Goodbye Cueing Strategies, Hello Reading Animal Helpers!

What is the difference between the common cueing strategy animals (e.g., Lips the Fish, Skippy the Frog and Eagle Eyes) and Astute Hoot’s Reading Animal Helpers?  There is a tremendous difference!

While the cueing systems approach has been used since the 1960s, it has been proven to be flawed. Cueing guides children to use guessing strategies rather than decoding and phonics skills to read unfamiliar words, which impedes their progress. For more information about the issues with this model, read the article “At a Loss for Words: How a Flawed Idea is Teaching Millions of Kids to be Poor Readers.”  

Astute Hoot’s Reading Animal Helpers are NOT cueing strategies. Each of our animal helpers are aligned to research-based strategies and critical literacy skills. Our animals are designed to be used in conjunction with evidence-based reading curriculum to support and enhance instruction, as well as awaken the joy of learning.

Enhancing the Science of Reading: Our lovable animal characters bring the literacy instruction to life, helping the most reluctant students blossom into motivated, enthusiastic learners. Each animal helper has a unique feature and rhyming poem that is used to teach children a specific, standards-based strategy or skill in a purposeful and intentional way. Our Reading Animal Helpers are intended to complement and reinforce instructional approaches backed by the Science of Reading in the areas of phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency and writing.  We have found great success with embedding our Reading Animal Helpers within effective reading intervention strategies such as those demonstrated in the Reading Rockets special video series, Looking at Reading Interventions.

Sparking Enthusiasm and Motivation: Seeing the looks of happiness and pure joy on our students’ faces when we use the Reading Animal Helpers just confirms how important it is to include some fun and wonder in our classrooms.  Joy can be the center of learning without sacrificing high quality literacy instruction. Given the recent emphasis on social emotional learning, it is now even more evident that as educators we must design our instruction to build student confidence, ease pressures and anxieties, and motivate hesitant or disengaged learners to take healthy risks and fully participate.

Incorporating Innovative Tools and Resources: Our resources include multisensory centers, games, graphic organizers and hands-on tools which have been field-tested and refined in various early childhood classrooms.  When using these tools and visuals, students are able to anchor the strategies with our concrete Reading Animal Helpers.  This is critical to transferring and applying new skills across settings and a variety of texts from decodable readers to authentic literature and challenging non-fiction books, See some examples of our resources in action alongside a variety intervention curricula such as Equipped for Reading Success (phonemic awareness), Heart Word Magic (orthographic mapping), and Wilson Reading System and Fundations (phonics).

Heidi the High Frequency Word Hedgehog
Heidi the High-Frequency Word Hedgehog helps tricky sight words “stick” by learning the irregular parts of words by “heart” and multi-sensory activities.
Elkonin Box
Sally the Sounding Out Snake helps students blend, segment, and manipulate the sounds to strengthen phonemic awareness as an Elkonin box.
Sally Sounding Out Snake
Sally the Sounding Out Snake enhances magnetic tile boards and keep students engaged during our direct, systematic phonics instruction.
Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk makes syllable division accessible to students.



Sharon the Sequencing Squirrel provides a hands-on visual tool and accompanying graphic organizers to help students retell what they’ve read.
Quinn the Questioning Quail
Quinn the Questioning Quail encourages students to monitor their reading comprehension by asking and answering text dependent questions.
Fiona the Fluency Fox encourages students to improve their reading fluency through repeated readings and self reflection of their accuracy, rate, expression and phrasing.
Paco the Pointing Porcupine guides emerging readers to finger point to make the connection between the sounds and printed text.











It truly warms our hearts to see young children blossom into proficient, confident readers who love books!  We hope you join us in saying Goodbye to the cueing animals and Hello to our Reading Animal Helpers!

Download this FREE book and FREE poster to introduce your students to the Reading Animal Helpers. We would LOVE to see how you use Astute Hoot to boost your literacy instruction and bring joy to your students too!


The Wait is Finally Over…

The wait is finally over! We are delighted to announce the launch of our newly updated website and blog,, a comprehensive resource to spark enthusiasm for learning. Astute Hoot features….

A cast of lovable animal teachers: Each animal helper has a unique feature, accompanying poem, and hands-on tools that are used to teach children specific standards-based strategies or skills. Meet them here!

Engaging curriculum: Our supplemental resources include multisensory games, graphic organizers and centers which have been field-tested and refined in various early childhood classrooms. Download this freebie to see what the Hoot’s all about! 

Virtual learning support: Check out our tried and true videos to support and enhance distance learning.

Teaching blog: Take a glimpse into our classrooms for practical ideas, easy to implement strategies and friendly advice.

Why Astute Hoot? Now used in classrooms worldwide, these lovable animal characters bring the strategies to life, helping the most reluctant students blossom into motivated, enthusiastic learners. All students, especially those with special needs, make immense gains in academics and confidence.  We are excited to awaken the joy of learning in your children as well!

How to Find Balance with Virtual Learning

Love or hate it, virtual learning has become our new reality. As a reading interventionist and kindergarten teacher, this has been a difficult and daunting shift for us as we wholeheartedly believe in multi-modal, hands-on instruction.

