Tag Archives: Me and Thee Studios

Automaticity Really Does Matter

How many things can you successfully manage at one time?  For years I thought I was fantastic at “multi-tasking”.  I still find myself with many irons in the fire but my thoughts on “multi-tasking” have changed.

I know that when I stretch myself to handle too many things at once, everything suffers.  I find that I’ve made mistakes or short-changed something (or someone) when I haven’t given myself completely to one thing at a time.  When I focus on a single task, my final product (or the relationship I’ve slowed down to fully enjoy) is superior and more fulfilling than tasks I complete (even if it’s coffee with a friend) while thinking about other things on my to-do list.

I found the need to focus on one thing at a time to be important for children mentally wrestling with their learning, too.  When I work with a child who is learning to read, I want them focused on reading strategies.  When a child has to stop and think about sounds a letter (or letter combination) makes or struggle to “remember” sight words, their reading is slow and labored.  In “teacher talk” this quick recall of fundamental skills is called automaticityAutomaticity frees a child’s mind to focus on one thing at a time.  Automaticity in early literacy Really Does Matter.


Automaticity refers to the ability to recognize or do things quickly without thought.  It is an automatic response pattern or habit.  It is the result of learning, repetition, and practice – ergo one of my favorite sayings about the learning process, “Practice makes permanent.”  Automaticity can refer to any automatic response (my morning routine after 20 years of adult life, a pitcher’s windup, a gymnast’s approach, a pianist’s posture, my grandfather’s shoe polishing routine) as well as fundamental skills in the classroom.

While I do believe that a child needs to know short vowel and consonant sounds and a good number of sight words as quickly as possible when beginning to read, I do not believe there is a single method to learning sounds and words.  Nor do I believe there is a “correct” sequence in which sounds or words have to be introduced.  Ultimately, it is a quick recall that frees the brain to concentrate on fewer things at a time.

While I could share many activities I tried in the classroom, the following stick out as some of the most helpful for building automaticity in learning sounds.  I make no claims to having “created” much of what I used in my instructional career.  These were “stolen” from peers along the way and are certainly meant to be shared!

1)      Draw a line – Give your child a magnetic board (a stove-top burner cover or a cookie sheet), a dry erase marker, and 3-4 magnetic letters.  Have your child draw a line from left to right in the middle of the board and have them place their letters below the line.  Call the letter names (initially) in a given order and have your child find then push the letters above the line in the order you called.  Name the letters in a different sequence and have your child find and push the letters below the line (in the correct sequence).  Move on to letter sounds (using the same letters but calling the sounds rather than the letter names).  Add a challenge by adding to the number of letters you use.  Side note – make sure you move quickly to lower case letters.  Not only are you working on automaticity but you’re working on short term memory as well.

learning sounds

2)      Thumb wars – Create lists of same vowel CVC (short consonant, vowel, consonant) words on cardstock.  Focusing on one short vowel sound at a time frees the brain for attention to consonant mastery. Challenge your child to gain speed in visually recognizing a change in the initial and final consonants of CVC words.  Have him keep track (with his thumb beside each word) of words read without an error.  Hold (with your thumb) the spot where he mis-read a word and challenge him to “beat” his record on subsequent readings.  This is a sneaky way to provide repeated readings J.  Move onto long vowel spelling (in my picture below) you’re your child is ready.

thumb wars

3)      Ready, set, write – Along the same lines as “thumb wars,” I love teaching sounds through writing.  Have your child use “sound boxes” in a plastic sheet protector.  While focusing initially on each short vowel sound individually, offer lots of CVC words to have your child write quickly and erase.  Remove the set vowel in the middle when your child is ready to fluently discriminate between the short vowel sounds.  Move on to words with 4 sounds, consonant blends and clusters, and long vowel spellings when your child is ready.

sound boxes

How did you help (are you helping) your child with automaticity of early literacy skills?  Please join the conversation by replying at the top of this post.

Before you leave the site, why not follow my blog (top, right of this post)?  It’s quick and easy 

For more from Marea, check out Me and Thee Studios’ faith based leveled readers for 1st-2nd graders at http://www.meandtheestudios.com/early-reader-collection.html.

Scaffolding Really Does Matter

My husband is a techie.  He clicks around with confidence and persists until he finds the solution.  He makes problem solving on the computer look easy-shmeasy.

After 14 years in the first grade classroom, I certainly understand how painful (literally) it is for Franklin to watch me fumble around the menus, but how am I to learn if I am not given an opportunity to engage and thoughtfully attempt in a trial and error process?  I need Franklin to sit beside me, leading me with questions that help me think more fully about the task at hand, because on-point scaffolding Really Does Matter.

book stairs.scaffolding

In 1999 I trained in a one-on-one tutoring program called Reading Recovery®.  A tenet of Reading Recovery® is very specific and powerful use of questioning and prompting to scaffold (support and guide) a child’s attempts while reading.   I took the essence of several of the scaffolding techniques from Reading Recovery®and used them with great success in teaching reading in a classroom setting.  You can too!

Let me explain.

Introducing a new book (before the first read) is an important scaffold.  The introduction allows you to set the stage for reading, giving your child a reason to read and some background or a real-world application for the content.  Below you will “see” that in the introduction to Me and Thee Studios’ “The Fish and The Temple Tax.”


In addition to introducing the content, a “picture walk” is another fantastic scaffold.  It might sound something like this:  Let’s find out how Jesus took care of the temple tax.  The introduction says it’s amazing.  Why don’t you look through the pictures in the story and tell me about what happens.  Where does the story begin?  Who do you think that might be?  What happens?  What happens next?

While you’re shoulder to shoulder with your child for the first read, ask questions rather than simply telling your child every unknown word.  Powerful questions help guide your child in the development of reading strategies (thinking about reading and problem solving at the point of difficulty).  Your questions (scaffolds) should be prompts to each of 3 information sources your child needs to use interchangeably to make sense of text.

Scaffolds for visual work might sound something like this –

  • Try that.
  • Get your mouth ready for the first sound.
  • You know what the sh sounds like because you know the word she.  Write the word she.  Now try the new word.
  • You know that “chunk” from the word see, what does the ee sound like in see?
  • You know the sounds for the oo.  Try one of the sounds.  Try a different sound.

Scaffolds for meaning work might sound something like this –

  • What would make sense?
  • What might happen next?
  • Who could that be in the story?
  • You’re right, that’s a fish, but the word names the object in the fish’s mouth, what could it be?
  • You said … did that make sense?
  • Reread this sentence and look at the picture, what else could you call the … ?

Scaffolds for syntax/structure work might sound something like this –

  • You said … is that how you would hear me say that?
  • How could you say that so it sounds right?

Scaffolding as your child learns new skills can happen regardless of the “setting”.  Help your child think about the how and why with powerful questions in the kitchen, the garage, and the backyard in addition to the classroom.  Scaffolding takes a little more time and can be frustrating if a child is accustomed to getting the answer whenever he appeals for help.   Ultimately, you’re teaching your child to fish when you give him the framework for thinking and problem solving, requiring that he begins to wrestle with his own learning.

How do you use scaffolds and on-point questioning to help your child incrementally accept more responsibility for his own learning?  Please join the conversation by replying at the top of this post.

Before you leave the site, why not follow my blog (top, right of this post)?  It’s quick and easy 

For more from Marea, check out Me and Thee Studios’ faith based leveled readers for 1st-2nd graders at http://www.meandtheestudios.com/early-reader-collection.html.