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!


How to Boost Reading Fluency during Remote Learning

Like many other educators, I’ve been missing my students greatly and have been trying to wrap my head around providing quality specialized intervention instruction during distance learning and remote instruction.


Most of my students have goals in the area of reading fluency. During the school year we used a variety of strategies to increase their fluency. One of our most effective strategies was Repeated Reading. In the Repeated Reading strategy, students read the same short passage of text several times, improving with each time they read. Repeated Reading has been shown to improve decoding automaticity, phrasing, comprehension, rate and confidence.

Read more

Holiday Survival Guide for Teachers

Our school recently kicked off the holiday season with a Winter Wonderland celebration this past week.  In Arizona, that means delivering 12 tons of snow to school grounds!  The kids are super excited for all of the wonders of this magical season.  It can be difficult to fall into the trap of filling December up with a variety of holiday fluff activities.  Don’t let yourselves make that mistake and waste weeks of instructional time.  Holiday activities and lessons can be both rigorous AND fun!!!  We’ve created CCSS aligned integrated literature units that use anchor texts to support a variety of standards in engaging and interactive ways.  Check out these great tools to help you survive the craziness of the holiday season…

Christmas Essentials: An Integrated Common Core Unit

Hanukkah Essentials: An Integrated Common Core Unit

Holiday Fun FREEBIES

Winter Break Phonics Packet

In addition, to keep students motivated and working hard, download our Reindeer in the Room: Holiday Behavior System.  We completely understand that these next few weeks can seem like pure torture as students seem to get wilder by the minute.

Reindeer in the Room is the perfect solution for maintaining a calm, productive classroom during the holiday season. A special reindeer, only used by teachers, is sent to watch over the classroom and this reindeer reports nightly to Santa. Each day the reindeer watches the classroom and he/she picks one student who demonstrates outstanding behavior; this student gets an antler award. The students who did not make good behavior choices (i.e. shouting out incomplete homework, etc.) will get a big hoof, telling them to stomp out misbehavior. The reindeer moves each morning after he gets back from the North Pole.

home-995239-1 home-972943-1Reindeer Cover

Fantasies of a Special Education Teacher

Are you exhausted? Are you suffocating under a mountain of IEP paperwork? Have you fantasized about applying for a job at the mall? Are you already dreaming about your next beach vacation? Do you wish you had more time for self-care?  Do your weekends consist solely of of Netflix and grading?  

As educators, we’ve experienced these same thoughts and more. It was only through the creation of these 4 life-changing intervention resources, that we’ve been able to find balance, have free time, and renewed joy in our careers.  

Let us help you avoid the special educator burn out. Download these ready-to-use resources to reach your ultimate teacher fantasy of work life balance. Having less planning, less stress, more free time, and increased effectiveness can be all yours with a simple click…

Special Education Ultimate Survival Kit

“The Special Education Survival Kit is amazing! I feel so organized and ready for the year thanks to this! After going through this, I feel like I have a rock solid foundation for the year in several areas. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
–Melissa, special educator

Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle

“I cannot say enough about how wonderful the Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle has been in planning and instructing literacy. The students absolutely love the animals, they are so motivational! I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!”
–Sam, reading interventionist

Phonics Intervention Bundle: Multisyllabic Words

“The Phonics Intervention Bundle is a WONDERFUL product! I’ve been looking for a strong product that uses multisyllabic words to teach the different syllable types. I’ve used this unit to patch some curriculum holes and round out our intervention materials for this skill. LOVE!”
–Jennifer, second grade teacher

Special Education Time-on-Task Observation Chart

“The Time-on-Task Observation Chart is so useful to track data. Saved me a ton of time! Assisted me with reporting focused talking points for parents.”
–Carly, special educator

Using Rubrics to Assess Progress Towards IEP Goals

Rubrics have been essential for my resource program this year. Rubrics are efficient tools to assess authentic student learning and growth. Instead of measuring a skill as correct/incorrect or simply generating a percentage score, rubrics allow us to assess holistically and offer a chance to incorporate quantitative and qualitative data.

Here are the top 5 benefits to using rubrics:

  • Evaluate performance:  Rubrics are used to evaluate student work by measuring it against set scoring criteria.  Using the scoring criteria allows teachers to objectively complete an error analysis, look for skill gaps, and determine the level of support or cues needed to complete a task or assignment. I use rubrics to assess progress towards IEP goals throughout the quarter.  In addition, I use rubrics to analyze work samples as part of initial evaluations and 3 year reevaluations to supplement the standardized testing data and generate baseline data for IEP goals.


  • Provide hierarchy of skill development: Rubrics include a task analysis and standards-aligned progression of skills required for mastery. This is helpful not only in showing student growth, but also helpful in designing instruction to address the specific skill gaps students may have.


  • Communicate with parents: Using the actual rubric itself or language from the rubric indicators on progress updates, provides parents with detailed information about how their child is progressing. It communicates specific information about skills and growth rather than just a score on an assessment. This year I added the criteria category of “Level of Support” with the indicators of “Independent,” “Minimal Support,” “Moderate Support,” and “Did not attempt.”  This has been extremely helpful when communicating progress.


  1. Define performance expectations: Teachers can use rubrics to set expectations for performance with students prior to starting an assignment.  I use the rubric to assess work completed during the modeling phase of instruction with the class. For example, after I model how to create a written response to text, I have the students check my work using the rubric to see if I included the essential components.  Students can also use the rubrics to self-assess and self-correct their work before turning in assignments.


  • Measure progress across time and settings:  Rubrics can be used with specifically designed tasks or assignments for progress monitoring, or with authentic curriculum-based work samples.  I attach the scoring rubrics to student work samples and save them in individualized portfolio binders. Students are able to see their growth throughout the school year, reflect on the progress, and set specific goals for improvement.