One of our biggest challenges has been keeping young children engaged and motivated during virtual learning. It is important for us to find balance between screen time and authentic, hands-on learning. Here are our top 4 ways we’ve enhanced virtual learning for our students: Read more

Celebrate Earth Day with The Lorax

Earth Day is fast approaching and with spring fever in full force, our engaging, comprehensive Lorax literature study is the perfect solution!

Our Lorax literature study integrates elements from our Guided Reading Strategies Bundle which teaches critical reading strategies in a child-friendly way. In our charming book, students meet Hazel the owl, a struggling reader, who stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a research-based CCSS reading strategy. These delightful animals and rhymed text motivate the most reluctant readers.

Bring the Lorax alive in your classroom in 4 easy steps:


1. Prepare Reading Response Journals.

Print Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Animals and accompanying Reading Strategies Poster to introduce students to the each strategy animal. To create the journals, I printed the cover, Reading Strategies Poster, Sentence Stems, and Trait Tree in color and the Reading Response journal pages in black and white. I laminated the front and back cover and bound them for durability.

While there are pre-made reading response questions, select the amount of questions and the content of questions that are appropriate for your class. There is a blank journal page included for you to create your own reading response question(s) for differentiation purposes.

2. Create a Lorax bulletin board.

I projected a picture of the Lorax from Google Images and traced on orange and yellow poster board. I purchased yellow pool noodles from the Dollar Store and Truffula tufts from Hobby Lobby. Later in the week, students each made their own Lorax using the templates included in the unit and I added them to the bulletin board.

3. Make Truffula Tree pencils.

I purchased inexpensive glitter pom-poms from Amazon and glued them to the tops of pencils. Students used them to complete their journal entries and they were a huge hit!

4. Include supplemental activities.


At the end of the study, I had students make their own Lorax cover. First, they made a hand-print Lorax with orange paint, let it dry, and cut it out. Next, they used Sharpies and crayons to draw the background. Finally, they glued the Lorax on the cover.

During a reading center with a parent volunteer, students also read and followed directions to make a Truffula Tree snack using simple ingredients.

On the last day of our study, I brought in these adorable Lorax cookies made from Nutter Butters, yellow frosting, and Wilton candy eyes.

Do you have other Lorax ideas or fun Earth Day projects? Please share below.

Essentials of a Special Ed Resource Room

I’m so excited to be back in the classroom this year! After 14 years as a special education resource teacher, I changed gears to work in the capacity of an Instructional Coach and Special Education Coordinator in high needs schools. Although this work over the past 4 years has been rewarding, I’ve missed the direct, daily contact with students.

After I accepted my new position as a K-3 Special Education Resource Teacher, I quickly got to work in planning out my new classroom. I considered student need, layout, materials, and decor to prepare my room. I’m thrilled to share these 3 essential components of my new classroom with you!

1. Strategy-Based Bulletin Boards and Learning Centers:  I set up strategy-based bulletin boards that are being used to support and enhance district curriculum.  My students are already in love with all of the strategy animals!  Our strategies provide excellent interventions to use with any curriculum as they strengthen HOW students learn,  and do not necessarily change WHAT students learn. Here are some specific examples of how I incorporate our strategy animals into the curriculum.

Using the Wilson Language System, I incorporate our Sally Sounding-Out Slates or Charlie Syllable Slates to provide additional visual cues and practice to spell and decode words in isolation. These can also be used to focus on specific words in connected text to practice sounding out the phonograms. It not only makes learning fun, but it also helps struggling students who need additional support. This intervention uses the same content and Wilson instructional method, but provides a different format for practice and student response. Using the Slates and accompanying graphic organizers also provides a structured space for written dictation. Using our reading strategy animals along with a systematic, researched-based curriculum such as Wilson enhances motivation and investment, which is incredibly important for reluctant readers.

Reading Roost Photo

Our math strategy animals fit in perfectly with the district curriculum. Students are expected to solve 2 or more word problems as part of the daily lessons. I introduce each of the Problem-Solving Pond strategy animals systematically as they correlate to the standards and concepts. As students become proficient with one strategy, I introduce another. After all strategies are introduced, students learn how to pick the most efficient strategy for the problem. Upton the Understanding Fish is used daily to help students complete the seven problem solving steps, explain thinking and justify solutions. Just as with Wilson, using these strategies does not alter or modify the curriculum in any way, it just enhances it and presents it in a way which students can grasp it more easily by making the concepts more concrete. Student connect with the strategy animals and are motivated to use various strategies to solve the problems. It also relieves math anxiety and builds independence by providing a toolbox of “animal friends” students can use to solve problems.

Problem-Solving Pond 2

There are 5 animal strategy characters which teach the writing process stages and 5 animals who focus on mechanics and conventions.  Writing can be especially difficult for students with special needs.
The strategy animals help eliminate writers’ block and encourage students to persist with writing stamina.  Because each animal has a specific job, it forces students to pay greater attention to each critical part of the writing process.

Writing in the Wild West


2.  Reading Corner: I set up an inviting and comfortable reading corner which has books organized by level and topic. My students love the Beanie Babies sitting on the bookcase.  They get to each pick one to read to on Fun Fridays to build fluency.  My favorite part of this area is the multi-sensory syllabication charts featuring Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk.  I attached pipe cleaners to the charts so students can practice chunking words into syllables.



