Reading Comprehension 101 Series - Mental Images

Today, I am starting a series of posts on the reading comprehension strategies that good readers use. Many of us do these things when we are reading, but you may not be aware of what you're doing or why. That's what I'm here for! I want to help you to understand how to refer to these strategies when you are already reading. It doesn't take much extra effort on your part to squeeze in a reference here or there about what good readers do. You'll be surprised once you start paying attention at how many things your good readers already do naturally! A few teacher books that will help you if you want to delve into comprehension strategies further are:
Product Details
Reading With Meaning by Debbie Miller
Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman
Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis

How do you "teach" something that good readers do? You become the good model first. You can model reading a book and think aloud. I know some people feel goofy thinking aloud, but it seriously helps the kids to understand your thought process.

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An example of modeling my mental images from Cynthia Rylant's The Relatives Came might be for me to say, "Wow, this page where she describes all of the sounds of everyone sleeping makes me really picture in my head all of these old and young family members lying all over each other sound asleep. It's dark and there's lots of snoring, but since it's in the country I think I can hear some crickets in the background too." Ideally, we might be listening to this book on CD so that we couldn't see any images in the first place.

So I am starting with visualization (some people know it as mental images) because it is a pretty easy concept to grasp. Good thinkers in general use this technique to help them understand what they are hearing. Imagine driving in the car listening to a baseball game. You are visualizing the game in your head to make it more real and understandable. For readers, being able to visualize what you read helps them to connect and remember. It's much easier to remember that in the book they visited a farm with cows if you had a picture in your head of that farm with cows. It's even easier to remember if you use your five senses to make that image come alive. In our adult lives, we check for comprehension by visualizing the book. If we realize that we can't see the picture in our head anymore, we go back to reread. It's really important when people are giving us directions, too. It helps to visualize turning left, then going around the fountain, and then stopping by the bike rack.

How to encourage your child to use the reading strategy of visualization:

*Teach them their five senses and help them to describe pictures with all of them. For instance, if they drew a picture of a flower, you might encourage them to describe how the flower feels, smells, looks, sounds, and tastes - if applicable. Then encourage them to use their five senses to create really vivid images in their minds.

*Talk with them when you are reading or listening to something on the radio. Ask them what they picture in their heads. Tell them what you picture in yours. It's important to note that there is not a "right" image for them to picture. Everyone's looks a little different and that's okay.

*Read a chapter book and have them describe certain scenes to you by what they see in their head. Explicitly say that good readers make pictures in their heads. If they're interested in sharing that image, they can draw you a picture.

*Play a "let's make pictures in our mind" game. You can do this on a walk, or in the car, or in the bath. Describe a silly picture and have your child practice picturing it in their head. If you have an older child, you can have them experiment with listening to you describe a scene one time without visualizing and one time with visualizing. Then see which one they remember better!

*Poetry is great for practicing visualization. Most of the time, each poem comes with little to no illustrations, so they are forced to create their own. The blog Fabulous in First has some great free worksheets and description to help with this. If you have more than one child, it's fun to have them each draw their mental images for the same poem. Amazing how different they can be!

*You can help your children discover that our mental images can change. I once read a poem that talked about a doctor who fixed broken at first my mental images were in a doctor's office. As the poem ended, it talked about wooden legs and wobbly tables, so then my images changed to some kind of antique furniture store. 

Our friend from Fabulous in First also shared this excellent list of book suggestions for creating mental images. Usually they are books or poems with more descriptive flavor. My favorites are Cynthia Rylant books, Georgia Heard poems, and Rosemary Wells' Night Sounds, Morning Colors.

