Reading Foundations…Closing the COVID Gap

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I think we all agree that this past school year was probably the craziest of our careers. I teach here in Texas and we got out for Spring Break on March 6 and we never went back.

We made an attempt at distance learning, we provided paper packets and online assignments, but let's be real, distance learning for first graders is not effective. 

I missed watching my students with a book in their hand at my guided reading table. I missed being able to conference with them during writing time. I missed getting their hands on math manipulatives. 

There are so many things that can really only be done in person that we (and our students) missed out on the last two months of school. For you, it may have even been more than two months. 

As I write this in June of 2020, like many teachers I'm wondering what school will look like in the Fall. Many teachers are worried if they will even return to school in the fall or if they will have to resume distance learning. 

This has forced me to do a lot of thinking about what approach I want to take in my classroom when we return. Here are a few things I do know: 

  • our instruction has to be incredibly purposeful, everything has to have a purpose and might even need to have several purposes
  • our instruction needs to be versatile enough to switch back and forth from a classroom model to a distance learning model
  • as hard as it may be, our instruction MUST be kid-friendly

So, with all that in mind, these are the four reading foundation exercises that I am focusing on to help close the reading gap caused by COVID-19.

Phonemic Awareness Flash Drills

Most students fall victim to the ”summer slide”. Phonemic awareness and phonics are the two biggest building blocks for reading that students need in Kindergarten and first grade.

The key to success: expose all students to these practices DAILY, then reinforce them in small groups or independent work time with students who need more help. For some of your students, they will need these drills for the entire year, others will only need a few weeks of refresher.

I created these phonemic awareness flash drills that cover 7-10 skills and can be done in 3-5 minutes. I use them daily whole group, then. again in small groups as needed.

The best part of these flash drills is that they can be done in the classroom, but could also be done in a Zoom or Google Meet if needed!


Letter Knowledge Routines

For letter knowledge, I review one letter a day through an “alphabet boot camp” (my daily routine is included) and I also do my Alphabet Arc routine daily for at least the first two months of school. Once most students have mastered the arc, we still use it on Monday’s to build words with our new spelling patterns.

I also use magnetic letters and cookie sheets (pictured to the right) at my small group table. We use the same routine from the alphabet arc to build words, but I LOVE having the magnetic letters at my small group table because the letters are easy to find and it saves SO much time!

So, IF we return to distance learning, you can print alphabet letter tiles to send home to students and they can continue working on these routines through Zoom or Google Meet!

Phonics & Word Families

The best practice or decoding and building words is to start with generating a class list of words. Here are a few prompts to help you.

Tell me a word that rhymes with “at”.

I’m thinking of a word that starts with /f/ and rhymes with “can”.

Word Families

CVC words are best taught as “Word Families”. Word families can usually be broken into an onset and rime.

A rime starts at the first vowel in the word, followed by the remaining letters in the word.

For example, in the word ”cat”, the onset is “at”.

By showing students how to identify the rime, now all they have to do is change the beginning letter or letters to form new words in that word family.

A few tips:

•Start with one syllable words
•Keep a list of words that are similar, but not in the word family so students can visually see the difference, and it also prevents them from feeling like they were wrong.

Comprehension Focus Questions

A comprehension focus question is ONE question that is your “theme” for every comprehension question you are going to ask your students about the text.⁣ ⁣

For example, your comprehension focus question might be “How did the character respond to the events in the story?”. Your goal might be for students to understand how a character changes in the book or discover their underlying motives. ⁣

You ONLY ask questions that relate to how a character responds to events in the story. You don’t ask about the setting. You don’t ask about author’s purpose. You only focus on the character in relation to the plot/problem solution, etc.⁣

This strategy is successful because you are helping students FOCUS on one skill and deepen their understanding of that skill rather than just skimming the surface of several skills.⁣

What are your thoughts on CFQ's?

If you like the literacy tips in this post, the First Grade Literacy Academy might be for you! 

It is an online subscription of literacy resources sent to your inbox every month! Each month you receive: 

One set of First Grade literacy plans focused on one specific comprehension skill. Here is an example from June 2020 where our focus was Generate Questions about a text before, after and during reading fiction and non-fiction texts. 

What's Included:

  • Monthly Guide
    • Standard Break Down & Teacher Tips
    • Whole Group Activities
    • Comprehension Focus Question Lists
    • Digital Activity Ideas
    • Station Activities
    • Mentor Text Ideas
    • Printable Response Sheets

 Bonus Printables (to help keep your planning focus on literacy): 

  • Writing Station: I Think, I Wonder Station
    • Digital Version for Google Classroom
  • Phonics: Summer Grammar
    • Digital Version for Google Classroom
  • Social Studies: Needs and Wants
    • Digital Version for Google Classroom
  • Science: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
    • Digital Version for Google Classroom

*Note: There are several opportunities in these products to integrate science, social studies and phonics into your writing time! 

2020 Schedule of Monthly Content:

February: Make an Inference

March: Retell

April: Characters and their Motives

May: Problem and Solution

June: Generate and Answer Questions

July: **SPECIAL EDITION: Reading Foundations to Close the COVID gap**

August: Making Connections

September: Author's Purpose

October: Making Predictions

November: Synthesize New Information

December: Main Idea and Details

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Kristen Sullins

Kristen Sullins

I am a current first grade teacher, mother of two, follower of Christ and Texas native. In my own classroom, I love to focus on and plan new ideas for my guided reading and guided math stations, warm ups and interventions and all things organization.


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