3.  Sensory Support:  Knowing that many of my new students would need support with sensory issues, I prepared various options for them.  I have flexible seating arrangements using wiggle cushions, exercise balls, and lap desks.  Also, I put together a sensory basket containing Play-Doh, squeeze balls, Legos, Unifix cubes and a timer for 2 of my students.  Lastly, I signed up for a Go Noodle account and we use this for brain breaks. 

Essentials Collage

The first few weeks of school have been amazing!  I’m so glad I followed my heart and returned back to the classroom.  Helping students with special needs truly is my calling.  I hope you enjoyed taking a peek into my new resource room. I’d love to hear about how you set up your resource room too!  Please comment below.

See our strategy animals in action in this short video!


Set Up Your Best Classroom Yet

Welcome to my second grade classroom, my home away from home.  Each year, I refine my classroom with special finds from Target and Hobby Lobby (my favorite!) to make it comfortable and inviting. I love to think outside of the box, using plastic table cloths for curtains and bath mats for classroom rugs. My goal is to make the room a safe, creative space that promotes engagement and exploration.


As a traditional academy teacher, I use Spalding spelling, HMH Journeys reading, and Saxon math to teach highly-performing students at an accelerated pace. I use the district-prescribed curricula along with our reading and math strategy animals to help students learn, apply, and transfer critical strategies across settings. My classroom décor centers around Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, and her special strategy friends. See how I integrate Hazel’s Reading Roost and Problem-Solving Pond along with our hands-on tools to support and enhance required curricula in this blog series.


Special Spaces

Hazel’s Reading Roost

In our charming book, Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Friends, Hazel stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a research-based, standards-aligned reading strategy. These animals guide Hazel to become a proficient reader.

Each day students attend Hazel’s Reading Roost, my guided reading group, as one of their four reading rotations. During guided reading time, I use the woodland animals to teach specific strategies and concepts through the context of authentic literature.Jessica at Reading Roost_rs
I use our animal puppets and reference our Decoding and Comprehension Banners throughout the lessons. Students use our accompanying graphic organizers and our hands-on tools to practice and reinforce the strategies.

To replicate the magical tree, I purchased an inexpensive faux tree from Goodwill and gave it a dusting of gold glitter spray paint. I glued glitter foam leaves to give it an enchanted gleam and used Velcro to attach the animals. This allows for easy removal during reading group time. Read more about creating a Reading Roost here.

Reading RoostDuring guided reading group time, students sit in a circle on our  Astute Hoot’s Numbers and Letters Rug. I post a specific learning goal for each group and reference it throughout the lesson using our Learning Scale Banner. Students enjoy monitoring and reflecting upon their thinking and learning. They understand that honest ratings help me as a teacher because I can see what they understand and areas in which they need more help.

Read tomorrow’s blog to see my Problem-Solving Pond and accompanying math tools.


Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 3

In part 1 and part 2 of my Guided Reading Survival Guide blog series, I explained how teachers must go beyond the basal and provide authentic, high-quality supplemental texts ranging in genre and teach research-based reading strategies using our cast of animal characters.guided

Guided Reading Survival Guide: Using Hands-On Tools

It’s time to put the strategies we discussed in the previous blog into students’ hands–literally. Hands-on tools motivate and engage students and make practice fun. Each of our strategy animals has an accompanying hands-on tool. Students associate animals with comfort, safety, and play and when animals are personified, students readily understand and apply the lessons and messages from the animals. Just yesterday, I was doing a fact assessment. I always remind students to double-check their answers, but they often need several reminders to do so. Yesterday I got out my Fiona Fact Fluency Fox puppet and had Fiona remind the kids about double-checking. What do you know? They all double-checked their answers.


Each of the hands-on tools is displayed in the classroom; most are in clear, inexpensive glass jars with the animal label glued to the front. They make a cute display and are easily accessible.

hands-on-tool-collageIn my classroom: Since students used Quinn the Questioning Quail to use textual evidence to answer questions, I created a set of Quinn’s Quills. I purchased fuchsia highlighters from Amazon (to match Quinn’s color), printed, laminated, and cut out a set of Quinn’s heads, available in the Quinn Questioning Quail unit. I glued the heads to the highlighters. The head looks like it’s upside down when the marker is closed, but this protects the head and the topnotch.


Before the lesson, I enlarged and laminated my copy of  “What Lives in This Hole?”, my guided reading text from Reading A-Z. The larger format allows all students to easily see the text and the lamination allows me to reuse it each year.


During the lesson, I modeled how to answer each question in the I Do section, thinking aloud as I went. I demonstrated how to use Quinn’s question mark topnotch to first point to the answer, then highlight it and write the question number next to it. We then practiced the strategy together by answering the questions in the We Do section. Students pointed to the answer with Quinn’s topnotch. Before we highlighted, we discussed each student’s response to ensure that everyone was on track. Finally, we highlighted the answer.


Students absolutely LOVED Quinn’s Quills and asked to use them during whole group reading time as well. Unfortunately, our basals can’t be highlighted, but this is another benefit of using Reading A-Z printable books.


Check out the full line of reading and math hands-on tools. You students will LOVE them, too!

hands-on-toolsCheck out tomorrow’s blog to learn how to integrate multiple strategies during guided reading time.




Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 2

Yesterday in part 1 of my blog series, Guided Reading Survival Guide, I explained how teachers must go beyond the basal to provide several authentic, high-quality supplemental texts ranging in complexity and genre to promote a deeper understanding of content. In part 2 of the series, I will explain how to select research-based strategies for guided reading groups.


Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 2: Selecting Strategies

Now that I have broken the bond with the basal, let’s talk strategy. My students used to struggle with transferring and applying learned strategies across settings, curricula, and various genres of authentic text. I partnered with Jennifer Zoglman, a veteran special educator, and her sister, Tina Rataj-Berard, an award-winning graphic designer, to create a unique cast of strategy animals that make learning safe and fun while teaching critical strategies in an engaging way. Each animal teachers a research-based strategy using a short, rhymed poem and child-friendly language.

Reading Strategies Poster_web

Animals were specifically chosen because animal characters are present in children’s lives from the very beginning in toys, books, and cartoons. Children learn to associate animals with comfort, safety, and play. When animals are personified, children readily understand and apply the lessons and messages from the animals. Brain research shows that when material is presented in a novel way, it ignites curiosity and interest in learning new topics and leads children to readily grasp and internalize the information.

Students first meet the strategy animals in the read-aloud, “Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Animals.”  Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, is a struggling learner as she lacks the strategies needed to help her succeed. Hazel stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a reading strategy. These animals guide Hazel to become a proficient reader.

reading book banner

Students in all academic settings make an immediate connection with the animals and love to practice new strategies using the animals’ special tools. Read more about how animals help children learn here. Meet our complete line of strategy animals here. Watch this short video to see our strategy animals in action.

In my classroom: I select one comprehension strategy animal to use for both whole group and small group instruction. This strategy animal is introduced and modeled as we read the basal during whole group time. I use the same strategy animal during guided reading groups where students can practice and apply the strategy within leveled text.

In the Journeys basal text, “Animals Building Homes” the strategy was to answer questions in the text. I selected Quinn the Questioning Quail as the focus strategy animal. I read through the text and wrote a list of text-dependent questions, separating them into 3 categories: I Do, We Do, You Do.


I did the same thing for my guided reading text, “What Lives in This Hole?”, a multi-level book from Reading A-Z. Since this was the first lesson on this strategy, I created only text-dependent questions where the specific answer was clearly stated in the text. As students become proficient with answering specific text-dependent questions, I will incorporate questions that require students to use inference skills as well.


I use puppets to introduce the strategy animals. The students always greet the animal and then I read the poem which explains the strategy in a child-friendly way. Many students actually believe that the animals are real and often go home and tell their parents all about them. Tying the animals to strategies makes learning more concrete and helps students effectively apply and transfer across settings.puppets

Read tomorrow’s blog, Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 3: Incorporating Hands-On Tools to see how students practice the strategies in a motivating, engaging way. Be sure to read part 1 of the Guided Reading Survival Guide: Going Beyond the Basal.





Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 1

Guided reading can be daunting, especially with the new instructional shifts and standards. Teachers are asking themselves such questions as: “What texts do I use?” “What strategies do I teach?” “How do I motivate and engage?” “How do I integrate multiple strategies?”

As educators with a combined total of almost 30 years spend in early childhood and special education, Jennifer and I have cultivated four instructional practices that incorporate our effective animal-based curriculum to maximize guided reading time. Read our four part blog series that outlines these practices and show how students enthusiastically embrace them.


Guided Reading Survival Guide Part 1: Going Beyond the Basal

Most teachers are required to use district-prescribed curricula, which often includes a basal and a series of leveled readers, many of which are dry and designed to fit the weekly basal skills. The basal can be used as an anchor text, but it should not stand alone. Provide several authentic, high-quality supplemental texts ranging in complexity and genre to promote a deeper understanding of content.

Reading A-Z is the ideal resource because its vast library of more than 2,500 downloadable books allows teachers to search by strategy, skill, or topic, making differentiation much easier. Several titles are part of a multi-level series, making quality content available to all readers. Plus, the printable books allow students to practice test-taking strategies, such as highlighting answers in the text, while using authentic text rather than mundane practice tests or contrived passages.


In my classroom: I select Reading A-Z books that complement the weekly basal story, complement the current science unit, or focus on a specific reading strategy that I am teaching. In a recent unit, I chose, “What Lives in This Hole?” because it aligned to our Journeys basal story, “Animals Building Homes.” This was a great supplement to deepen student understanding, apply learned strategies, and build academic vocabulary.


Tomorrow check out part 2 of our Guided Reading Survival Guide blog series to see how I incorporate various reading strategies across multiple texts.

Astute Hoot's Reading Strategy Animals




Guiding Students to Use Context Clues Independently

“Hello, Ramona the Rereading Raccoon is my name.
Using context clues is my favorite game.
As you read, ask yourself:
Does it look right, does it sound right, and does it make sense?
I guarantee my strategy will make you less tense!”

Ramona the Rereading Raccoon
is one our decoding strategy animals in Hazel’s Reading Roost. Ramona motivates students to use context clues independently. Read more about Ramona’s strategy below…

WHAT is rereading? Rereading along with using context clues can be used a word identification strategy. The context is the words, sentences, and ideas that come before and after a word or phrase. Context clues are words or phrases that hint at what the unknown word means. This helps readers build meaning to increase comprehension.

