The Orthographic Word Wall: Grade One

In previous posts, there have been references to or images of my particular version of the “word wall.”  As I end three years teaching Grade One, I thought I would share a deeper description of the rationale, creation and application of this tool.  I do so because it is one of my few actual innovations (inadvertent as it was); because the students and I think it was useful; and because I suspect there are folks out there who might use and probably improve on it.  As always, this is not prescriptive:  you might try this out exactly as I have, or you might encounter ideas or principles here that you apply in some very different way.  


When I was first thrown into Grade One, and had to spend a weekend creating a primary classroom, I thought “I need a Word Wall.  All those primary teachers have Word Walls.”  But I wasn’t clear what they were used for, or how they were created, and I found the convention of organizing the words alphabetically somewhat confounding.  My Real-Spelling-fueled intuition suggested that there was something fundamentally shallow or limiting in this approach.   I wanted to ensure that my word wall reflected and helped teach solid orthographic principles.  My original conception therefore was simply to organize words by vowel, and so I had only five categories.  This proved immediately unworkable, as the vowel letters so rarely work alone.  Where would <eat> go?  Very quickly, it seemed to make sense to me to organize them by central vowel phoneme, by sound.  I created a structure built around long and short vowel phonemes.  My categories were written on the colour-coded cards pictured above.  (Note:  this works in the First Grade because most of our words have a single syllable.  I am not sure yet what I would do in Grade Two or beyond, but I am going to find out next year, in Grade Four).


Central for me is that the Word Wall be a living document, created collectively and useful to all.   Thus, when the school year begins, it is empty.  (In reflecting at the end of the year, several students said “I remember the first word we put on there”, which I mention because it highlights their sense of ownership).  My first year in Grade One, the thing got a little out of control with sticky notes.  There are areas in my classroom where students are encouraged to independently add words or questions (see this post), but for the “Word Wall”, I came to want a little more control over what words are included.  Because this becomes a resource for the students in their writing and their reading, and because there is a loose bank of common words  that students will regularly want to use in their writing or encounter in their reading, I have attempted to make these the focus.  These are the “high frequency” or “sight” words so useful to developing fluency.  These are certainly not the only words we include, but they fairly naturally become the main body of our collection.

Now, I could probably predict these words before the students walk in the door in September (Dolch, Fry, et al are examples of attempts at such lists), and so the words could be up there already.  Why not?  Then the resource would be available to them from the get-go.  There are a couple of reasons why I prefer to have the students involved in the posting of the words.

Firstly, it allows us to find the words in the context of our reading and our writing.   These are “high frequency” words after all!  They arrive naturally and unbidden:  from their writing; from their independent reading; from their guided reading with me; and from the shared reading we do as a whole class.  Of course, I often guide us toward discussion of words that will be the most widely useful, or concepts that will be the most relevant and generative at any given time.  But the children really do take the lead, and certainly bring questions, observations and discoveries that I had not considered before.

Secondly, it allows the introduction of these words to become platforms for introducing generative concepts, rather than simply about memorizing single isolated spellings.  Many of the words on those lists are function words that don’t carry a great deal of meaning, but they can be used as examples of important orthographic principles in the areas of morphology (meaning), etymology (history and relationships) and phonology (sound representation).  I always tell the story of my first Grade One class who all knew how to spell <the> because they had learned a little jingly song about it, but very few knew there was a digraph, none knew the term digraph, and none knew what phoneme the digraph represented in <the> (though they had no trouble observing it was different than <with>.  By analyzing the word, we are able to introduce several fundamental concepts that were then reinforced over and over–and helped us make sense of other words.   Sometimes these discussions lead to further, longer investigations; sometimes the word just goes on the Word Wall because we agree it will be useful to have it in our collection (because we will “frequently” need to use it in our writing, for instance).

One of the other features of the word wall is that we begin to sort the words into sub-categories, according to what grapheme represents each vowel phoneme. I colour-code these with other stickies (yes, I use a lot of stickies).  Like the words, I choose to add the graphemes as we go.  This becomes another source of discovery for the children.   To hear children exclaim, “We found a new letter team!”  (or, as my own practice has evolved, “a new digraph!”–they are totally comfortable with these terms) is not at all uncommon.  Again, the children are driving the learning, and teaching their peers.  See in the picture below where the word <saw> led us to discover the grapheme <aw> for the short <o> phoneme.  Note that this helps to normalize the reality that this phoneme can be represented by <a> or <o>.  This also helps to establish that though there is complexity, there is also order:  yes, there are a lot of graphemes for long <e>, but there are not an infinite number, and we can learn patterns that help us to understand that this is not random.  (To see this in action, check out the last couple of minutes of this film that Pete Bowers made in my class a few years ago).