Some Picture Books from the list that I like for Modeling/Practicing Visualization
Aliki, Marianthe’s Story: Painted Words/Spoken Memories
Baylor, Byrd, I’m in Charge of Celebrations
Brinckloe, Julie Fireflies!: Story and Pictures
Brown, Margaret Wise The Sailor Dog
Bouchard, D. Voices from the Wild
Bunting, Eve Smoky Night
Carlstrom, Nancy White What Does the Rain Play?
Carlstrom, Nancy White Wild, Wild Sunflower Child Anna
Condra, Estelle See the Ocean
Cooney, Barbara Miss Rumphius
Fletcher, Ralph Twilight Comes Twice
Heard, Georgia Creatures of Earth, Sea, and Sky
Howard, Jane When I’m Sleepy
London, Jonathan Hurricane
London, Jonathan Into this Night We Are Rising
London, Jonathan Like Butter on Pancakes
London, Jonathan Puddles
Lovell, Patty Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
MacLachlan, Patricia Through Grandpa’s Eyes
MacLachlan, Patricia Journey
Marshak, Suzanna I Am the Ocean
Marzollo, Jean City Sounds
Marzollo, Jean Close Your Eyes
Mazer, Anne The Salamander Room
McCloskey, Robert Time of Wonder
Merriam, Eve Quiet, Please
Munoz, Pam Ryan Hello, Ocean! Hola Mar
Murphy, Jim The Call of the Wolves
Navasky, Bruno Festival in My Heart: Poems by Japanese Children
Ryder, Joanne Winter Whale
Rylant, Cynthia Night in the Country
Rylant, Cynthia Let’s Go Home
Schertle, Alice A Lucky Thing
Shannon, David A Bad Case of Stripes
Thomas, Shelley Moore Putting the World to Sleep
Wells, Rosemary Night Sounds, Morning Colors
Williams, Vera A Chair for My Mother
Wood, Audrey The Napping House
Worth, Valerie All the Small Poems and Fourteen More
Wyeth, Sharon Dennis Something Beautiful
Yolen, Jane Greyling
Yolen, Jane Color Me a Rhyme
Zolotow, Charlotte The Seashore Book

11 Painless Tricks for Teaching Handwriting

Handwriting can be an exasperating subject for teachers and parents. There never seems to be enough time to focus on it and if you belabor the issue, then you surely lose the interest of your little writers. Without question, good handwriting and letter formation is still important. When a child can form letters easily and in the most efficient fashion, writing becomes less of a chore and more of a joy. When others can read their writing, children get more positve feedback, too! So here are some things I learned as a teacher that made handwriting instruction much more palpable.

1. Make 'Em Big
First off, if you are just starting to learn how to form letters, work with big sizes. Big sizes of paper, big paintbrushes, big sidewalk chalk, big blocks, you name it. People have the misconception that you have to start out small on paper when learning how to form letters correctly. This is not so. Make them huge! It's ever so much more fun that way. Another fun way is to do it many times in rainbow colors, as explained by Pauline at Lessons Learnt Journal. She talks about her Rainbow Writing and even offers up free printables to do it with your child!

2. Practice Pre-Writing Skills
Anything that makes little fingers stronger and more nimble can help them develop for writing. Play dough, using tweezers, or picking up little things and putting them in a bowl all count. It's also helpful to practice the shapes and lines that letters are made up of. A great app for this is called Ready to Print. Some of the things they provide practice for are touching things one at a time, in a certain order, following a path, matching shapes, pinching things together, and connecting the dots. They also have letter and number writing practice. You can of course do most of these things the old-fashioned way on paper, too. In Handwriting Without Tears they also encourage the kids to form their letters with blocks, play dough, and stamps before beginning to write them.


3. Encourage Correct Pencil Grip With Song!
This video that has a cute song for correct pencil grip. She sings it about a crayon, but it's the same thing. The other tip I have heard before is to pretend like you're holding a kleenex with your pinkie and ring finger. The other thing to remind kids is that their other hand should be used to hold the paper! A bunch of them never figure that helpful hint out on their own.I myself have a horrible pencil grip to this day because I never got out of the habit. My third grade teacher tried to get me to stop, but by then it was way too late. I am a functioning member of society, but I do have a nice callous on my finger to show for it and my hand cramps up when I'm writing. So if you can avoid it by teaching good pencil grip early, do it!!

4. Where Do You Start Your Letters? At the Top!
Now that we know how to hold our pencil, the main thing for your child to learn is to start their letters from the top and to make them in the most efficient way possible (i.e. don't take the long, unintuitive squiggly route if you can help it). There is an amazing program called Handwriting Without Tears that comes highly recommended from many parents, teachers, and occupational therapists. It is really important that the occupational therapists like this program because they are the ones working with kids who have a hard time with their fine motor movements, pencil grips, and writing. It is a program that whole schools can adopt, but you can also purchase their products for use at home here. They even have some online subscription options now. I have learned many great tips from them and used the program in my classroom for several years. I am not a paid spokesperson, just a really passionate fan! One of their tips is that starting your letters at the top helps with effective letter formation. They even made up a little ditty to remind kids to start their letters at the top. It goes like this - "Where do you start your letters? At the top! Where do you start your letters?" At the top! If you want to start a letter then you better, better, better, remember to start your letters at the top!" If you want to hear a rock n' roll version for yourself, click here.

