The Science of Writing: Where to Begin

So much has been researched and written on the topic of research-based strategies for reading, but writing is an area where there has not been a lot of research.There are many methods, strategies, and practices that are useful and several books have been written on the topic.  If you are looking for a place to start, I recommend picking up The Writing Revolution (Hochman and Wexler) and Writing Matters (Van Cleave) for assistance in best practices and strategies.

I know that writing is an area that was my weakest when I first started teaching 14 years ago. My first year of teaching, I dug deep into our curriculum and realized there was not a lot of information provided on how to teach the writing structures for each writing genre. Thankfully, my district provided teachers with writing rubrics. Those were SO helpful as I at least had a goal so I knew where my students were expected to be by the end of the school year.

Lined Writing Paper With Writing

If you are struggling to teach writing, I recommend checking out your school district’s rubrics if they provide them.  Below is a list of ideas that will help you get started rocking your writing instruction.

Start by reviewing the CCSS for your grade level and backwards planning from the end of year expectations.

For those of you looking for some help, here are just a few drops of information along with scaffolds and strategies to use with struggling writers.

1. First identify the writing skills along with the structure for the genre of writing your student/child needs support with. These could be two different things (i.e. capitalization, punctuation, etc. vs. introduction, details, and conclusion). These skills will need to be explicitly taught using a variety of strategies.
2. If your student/child cannot say the sentence, they will likely struggle to write the sentence. I always start off the year with having students say their sentence to myself or a partner. They LOVE sharing their ideas and it gets them very engaged in the learning.
3. Scaffold the writing process by teaching little parts at a time and do not move on with the next step until they have reached mastery.
4. Use a graphic organizer to help students plan and organize their thoughts and ideas.
5. Provide thoughtful feedback through questioning strategies to help guide students/children through the process.
Lined Writing Paper With Words

Writing is a BIG process with many parts. It takes time to create competent writers so be patient and trust the process.

Using Blending Lines in a Structured Literacy Classroom

This year I was blessed to receive some rather intensive training through my school district based in the Science of Reading (Structured Literacy).  It has been life-changing and has helped me make some very positive changes in the delivery of my instruction as well as in my instructional strategies.  One of the great activities I have used for awhile now are blending lines. After receiving this training this year, I learned new and valuable ways in which I could use blending lines with my students.

Blending lines are a strategic and systematic way for students to attend to and practice a newly introduced phonics skill before they begin reading a decodable passage or story with the same skill. I have used blending lines for a few years now and can tell you I have seen my students personally benefit from using them.

But aren’t blending lines just reading a list of words? No! They are much more than just reading a list of words. Their purpose is to have students practice applying their newly learned phonics pattern in isolation and then in text. Not only does this strategy align with CCSS, but it is also a systematic and strategic way for students to practice phonics skills.

Science of Reading Blending Lines

I created these blending lines to align with a logical scope and sequence and hope you will find them very useful in your classroom.

These blending lines are structured in the following way:

Line 1: Minimal pairs. Words move from known word skills to new word skills.

Line 2: New initial sound (new onset/ same rime)

Line 3: New ending sound ( same onset / new rime)

Line 4: Mixed target skill (new skill in various positions)

Lines 5 and 6: Review words

Line 7: Challenge words (word endings and / or compound words)

Lines 8 and 9: Decodable sentences (text)- new skill applied to sentences.

This format allows students to have a scaffold when using word attack strategies with the newly learned phonics skill.

If you are interested in learning more about phonics and research-based strategies, I recommend reading Phonics From A to Z from Wiley Blevins.  There are some AMAZING word lists inside this book that will help you if you need to create or develop anything for your own classroom use.


Classroom Tour 2021-2022

It’s already back to school time for me. This year I decided to decorate my classroom with a mint / turquoise blue and black. I was SO excited to find these book bins at Target.  Finally my entire classroom library can match!

first grade writing

classroom organization first grade classroom first grade focus wall


I always have a wall dedicated for student work. This wall is all for student writing samples. I have developed a very structured writing process and have students moving from writing one basic sentence at the beginning of the year to writing entire paragraphs by the end of the first trimester. first grade writing


My focus wall is very small, but I focus on our phonics and high frequency words each week. We also use the calendar during math time.


first grade classroom library


I ditched my clip chart years ago in favor of a totally positive behavior management system. I created a reward board that I use for positive student behavior. Student get to choose their own reward! My students love choosing stickers, erasers, being the helper in class, receiving a happy note home, or other rewards. I switch them out throughout the year so they have a chance to earn different rewards.

first grade rewards and classroom prizes

The Science of Reading and Literacy Centers, Part 3: Leveled Readers

What to Do With Leveled Readers and Other Books

Welcome to my third post about The Science of Reading and Literacy Centers!  If you have questions about what kinds of activities you might have your students complete during center time, you are in the right place.  After you read this post, you will find out why you should not throw out those leveled readers when implementing the Science of Reading in your classroom.

One of the biggest questions you might have is what to do with leveled readers and other books during center time in your classroom.  How can you put these kinds of books to good use?