WHY is rereading important? Rereading using context clues is an essential decoding strategy that promotes independence in beginning readers. It also builds vocabulary, strengthens comprehension and can be used to build fluency.

HOW do I teach rereading? Explain that Ramona helps readers use clues from words and sentences surrounding an unknown word in order to decode it and make meaning. Provide explicit instruction in recognizing context clues and using them while reading authentic text. Incorporate think-alouds that focus on using each specific type of clue to decode and determine meaning (e.g., synonym, antonym, example, definition, inference). Model rereading the sentence and answering Ramona’s question prompts to determine if a word or meaning is correct.

Watch this video to see how to teach context clues in three easy steps:

WHEN should I use rereading? Explicit reading strategy instruction should be included in a balanced literacy program. Ramona the Rereading Raccoon can be incorporated into various components of literacy lessons. Here are some specific examples of when to use Ramona:

  • Ramona’s Re-Readers: Divide students into pairs or work in a small reading group and distribute Ramona’s Re-Readers to each pair or student in the small group, keeping one to use. Read Ramona the Rereading Raccoon Poem to introduce the strategy of using context clues to decode words and make meaning. Select targeted unfamiliar words from text to model using Ramona’s Re-Readers by placing her “tail” beneath the sentence with the unknown word. Demonstrate reading around the word (i.e., read text before and after the word). Make a prediction about what the word could be or its possible meaning. Reread the entire sentence using the predicted word and ask the following questions to confirm accuracy, “Does it look right? Does it sound right? Does it make sense?”. Explain that if the answer is “yes” to all three questions, then the word is correct.
Ramona Rereader RGS website
  • Guided Reading: Review the strategy by reading the Ramona Rereading Raccoon Poem. Read aloud your selected guided reading text and model using Ramona’s Re-Readers. Distribute text and Ramona’s Re-Readers to each student. Call on individual students to use the Ramona’s Re-Readers as they read aloud if they get stuck on decoding a word or are unsure of a meaning. Prompt students to use the questions listed on the Ramona’s Re-Readers as they reread to self-assess and monitor understanding. Discuss the context clues students used to help them determine unfamiliar words and meanings. Encourage students to use Ramona the Rereading Raccoon’s strategy when they are reading independently as well.
Guided reading
  • Ramona’s Task Cards: For additional context clue practice, use Ramona’s Context Clue Task Cards during partner or independent work.  Students read sentences selected from authentic literature and use Ramona’s strategy to decode and make meaning of the underlined word.
    Ramona task card sample
  • Rereading Raccoon Center: Create a portable reading center: Place a Ramona’s Re-Reader and a book or text at students’ reading level in a large manila envelope with a copy of the Ramona Rereading Raccoon Poem glued onto the front. Instruct students that during center time they are to take an envelope to their desks and use the Ramona’s Re-Reader to use context clues and self-assess understanding while reading. Create several portable Rereading Raccoon centers using a variety of leveled texts.
  • Independent Practice: Have Ramona’s Re-Readers available for student use during independent reading time. This promotes transfer of reading strategies and self-correction techniques while helping students stay focused on the text.
Ramona center

Helpful hints:

  • Create a class set of Ramona’s Re-Readers. Print Ramona’s Re-Readers onto cardstock and laminate. Distribute to class and model how to use during reading. These can help keep students actively engaged during choral reading, independent reading and small group. Sturdy, pre-made Re-Readers can be purchased from Really Good Stuff here.
  • Display an anchor chart of types of context clues. Print and post Types of Context Clues located in this folder or create your own anchor chart that includes the various types of context clues along with examples and visual cues. Display near your guided reading center for easy reference during reading time.
Context clues poster

Ramona’s unit is perfect for general education, special education, RTI and reading intervention.  Download the complete unit here.

Microsoft Word - 0.Preview.Ramona Rereading Raccoon.docJessica_blog_signature-SMALL

Use Picture Clues to Support Decoding & Comprehension

“My name is Dexter the Detecting Deer.
Now let me tell you why I’m here.
I’ll help you look for picture clues,
So you don’t get the reading blues.
Look at the pictures to figure out
What the words are all about!”

Detecting Deer_with text

Dexter the Detecting Deer is one our decoding strategy animals in Hazel’s Reading Roost. Dexter helps students to practice critical early decoding skills. Read more about Dexter’s strategy below…

WHAT is detecting? Detecting is using picture clues from text to help students read unknown words and make meaning.

WHY is detecting important? Detecting, or using picture clues, is a key strategy for beginning readers. Pictorial clues can serve as a bridge to decoding strategies such as sounding out and blending and also compensate for weak decoding skills in struggling readers. Pictures can also increase comprehension by providing elaboration for a text explanation and improve recollection and retention. Teaching students to use the detecting strategy will help support other reading strategies as they learn how to read fluently and accurately.

HOW do I teach detecting? Explain that Dexter helps readers use picture clues from the text to read unknown words. While modeling using Dexter’s strategy, show students how pictures can be used alongside other clues to figure out unknown words such as initial sounds, blending, chunking and context clues.