5. Make the Lines on the Paper POP
There are so many different kinds of handwriting paper and thoughts about handwriting paper. HWT uses two lines so that kids can use the bottom line to keep the letters going straight across and the top line to differentiate between uppercase and lowercase letters. You can refer to the video at #6 down below to see a sample. You can also use the typical top line, dotted middle line, and bottom line. If you Google handwriting paper, you will find lots of free ones that you can print on your own if you like. You can try to highlight the space between the dotted line and the bottom line to help your kiddos differentiate between lowercase and upper case. You can also tell stories about the letters that go up to the top line like they go up in a helicopter or rocket and bump the top but no further. There is actually paper that you can buy with raised lines so your tactile learners can actually feel their pencil stop. They also have papers where there are little clouds drawn on the top line and grass on the bottom so the kids can say to themselves, "go up to the clouds, then down to the ground." Whatever works best for you and catches on with your child is the right thing to use. You might have to try a few things before you find your best fit. Don't be afraid to turn in homework on a different kind of paper, either. Talk with your teacher if something is working especially well at home. They will usually not have a problem with that.

6. Model the Right Way First and Frequently
Handwriting experts have stated that the best way to have children learn a letter is for them to see you do it first and close up. In other words, not copying letters already written on a board across the room. So make sure every time you are practicing handwriting, you take time to model the correct formation of the letter. It's an easy thing to do and makes such a difference. The other thing is, you want them to do a few really good practice letters - not a whole long page of letters where each one just gets a little bit worse and pretty soon they are copying the letters from their copies and they just keep getting worse and worse. Definitely think quality over quantity! If you get a big page sent home where they're supposed to write the letter D 20 times, try to at least split it up so they write it 5 times, then go on to something else. Search on YouTube for more handwriting demonstration lessons and songs!

7.  Give Them Words to Say in Their Head
If any of us are trying to learn something, we talk ourselves through the process. It's no difference for our kids with handwriting. You can use the script Handwriting Without Tears provides or you can use your own. I use a mix of both. I also have some number formation rhymes I learned long ago that go like this -
2 - Around and back on a railroad track, two, two, two (said like choo, choo, choo)
3 - Around a tree and around a tree, that is how we make a three
4 - Down and over and down some more, that is how we make a four
5 -The bee goes down, around the hive, go back up to make a five
6 -Draw your rope at the top and around some sticks, that is how we make a six
7 - Across the sky and down from Heaven, that is how we make a seven
8 - Make a S and do not wait, go back up to make an eight
9 - First a circle, then a line. That is how we make a nine.
Other teachers blog about very similar poems here at Simply Kinder and here at Little Giraffes. Simply Kinder also sells some number formation practice sheets if you're interested.

8. Teach the Starting Corner
This is another Handwriting Without Tears tip. As you can see in the picture with the little girl, the slate blackboard has a happy face drawn in the upper left corner. If you can teach your children to write their letters and numbers within a box frame like that (drawing a square or using little white boards work well, too), then they will have a much easier time with letter reversals. Which, by the way, are completely normal and rarely a sign of dyslexia or learning problems in the early elementary years. Just draw a little happy face on your board (or buy the nifty HWT one!). It's much easier for the kids to learn the few exceptions like O, Q, A, and the number 9 because there aren't that many and most of those we don't often reverse anyway. I recently learned another great trick for double-checking if you've reversed a number. A teacher came up with the idea of using your left hand and especially your thumb to see if your number is the right way. Basically, you learn that all letters "cup" or have a space for your left thumb. Who knew? Love tricks like this! Check it out at Dilly Dabbles. She has free printable bookmarks for reminders, too!
9. Watch Out for the Shark!
As with almost everything, I find that if you can make learning something silly or funny you get a much faster buy-in from your child. Letting letters go below the bottom line when they're not supposed to is a major offense in handwriting (for instance, letting your lowercase o sink below the bottom line that you're writing on). It makes things messy and confusing for your reader. In order to communicate this in a fun way, I taught my students about THE SHARK. We even drew little sharks underneath the bottom line of our writing paper (you have to envision the primary style writing paper with a dotted line in the middle and then a bit of extra space between each writing line). If your letter dipped below the line, the shark would eat it! Oh no! So as I conferred with my young writers, I would mention every once in a while that it looked like the shark was going to eat this letter. They would quickly fix it to keep the letter safe from the shark. Some of you quick thinkers out there might be saying, "Wait, what about p and q and g and j and y?" Well, my dear friends, p has a nice straight line that is a fishing pole, so it is allowed to go down there to entice the shark. Sharks are not interested in fishing poles. The rest of the letters have hooks when you write them. These, of course, are fishing hooks that will be pointy and catch the shark if he gets too close. I'm telling you, kids eat this up.
                                   Image result for free shark clip art
10. Hop Around and Learn Letters in Groups 
Current educational research suggests that kids learn nearly everything by connecting bits of knowledge to things they already know and/or by grouping those words with similar patterns together. You can apply the same thing to handwriting instruction. There are certain "kinds" of letters that we write. There are many capital letters, for instance, that can use Handwriting Without Tears' Frog Jump. You start in the starting corner, draw a line down, then (and you better say it with a fun voice!) FROG JUMP back up to the starting corner to complete your letter. Examples of these would be P, F, E, D, and P. Check out the video below for a cute song that goes with it. Then you could teach the ones that just start at the starting corner but don't need to jump. Examples of those would be H, K, L, and U. After that, you have the center starting capitals like O, Q, G, and S. Yes, it is easier to learn the capital letters before lowercase. When you get to the lowercase letters, there are also little tricks like learning to form all the letters that start with the "magic c" like g,d, and a as well as "tall" letters like d, t, and l. Here's a great little video with a song about the Frog Jump Capitals.

