Early Reading Instruction: New Research

A Few Key Points from: Reutzel, D. R. (2015). Early Literacy Research Findings Primary-Grade Teachers Will Want to Know. The Reading Teacher. 69(1). 14–24.

  1.  Phonemic Awareness VS Rhyming and Alliteration Activities
  2. Alphabet Knowledge LN-LS – Instruction and Pacing
  3. Alphabet Learning Order-What the Research Shows

Early literacy development is among the most fleeting yet vitally important phases of literacy development. All primary-grade teachers intuitively know that if young children get off to a good start, they will rarely stumble along the path of academic progression. On the other hand, if they do not, these young learners often struggle throughout their school careers (in Reutzel, 2015).


 Phonemic Awareness VS Rhyming and Alliteration Activities: What the Research Shows

  • reading skill is better predicted by phonemic skills than rhyming skills
  • 4- and 5-year-old children taught segmentation and blending experience significantly greater gains in phonemic awareness and letter-sound knowledge than children taught with rhyme and alliteration activities.

 Phonemic awareness instruction has been shown to produce greater improvements in awareness and future reading achievement in young children than time spent on rhyming and alliteration.  Despite the allure and fun of rhyming, songs and poetry activities in the kindergarten classroom, research has not yet uncovered any strong evidence to show rhyming as a “developmental precursor of young children’s full phonemic awareness.” The author does not argue that rhyming and alliteration activities be abandoned, rather that the focus and emphasis should be primarily on phonemic awareness instruction –blending, segmenting, and manipulating phonemes.

teaching sight words

 Alphabet Knowledge LN-LS – Instruction and Pacing

Alphabet knowledge is the single best predictor of later reading and writing success (National Early Literacy Panel).  

Research has shown that letter-a-day instructional pacing was significantly more effective than letter-a-Week pacing in promoting students’ mastery of the alphabet letter names. Reutzel states that the most effective alphabet knowledge instruction requires no more than 12-15 minutes per day and is multicomponential, meaning that lessons should include learning activities that require letter recognition, naming, associating the symbol with a sound, writing, discriminating the letter to be taught from other letters, and categorizing letters into upper- and lowercase. (For more info on letter a day see previous post New Insights into Letter Learning )


Alphabet Learning Order-What the Research Shows

Recent Research has also identified new findings about the order(s) in which young children develop their knowledge of the alphabet and how teachers can most effectively help them to do so. Six evidence-based alphabet letter learning orders have been identified, through which young children may acquire knowledge of alphabet letter names and sounds.

 1. Own-name effect.

States that young children most easily and quickly learn the letters found in their given or first names. The strongest effect is for the first letter in the first name, such as J for Jamal.

2. Alphabetic-order effect.

Letters at the beginning or end of the alphabet are learned more quickly and easily than those letters ordered in the middle of the alphabet.

3. Letter-frequency effect,

The more frequently letters appear in printed materials, the more quickly and easily they are learned.

4. Letter-name pronunciation effect.

Occurs when a letter’s sound is heard as the letter’s name is pronounced.

5. Consonant phoneme acquisition order effect,

Young children learn consonant letters’ names and sounds easier when they are mastered earlier in children’s oral language development.

6. Distinctive visual features letter-writing effect.

The letters of the alphabet are recognized through detection of a smaller set of distinctive visual features, which include (1) terminations, (2) straight lines, (3) curved lines, (4) diagonal lines, and (5) intersections

Teaching students to fluently produce this smaller set of distinctive visual features before teaching them how to write all of the alphabet letters has been found to lead to quicker mastery of letter transcription. The production of handwritten alphabet letters activated areas of children’s brains identified as the “reading circuit” more than any other sensorimotor training.

Lesson Template from The Reading Teacher page 17.


Reutzel, D. Ray (2015). The Reading Teacher. 69, (1) pages 14–24
Lesson Template for Teaching 12-Minute Letter Name and Letter Sound
Lesson Objective
Students will learn the name, the sound, and how to write the symbols for the upper- and lowercase letter T/t.