Dexter I Can

WHEN should I use detecting? Explicit reading strategy instruction should be included in a balanced literacy program. Dexter the Detecting Deer can be incorporated into various components of literacy lessons. Here are some specific examples of when to use Dexter:

  • Detecting Practice: Divide students into pairs or work in a small reading group and distribute Picture Clue Windows and Dexter’s Picture Clue Practice Pages to each pair or group, keeping one to use. Read Dexter Detecting Deer Poem to introduce the strategy of using picture clues from the story to help students read unknown words and make meaning. Model using the Picture Clue Window to locate pictures that could help students read the blocked out words on the Picture Clue Practice Pages. Using a think-aloud, demonstrate how picture clues are used alongside other reading strategies to confirm or deny guesses at unknown words. Discuss how the pictures can give several ideas about what a word can be and initial sounds help you determine which word matches the letters.

Dexter materials 3

  • Guided Reading: Introduce or review the strategy by reading the Dexter Detecting Deer Poem. Read aloud your selected guided reading text and model using the Picture Clue Window to read unknown words in context and/or determine meaning. Distribute text and Picture Clue Windows to each student. Call on individual students to use the Picture Clue Window with additional words. Activate engagement using a turn and talk to allow students to discuss how they use Dexter and compare their selected picture clues.


As an extension, have students use the Picture Clue Windows to identify key story elements in the pictures to make connections between text and illustrations. In addition, Picture Clue Windows can be used as an introduction to citing evidence when answering text-dependent questions. Students can use the Picture Clue Windows to show the illustrations that help them answer the questions. Encourage students to use Dexter Detecting Deer’s strategy when they are reading independently as well.

  • Detecting Deer Reading Center: Create a portable reading center: Place a Picture Clue Window, a book with engaging pictures with key words covered up with small Post-Its, and a pencil in a large manila envelope with a copy of the Dexter Detecting Deer Poem glued onto the front. Instruct students that during center time they are to take an envelope to their desks and use the Picture Clue Window to practice using picture clues to read unknown words. Create several portable Detecting Deer reading centers using a variety of illustrated, leveled texts.
  • Independent Practice: Have the Picture Clue Windows available for student use during independent reading time. This promotes transfer of reading strategies and self-correction techniques.

Helpful hint:

  • Create a class set of Dexter Detecting Deer’s Picture Clue Windows. Print Picture Clue Windows onto cardstock and laminate. Distribute to class and model how to use during reading. These Picture Clue Windows can keep students actively engaged during choral reading, independent reading and small group.  Sturdy, pre-made Picture Clue Windows are available from Really Good Stuff here.

Dexter’s unit is perfect for general education, special education, RTI and reading intervention.  Download the complete unit here.


The Owl Has Landed…

‘OWL’ of our hard work has paid off! We are thrilled to announce the launch of our products at Really Good Stuff, a leading educational catalog company that sells high-quality, innovative teaching tools. Really Good Stuff discovered us and were impressed by our inspirational mission of awakening the joy of learning in all students. Driven by this mission, we created a unique line of hands-on, strategy-based resources. Sharing a common goal of making a difference in the lives of teachers and students, Really Good Stuff and Astute Hoot formed a partnership and got right to work.

Our journey took flight as we collaborated with the fantastic Really Good Stuff team to turn our digital resources into hands-on products. We’ve learned so much along the way about product development, manufacturing, merchandising, and distribution. One year later, the boxes of sample products finally arrived.

RGS box

Opening the boxes was better than Christmas morning! It was such an amazing feeling to see how years of dedication, passion, and perseverance came together and turned out better than we could ever imagine! Our dream of bringing multi-sensory tools into the hands of students and teachers around the world has come true!

Opening RGS box

Our products support, enhance, and integrate well with any reading and math curriculum program. They help teachers effectively differentiate for all learners. Best of all, students love them!

Hazel Learns to Read

We are delighted to help awaken the joy of learning and to contribute to the creation of proficient readers and mathematicians everywhere with these innovative products!




Meet our strategy animals and see how they come to life in our newest video. Check out our complete line of products at Really Good Stuff  along with our digital resources available on our website to bring some magic into your classroom!

 3 signatures

Create Your Own Magical Guided Reading Strategies Roost

Do you love our reading strategies animals but aren’t sure how to incorporate into your classroom theme? It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3! You don’t need to have an owl or woodland theme at all.  Create your own personalized Guided Reading Roost in 3 easy steps:

Hazel's Reading Roost collage 2

1. Determine Reading Roost location: Display reading strategy animals in a prominent location near the guided reading table, carpet area, or on a large, central bulletin board.

Determine location

2. Create the magical tree: There are many ways to create the magical tree in the reading roost. Purchase a silk tree from local craft store or garage sale to use as the focus of the Reading Roost.

Create a magical tree

Lightly dust with gold glitter spray paint and cut out glitter foam leaves for a magical look.

Magical effects

Hazel's Reading Roost 2

Use a pre-made tree like this one from Really Good Stuff. Simply purchase and assembly; add extra leaves as desired.

Pre-made tree before

Premade tree after

Make your own tree by crinkling brown butcher block paper to make a large, textured trunk and branches.  Add green butcher block paper leaves or purchase fabric leaves from local craft store to complete the look.

Homemade tree BEFORE Home-made tree AFTER

3. Print strategy animals: Use a color printer to print reading strategy animals on thick, durable cardstock and laminate for durability.