IMG_3843Eventually, we find words that don’t fit easily under the headings we’ve got, and have to create more!  These include the dipthongs, and so on.  I have begun to experiment with using the IPA symbols for these, and so far it has been fine.

Finally, not every word gets a big treatment:  many times we simply say “Should this word go on our Word Wall?  Where should it go?”  Having students place it reinforces for everyone the structure of the word, and reinforces the structure of our shared resource.


The Word Wall becomes a collection of data that we can analyze, helping to reinforce and establish patterns and conventions.  For instance, certain patterns arise in the long <a> phoneme.  The children independently began to notice that <ay> always appears in the final position in the base elements we gathered.  Similarly, <ai> never appears there.  This helped to  deepen our understanding of the shared roles of <i> and <y>.

In our reading, the word wall becomes a regular resource.  As children work to decode an unfamiliar word–<draw> for instance–they are now able to scan the graphemes on our wall for <aw>, link this to the phoneme above and have an enhanced shot at pronunciation.

In our writing, the word wall grows as a resource for spelling these high frequency words.  Having included the children in its creation helps them to know where the words are and why.  But it also becomes a tool for figuring out other words.  I can prompt a child to look for graphemes that fit the phonemes they identify orally.  My aim is to have them make reasonable spellings, on the way to accurate spellings.  (Thus, in Grade One, I am delighted to see someone write <rayn>, and hope that further learning will lead to an understanding of why <rain> is the correct spelling).

This all takes practice, of course!  The first form of practice is regular use.  But we had a number of games and activities that involved the word wall.  (The Internet is probably filled with these for more conventional word walls–I expect many would apply to my version).  If you are still here reading, below is a video of my class playing “I Spy”.  Note that some children really do need the practice, and how the whole class gets to practice various concepts as we go.  (Note also how I have trouble filming and teaching at the same time).

Hope this is helpful!  Please let me know if you have any success with this system, and especially if you modify, expand or improve it.


Following the tracks of words

Happy June!  I’ve really slacked off on the blog in the last while!  But, it’s report card writing time, which is usually when I do lots of neglected tasks, like cleaning my desk…and my car, and my basement, and my driveway…so, I might as well put in a little time catching up here also.

I want to share three recent examples of word investigations that have flowed in the last little while.  I share them as illustrations of several things:

  1. I am not always in control of where our learning goes.  In fact, I have come to appreciate the root meaning of learning as “following a track”.
  2. I am learning too.  A week–a day!–hardly goes by when some question or discovery from the Grade Ones does not confound or surprise me.  I choose not to believe this reflects poorly on me for not knowing everything, but rather that it reflects well on the small humans for being such big thinkers.
  3. Grade Ones are Big Thinkers (but we don’t all have to be thinking about the same thing).  One of the things I like about this investigative approach, and the openness of it, is that learners are able to initiate and follow learning paths that fit with both their interest and their ability.  Thus, we can meet our learners where they are.  This isn’t strictly speaking a “high or low” thing.  Certainly, many of the children are not ready to initiate or pursue some of these investigations on their own.  But I think they all benefit from having access to the shared experience of learningLeading me to…
  4. Many times, the process is as important as the content.  As you’ll see below, nobody’s life will be saved by knowing these words or the stories behind them.  But, I am optimistic that lives might be improved by learning how to learn.


A couple of weeks ago, as often happens, two children brought almost the same question to me within about an hour.  The question was, “We know about homophones [words that share pronunciation, but differ in meaning and spelling] and we know about homographs [words that share spelling and pronunciation but have different meanings], but what about words that have different meanings and the same spellings, but are pronounced differently?”   Madisyn had found <wind> and <wind>, and then someone else–none of us can now remember who–turned up with <close> and <close>.  We brought this interesting question to our whole class circle time (which led to the discovery of a very interesting homophone pair).   close close I didn’t know the answer, and so shared our investigation on Real Spellers, a website devoted to such pursuits where I knew an answer would await.  (You may follow that stream of discussion here even just to see how far such a discussion can travel).  It turns out, these are called <heteronyms>.  For many children, just having this conversation (and the one that follows) was a chance to highlight and reinforce their sense that different graphemes can represent more than one phone  (e.g. see the <s> in the words at left).  For others these may reinforce the accurate spelling of a given word.  For others, understanding of the word is deepened.