Rubrics could be using in general education, special education, for all subject areas, as well as for behavioral and social goals. Click on the links below to see sample rubrics I’ve individualized for students in my resource program. The rubrics should be modified and customized to meet the needs of students in your classroom based on grade level standards, IEP goals and specific learning needs.

Download our fully editable rubrics here!  The following rubrics for IEP goal progress monitoring are included:

  • Foundational Reading Skills
  • Reading Comprehension: Informational Text
  • Reading Comprehension: Narrative
  • Expository Writing
  • Narrative Writing
  • Written Response to Text
  • Math Problem Solving
  • Behavior and Social Skills

Considerations for IEP Goals:  When developing new IEP goals, write goals measured by the rubric’s criteria where appropriate.  For example, “Given a writing prompt based on a reading passage, the student will generate a written response to text using textual evidence, elaboration and correct conventions as measured by a score of at least #% on writing samples scored with a ‘Written Response to Text Rubric’ at least 3 times per quarter.” When updating progress on goals at the end of each quarter, I report the overall percentage on the scored rubric, along with details in the comment section to elaborate on the student’s progress.  Using indicators directly from the rubric helps to make the comments specific and informative. Furthermore, it is useful to attach the rubric to a student’s IEP. This helps parents understand how you will be measuring the skill and stays with the student if the student moves to another school.

Overall, I have found that rubrics have strengthened my ability to provide consistent, accurate progress data for students in an efficient manner. Rubrics can easily show growth over time and illustrate clear information about specific skills and progress towards standards. For more special education tips and tools, check out this blog.


Taking Intervention to the Next Level with Authentic Text

As a special education resource teacher, one of the biggest challenges I’ve seen students struggle with is transferring strategies they learn during intervention lessons to authentic text. Often times students can use their decoding skills in controlled text in the resource room, but fall apart when presented with literature, informational text and articles in the general education classroom.  Using a research-based, systematic phonics intervention is the foundation of a strong reading intervention program, but students also need opportunities to practice and apply skills with a variety text genres and complexity levels.  

In my resource room, I incorporate authentic text as a supplement to the Wilson Reading System.  Wilson is implemented with fidelity 3 days per week and on the remaining 2 days, students participate in a book study.  Currently, we are working on informational text using a variety of National Geographic Kids Readers.  Next quarter we plan to read a variety of popular literature. My students look forward to our book study days each week and are so motivated to read “real books.”  I love having the opportunity to provide scaffolded support and guidance while they read complex text.  I can coach them to apply strategies, provide immediate error correction, and build independence in safe, supportive environment.

Using a variety of authentic texts allows my lessons to be standards-based and IEP goal based, rather than limited by a particular boxed curriculum, basal reader or worksheet. Each day, I select several words from the text for students to apply their decoding skills using the Word Study printable.  I typically choose words that align with what students are learning in Wilson.  For example, if our Wilson lesson focuses on the -ing and -ed suffixes, I would choose words from the text which have -ing and -ed endings. It is great for students to make the connection between our phonics lessons and authentic text.

In addition, I choose one comprehension activity in which students can demonstrate their ability to read and understand text. The first time each activity is presented, I model the expectations and skills required. Using the printables from the Book Study Unit consistently helps students become familiar, successful and independent with each task.



We’ve created  ready-to-use book study units for a variety of books including: Henry and Mudge, Frog and Toad, Charlotte’s Web, Stellaluna, Black Lagoon, The Lorax, Miss Nelson is Missing, Last Day Blues and several National Geographic Kids Readers.  More titles coming soon!

In addition, we’ve assembled book study unit templates for informational text and literature so these strategies and resources could be customized to ANY book you’d like to use in your classroom. These activities build essential literacy skills, provide easy differentiation opportunities, and promote active engagement with our guided reading strategy animals. These book studies can be used in grades 1-3 with in a variety of settings: general education, special education, intervention, tutoring and ELL. It is recommended to use these templates with a variety of texts to help students master the skills, transfer and apply their strategies in meaningful ways.

These comprehensive book studies include:

  • Suggestions for Use
  • Lesson Activities
    o I Can Posters
    o Word Study Activities
    o Vocabulary Activities
    o Comprehension Activities
    o Fluency Activities
    o Response to Text
  • Assessments
  • Instructional Resources
  • Book Study Unit Plan Organizer

Download the Informational Text Book Study Templates, Literature Book Study Templates, and Ready-to-Use Book Studies today!  Comment below if you have a request for a specific book study unit.

The Imposter Syndrome: Life as a Special Education Teacher


Today I had a rare moment: some peace and quiet at home and an opportunity to sit down and read a book.  As I was diving into Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg I read about the “imposter syndrome”- the phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt.  It perfectly described how I felt as a special education teacher during my first few years in the classroom.  Even though I graduated with honors, received exemplary reviews from my principal, and made significant academic and behavioral gains with my students, I still sometimes felt as if I was a fraud and didn’t belong the classroom.  Eventually those feelings faded as I continued my education and experience, but I wished that I had some resources at the beginning of my career that would have helped me feel more confident and be more effective in my role. Although sometimes I felt as if I was using trial and error to best reach my students, I know that that I always gave them 110% and feel so blessed to have been a part of their lives.