  1. Bag of mixed alphabet letters
  2. Washable markers and lapboards
  3. Copies of enlarged print page
  4. Highlighter tape

Today, you will be learning to name, say the sound of, and write the upper- and lowercase letter T/t. Learning the letter name, the letter sound, and how to write upper- and lowercase letter T/t will help you to read and write many new words.
Letter Name Identification
This is the uppercase letter T. (Write and show the uppercase form of the letter.) This is the lowercase letter t. (Write and show the lowercase form of the letter.) Let’s practice naming this letter. What Is this letterT/t? (Point in different order to upper- and lowercase letter T/t at least three times.)
Letter Sound Identification
The letter /t/ makes the/t/ sound. Say the /t/ sound with me: /t/,/t/,/t/. What is the sound of the letter /t/? (Point to upper- and lowercase letter  T/t/ at least three times, asking students to make the sound of  the letter.)
Sort the Letters
Here are some upper- and lowercase letter T/t (Show bag with 6-8 upper- and lowercase T/t magnetic letters, foam letters, or dye cuts.) They are all mixed in this bag. We need to sort these letters into upper- and lowercase categories. (Begin with a closed sort, and in subsequent review lessons, use an open sort.) I’ll put each letter on the board, and if It is an uppercase letter T, you say, “Uppercase T” if it is a lowercase say “Lowercase /t/ ” (Place letters on whiteboard one at a time for students to identify and sort.)
Find the Letters
Now, let’s see how many letter ts we can find on this page. (Be sure to pick short pages of enlarged  print with no more than four lines of print. Run a pointer underneath the words in each line of print.)  When you see a letter t point to the t. (Call on one student to come up and place a piece of highlighter  tape over the letter t on the enlarged print page. You can also pass out a copy of a 3- or 4-line page from a  children’s picture book and ask students to find a certain number of letter ts on the page using a highlighter pen or crayon. (Using a timer or stopwatch to increase intensity, pacing, and motivation is also advised.)

Write the Letter

Name and demonstrate the proper formation of the uppercase T.

The uppercase letter T starts at the top of the line and goes straight down to the bottom of the line. Then it has a straight line across the top.

Name and demonstrate the proper formation of the lowercase t .

The lowercase t also starts at the top of the line and goes straight down to the bottom of the line. Next make a line that crosses the other line between the middle-and top of the line.

Distribute white boards, gelboards, or lap boards. Ask students to write 3-6 uppercase and lowercase T/t letters and also quickly review any other letters learned. Note which students were successful and which may need additional help in small group settings.)



To request a print copy of the article (TDSB teachers only): Reutzel, D. R. (2015). Early Literacy Research Findings Primary-Grade Teachers Will Want to Know. The Reading Teacher. 69(1). 14–24. Please contact the Tippett Professional Library (TDSB)







How to Boost Students’ Vocabulary: Part 2.


From MoE: What Works? Research into Practice. Research Monograph #41: Morphology Works 

Morphology describes how words are composed of meaningful parts. It is fundamentally related to semantics, but it also provides clues about how words should be written and pronounced.
1. Both the quantity and quality of word knowledge are very important.
2. Morphological awareness predicts reading development.
3. Teaching morphology increases vocabulary and reading achievement. (Kirby & Bowers 2012)

Improving students’ vocabulary through morphological awareness

Vocabulary knowledge and morphological awareness are intertwined. Being able to break words apart to find meaning is an important skill as students come across new words in the content areas (Green, 2015).

In 2000, the National Reading Panel identified vocabulary instruction as one of the five essential components of reading instruction, and a large body of research indicates the critical role vocabulary knowledge plays in reading comprehension (Manyak, 2014). Vocabulary knowledge is critical to the long-term literacy development of all students, and high-quality vocabulary instruction should be a priority for teachers across all grades (Graves, et al 2014).

  • Students from low-income and non-English-speaking families, face a large deficit in English vocabulary knowledge upon entrance to and throughout their school years
  • the continuing deficit in vocabulary knowledge experienced by many students represents a major obstacle to academic achievement in vital areas such as reading comprehension (Manyak, 2014).


Approximately 70% of English words contain Greek or Latin prefixes, suffixes, or roots. By teaching students how to tap into this deep-rooted system of meaning that underlies most English words, we help them generate a more extensive and deeply grounded vocabulary (Flannigan et al, 2012).

Academic texts contain up to 200,000 different words and, the majority of words in academic texts are morphologically complex, which means that they are made of multiple units of meaning. These words “convey abstract, technical, and nuanced ideas and phenomena that are not typically examined in settings that are characterized by social and/or casual conversation. This makes them more formal and therefore less well known (Goodwin & Perkins, 2015).

As students progress through the school system, they are exposed to increasingly complex levels of content, therefore, they need more precise tools (i.e., academic vocabulary) and more knowledge of how those words are used within discipline-specific registers (i.e., academic language in content-specific texts). Research in content area vocabulary has demonstrated the effectiveness of teaching Greek and Latin word roots, especially for struggling readers (Padak, 2008).