Ahmed came to me  with a great question I had never considered before:  “I have seen the word <O.K.> and I have seen it written <okay> but which is the right way to spell it?”  Brilliant!  He even had two books in hand to demonstrate the different spellings.  I confess: the smarty-pants in me immediately thought I knew which one was proper but I also thought, what a strange word.  So, Ahmed and I went off to the Online Etymology Dictionary to see what we could find out.  This is what we found:


oll korrect!”  Hilarious!  Ahmed and I read this together as best we could and chatted about this crazy history.  We have shared it with the class.  I am not sure they really get the story, but there is so much else we get out of this!  We have seen that words can be played with.  (I think they did at some level grasp the irony of us investigating the proper spelling of a word that it turns out is based upon a purposeful misspelling).  We have glimpsed, again, that words have stories inside them, they have history, they came from somewhere.  And, this can help us to understand these words.  (Also, importantly, our teacher doesn’t know everything!)   You may find one or two declaring “Oll Korrect”.


In the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring the features of non-fiction text.  I have this little book called Frog and Toad Facts that I love because it contrasts so nicely with our beloved Frog and Toad stories by Arnold Lobel (among the greatest works of English literature).  This has been shared reading, where we are all exploring the same text together, in this case through our cool mounted digital camera, the Elmo.  As we read, two of our tasks has been to keep track of what we learn from this non-fiction text, and what questions we have.  Well, it turns out, toads have poison glands behind their bulging eyes.   And so, What’s a gland?”

I provided what I thought a passable explanation, but then a relatively new thing occurred:  three children–Reyad, Jadis and Abdul, as I recollect–ran to grab our dictionary!   The dictionary is a fairly new resource for us, as the entries can be a bit overwhelming in terms of vocabulary, but they are drawn to the secrets it holds.  I don’t keep dumbed-down “children’s” dictionaries around, though, and you’re about to see why.

So, we placed the dictionary under the Elmo so we could all view the entry for <gland> they had quite capably found.  Predictably, the definition was challenging to make sense of, but then someone shouted out “Latin!”  Now this surprised me a little, and may surprise you.  I couldn’t say for sure that we had ever discussed the presence of Latin in English, but there it was.  So I explained that this was the part of the entry that told the story of where this word came from, and what it meant in its root language.  And so, the root meaning of <gland> is…



It wasn’t until after a conversation with our friend Old Grouch that I thought about my own children’s often-enlarged tonsils, those mysterious, germ-absorbing glands in the back of our throats.  I frankly would have said they looked more like raspberries, but I think “acorn” will do.  And now, they’ve had another glimpse of the wonderful discoveries held in a good dictionary.  (So-called “children’s” dictionaries, aside from having a woefully small collection of words, almost never contain the roots of those words.  The publishers imagine children aren’t ready).


Is the word <gland> core vocabulary, or one of the top sight words necessary in Grade One?  Of course not.  Do we need to know the history of <o.k.>?  Not at all. 

Do we, though, want our children to be actively engaged with the richness of their language?  More broadly, is it important that children learn how to pursue their questions down unexpected avenues?  I think so, on both counts.  

Off to clean my driveway…er, finish my report cards!

Steam Power in the Digital Age

mike_mulligan in holeLast week, Akira and I played a trick on the class that I have to share:  partly because we think we’re really funny; partly because it highlights something wonderful about our school; and, partly because it may help some of you at home to understand why we went on a field trip to see the boiler.


Orestis’s TNT-and-a-passing airplane solution

We were reading a book called Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton, a follow up to another book by her called The Little House.  (You can see three boys enjoying this one in the Gallery–who says boys don’t like to read fiction?)  These are wonderful old stories, and fit nicely with our exploration of community and how communities grow and change.

We had got to the point where Mike and Mary Anne (the steam shovel) had completed their amazing hole for the basement of the new town hall.