When I was working with pre-service and first year teachers, I wanted to impart my knowledge and experience to not only them, but to all teachers working with students with special needs.   After 19 years of teaching special education, I’ve gathered my top resources and bundled them together for the “Ultimate Special Education Survival Kit.” Now, that I’m back in the classroom, I recently revised and updated several resources and forms to be even more effective. The following resources are in a zip file, with a total of 165+ pages, including a ton of new FULLY EDITABLE resources for easy customization:

-Beginning of the Year Checklist for Special Education
-Beginning of the Year Welcome Letter from Special Education Teacher
-Co-Teaching Guide
-Co-Teaching Weekly Collaboration Agenda
-IEP at a Glance
-IEP Goal Bank
-IEP Goal Tracking for Small Groups
-IEP Progress Monitoring Calendar
-IEP Goal Tracking for Caseload
-General Academic Interventions
-Behavioral Interventions
-Reading Interventions
-Writing Interventions
-Math Interventions
-Lesson Plan Differentiation Checklist
-Lesson Plan for Specialized Instruction
-Paraprofessional Roles and Responsibilities
-Parent Input Form
-Progress Monitoring Data Trackers
-Special Education Caseload Organizer
-Special Education Due Date Tracker
-Special Education Master Schedule
-Teacher Input Form
-Time on Task Observation
-Reading Foundational Skills Rubric
-Reading Comprehension: Literature Rubric
-Reaching Comprehension: Informational Rubric
-Narrative Writing Rubric
-Expository Writing Rubric
-Written Response to Text Rubric
-Math Problem Rubric

Work smarter not harder! Don’t be stressed out…LOVE your special education career with these ready-to-use tools, assessments, and templates that will make your life so much easier.

*Reposted and updated from original post in 2013*

Dos and Don’ts of Behavior Reflection

Do you struggle with helping students process their behaviors and learn to make better choices? Are your time-outs ineffective? Are your students repeating the same negative behaviors?  Having strategies for effective behavior reflection is critical to creating a positive learning environment (and staying sane).


  • Choose the appropriate behavior reflection form based on your students’ levels (reading, developmental, age, etc.)
  • Present this tool to the student in a 1:1 setting after their behavior has deescalated and they are ready to reflect
  • Provide supports in completion (e.g., teacher prompting, student can dictate to adult)
  • Select, model and practice appropriate replacement behaviors for the future
  • Guide student to write an apology letter to help them realize how their behavior affects others
  • Copy and send home for parental signature; save original in student file for behavior documentation and data collection


  • Use for every minor behavior infraction; instead focus on target behavior(s) and/or moderate to severe issues
  • Present and discuss in front of whole class
  • Forget to review and discuss the behavior reflection and appropriate replacement behaviors with student
  • Overlook positive behaviors and attempts to make better choices

Two versions of the Think Sheet are included, as well as a template for an apology letter.

















Download the Think Sheet and other helpful behaviors tools here!


Don’t Teach Another Phonics Lesson Until You Read This…

As a resource teacher, I use specialized instruction in my intervention groups to help my students meet their IEP goals as well as make progress towards grade level standards. While implementing the district prescribed intervention curriculum, Wilson Reading System, I discovered a few key things about the way students learn:

1.Systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction is essential in helping students with learning disabilities master the alphabetic code-breaking skills needed for foundational reading proficiency.

2.Students need a thorough understanding of a range of effective strategies, as well as knowing when and why to apply them within a variety of texts (e.g., controlled decodable text, authentic literature, meaningful non-fiction texts).

3.Motivation and engagement during reading instruction is a critical ingredient to student success.

Integrating all 3 components can be a challenge at times, but I’ve found great success with supplementing Wilson with our Astute Hoot reading strategy animals. Not only do my students consistently meet their IEP goals and make significant progress on district reading assessments, they LOVE coming to reading intervention and they are engaged throughout the entire lesson! (Let’s face it…sometimes direct instruction phonics programs can get boring for students and teachers).

Our strategy animals and accompanying resources have also been used to supplement and enhance other reading programs such as Fundations, Harcourt, Journeys, Spalding, Sonday and Reading A-Z. In addition, they are perfect for book studies and units using authentic literature and expository text.  Each lesson incorporates the following; Hands-on tools to make the strategies concrete and memorable;  Animal strategy friends to motivate and engage students; A variety of texts to promote transfer and application of skills.

Here’s how I teach reading in my K-4 resource room:

  • At the start of the year, I introduce the reading strategy animals to the students by reading Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Animals and showing students our introductory video below to get them excited. 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 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.

  • I break down the 10 step Wilson Lesson by practicing the procedures and routines for one block at a time per session.  I use the reading strategy animals to help teach each part. Once students students understand the routine for each block, we combine multiple blocks in our lessons.

  • Authentic text is selected to incorporate into our weekly lessons to provide students the opportunity to apply their strategies in meaningful and relevant ways.  Currently, I’m using a variety of books from National Geographic Kids to boost their skills in reading informational text.

Check out our reading strategy animals in action!

I laminated our Sally Sounding-Out Snake and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk graphic organizers and use them as part of Warm-Up Work at the start of each session. I just post 3 words on the board and students segment (one-syllable words) or syllabicate (multi-syllable words) and mark them as appropriate. I love that this is pretty much NO PREP and it is a perfect time to review concepts with which students struggled in the previous lesson or preview concepts for the upcoming lesson.

Students love using Paco the Pointing Porcupine for Quick Drill and Quick Drill in Reverse to name letters and sounds!  The hands-on tools keeps them focused and on task. Paco also helps students with keeping their place during wordlist reading in the Wilson Student Readers.

Using the Sally Sounding-Out Snake and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk Slates on the magnet letter boards provides a great visual support to help students with segmenting and syllabication.  They always want to make Sally and Charlie proud of their awesome reading skills!

Ramona the Re-Reading Raccoon keeps students motivated when reading students to build fluency and accuracy.

