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Keeping it Visual

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Students that struggle are often not using the appropriate strategies – strategies that good students utilize naturally. I made this toolbox so that I could display the appropriate strategy for the given activity.

I want students to see that different activities require choosing a different strategy.


Turtle Talk

I am constantly thinking about how to isolate a skill. Turtle Talk has helped me isolate the blending skill for early intervention and then the idea grew to help with so much more.
The idea started with this book:



The idea is that the turtle talks so slowly that he only says one sound at a time.

Early intervention starts, for me, with games of oral blending. This isolates the blending skill. I ask if the child can understand turtle talk and I proceed to make the sounds of the word and the student blends them together. I often use different colour unifix cubes and point to each one as I make each sound so that the student also has visual reinforcement of different, separate, sounds. I start with short, 3 phoneme words, and build up from there.

“My turtle is so slow and tired. He can only say one sound at a time. Can you tell what he is trying to say? /c/ /a/ /t/”

The second step is asking the student to do turtle talk, perhaps with an “eye spy” game.

“How about you be the turtle and I will try to guess what your turtle is saying?”

Third, once the first two are well on their way to being mastered, I will ask a child to say a word in turtle talk and then ask which letter matches each sound and I will write each letter as they go through the process.

“What is ‘cat’ in turtle talk? What letter matches /c/? I will write it. What matches /a/?….”

Fourth, students do the turtle talk and try to match and write each sound independently.

As students get older I still refer to the turtle. To spell a word we will first count the individual sounds using turtle talk and then we will discuss how one sound might be spelled with two letters. I have found that this reminder helps activate the memory of phonics skills that they have acquired.

“Let’s do turtle talk to figure out how to spell ‘chair’. We hear 3 sounds – /ch/ /ai/ /r/.Two of the sounds are spelled with two letters. How do you spell /ch/? How would you spell /ai/ with two letters?…..”


Focus, Focus

Today I put together these folders. I remember being in the university library and needing to read behind a study carrel or I could not focus – there were too many people to watch, friends to talk to and, well, pretty much anything seemed better than studying.

These folders are to help my students focus. I added helps for paragraphs (an idea from Pinterest), spelling helps, and punctuation.
These could also be used for privacy for a test or just as a signal to others that concentration is needed and talking is not a good option.
I often tell my students that I had to use strategies to focus. A study carrel was one as well as giving myself a deadline to meet before meeting friends at the university coffee shop. I will still feel motivated by a really good cup of coffee!




I was helping a student with a classroom assignment yesterday requiring punctuation. I received a blank look after explaining the instructions. I knew that the student understood about commas and periods, etc. I realized that the breakdown in understanding was the term “punctuation” not the execution of the assignment. Instructions often seem to include “hard” words. I have to be careful not to assume understanding.


Today I made this poster. Students used painter pens on dark sticky notes. Now we have a visual for the term “punctuation” and we can take the stickies off to review or add stickies as we discover punctuation. I am a fan of interactive posters.

Spelling Practice


I like students to see the correct version of what they are practicing a number of times before they are asked to recall. They need time to form a correct “brain picture”. Many parents quiz children the first day after receiving the spelling list but this may cause students to form an incorrect “brain picture”. I apply this same concept to math facts, memory work, anything to be memorized.

Rainbow Strategy


Many writing difficulties stem from working memory issues. (You have to remember sequence, ideas, punctuation, spelling, etc.) The Rainbow Strategy seeks to isolate skills and asks a student to first write, then go back and read their writing checking for punctuation, then look back again looking at capitalization, then spelling, etc. Students have said to me that this takes too long and I tell them that if they want to be better at writing it is worth it to train their brain to go through the rainbow. I tell them that over time, they will be able to combine the colors of the rainbow (that is what good writers do, they combine all the elements of writing in their working memory).


Source: via Brenda on Pinterest



Getting reluctant writers to write a little each day coaxes them into building their confidence and enjoyment in writing (of course some fancy pens and paper help too! I have found students, esp. those with weak fine motor skills, really enjoy felt tip pens.)

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