Jadis’ elevator solution.

The students had written and drawn some excellent ideas for how they might solve the problem of getting out.  It was now time to find out what idea the author had come up with, through the character of the little boy, whose insights twice save the day.

Why Akira and I think we’re really funny is that Akira arrived at school with a copy of this book translated into Japanese with which he was very familiar.  So, I—with our digital projector that I’d been using so that we could all read the book together—said to the class, “Okay, let’s see what the little boy suggests,” and opened to the Japanese page.  Jaws dropped in surprise, then some children recalled that Akira had said he knew the book in Japanese and correctly surmised this was what they were seeing.  Then… I ran my finger along the Japanese text and read the corresponding English words which were quietly sitting just out of camera view.  Exclamations of “Mr. Caldwell can read Japanese!!” ensued.

Something wonderful about our school is the opportunity to learn from the many children who speak other languages than English.  In our class we have speakers of Arabic, Hindi, French, Mandarin, Spanish, Greek, maybe a little Cree, and Japanese!  I am often struck by how readily these new language learners embrace the structured word inquiry we do.  They are motivated (and reassured, I think) to discover the logic and order of a language so different from their own.  And, they often have things to teach us about our own language.  Our resident Greek speaker, Orestis, has helped us to understand the spelling of several Greek-rooted English words, such as <school> or <alphabet>.    Lately, a number of our students have shared something of their language and country of origin on the daily announcements, which the rest of the class has loved.IMG_3535

After our joke, Akira got up and actually read the Japanese, which was wonderful to hear.  We could see that, like English, the Japanese words are separated by spaces on the page, and that the characters represent phonemes:  we were able to identify the symbol for /m/ by noting which word represented “Mike”.

And so, the reason we went on a field trip to the boiler in the school’s basement is…wait!.  Maybe I shouldn’t tell you, for fear of spoiling the ending of the story for some.  Ask your child.  I’m returning my copy to the library this Friday–go and get it!  Suffice it to say that the children were delighted and fascinated to see that our school is heated with the same technology that drove Mary Anne (in 1939, when the book was written), and that allowed the little boy to save the day.

The Fabulous New Spring Collections

A little brown bulb lay asleep in the ground.
In his little brown nightie he made not a sound.
King Winter, he roared and he raged overhead,
But the little brown bulb never stirred in his bed.
But when Spring came tiptoeing over the lea
With finger to lips, as soft as can be,
The little brown bulb just lifted his head,
Slipped off his nightie, and jumped out of bed!

Spring has really sprung (though King Winter seems to be raging again today).  I’ve been terribly slow to get a new post up, both because there has been a lot going on that has kept me from sitting down to write, and because there has been so much going on that I wasn’t sure what to write.  Now I have a bunch of stuff I want to share!  Here’s a start…  

cropped-img_3522.jpgHere is a picture from a recent activity, reflective of the process of making collections in our word study.  I’ve referred to this process before, but lately I’ve been reflecting upon the practice:  what it does for us as a learning tool; whether it is equally effective for everyone (hardly anything is); and whether I am overly reliant upon this approach.  (In other words, maybe I need some other ideas).  This is investigative learning, and as such open-ended:  though as the teacher I may have a particular learning goal in mind, the route we take and the learning that occurs can often have surprises.  I like to think we are engaging in word science–while learning how to learn in a broader sense also.

Gather the Data:  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling the need to assess and perhaps reinforce our understanding of some of the phonology we’ve explored this year.  We have covered a lot–including the many graphemes that can represent the vowel phonemes.  But assessment suggested that we needed to solidify our grasp of the “long <e>” phoneme.  So, I asked the students to collect words that had this phoneme.  (I try to let these “collecting” periods simmer for some time, as I generally don’t want the act of collecting to completely take over the central point of reading:  that is, comprehension.  Also, it gives everyone a chance to participate in their own time and capacity.  In this case, though, we had an intense period of collecting from books the children had already read that day or week).