Sharon the Summarizing Squirrel is a student favorite!  Students use her “Tell the Tale” tool to touch each story element when we retell the story verbally.  A non-fiction version which includes main idea and details is also available.

Vern the Visualizing Vulture helps students master key vocabulary words by prompting students to visualize the meaning of the word and drawing a picture of of their visualizations.

Lastly, I posted the strategy posters and “I Can” statements on a bulletin board for easy reference for students.  Our “I Can” statements are aligned to IEP goals and state standards, as well as to a specific reading strategy.

Read more about our strategy animals here! 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.  Our books, posters and hands-on tools are available for purchase here via digital download including printable do-it-yourself options of our tools.  Ready made tools and posters are available as intervention kits here.

I’d love to hear how you make phonics fun and engaging!  Check out some other special education blogs here:

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!


How Animals Can Help Children Learn

Animal characters are present in children’s lives from the very beginning on toys, books, and cartoons. Children soon learn to associate animals with comfort, play, and safety. When animals are personified, children readily understand and apply the lessons and messages from the animals. Our extensive research in animal assisted therapy along with our classroom experiences were the inspiration to creating our magical world of Astute Hoot filled with endearing animal characters to help children learn critical reading, writing and math characters.

At the start of each school year, I dress up as Hazel Hoot and read our introductory books to our students:  Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Friends, Hazel Meets the Math Strategy Friends, Hazel Meets the Writing Strategy Friends. Students are instantly hooked and can’t wait to meet each strategy animal in upcoming lessons.  They get really into the read aloud and ask me questions about my roost and my animal friends such as “Who is your favorite animal friend?”, “How far did you fly from your roost?” and “Can you take letters from our class to the forest to give to the animals?”.

AH Slider_library_jenny

My students’ favorite activities are using  Sally Sounding-Out Snake and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk during our word study. Using these tools not only add much needed visual support, but also dramatically increase motivation and engagement. This is so important when using systematic phonics intervention programs as they can easily become monotonous.

How Animals Can Help Children Learn Collage

Just recently I was doing a fact assessment. I always remind students to double-check their answers, but they rarely do. I got out my Fiona Fact Fluency Fox puppet and had Fiona remind the kids about double-checking and what do you know, they all double-checked their answers. They listen to Fiona’s reminders more readily than mine!

As you can see, our strategy animals anchor the classroom. Our students LOVE meeting each new character and consistently use their strategies in whole group, small group and even independent work!  Many parents even report learning about the strategy animals from their children at home too!

Hazel's Reading Roost_rs

Problem-Solving Pond_rs

Meet all of our strategy animals here!  Bring the magical world of Astute Hoot to your classroom too by downloading our comprehensive strategy units from our TPT store or directly from our website: Reading, Math, Writing.
Reading Strategies Poster_web

Math Strategies Poster_web

Writing Strategies Poster_web

Download these strategy posters here. See how our very own students interact with our strategy animals in this cute video!

As you can see, our animals are a hit with our students!  Do you use animals in your classroom?  We’d love to hear about it!  Please comment below.

Josh Testimonial

To learn more about animal assisted therapy, check out these links:
Animals Helping Children with Special Needs
Pets in the Classroom
Reading to Dogs Helps Children Learn to Read

3 signatures_AH


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.


Eliminate Math Anxiety {FREE BOOK}

Panic, paranoia, shutting down, frustration, and lack of confidence are all symptoms of math anxiety. Math anxiety has been defined as feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic situations Math anxiety can cause one to forget and lose one’s self-confidence (Tobias, S., 1993).

Unfortunately, math anxiety affects thousands of students everyday, but thankfully, there are things teachers and parents can do to help:

1. Provide multiple opportunities for success by starting with easier review problems.
2. Use multi-sensory strategies such as hands-on materials, manipulatives, visuals, and cooperative groups to allow students to explore mathematical concepts.
3. Incorporate games to practice math skills such as Battleship, Monopoly, Yahtzee, Tangrams, etc.
4. Include technology in your math lessons and centers for additional review and reinforcement.
5. Make math safe and fun by using friendly characters to teach strategies.

To combat these feelings of anxiety and help students approach math with confidence and success, we’ve created 10 math strategy animal characters, each with a specific job. In our FREE book, Hazel Meets the Math Strategy Friends, Hazel swoops down to catch her dinner at the local pond when she grabs Upton, an enchanted fish. 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.

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 students and alleviate math anxiety.

Teachers love using these resources too! “I am using the Astute Hoot math strategy animals and my kids LOVE them. They couldn’t name a single EngageNY strategy but one week into your material and they are all over it – “break apart badger! hopping hare!” THANK YOU SO MUCH. I used to dread teaching math and now it’s really fun.” ~Andrea, 2nd grade teacher


Download a FREE copy of Hazel Meets the Math Strategy Friends and check out the accompanying digital resources and hands-on tools to support and enhance your instruction.  This is perfect for special education, math intervention and general education classrooms.








Tobias, S. (1993). Overcoming math anxiety. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Teaching Visualization to Increase Comprehension

“I’m Vern the Visualizing Vulture; use me like a TV.
Events, characters, and settings are what I help you see.
If you picture these in your mind like your favorite movie,
Then understanding what you read will be so groovy!”

Visualizing Vulture_with text

Vern the Visualizing Vulture is one our comprehension strategy animals in Hazel’s Reading Roost. Vern supports students in visualizing what they read.  Read more about Vern’s strategy below…

WHAT is visualizing? Efficient readers use all 5 senses to visualize or create images in their mind as they read. These images help readers draw conclusions, make predictions, interpret information and assist with overall comprehension.