Print strategy animals

Place self-adhesive Velcro to the back of each animal and accompanying place where each animal lives (i.e., leaf or branch of Reading Roost tree). This allows you to pull appropriate strategy animal(s) to greet the students and teach the lesson.

Add velcro

Here are a few helpful tips to make our reading strategy animals fit into any “habitat” or classroom theme:

1. Pick a tree that works with your classroom: My classroom has a woodland theme, so the silk tree with the large, green leaves works perfectly. However, if you have a jungle, pirate, nautical, or tropical theme, a palm tree would be best for your roost. Trees are an integral part of most habitats and locations so it is natural to see one in any type of setting.

2. Add your own touch: Add minimal, themed items to enhance your tree. For this pirate themed, classroom, I found a variety of fun decorations at Hobby Lobby and added them to give it a personal touch.

Pirate accents

Hazel’s eye patch is my favorite feature! This pirate-themed Reading Roost is just one of the many possibilities.

Pirate Hazel

Other suggestions to incorporate into popular classroom themes include:
Ocean – Make a tropical palm tree and add shells and beach decor around base of tree with the saying, “A Sea of Strategies”
Bees – Add a bee hive to tree and hang a few buzzing bees around the tree with the saying, “We Are Buzzing With New Strategies!”
Sports -Add a few balls or sports-themed items around the tree with the saying, “Strategies Are A Ball!”

Get creative and think outside the box! Download our Guided Reading Strategies Bulletin Board Set to get started. Need suggestions or ideas to get started? Email me at — I would love to help you bring the magical world of Astute Hoot to your students too!

Check out our complete reading strategy units here along with our hands-on resources and posters available from Really Good Stuff.


Whooo’s Hazel?

Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, is a struggling learner as she lacks the strategies needed to help her succeed. In our charming book, Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Friends, Hazel stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest.

Magic Tree

Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a research-based, standards-aligned reading strategy. These animals guide Hazel to become a proficient reader.

Astute Hoot's Reading Strategy Animals

In the sequel, Hazel Meets the Math Strategy Friends, Hazel swoops down to catch her dinner at the local pond when she grabs Upton, an enchanted fish.

Hazel's Problem-Solving Pond

Upton oversees Problem-Solving Pond and promises to introduce Hazel to his animal friends, all who teach a special problem-solving strategy. Using these strategies and Upton’s guidance, Hazel blossoms into an accomplished mathematician who is able to tackle problems with ease.

Problem-Solving Pond

Astute Hoot’s unique cast of strategy animals make learning safe and fun while teaching critical strategies in a child-friendly way. Students make an immediate connection to the animals and relate to Hazel’s struggles. These delightful animals and rhymed text motivate the most reluctant readers and alleviate math anxiety.

Take a glimpse into the magical world of Astute Hoot by downloading See What The Hoot’s About, a comprehensive file with samples of our most popular resources and tools. Check out our store at for complete units guaranteed to spark enthusiasm in your classroom.

See What The Hoot's About Preview

Guided Reading Strategies That Actually Work




Guiding reading can be daunting, especially with the new instructional shifts and standards. Teachers are asking themselves such questions as: “What text do I use?” “What strategies do I teach?” “How do I keep all students engaged?” “How do I foster rich literary discussions?”

Check out our guest blog at Really Good Stuff’s Teachers’ Lounge Blog to read about four essential instructional practices to maximize guided reading time.

Settle Spring Fever with “Miss Nelson Is Missing!”


Do you ever feel like Miss Nelson, calmly asking the class to settle down while they choose to squirm, giggle and whisper instead? As spring fever hits, patience and persistence decreases and our inner Viola Swamp starts to emerge.

Can you relate? Our Miss Nelson Is Missing! Unit is the perfect way to engage students while providing effective instruction aligned to Common Core State Standards. A built-in behavior system helps keep those squirms, giggles and spring fever symptoms under control.  A preview of our favorite Miss Nelson Is Missing! activities is included below. Download the complete unit here.

1. Create a visualization and take a Visualization Venture.  During reading group time, students closed their eyes and I read the passage aloud. They then put up privacy folders and drew a visualization using key words from text.

VernVisualizing Vulture 2

Vern Vulture visual

After reading groups, we took a Visualization Venture; students silently walked around room, observing similarities and differences. They discussed observations with seat partners and then we discussed as a whole group.  The class immediately recognized that most had elements listed in the text (i.e. spitballs, paper airplanes, misbehaving students), but the details of the characters and layout of classroom were different because people picture things differently based on their backgrounds and experiences.

2. Make character analysis puppets. I glued two lunch bags together with bottom flaps on top and facing out to make a hand puppet. Students colored and cut out Miss Nelson and Viola Swamp heads and glued one head on each flap. Then they cut out descriptive phrases and glued on appropriate character. To differentiate, you could have students record their own descriptive phrases for each character, using specific evidence from the text.

Character analysis puppet 23. Use a Venn Diagram to compare classes. We used a Venn Diagram to compare our class to Miss Nelson’s class. While my class is usually well-behaved and on-task, they have been extremely talkative and hyper, two tell-tale symptoms of spring fever. One of my students   suggested that we add talkative to Miss Nelson’s class; I asked if that fits our class as well. Sheepishly they admitted it did and we reviewed     appropriate talking times. “We don’t want a visit from Viola Swamp,” I said in a stern, serious voice. “Remember what she did to the kids in Room 207? That would be horrible, especially right before spring break!” I reminded them.  While several cracked a little smile, a few looked very serious and it planted the seed for upcoming plans.