Sort the Data:  Next day, we sorted our words, creating categories according to what graphemes seemed to represent the “long <e>”.  Several surprises:  <ey>, <ie> and <i> were all discovered, though some questions exist.  New categories had to be created

Analyze the Data:  An open question to the students:  what can we observe about our chart (which now also had the appearance of a graph)?   Here is some of what they shared:

  • <ee> and <ea> were by far the most common graphemes.
  • <e> was almost exclusively limited to small function words like <be> and <we>.   The words <behind> and <because> raised questions about whether these were in fact compounds, or whether these words had a <be-> prefix.  Someone noted the word <idea> and wondered about its structure.  (Still thinking about that one).
  • <y> seems to only occur in the final position of words, and is the most likely candidate in this position.  All examples had more than one syllable.  In many but not all cases it is the suffixes <-y> or <-ly>.  The accidental inclusion of the word <why> reminded us that this grapheme can represent another phoneme as well.  This got us thinking about whether one-syllable words ending in <y> always represented the long <i>.
  • <ey> appeared in words like <key> and <hockey>.  (As well as, repeatedly, in Reyad’s name).
  • <ie> appears to be a suffix in the word <nightie> and so we tried to think of others and came up with <movie> and <cookie>.  Still thinking about that one as well, keeping our eyes open.
  • Noting that some of our data came in the form of names—Darcy, Ethan, Oresti, Sophie, and Reyad–we were reminded that names don’t always follow English rules or conventions.  This is especially true when we have children from non-English speaking countries like Greece or Egypt.  So, another open question:  Can <i> represent the long <e> in an English word?  We’re keeping our eyes open for this one also.  Update, May 15th:  Today, Ethan found the word <police>, so there does seem to be evidence that this <i> grapheme can represent the long /e/ sound.  Clearly it isn’t common.  We’ll be watching for more.  And, we just completed our investigation of <c>, allowing us to understand why there needs to be a final silent <e> in <police>. 
  • I note to myself that we did not find a single example of a word with initial or medial <ie> or <ei>.  Weird.

What does this process do for us?  I think it makes the children more attentive to the structures of the words.  I have to believe that this kind of focus will ultimately help them learn these words.  Also, they seem to appreciate the ownership they have over this process:  all of these words are their words; not just some list I handed them.  This process of analysis will hopefully reinforce as well as reveal concepts that will support their reading and their writing:  when attempting to write a word—<dream> or <monkey> for instance—they are now able to consider which grapheme is most likely in that particular position in the word.  Such a process does seem to afford children an opportunity to be engaged at a variety of levels:  for some, this was an opportunity to be re-introduced to some basic graphemes and words;  others were able to stretch into new areas of inquiry.  And what I really like is that these investigations generate new investigations!

The teacher challenge with activities such as this is to ensure that I can assess individual as well as group understanding.  Thus, follow-up is required.

Current collections on the go:

  • We’ve been collecting words with <c> in them, and sorting them according to whether they represent /s/ or /k/.  This week, we will analyze this data, to discover a useful pattern.  (Happily, children have also discovered at least two words that don’t fit:  <special> and <ferocious>).IMG_3855
  • We’re collecting words that end with a <k> or with a <ck>, and will soon analyze these to see if we can find a pattern.  (As usual, there is one).
  • [Note: this is an edit, as I forgot to include this at first]  We’ve been collecting verbs that do not follow the suffixing pattern of adding <-ed> when creating a past tense, and finding this quite a bit more common than expected.  Examples include run/ran, swim/swam, and so on.

Many years ago, I had a spring job at an outdoor education centre for which I considered myself wholly unqualified.  I couldn’t reliably name a bird or a tree.  My friend (who got me the job) helped me to see that our main purpose was to open the children’s eyes:  help them to see, and to wonder.   She was right, and lots of delightful, shared learning followed.  I think this is still what I am trying to do.

Finally, there are a couple of  links below to other class blogs of teachers and classes whose work I admire.  A recent post (and all her others, actually) by Ann Whiting about her Grade 7 class in Kuala Lumpur provides an “inspiring” glimpse of where an attentiveness to the science of words can lead!

Guiding Reading

I wanted to share some bits of video of me reading with Abdul and with Azylynn last week.  Right up front, I’ll say these are the first videos I ever made in this way, holding a borrowed iPad that I was just figuring out, so this certainly affected my focus.   Also, it is not some pinnacle of reading instruction–I am still learning and honing my practice.  (And though I won’t film like this very often, it will certainly help me to think about what I might change or improve).   But hopefully it helps give a sense of the process we’re engaged in and the language we’re using.   Thanks to Abdul and Azylynn!  (There’s no particular reason I filmed these two–just who was on my schedule the day I had the tool).