WHY is visualizing important? Visualizing helps students develop a thorough understanding of the text as they consciously use words to create mental images. Visualizing also creates personal connections between the readers and text; readers who can picture events or characters are more actively engaged and invested in their reading.

HOW do I teach visualizing? Direct modeling of the active thought process is the first step in teaching the visualization strategy. Begin with an engaging passage with several examples of descriptive language appropriate for students’ listening level.

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

Visualizing I Can Chart

Introduce Vern and read accompanying poem. Then tell students to close their eyes and listen carefully to the passage being read aloud and ask them to see if they can imagine the scene the words describe. Tell them to pretend they are making a movie—what would they see behind the camera?

Read the passage aloud. After reading passage, share your visualization with a detailed think-aloud as you draw it for students. Be as specific as possible with your think-aloud, citing specific descriptive words and phrases from the text. Make connections and predictions as you share your visualization. Use this sentence frame to structure the think-aloud:

While reading, I visualized ______________________________________________
In my brain I can see ___________________________________________________
The author showed me _________________________________________________
I can taste/smell/feel/hear _____________________________________________

After you model, allow students to try the visualization strategy. Record a descriptive paragraph on the Visualization Reproducible and read aloud while students close their eyes and visualize. Remind students to stay alert and listen for what the characters smell, taste, feel, hear and think. After reading aloud, prompt students to draw their visualizations. Allow students to put up privacy folders while they are drawing so they aren’t tempted to look at others’ visualizations for inspiration.

The cutest dog visualization

After everyone is done, have students put down their privacy folders and take a Visualization Venture, a silent walk around the room while students study each others’ visualizations. Provide time to Think-Pair-Share to discuss similarities, differences and any other observations. Emphasize that everyone’s visualizations will differ somewhat because everyone has different background knowledge and experiences, but there should be some common elements based on evidence from the text.

Visualization Venture 3

If students create images that do not fit the words, help them question their image and adjust. If students are having difficulty, try another short read-aloud section.

As students grasp the visualization strategy, incorporate into daily reading activities through drawings and mental imagery. Be sure to use not only physical images but also characters’ feelings and ideas. Visualization teaches students to become active readers and critical thinkers.

The Visualizing Vulture Reproducible has 2 options to allow for differentiation:

  1. You can write the descriptive paragraph or passage on the lines below Vern’s TV and make copies for class. Students will read this paragraph and highlight key words and phrases that helped them create visualization. Instruct students to draw their visualization inside Vern’s TV. This is ideal for introducing the visualization strategy.


  1. As students become more proficient with the visualization strategy, prompt them to record the evidence used to create the visual, citing directly from the text.

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

  • Guided Reading: Review the strategy by reading the Vern Visualizing Poem. Read a selected passage from your guided reading text. Model recording your visualizations on the Visualizing Reproducible. As you describe your visualization to students, be sure to incorporate textual evidence and make personal connections. Distribute Visualizing Vulture Reproducibles and copies of the guided reading text in which you have pre-selected passages. Any illustration should be covered with Post-Its. Prompt students to read and create visualization, recording in Visualizing Vulture Reproducible. After students are finished, discuss visualizations and encourage them to refer to the textual evidence used in the visualization.
  • Visualizing Vulture Center: Create a portable reading center: Place Visualizing Vulture Reproducibles and a book or text at students’ reading level in a large manila envelope with a copy of the Vern the Visualizing Vulture Poem glued onto the front. Instruct students that during center time they are to take an envelope to their desks and use the Visualizing Vulture Reproducible to record a visualization created while reading the text.
  • Reading Response Journal: Use the Reading Response Journals to make independent reading accountable in school and at home. Instruct students to log independent reading information and respond to the text using one or more of comprehension strategy animal prompts.

Visualizing Vulture 2
To reinforce the predicting strategy, encourage students to use Vern the Visualizing Vulture’s sentence stems in their responses.

Vern Visualizing Vulture Anchor Chart

Helpful Hints:

  • Create Reading Response Journal. Print the Reading Response Journals to create individual journals for each student. Print cover page on cardstock and laminate. Use a blank piece of laminated cardstock for the back cover. Print several copies of the Reading Response Log page and staple or bind together to form a journal. These journals can be used in class during independent reading time or sent home to record reading time for homework. The Reading Response Journal sets a purpose for independent reading and promotes student ownership and accountability. Journal responses allow teachers and parents to easily assess understanding and engagement.
  • Purchase Quality Reading Response Journals.  Use these Astute Hoot Reading Comprehension Journals from Really Good Stuff to practice the questioning strategy along with other comprehension strategies. Hazel and friends guide students through a variety of comprehension strategies in this helpful journal that can be used with authentic literature or basal readers.


  • Display Visualizing Vulture Anchor Chart. Print and post Visualizing Vulture Anchor Chart located in the unit. Display near your guided reading center for easy reference. Encourage students to use the sentence stems during discussions and in their written responses.

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


Mastering Multisyllabic Words























“I’m Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk. What’s new?
I break words into small chunks and you can, too.
Look for little words or sounds that you already know,
Join these sounds together to be the star of the show!”

Chunking Chipmunk_with textCharlie the Chunking Chipmunk is one our decoding strategy animals in Hazel’s Reading Roost. Charlie motivates students to use strategies to decode multisyllabic words. Read more about Charlie’s strategy below…

Mastering Multisyllabic Words

WHAT is chunking? Chunking means breaking multisyllabic words into small units such as onsets and rimes, phonograms or letter combinations, syllables or morphemes.

WHY is chunking important? As students begin reading multisyllabic words, it is important for them to know how to break words into units larger than individual sounds. Identifying individual syllables is important because it helps students determine the correct vowel sound. By following syllabication rules, students can learn how to properly divide or chunk a word into syllables, which improves decoding and spelling.

