes fine motor skills and visual motor development as well.
·         Pencil control worksheets/Adventures: If you are creative, you can design a pencil control adventure in which the child needs to trace within a highlighted line, complete certain tasks and shapes and have a story to go along with it. There are pencil adventures that have been created by OTs available online. 

3.         Writing in a different way
            Practicing traditional handwriting skills such as stroke practice, letter formation or connecting words can be made a bit extra exciting by varying the how and where.
·         Sensory writing: For Orton-Gillingham teachers, it makes a lot of sense to practice handwriting with the same sensory techniques we use for mastering phonemes and graphemes. Writing on a squishy bag filled with paint, practicing cursive in shaving cream or writing in beads or rice are all ways to make the patterns of letter formation not only more interesting, but more memorable.
·         Change of scenery:  Writing on a clipboard while lying on one’s belly on the floor is one way to shake things up as is taping the paper to the underside of the table while the child lies on her back to write. These can be particularly helpful techniques for children that become quickly fatigued from writing.
4.         Writing with a Purpose
            Nothing makes practice quite as meaningful as having a genuine purpose for writing. Letters to Santa, thank you notes, lists or messages for a friend or parent are all real reasons for kids to be writing and doing so in such a way that it can be easily read.  Creating secret codes or solving secret messages that others have made is similarly motivating.
5.         Practice makes  Permanent
            A little bit of practice every lesson makes a big impact. Direct modeling, instruction, practice and feedback in letter formation, placement, size and connections done for 5 minutes during every lesson is going to have a much bigger impact than an hour long handwriting lesson once in a blue moon. By committing to that practice with students and eventually carrying over those techniques and skills to SOS and dictation, we can make a real impact on student writing.

While learning keyboarding is a lifeline for many students with dyslexia, there is value in giving students the confidence to read and write handwritten materials as well. 

tips for teaching handwriting

If you are seeking a cursive handwriting resource with a multisensory approach which will provide fine motor practice, my Introduction To Cursive Handwriting Practice will provide you and your students with the tools they need to begin basic penmanship. I've been receiving requests for manuscript writing practice, so I will work on that in Winter, 2018.

Feedback so far with one customer on this resource:
 "This product is absolutely amazing and thorough! I can’t wait to use it! Everything you need to teach penmanship is there. In addition, I think OTs would find your product extremely helpful."

Handwriting resources
Introduction To Cursive Handwriting Practice

Thank you for stopping by today. Is there an idea that you'd like to try? Let me know in the comments!

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