Abdul works hard on this book, which holds some challenges.  But he applies many very effective strategies for making meaning here.  A few things to note, in terms of skills we’re working on:

  • Notice how I prompt Abdul to “find the base” and how easily he does so by identifying and covering the suffix.  This is so useful to reducing intimidating larger words and finding their central meaning.
  • Yes, looking at the pictures is allowed, and a useful strategy at this stage.
  • Notice how after he struggled through a passage, I had him read it again.   This is to allow for increased fluency and understanding and hopefully confidence.
  • Asking him to “spell” a word is not a pop spelling quiz.  What I am asking is for him to spell the word in a way that reveals its structure.  Listen to how he spells <swinging>. clearly enunciating and separating the base from suffix, or how he clearly says “double e” to show he recognizes that digraph.  But I also find out he is not completely solid with the <kn> digraph (though he’s seen it as you can tell!).
  • Making guesses like <knight> are really natural in early readers, but the question “Does it make sense here?” reminds us that sense is what we’re after.
  • What else am I noting as we go?  There is some work to do with consonant clusters such as <sw>, and some common words like <from> or <her> that he is still working too hard at.  We can address these separately.

Does this seem a bit painful?  I don’t think it actually is.  This is not “independent” reading for this student at this time.  This is “instructional” reading:  at the outside of his comfortable range.  And I’ll be honest, watching this I might have helped him along a bit more–maybe told him the sound represented by <kn> or just said <Daddy> to keep us rolling along.  But by the next page, he was rolling anyway and completed the book very comfortably.

A similar process ensues with Azylynn, who works as hard and as cleverly as her classmate.

Each of my little questions is a quick assessment and an opportunity to reinforce concepts.  As with Abdul, I make choices about what I spend time on and what I ignore.  We had just explored patterns in doubling final consonants, so I spend some time there.

What do I learn from listening here?  She knows her <sc> cluster, which helped her to discern the word <scat>; her high-frequency words have grown more solid; and she is applying a range of solid strategies.  I don’t know why I asked her to spell <weeding>, but she clearly revealed her understanding of the structure of this word, distinguishing digraph <ee> as well as the suffix <ing>.   She got stuck on the word <right>:   I might have prompted her with “What makes sense?” instead of asking her to spell it–either can be effective.  Did you hear how she spelled <right>?  She recognizes the trigraph <igh>, but doesn’t remember the phoneme it is representing.   Finally, this is hardly rich literature, but I am also checking in along the way that she is comprehending the story.  (She is).

Thanks again to these students.  Of course I never share anything for comparative purposes–every student is progressing, and at their own pace.  Hopefully this provides a little insight into one piece of our literacy instruction

My Father’s Dragon

my father's dragon

Last week, we finished this sweet, funny little novel, the first in a series of three about the adventures of Elmer Elevator and the dragon he rescues (not to give away the ending).  Like most adventures, it is the journey rather than the arrival that is most delicious.  Before Elmer embarked for Wild Island, we made a list of things we’d want to take on such an adventure.  We then read the surprising list of things that Elmer carried in his backpack.  Part of the fun was checking off the list as they were used in such surprising ways (though he never seemed to use the clean clothes–clearlyhis priorties are solid).  IMG_3388 

Why do I choose such an old book (published in 1948) to read to today?  Like the Thornton Burgess books, it has a gentleness to it–a lack of cynicism, a lightness, that in spite of (because of?) the onslaught of fast-paced media and violence the children are thirsty for.  It is almost like a relief to them to experience a tale so unflashy.  And there is wry humour and not-hit-over-your-head wisdom in these stories, and inspiration:  as the children are asked to take on more and more responsibility for themselves we are mightily impressed with a fellow who can be so self-reliant (and who can largely survive on tangerines).   How can we not imagine ourselves there?  Besides, given all our “knight” metaphors, it’s never a bad idea to see that even a dragon can be a friend.  (Now there’s a metaphor I could extend in some interesting directions).  There’s a reason the book has never been out of print in more than 60 years:  it’s a gem.  I think I may not be able to resist launching into the second book next week, but I doubt many would object to reading the first again at home!  How else are you going to find out how to make a bridge with pink lollipops?

Has Spring Sprung?