Venn diagram

4. Post Viola Swamp sign. The next morning I posted a large sign that said, “Viola Swamp Is Watching You” on my classroom door. I simply enlarged Viola’s head on the copier and colored with crayons. I typed out the text and placed around her head. Before we walked into the classroom, I showed the class and reminded them that we didn’t want a visit.  Every time we left or entered the classroom, a few would whisper, “She’s watching us!”

Swamp Sign

5. Make Viola Swamp behavior slips. Since I had a few believers, I knew I could capitalize on their naivety with Swamp Slips, behavior notes placed on a few students’ desks each night before I left school. In the morning, the few that received a Swamp Slip would immediately remedy misbehavior (disorganized desk, shouting out, loud in line, etc.).  If someone displayed symptoms of spring fever, another classmate would whisper, “You don’t want a Swamp Slip!”

Swamp Slips

6. Dress up as Viola Swamp. On Friday, the last day of our unit and the last day before spring break, I decided to dress up like Miss Swamp. I wore an old, black dress, wide belt, a curly wig and knee-high argyle socks. I placed thick, black moustaches on my eyebrows and made one into a hairy wart for my chin. The finishing touch was a large witch nose I found at a local party store—it completed my Viola Swamp transformation.

Viola Swamp gear

I had the teacher next door walk out to get my class, telling them that she hadn’t seen me all morning. She told them to get unpacked while I hid out in the school library. After 5 minutes, I swung open the classroom door and screamed, “I am your new teacher, Miss Viola Swamp!” and I rapped the nearest desk with a ruler.  The kids look horrified at first, but then one shouted out, “It’s just Mrs. Murphy!”  I kept the costume on and took pictures with each of them.

7. Make a Swamp Snack. At the end of the day, students followed a recipe to make a Swamp Snack recipe. They absolutely loved it and they were reading functional text and using measuring tools in the process. It was the perfect culmination activity!

Swamp snack 2






Going Batty!

Halloween is just around the corner and kids are focused on costumes, candy and creepy creatures–it’s enough to make you batty! Use this “Stellaluna” and Nonfiction Bat Unit to engage all learners while teaching critical Common Core Reading, Writing and Science standards. In this unit, students will:
–Retell “Stellaluna”
–Compare and contrast characters
–Identify cause and effect
–Make text connections
–Pair fiction/nonfiction books (twin texts) to increase comprehension and build nonfiction reading skills
–Identify and use text features to locate important information
–Ask and answer questions using text
–Participate in shared bat research
–Plan, draft, edit and publish bat report on enlarged bat (teachers can hang from ceilings)

Supplemental homework and cooking activities are included as well.
A literature list and directions for making a classroom “Bat Cave” for classroom are also provided.
***Common Core Standards are listed next to each activity.

Download the Stellaluna & Bat Unit here.

Discover The Reading Teacher Within You

Does the thought of reading groups make you shudder? Unfortunately for many teachers, the answer is yes. Teachers simply don’t have the necessary resources needed to meet the diverse academic needs of students. Available resources are usually old, outdated basal readers and accompanying workbooks, none of which is engaging, differentiated or aligned to Common Core.

We understand your frustration and our Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle is your answer. With over 25 years combined experience in special education, general education and reading intervention, we have compiled our top reading products to create a 385 page complete reading K-3 reading i bundle that includes fluency, comprehension, sight words, and phonics activities. We used this bundle in our reading intervention program and our students consistently made the highest growth in our school district as measured by DIBELS. This bundle continues to make significant reading gains in classrooms across the country.

This bundle includes:
-Common Core Guided Reading Strategies Unit
-Common Core Phonics Intervention for Multisyllabic Words
-Sight Word Intervention Bundle
-Reading Comprehension and Fluency Flash cards
-Reading Fluency Progress Trackers
-Fluency and Retelling Rubric

Download our Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle to discover the reading teacher within you!

Hazel’s Reading Roost Bulletin Board

We are pleased to announce that Astute Hoot digital downloads and products are now available at:



This colorful and engaging bulletin board introduces 10 research-based comprehension and decoding strategies to children. Each animal character represents a strategy such as Chunking Chipmunk, Visualizing Vulture, and Predicting Possum. Detailed explanations and directions are provided. Students LOVE to meet each new animal as they introduce their strategy.

Reading with your kiddos at home…

Parents, does this sound familiar:  “I’m too tired to read,” “You read it to me mommy,”  “I already read at school today.”  Sometimes having kids practice their reading at home can turn into a chore or a fight, even when children are capable readers.  I was experiencing this at home with my own son, and my students at school.  This inspired me to collaborate with my partners and develop the “Hoo Can Read?” flashcards.  This learning game makes reading time fun and eliminates all the anxieties and frustrations children have with reading.  By providing choices, support, and taking turns reading, children begin to experience success, increase their confidence, and become motivated to read.  It is truly amazing to me that now my son and my students who used to avoid reading, now BEG me to get the “owl” cards and read with them!

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