The first thing I will say is when it comes to books, there is no such thing as a bad book!  The students in my classroom have access to leveled readers, easy readers, beginning chapter books, chapter books, and picture books. I organize my leveled readers by level, my picture books by genre, by topic, and even by author.  The chapter books are also relegated to a special section of my classroom library.  Leveled readers, easy readers, and picture and chapter books are all GREAT ways to provide enrichment and differentiate for all the learners in your classroom. I have never had a class yet who has not benefited from independent reading.
Science of Reading Chapter Books
It’s very important for students to have access to all kinds of books, whether they are picture books, easy readers, or leveled readers.

What to Do With Leveled Readers

Leveled readers do have a structure and text complexity that becomes more advanced as the levels increase. They are somewhat reliable in that students who have developed foundational skills and high-frequency word knowledge can be successful with them. Although leveled readers do not align with The Science of Reading, they can be useful in providing students with practicing fluent reading, reading comprehension, and reading for pleasure.
At the beginning of the year, I recommend assessing students on their foundational reading skills and then following up with progress monitoring throughout the year.  This is a very important step and is what will help you in identifying students in need of support.
Foundational reading skills include:

  • Knowledge of letter names and sounds
  • Ability to segment sounds in words and blend sounds to read words fluently ( move from b-a-t to bat without struggling to think of sounds)
  • Ability to read a variety of high-frequency words (Fry and Dolch are popular lists, but you might also use the lists that come with your curriculum)
  • More advanced readers might have the ability to read beginning and ending blends, vowel teams, digraphs, diphthongs etc.

I use leveled readers in my classroom as a “May Do” activity.  This means that students will read on their own. It’s important to provide books to students that they will be successful with, without any support.  If you do not assess their foundational skills and then use that data to provide appropriate books to your students, they may become frustrated and may not be successful at reading books independently. Always review the books before assigning them to students to ensure they will match the skills each student has.
The Science of Reading and Leveled Readers

When students complete their “Must Do” activities they may choose to read independently.  I allow students to choose 10 books at a time and place them in their book baskets. For students who can blend and segment sounds, read words fluently, and have sufficient high-frequency word knowledge, I provide them with specific levels that they may choose from.

If a student is a struggling reader, I recommend providing those students with your curriculum decodables and other decodables (as needed), like Bob Books, instead of providing leveled readers to students.  You can set up a special basket just for those students with alphabet books or other books that you have already worked on together with students.


All students are permitted to choose books from the picture book section but I save my chapter books for my highest readers who are very fluent, have good comprehension skills, and excellent high-frequency word knowledge.

The Science of Reading and Picture Books

Each group of students has a shopping day, where they may go to the class library and shop for books. Because I have my library organized, I teach the students where to find the books and how to put them away when it is time to trade books out on their next shopping day.

The Importance of Teaching Reading Strategies

It’s important to remember, even with leveled texts, students should be putting to use research-based decoding skills. Just because a student has a leveled reader in their hands, it doesn’t mean they are going to use ineffective strategies. Students will use the strategies you teach them, provided you give them explicit, direct instruction.

Students should not be relying on pictures for clues or guessing what the words might be. Students should be using strategies like:

  • Look at the letters in the word from left to right.
  • Blend the sounds together.
  • Look for parts you know (i.e. letter sounds, vowel teams, digraphs, blends, short vowels, etc.)
  • Break the word into syllables.
  • Cover part of the word. Read this part (i.e. “card” cover the c and the d. Look at the ar. What sound does ar make together? Now, let’s go back and read the first sound. What sound does this letter make?  And so on. Blend the sounds together and then read the whole word).
  • Ask for help.

Additional Activities for Leveled Readers, Easy Readers, and Picture Books

Even if you choose to not have students read books independently, you might choose some of these other activities with leveled readers instead:

  • Find words in the book with the sound-spelling pattern for the week and write those words in a journal.  Draw a picture to go with each word.
  • Use the pictures in the book to write your own story.
  • Use one picture in the book and write a sentence about what you see happening in the picture.
  • Tell a story to a partner about what the book might be about.
  • Read and write one sentence from the book. Create a new story based off of one sentence.

One Final Thought...

This might be more of a reminder than a thought. Make sure when you are providing books for your students or placing your students in groups that you progress monitor. Remember that groups are fluid and skills-based. Students may, and should, move groups when they acquire the necessary skills to move on.


Thanks for joining me! Next up will be some of the Must Do activities I assign to students. Stay tuned!

Science of Reading and Literacy Centers Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of The Science of Reading and Literacy Centers!

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If you missed the first post on the Science of Reading, click here to catch up!  In today’s post we’ll look at some simple changes you can make in your classroom to teach small groups with a Science of Reading focus while simultaneously fostering independence in your students.  For more information on how to implement structure and excellent classroom management strategies in your classroom I highly recommend *The Daily Five and *The First Six Weeks of School.

One thing I want to make clear is that neither of these books are curriculum. What they do offer are management strategies that will significantly impact your classroom for the better.

