How Building Foundational Literacy Skills Leads to a Lifetime of Lightbulb Moments

A combination of research-based methods, technology, and games can transform even the most reluctant readers into students who are excited to read in front of their peers.

By Lori Hall

Like most elementary school teachers, I have students who struggle with literacy. As a result, they are scared of spelling or reading in front of other students. In my experience, what helps these students improve not just their skills but their attitude is a “lightbulb moment,” where they suddenly realize that they have a skill they didn’t have before. Here’s how I use technology and games to help inspire as many of those moments as possible.

Creating Lightbulb Moments 

I really see the lightbulb moment happen with spelling. Once my students start learning all the rules, they get really excited when they see the transfer and can spell better. They are also surprised that their reading improves drastically when they simply learn some basic rules. 

The students who are using Reading Horizons Elevate get excited to share with other kids not doing Reading Horizons. It’s nice to see the kids get excited about how they’re learning to read and spell better. After learning the five phonetic skills and practice marking words, students feel more confident with spelling and understanding why a word is spelled a certain way. I often find my students explaining to others why a word is spelled the way it is. 

During class, we follow a simple routine. Students get the chapter book we are reading together, which is currently Marshfield Dreams by Ralph Fletcher. They also get their fluency work, a marker, an eraser and a Hot Wheels car. They practice fluency with each other first, either in their fluency packet or in the Reading Horizons library. Then the students move to a spot on the whiteboard wall to practice marking words. 

They have fun using the Hot Wheels car to “drive” around the word to remind them of what letters to mark first. On the days we are reviewing, students take turns leading this part of the class. They love being in charge and showing off their skills, and by the end of class, their words are often surrounded by fancy race tracks.

The last thing we do is read a chapter in our book and do an activity based on finding and marking words in the novel. I pick a skill we need to review, give them a game option, and they find the words in the book.

The Importance of Good Reading Habits

I believe it really helps students to learn how to read by using the correct methods. This way, teachers don’t have to reverse their bad habits, and they don’t have reinforcement of using a method that doesn’t really work. It’s a lot like practicing for a sport. The more you practice the basics correctly, the better you get at the skill. Learning reading works the same way. 

With my students, I often relate learning how to read to learning how to play a sport. It seems to really motivate the kids to want to do the methods correctly. They see for themselves that learning Reading Horizons methods does reinforce great reading skills and habits and that it is worth the time to practice reading correctly and consistently just as it is to practice the sport of their choice correctly and consistently. The more time you devote, the more you will get out of it.

Improving Student Engagement

One thing that I have done to really help with student engagement is to often play games. Sometimes I use games from Reading Horizons as is; sometimes I come up with other game ideas to fit the needs of the students.

For example, if we are reviewing blends, they can pick between finding blends in books, writing a story using as many blends as possible, or proving blend words. The point is practicing over and over again. I find that the games lead to higher engagement. My students love proving words! I make sure that they get time to stand up and prove words on the whiteboard wall during every class session. I have found that little things—like letting them use the Hot Wheels car to drive around the word—really lead to extra engagement. It doesn’t take a special app or program, it just takes some creativity in teaching.

Boosting Students’ Confidence

Students love when they get better at reading. As they improve, they really look forward to the sessions in person, as well as our sessions online. They are no longer scared of spelling or reading in front of other students. They see pretty quickly that their reading scores improve dramatically from these simple procedures, and I’m sure that these skills and habits will stay with them for the rest of their lives. 

As students practice their reading in class and at home on their own time, they gain confidence. Just last week, one of my students, Chloe, told me that she now wants to be a reading teacher and help students read better like I have done for her. I told her she deserves all the credit, since she has put in the time and effort to improve her reading. Thanks to lightbulb moments like this one, I have a classroom full of students who were once scared of reading but now feel confident in their skills. Lori Hall is an elementary school teacher at D49 in Colorado Springs, CO. She can be reached at [email protected].

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