Not sure you can do it all? You are in such luck, because Handwriting Without Tears recently released an APP that does it for you! It's called Wet, Dry, Try after their proven method and order of teaching the capitals and numbers. It looks like this and is available for iPhones, iPads, and Android apps. It's not super exciting, but it has a soothing woman's voice and nice Hawaiian like music in the background. Plus the kids earn stars for practicing.


11. Accentuate the Positive
Finally, I will remind you of what you surely already know. If we were to pick out all the things wrong all at once with our little learners, they would crumble and not feel like doing another darn thing. So pick your battles and choose your focus. If they're getting an awesome story down, maybe this isn't the day to worry about perfect letter formation. Maybe you treat it like "stretching" and do it for five minutes before beginning your writing homework. Another thing my students used to love to do was to circle the best word or letter
they did. They also liked to see if I agreed or had a different favorite. See if you can get yourself to do that, so you're not always just harping on the little things they've not done right. It's also really fun to keep writing samples from past years so that you can show them how much they've grown. They love to look back on that writing and feel so much bigger and older now that they know better.

Happy Handwriting!

Budding Writer This Spring?

Do you have a little one who just loves to sit down and write? Trying to work a little more on taking your time and using nice handwriting? Download these very cute templates that are free over at Prmary Inspiration. The pictures also might provide good inspiration for things to write about! If you like the pictures but it's too many lines for your writer, just have them draw or color what they like and paste blank paper for them to "write" on the rest or they can dictate a story to you. I say "story," but as always with little learners, things that are real and close to their lives can be the most interesting. A story can be as simple as going to the park to play on the playground. Happy writing!

Using Window Clings for Literacy

Some days the littlest things can be learning opportunities. You can encourage your little learner to use vocabulary, language, and story telling by putting up window clings in your house for the season or for holidays (I got some butterfly ones for seventy percent off after Easter!).

Here's how to do it...
#1: Grab a few sheets of window clings from Target or Michael's....they are predictably on sale after each holiday and can be saved for next year.

#2: Act as an assistant to your child - peel off what they want you to and help arrange things if needed.

#3: You might have to help your youngster get started by asking if they can imagine a story about the ladybugs, or if the caterpillar has a name, etc.

#4: Sit back and let the storytelling begin! Try to listen more than talk...I know it's hard.

#5: Good readers have lots of vocabulary in their bag of tricks and they only learn them by hearing and using the words. Try to find some words to describe their picture that they may not have heard frequently.

#6: If you have an older child, they get a kick out of it when you grab your laptop and write down their story in a word document then print it out for them to color. It helps them see themselves as writers and storytellers.

#7: Share any connections you can make. Ours gave us an opportunity to listen to a song because the ladybugs reminded me of the "Ladybug Picnic" song from Sesame Street. We pulled it up on the web and enjoyed that song together, too. I tell you all of this because sometimes a teeny thing that you do can really help your child's literacy development. So don't discount those little things you do. You may not know how much they can be helpful or how one more phrase to guide them into telling a story can help. For little teeny ones, it doesn't have to be a whole story either. Just interacting with you and saying the main words and describing the colors would be great!