Building Independence in Your Classroom

Here are a few key points to keep in mind as we discuss literacy centers:

  • Explicitly teach everything.
  • Set clear expectations for routines, procedures, behavior, and academics.
  • Build community, respect, and trust.
  • Believe that your students are capable.
  • Help students build stamina.
  • There is power in choice.

Structuring Center Time

The Daily Five offers a wonderful framework to help structure your literacy center block.  I will briefly review the framework and some key ideas from this book, BUT I will also say that I do not use each of these activities or routines as they are suggested in the book.  My process is slightly different and I’ll share that near the end of the post.  These ideas and concepts, however, are a great place to start when using literacy centers and aligning them to the Science of Reading.

In this book it is suggested to have five different categories of activities from which students may choose when working independently.  These tasks stay consistent throughout the year.  Basically this means the students will complete the same activities under each overarching area, but with more rigorous skills as the students progress throughout the year.  Each activity is differentiated for every level of student.

For each activity:

  • students are explicitly taught the expectations.
  • a list of expectations is posted in the classroom for students to reference.

Some ideas for expectations include:

  • Gather all materials.
  • Choose a seat.
  • Work quietly the whole time (i.e. using a whisper voice).
  • Stay on task  (This requires teaching students how to build stamina and persevere.)
  • Complete one task before moving to the next task.
  • Clean up and put away all materials before moving to the next activity.

Daily Five Expectations and Procedures


Overarching Areas (Each activity in The Daily Five will fall under one of these areas):

  • Read to Self: Reading a good-fit book (books stored in a book box or bag)
    I-PICK books- I choose a book.
    Purpose- Why do I want to read it?
    Interest- Does the book interest me?
    Comprehension-Am I understanding what I am reading?
    Know- Do I know most of the words?
  • Work on Writing: Writing notebooks, writing journals
  • Read to Someone: Read to a partner, check for understanding
  • Word Work: Word patterns, word families, (using stamps, markers, magnetic letters, etc.)
  • Listen to Reading: Listening center

After teaching procedures for each activity and students have built their stamina such that they can stay on task for extended periods of time, it’s time to start centers.

During centers students will complete the activities in any order they choose. Students will have a choice over which activity they start first, second, etc. and teachers will track / monitor activities to increase accountability.  Additionally, students choose the books they read, the activities and materials that best meet their goals, choose a place to sit, choose listen center books, and choose the writing genre and topics they write about.

The key to implementing these strategies is the explicit teaching (teach, model, practice) of each procedure and routine, building students’ stamina so that they can be successful for sustained periods of time, monitoring students, and meeting as a whole group to discuss building stamina.

For a deep dive into The Daily Five, I recommend visiting The Daily Five Website and purchasing The Daily Five Book.

How I Structure My Center Time

First off, I do set up activities and follow the explicit teaching of each activity and building stamina that is suggested in The Daily Five.  However I use a Must Do / May Do list on the board for students so they know what activities are set up for the day. I change out the activities depending upon the phonics, reading, or writing standard we are practicing, but I make sure they are all activities I have already taught and students are successful with independently.

Classroom Expectations


My Must Do/ May Do activities fall under these categories:

  • Word Work: This is the the category that will focus on the Science of Reading activities.  I recommend creating activities based on phonics, phonemic awareness, onset/rime, syllables, blending, phonological awareness, orthographic mapping, phoneme-grapheme mapping, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.These are only a few ideas you might find in a typical word work center: Stamp a Word, Word/Picture Sorts, Phonics Fluency Strips, Phoneme Addition, Deletion, and Substitution, Rainbow Writing, Magnetic Letters, Roll and Read (Fluency) and a variety of other activities.


To purchase some Science of Reading activities I use, click the links below.

Science of Reading Word Work Activities


  • Silent Reading: Students have book baskets. I choose books for them based on their foundational skills (based on information from DIBELS).  I also allow students to choose picture books, even if they are unable to read them independently. This might not “align” with the Science of Reading, but it is very important for students to be able to look at picture books to build their interest in reading. In the book baskets students have a maximum of 10 books at one time.  I use these awesome book baskets from Target. They usually have these in their dollar spot section in June / July right before the official Back to School season starts.

Book Basket from Target

  • Listening Center: Students listen to a book at the listening center and complete a comprehension activity about the book.


  • Writing: Students write a personal narrative, opinion writing, or informational text- sometimes they choose topics, sometimes I assign them based on our units of study.

First Grade Writing

  • Curriculum (Phonics / Reading / Comprehension): I also assign various pieces of our curriculum for students to complete, typically as a Must Do activity.

While students are working on their Must Do / May Do list, I am pulling small groups for direct instruction, remediation, and practice with foundational reading standards. We use a variety of strategies including Elkonin Sound Boxes.  Students in my small group also read our core curriculum decodables so that they may practice and apply what they have learned.


Implementing this structure in my classroom has transformed the way my classroom runs. My students start building independence and responsibility within just a few weeks.  In my next post, I’ll break down my activities in more detail. Stay tuned!