HOW do I teach chunking? Explain that Charlie helps readers decode larger, unknown words by breaking the word into smaller chunks. Teach specific syllable types to show students how to chunk words. Decide which syllable types to teach based on your students’ instructional levels.

  • Closed syllable: A syllable with one short vowel ending in one or more consonants (e.g., sunset, dishpan, lunchbox)
  • Open syllable: A syllable that ends with a long vowel sound, spelled with a single vowel letter (e.g., open, myself, redo)
  • Vowel consonant –e: A syllable with a long vowel, spelled with one vowel and one consonant and a silent e (e.g., shipmate, athlete)
  • Consonant –le: An unaccented final syllable that contains a consonant before /l/, followed by a silent e (e.g., apple, little)
  • Vowel team: A syllable with long or short vowel spellings that use two to four letters to spell the vowel (e.g., toaster, season)
  • Vowel –r: A syllable with er, ir, or, ar, or ur in which vowel pronunciation often changes before /r/ (e.g., return, perfect)

Rather than teaching syllabication rules and types in isolation, integrate direct instruction with time for application of the skill in authentic literature. Practice many examples of each syllable rule and type to achieve mastery of that pattern before moving on to the next. In addition to using strategies such as dictation, marking words and flashcards, push students to find words with targeted syllable types in literature and use those words in their writing.

We recommend using our Charlie Chunking Chipmunk resources as a supplement to a research-based, multi-sensory phonic program that includes structured, explicit, systematic, cumulative instruction. Although we do not endorse a specific program, our students have demonstrated great success using the Wilson Language System and the Spalding Method. Read reviews of specific literary programs at What Works Clearinghouse.

WHEN should I use chunking?
Explicit reading strategy instruction should be included in a balanced literacy program. Charlie Chunking Chipmunk can be incorporated into various components of literacy lessons. Here are some specific examples of when to use Charlie:

  • Phonics Fun: Choose several two- or three-syllable words from a weekly spelling list or phonics word study list. Choose a multi-sensory strategy (see below) to count syllables. Guide students through syllabication of each word on laminated Charlie’s Syllable Slates (see below). First students write each syllable in one of Charlie’s acorns and then write the whole word on the line below. Discuss syllable types and rules as applicable.

Syllable Slate

  • Guided Reading: Introduce or review the chunking strategy by reading the Charlie Chunking Chipmunk Poem. Read aloud your selected guided reading text and model using Charlie’s Syllable Slate to read multisyllabic words in context. Call on individual students to practice using Charlie’s Slate with additional words. Encourage students to use Charlie Chunking Chipmunk’s strategy when they are reading independently as well.
  • Chunking Chipmunk Reading Center: Create a portable reading center. Place Charlie’s Syllable Slate or a laminated copy of the Two-Syllable Chunking Chipmunk Reproducible and/or Three-Syllable Chunking Chipmunk Reproducible, dry erase marker, eraser, and 10 to 20 targeted multisyllabic words written on index cards or preprinted on flashcards in a large manila envelope with a copy of the Charlie Chunking Chipmunk Poem glued onto the front. Instruct students that during center time they are to take an envelope to their desks and apply Charlie’s strategy to practice reading the words and then practice spelling by using the dry erase marker to write the words on the laminated reproducible or slate.

Vowel Consonant e Syllable Unit

Helpful hints:

  • Create a class set of Charlie Chunking Chipmunk Syllable Slates. Print slates onto cardstock using color printer and laminate. Distribute to class and explain specific procedures for using the slate (e.g., write one syllable in each acorn; no doodling, etc.). Use the slates to provide opportunities for strategy practice and application. They are perfect for spelling words, targeted phonics patterns or syllabication practice in a whole group, small group or one-on-one setting. These slates keep students actively engaged and serve as an informal assessment.

Syllable Slates

  • Incorporate multi-sensory components. Introduce a variety of ways to determine the number of syllables in words.
    • Visual: Using Charlie’s Syllable Slate, have students draw a scoop under each acorn, reading the syllable aloud as they draw.
    • Auditory: Prompt students to clap each part of the word to determine the number of syllables as they say the word aloud.
    • Tactile: Instruct students to put their hands under their chins and say the word. Tell them the number of times your hands move down is the number of syllables in the word.
    • Kinesthetic: Break apart the word and jump each part. Demonstrate how the number of jumps is equal to the number of syllables. Practice different syllable types using the Charlie Chunking Chipmunk game board.

Charlie Chunking Chipmunk Syllable Gameboard

  • Use Chunking Chipmunk Slide and Learns.  With these fun hands-on slider tools, Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk makes breaking words into chunks easy. Just slide the acorn along the window to reveal one syllable at a time.  Available for purchase at Really Good Stuff.

Charlie Chunking Chipmunk Slider

  • Display Syllable Word Wall. Print out Charlie’s Nutty About Syllables Word Wall and display in a prominent location near the guided reading table. Post each syllable type as it is introduced to students; use color-coded acorns to add examples of words used in instruction. Model referencing the Word Wall during reading and writing lessons.

Nutty for Syllables Word Wall

Nutty for Syllables Example

Charlie’s unit is perfect for general education, special education, RTI and reading intervention.  Download the complete unit here.  Check out our complete line of supplemental hands-on resources at Really Good Stuff.

Charlie Sylla_Divide twins

Charlie Chunking Chipmunk PREVIeW


How to Use Elkonin Boxes and Sounding-Out Slates





















“I’m Sally the Sounding-Out Snake.
S-s-say, have you heard?
Stretch out all the sounds that you see in a word.
Blend sounds together, it’s really quite nice.
S-s-smooth out the words. That’s my advice.”