Morphologically complex words can be divided into three major categories:

  1. Compounds – words are composed of two or more words (Dragonfly)
  2. Inflections – words with suffixed morphemes that denote tense (walked), number (boys), and adjectival comparisons (taller, tallest). (suffix does not change the meaning)
  3. Derivations – words are formed with roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

Derivational morphological awareness is essential to word solving complex words. Green (2015) states :

  • while all three categories need to be taught, derivational morphological awareness, (the ability to use the understanding of word formation to gain meaning through the knowledge of roots and affixes) requires the most focus and attention as it is the most useful for solving word meaning and identifying grammatical function.
  • starting in Kindergarten, students should begin to learn about roots and affixes. For example JK/SK students can learn re- and un-
  • teachers should focus on high utility words that have a large lexical family* with cross-curricular applications since there are more opportunities to see the base…if the suffix is unfamiliar, root/base familiarity can assist in determining the meaning.
  • Teachers need to give students a multiple opportunities to connect with roots & affixes on a deeper level through interactive and hands-on activities rather than simply having them fill in worksheets.

Which roots and affixes should be taught?

Teachers, especially those teaching multiple subjects, sometimes feel overwhelmed with teaching content and wonder how they can possibly squeeze in vocabulary instruction on top of everything else they are responsible for. Spending just 5 to 10 minutes a day focusing on high utility root words, that have large lexical families, such as equi-, trans-, mono-, etc., (lists below) and morpheme-combining principles can help students quickly learn significantly more words than can be taught with traditional words lists. This not only helps students to rapidly expand their cross-curricular vocabulary, but also helps them to word solve unfamiliar complex words and improves spelling and comprehension. Goodwin & Perkins state: 60% of words can be figured out using knowledge of the units of meaning and 12 Latin roots and two Greek roots can be combined with prefixes to make up 100,000 words.

Take Action! from Graves, 2014
  1. Select  informational texts that contain  challenging vocabulary.
  2. Identify  complex words in the text.
  3. Identify the subset of these words that students need to understand the text or that represent important concepts in the content area represented by the text.
  4. Identify those words that students can infer the meanings of using their contextual or morphological analysis skills.
  5. Decide which of the words require in-depth instruction and which can be taught with brief explanations.
  6. Edit the lists for any given text  so there is a manageable number to teach, no more than 12 and preferably somewhat fewer.

Words that have a large lexical family* download list:  HIGH UTILITY ROOTS

1.Roots & Affixes

From Padak et al 2008

2.Roots & Affixes

From Padak et al 2008

3.Roots & Affixes

From Padak et al 2008

The Cognatarium  is a website that divides all of the listed English words into their constituent parts, or morphemes. The Cognātarium contains over 2,600 morphemes. Morphemes are listed alphabetically. You can type in a root word and it will generate a list of words with that root.  To access  The Cognātarium click here


Readwritethink.org: content-area-roots

What Works? Research into Practice. Research Monograph #41: Morphology Works .WW_Morphology (1)


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 1. Developing a Growth Mindset in Teachers & Staff

click here to read the full article: http://bit.ly/1KtOS3v


2. Resources for Teaching Growth Mindset

click here to read the full article: http://bit.ly/1OAIoUe



3. Nurturing Intrinsic Motivation and Growth Mindset in Writing

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Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy

Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy. 6 Ways Electronic screen time makes kids angry, depressed and unmotivated. by Victoria L.Dunkley M.D. Psychology Today. Accessed Jan 14, 2016

“Children or teens who are “revved up” and prone to rages or—alternatively—who are depressed and apathetic have become disturbingly commonplace. Chronically irritable children are often in a state of abnormally high arousal, and may seem wired and tired. That is, they’re agitated but exhausted. Because chronically high arousal levels impact memory and the ability to relate, these kids are also likely to struggle academically and socially.” (Dunkley 2015). Image from Psychology Today.


  1. Children’s brains are much more sensitive to electronics: it doesn’t take much electronic stimulation to throw a sensitive and still-developing brain off track.
  2. Screen time interferes with the sleep cycle. Even minutes of screen stimulation can delay melatonin release by several hours and desynchronize the body clock. Small changes in dopamine sensitivity can impact how a child feels and functions. Animal studies show that exposure to screen-based light before or during sleep causes depression, even when the animal isn’t looking at the screen.
  3. Throws the brain’s reward centre out of whack. Gaming releases dopamine, the feel good chemical. But when reward pathways are overused, more and more stimulation is needed to experience pleasure.
  4. May cause depression and meltdowns. Screen time bombards a child with high visual and cognitive input which depletes mental energy and interferes with mood regulation.
  5. Reduces the time children spend being physically active. Physical activity has been found to promote a sense of well-being and reduced stress.

To read the full Psychology Today Article article click here

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What I Learned on Twitter Today.