Hello folks at home!  It’s been a little while since I posted anything, so here’s a little update on what we’re up to.  I’ve had some nice feedback about the blog from some parents, but am not completely sure how many have seen the thing, or what they are checking out.  Are your reading this stuff?  Checking the Gallery?  Is it helpful?  Are you finding your way around?  I’d welcome any input you have.   I think I have just about figured out how to insert some video, in order to share some of what we are doing with reading as well as other activities.


Well, spring finally felt like it had sprung today.  Apparently there were about a million geese that flew overhead today, but sadly we missed it.  I’m going to start leaving the windows open a crack just so we can hear them if it happens again, and we’ll run outside.  Azylynn reminded me of my seasonal responsibility, and so I cranked out another chalk drawing.  Spring or not, the Root Children, and the sprouts in the ground, are still waiting to wake up, as is the story from which they come.   We had some good questions last week about why Spring is white and cold in Canada, but is green and warm in China, or Greece, or England.  With questions like this, I am very comfortable leaving the wonder as wonder.   Among the many, many things my wife has taught me about young children is that they often don’t want a great big explanation–what they want is the shared experience of wondering.  We have a tendency to over-inform children, denying them the opportunity to consider and explore ideas–sometimes for a long time.  At some point, the children will learn about the tilt of the earth and so on, but they don’t really need to know right now.  If Galileo had lived in The Information Age, I wonder if he would have bothered pondering the stars.

<Spring> and <sprung> are examples of words that don’t follow the suffixing patterns the children have come to expect.   (This is why young children quite reasonably say “runned”).   Words that change form as they change tense are quite common and normal, reflective of the oral language pre-dating the written.   Orestis brought this to our attention last week and so we have begun a collection.  I think we will find some interesting patterns in these words.  Today, we were looking at the spelling relationships between words–their etymological connections.  We were trying to decide how we know whether to use <knew> or <new>, and agreed that the pair of words connected by their <kn> digraph were logically related.  Darcy wisely exclaimed, “They’re cousins!”  These ones are so close I think I’d call them brothers.  We will see others among our homophones that are similar:  <blow> is clearly related to <blew> rather than <blue>.   These patterns are not just cute; they are real and predictable, and should be helpful.  IMG_3389The other pattern we’ve been digging through is when does a suffix cause the final consonant in a word to double?  Through our explorations, we seem to have arrived at a 1-1-v pattern:  in a word where one vowel comes before one final consonant, that consonant doubles when we add a vowel suffix.  Why am I telling you all this?  Because you may be like me and didn’t learn a bunch of it in school, and because it will give you something to chat about as you explore words in reading and writing at home.  It’s good if we speak the same language, n’est ce pas?

Meanwhile, in math…


Hey Nautica and Orestis!  Does that say 3 o’clock? Must be time for some silliness!  (By the way, have you figured out as I just did that you can click on photos and make them big?  Yes, you probably already knew that)

While a six-year-old’s sense of time is appropriately fairly limited (which is why they have no idea how long it takes them to put their coat on, and why rhythm and routine are so vital to their functioning) we have begun to explore clocks.  We’ll focus mainly on time to the hour and half hour, but will touch on minutes in increments of 5 (because it doesn’t make sense to me to teach 9:30 without explaining how we got to 30).  We’ll also read these times in both analog and digital.  We’ll spend a short time on time this week, and then reinforce this skill in practice over the next months.  We’ve been working to solidify our “Friends of Ten” addition facts, toward applying it to the addition of larger numbers.  Practice with any of this stuff can’t hurt, as long is it is kept pretty relaxed.

Our year-long look at seasons will obviously continue, and we will also expand our explorations of relationships into a look at the broader community–all toward helping the children to solidify their sense of place and belonging.  Speaking of which…

I will conclude by sharing that we began today with a visit from an older student at our school who has a condition that leaves her without hair.  This makes her rather conspicuous and socially vulnerable, and so she has chosen to visit–with her teacher–all the classes to speak openly about this condition and make it easier for the children to see beyond her appearance.  I could not have been prouder of our Grade Ones.  They listened in utter and heartfelt respect, and agreed that she was very brave to do this.  We honoured her with a particularly reverent rendition of our Knight’s Verse, and after she left we had a lovely and mature conversation.  Truly, some big thinking to begin the day.