If you're interested, here's part of the story my five-year-old son came up with on his own. Pretty funny!

"The three ladybugs are two sisters and a brother. The sister got her hair cut. The caterpillar comes to join them. They're having a race to the bell pepper. Whoever touches it first gets to eat it and then they have a feast. This window is their home. There are hundreds of flowers. And they only eat this kind of flower, so they gather it up before night because that's their dinner. So they ate some of those, too. One of the butterflies sisters flew by. Not the brothers, because they came last. They're usually late in the story. Because this is a story of ladybugs that I'm telling you. One of the sisters swooped by and ate the flower because she flew by a flower. The butterfly won and Mr. Caterpillar had to turn around to get it. He was long enough to grab it from here except the butterfly was faster so he grabbed it first. Then a small breeze came. And then one of the other butterfly sisters showed up. And she told them it was almost time for them to go because it was almost dinner time. She was the one that had the longest antennaes.Then the brother came along and said "What's Happening?" and then the sister ladybug said, "We're having a big party and you missed the feast though!" and then he said "What feast?" and then they said, "We had a picnic out front of the ladybug's house. And then one of the other brother butterflies came. But then it was starting to rain and it was time to go. Everybody said goodbye and they lived happily ever after. The End."

More Friday Freebies!

I just learned about this great website - How Does She? and they have a fabulous free giveaway Summer Reading Star packet. You just have to sign up for their email newsletter (you don't have to keep the subscription if you don't like it) and they give you access to some beautiful free printables. I also like their dinner conversation starters. I'm going to try those out tonight! 

Wild About Rhymes Freebie!

Sometimes I find freebies that just fit so well into what parents need that I just have to share with you. This is a perfect "I only have 5 minutes!" game!!! The extra special thing about this game, found on Heather's Heart blog, is that you can do it when your kid is at different levels. The easiest is when they can just use the pictures to rhyme and you do it together. The hardest would be having them do it themselves and then complete the rhyming pages and sentence page on their own. Just click on the link on her blog to download. Thanks Heather!

Free App Friday - Sight Words Hangman!

Sight Words Hangman

Time for another App review! This one is good because you could actually (gasp!) do this the old-fashioned way with your sight word flash cards, pen, and paper. However, if you have an iPhone or iPad, by all means, download it for FREE today!

The reason a sight word is called a sight word is because usually you just have to memorize it. Once you get it and it's automatic, reading becomes much easier. I would recommend this App for kids who seem just about ready to read and beyond. It will definitely be frustrating for those who do not have a start on reading. But you could do it together if they like the game. It's a super cute little game that lets you choose the difficulty level of sight word lists and then asks kids to pick the sight words out of a group of words. If they get it right, they go on to the next one. If they get it wrong, the hangman gets a part drawn on him. They also have a flash card option where the kids can hear the words read to them, or you can turn the sound off and they can try reading the words by themselves.

As always, if you want to check out the other free apps of the week, visit Sadly, they just updated their review of Endless Alphabet to reject it. Apparently, they've started putting ads in the app and you have the option to pay to get the ads removed. Bummer!

Environmental Print Reminder

Really Helpful Parent Handouts

Again, I am thankful for the amazing amount of resources available to you for free on the web! I am very impressed with Kayla from Primary Junction for generously creating and sharing these parent handouts on helping your young learner read, write, spell, and do math! Download the packet for free (even in Spanish!) at Teachers Pay Teachers here.

I just found another great resource from Primary Junction! Kayla did a great article on the phonics rules that are actually useful most of the time! Visit her article and get the free download here. I was just talking to a friend the other day about which "rules" she could teach and how to go about doing it. All I can say is games, games, games and teachable moments. When you are reading beginning readers with your child, you can point out some of these rules or keep a little poster with illustrations nearby to help them remember the most important ones. If you do the pictures or diagrams together, they can be silly and crazy and the kids will connect to them that much better.I honestly had to make up a story for myself when I was little that "T" was not as good as "S." That's the only way I could remember which came first in the alphabet! You can do similar things with these rules.

Free Farm Book for Beginning Readers

Just found a cute and free Farm Easy Reader on Teachers Pay Teachers. All you have to do is sign in and then click download. Love it when other people do the hard work and share it with us! It is on Mrs. Lindsey's page and she actually has some other free stuff to share, too. You might even want to check out her blog at Loving Kindergarten With Mrs. Lindsey. Thanks Mrs. Lindsey!!