When many of us think of Twitter, @justinbieber  may be the first thing that comes to mind, or  possibly the role that Twitter played in keeping people engaged and connected during the Arab Spring. We generally don’t think of Twitter in terms of its role in education. By not tapping in to Twitter, however, teachers are missing out on an opportunity to connect with colleagues, local and international educators, education experts and learning networks.

I thought Twitter was just another social media blackhole… I began to see Twitter as an excellent resource for educators and an invaluable tool for professional development – one of the best out there. So, for you teachers wondering about all the hype…I promise, Twitter is worth it (Scavitto 2015).


Twitter has grown from a small niche microblogging site to a news channel, where you can get news from anyone – big or small, unfiltered, directly from the source, and in real-time… A truly useful Web resource for educators. Educators on Twitter share what works for them and discuss everything from education reform to the nitty-gritty of using tech in the classroom (Education World).

Early years.JPG

At first glance, Twitter doesn’t appear to hold much value. Who cares about Justin Bieber’s haircuts! In fact, we both saw it as a waste and quit using it two or three times until we truly understood the organizational structure of information within this tool. Learning how to filter through tweets, organized using hashtags, will bring clarity and meaning to Twitter and will get you past the mosh pit of random thoughts and lackluster chitchat.(Educational Leadership, 2010)


Twitter has been harnessed by educators and education experts around the world to build networks, stay connected and share resources about every possible topic one could imagine related to education.

Twitter is definitely one of the most popular tools for teachers’ professional development. Education communities are filling the tweeting space #edchat, #edtech #sschat are but some examples. It might be because of its simplicity and ease of use that teachers flock to it , others attribute it to the brevity of its messages. No matter what the reasons are, Twitter has become not only an effective communication platform for teachers and educators from all around the globe, but also an affinity space where these people get to meet each other, talk and discuss current issues in education and most important of all share and learn from each other’s expertise.


The TDSB has a significant presence on Twitter, including many Elementary and Secondary Schools, John Malloy, Peter Singh, Early Years, STEM, Language and Literacy, the Tippett Profesional Library, Speech and Language and most of the departments, Instructional Leaders and coaches. Edugains, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Child and Youth, and leading experts in the field of education also have an active presence. Twitter is one of the most useful ways to publish, or get access to useful current information on education topics in a timely manner.


For educators who use this tool to build a network of people whose Twitter messages connect to their work, Twitter becomes a constant source of new ideas to exploreSome people have one account as an educator, another for classroom activities, and another as an individual. You have to decide what works best for you – and what works in terms of your school’s policies and your own level of comfort with what you share online (Scavitto 2015).


How schools and teachers use Twitter:

  • Allow parents and the community to stay connected to the school by informing them  about initiatives, events going on in the school or classroom, and to alert parents instantly to school closures, problems, or emergencies in the school.
  •  Communicate with students regarding assignments, tests, quizzes, events, goals, expectations etc.
  • Share ideas and resources with learning communities in the school, school board or around the world
  • Connect with others interested in the same topics, such as STEM, Special Education, Kindergarten, Literacy and Numeracy, Social Studies, Autism, The Arts, Sports, etc
  • Get access to professional development, policy changes, new resources, new educational content. Hear from experts who provide links to useful information


Creating an account on Twitter is easy, just go to: https://twitter.com/

Many Section 23 teachers already have Twitter accounts. It would be great if we could establish a broader and more cohesive system to communicate regularly with each other instead of just at staff meetings. If you do not have a Twitter account and would like to get one, just click on the link,enter your email and a password to set up an account and you ‘re ready to get started. For those teachers who are leery about signing on to Twitter, some things that might change your thinking:

  • When you sign on, you can use a “handle” instead of your own name. A few teacher handles I’ve come across on Twitter are @1GRTeacher and @8M7 so you can be creative if you don’t want to use your name
  • Don’t feel pressured to tweet, retweet or have followers if you don’t want to.
  • You don’t need to upload a picture nor include any info about yourself
  • If you don’t add any personal info, this is how you will appear.Twitter copy

By just signing on, you can still reap the benefits of Twitter by simply following Section23, organizations, experts or TDSB instructional leaders. Even though the body of the tweet may be brief, most organizations provide links within the tweet to articles or resources. Tweets from those you follow will show up on your timeline and you can choose to read what you are interested in and retweet if you want to.



I’ve created a hashtag, #TDES23, which I add to tweets and retweets that I feel might be useful for Section 23 staff. If you become actively involved with Twitter, and would like to tweet, retweet and share info with Section 23 colleagues, add the #TDES23 and tweets will be easy to find in one place when anyone searches that hashtag.


Recommended ArticleTeachers: Embrace Twitter for Professional Development


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