Sounding Out

Sally the Sounding-Out Snake is one our decoding strategy animals in Hazel’s Reading Roost. Sally motivates students to practice critical early decoding skills. Read more about Sally’s strategy below…

WHAT is sounding-out? Sounding-out, or decoding, is the process of translating print into speech by rapidly matching a letter or combination of letters (graphemes) to their sounds (phonemes).

WHY is sounding-out important? Sounding-out, or decoding, is important because it is the foundation on which all other reading instruction builds. Proficient readers need to be able to segment words and hear individual phonemes in words. If students cannot decode words their reading will lack fluency, their vocabulary will be limited and they will struggle with reading comprehension.

HOW do I teach sounding-out? Explain that Sally helps readers decode unknown words by stretching the words out by sound and putting the sounds together to make a new word. Teach specific patterns to help students decode efficiently.

  • CVC: Words with the consonant-vowel-consonant pattern (e.g., run, sad, beg, fit)
  • Double consonants: Words with the double consonants f, l, s, or z pattern (e.g., puff, bell, kiss, fuzz)
  • Vowel consonant –e: Words with a long vowel sound, spelled with one vowel and one consonant and a final silent e (e.g., date, bike, cone, rule)
  • Blends: Words with a group of consonants whose sounds blend together (e.g., slim, flag, grip, crib)
  • Digraphs: Words with a pair of letters representing a single speech sound such as sh, ch, th, wh (e.g., shed, chin, math, whip)
  • Vowel –r: Words with the er, ir, or, ar, or ur pattern in which vowel pronunciation changes before /r/ (e.g., park, term, dirt, hurt)

Rather than teaching phonics patterns solely in isolation, integrate direct instruction with time for application of the skill in authentic literature. Practice many examples of each pattern to achieve mastery of that pattern before moving on to the next. In addition to using strategies such as dictation, marking words and flashcards, push students to find words with targeted patterns in literature and use those words in their writing.

We recommend using our Sally Sounding-Out Snake resources as a supplement to a research-based, multisensory phonic program that includes structured, explicit, systematic, cumulative instruction. Although we do not endorse a specific program, our students have demonstrated great success using the Wilson Language System and the Spalding Method. Read reviews of specific literary programs at What Works Clearinghouse.

WHEN should I use sounding out?
Explicit reading strategy instruction should be included in a balanced literacy program. Sally Sounding-Out Snake can be incorporated into various components of literacy lessons. Here are some specific examples of when to use Sally:

  • Guided Reading: Introduce or review the sounding-out strategy by reading the Sally Sounding-Out Poem. Read aloud your selected guided reading text and model using a Sally Sounding-Out Slates to decode unknown words in context. Call on individual students to practice using Sally’s Slate with additional words. Encourage students to use Sally Sounding-Out Snake’s strategy when they are reading independently as well.

Sally Sounding Out Snake Puppet

  • Phonics Fun: Choose several one-syllable words from a weekly spelling list or phonics word study list. Guide students through verbally segmenting, or stretching out, the sounds of the word. Then have students write each individual sound (phoneme), in one of Sally’s scales on laminated Sally Sounding-Out Slates (see below). Last, students write the entire word on the line and blend the sounds together to read the entire word.


  • Independent Practice: This unit contains a set of reproducibles for each phonics patterns, including sounding-out worksheets, flashcards and sentence writing practice. Copy and distribute appropriate materials for independent practice or homework activities. As an extension activity, direct students to find words with a specific pattern in authentic literature or leveled texts and record them on the Sounding-Out Snake reproducibles.

Helpful hints:

  • Create a class set of Sally Sounding-Out Slates. Print slates onto cardstock using color printer and laminate. Distribute to class and explain specific procedures for using the slate (e.g., write one sound in each scale; no doodling, etc.). Use the slates to provide opportunities for strategy practice and application. They are perfect for spelling words, targeted phonics patterns or syllabication practice in a whole group, small group or one-on-one setting. These slates keep students actively engaged and serve as an informal assessment.
  • Use the Sally Sounding-Out Slates as Elkonin Boxes. Elkonin boxes are an instructional method used in the early elementary grades to build phonological awareness by segmenting words into individual sounds. Each box represents one sound or phoneme of a word. On the Sally Sounding-Out Slate, each scale is a box. To use Elkonin boxes, a student listens to a word and moves a token into a box for each sound or phoneme. In some cases different colored tokens may be used for consonants and vowels or just for each phoneme in the word.


  • Incorporate multisensory components. Introduce a variety of ways to segment or sound-out words.
    • Visual: Using the Sally Sounding-Out Slate, have students draw a scoop under each scale, reading the sound (phoneme) aloud as they draw.
    • Auditory: Prompt students to clap each part of the word to segment the phonemes as they say the word aloud.
    • Tactile: Refer to the Elkonin box strategy listed above.
    • Kinesthetic: Break apart the word and jump each sound or phoneme. Demonstrate how the number of jumps is equal to the number of sounds.

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

Microsoft Word - Sally Sounding Out Snake.Preview.doc


4 Dirty Little Homework Confessions


As a former special education teacher, I always thought that homework time would be a breeze when my boys Alec and Jake got to school.  I knew all of the most effective strategies and consulted many parents during conferences and IEP meetings about homework tips.  I even helped create this Free Homework Reward Chart.  Some days really do go very smoothly.  I have a delicious, healthy snack waiting for them when they get home; they are focused, independent, and complete all of their work quickly; they look forward to reading their book and read for more than the required daily minutes!

Sometimes, however, things do not go as smoothly and we really struggle to get through homework.  On these days, all of my best strategies back fire and I have to admit that homework time stinks!  Here are my homework confessions on these not so ideal days…

1) I don’t always make my boys read the full 30 minutes listed on their reading logs, but I still sign off on them. One day I was volunteering at school and another mom and I started talking about homework.  We shared that sometimes we let out kids just read for 15 or 20 minutes.  We both felt so naughty for admitting to it, but also relieved that we weren’t the only slacker mom!  When I think about the overarching purpose of daily reading time, I am confident in saying that my boys get daily reading practice and that they truly enjoy reading.  I do not want to get in a power struggle about reading exactly 30 minutes or more.  Reading should not be an unwelcome chore.  It is a part of our daily routine, but we are flexible about the exact minutes because my boys read for enjoyment on the weekends as well.

2) Sometimes we do not have a quiet, distraction free, organized space for homework. I know that children work best under these peaceful, scholarly environments, but when the reality of our busy schedule sets in, we need to adjust at times.  My boys have completed their homework in the car, on the soccer fields, and in the doctor’s office before.  We’ve also gone on whole family searches for necessary homework supplies such as a ruler, sharpener, or glue stick that is not dried out.  These experiences have taught us to go with flow and adapt to get things done.  That’s an important life skill!

3) On occasion, I have served up an unhealthy snack after-school. I work from home now so I am so fortunate to be able to greet my boys when they walk home from school and have a healthy snack ready for them on most days.  Like these yummy apple crescent roll-ups I found on Pinterest…


There have been days, however, when my work day has run longer or I have been on a call and the boys have had to fend for themselves to get snacks.  Those snacks will usually consist of Cheetos, fruit punch or candy.  Eeek!  Definitely not brain food, but it kept them quiet while I wrapped up work.


4) We’ve experienced our share of full on homework meltdowns. If you’ve never experienced this, consider yourself lucky.  For the rest of us, I’m sure you know what this consists of: tears, crumpled up papers, broken pencils, slammed doors, yelling, refusal to work, etc. Unfortunately, I’ve lost my cool a few times in these situations.  I had difficulty understanding why the boys were not accepting my help, were shutting down when I knew they were fully capable, were struggling to stay in their seat and focus, or why an assignment that usually takes 5 minutes is now taking 30 minutes to complete.  Well, guess what?  We all have bad days and get stressed out, even kids. Through the years, I’ve learned that it is much more effective to take that movement break, provide them with some extra help even though I know they can do it, break assignments into smaller parts, give them some extra TLC and empathize with them because homework can be overwhelming.

Overall, I’m so proud of how far my boys have come along with homework and school in general. They are now in 4th and 2nd grades (Alec got on Honor Roll this past quarter and Jake got straight As) and the for the majority of the time homework time is a success.


Some days, however, I know it is going to be a rough day from the moment they walk in the door. Now, I do some deep breathing and put on some relaxation music in the background in preparation for what lies ahead!  I’d love to hear what your challenges and successes are as well! Please leave your comments and homework tips below.




It’s Fall Y’all! 50% Off Sale on EVERYTHING on Website!!!



The holiday season is quickly coming upon us! To show our appreciation for your support we have marked every single product 50% off when you purchase directly from our website. Click here to check out our store! Hurry…sale lasts from October 12-18 only!

While you are at our website view our newest video here to see our prodcuts in action and download FREEBIES here. Our specialty is intervention and special education resources for grades K-2. We’d love to hear your comments and feedback!

See what the hoot’s about….

Halloween Black Lagoon Literature Study
“Absolutely LOVE it & thanks so much for including photos of the finished products. This makes things so much easier and eliminates the guess work. :)” ~Nicole S.

Ultimate Special Education Survival Kit
“This was amazing! I feel so organized and ready for the year thanks to this! Some of the things in here felt like fun and creative super tools. I am still a fairly new Sped teacher and after going through this I feel like a have a rock solid foundation for the year in several areas (behavior, back to school, and even reporting out intervention plans in a more effective, clear, and concise manner). Thank you, thank you, thank you!”~Meliss G.

Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle
“A phenomenal resource that will allow my students to improve their reading abilities. I am looking forward to using this. This will be one of my life savers for guided reading next year. Thank you so much for sharing!” ~Sonia R.

Math Problem Solving Unit
“We have just embarked on our journey into the Problem Solving Pond. The students are loving it and I am loving the results. Thanks so much!” ~Kim T.

Intervention tools for RTI and Special Education
“Amazing resource for intervention planning! It’s so nice to have it all in one place and ready to go at my fingertips. Thanks!” ~Lauren G.

Phonics Intervention Essentials Bundle for Multisyllabic Words
“Super cute! My kiddos enjoyed the chipmunk! It was easy to do as well because everything was made for me!” ~Shayna R.

RTI Resources: Secrets of Successful Teams
“I absolutely love all of the forms included in this packet. I think they are going to work great for our RTI committee next year!” ~Kelli F.


Meet Sally the Sounding Out Snake

“SSSSSSSalutations! I’m Sally the Sounding Out Snake,
Stretch each sound out and a new word you will make
Put them back together in a blend
And your reading will be on the mend.”

It is so exciting when beginning readers start to blend individual sounds together to form words.  I remember how thrilling it was when both of my boys started to read in pre-school.  I marked the day in their baby books along with their first words, first steps, and first bike ride without training wheels.

I used Sally the Sounding Out Snake’s poem and graphic organizer to teach them how to segment and blend words for reading and spelling. This tool made reading multisensory as they were able to engage the visual, auditory and tactile senses.  After seeing such success with my boys, we brought Sally into the classroom and created supplemental lesson plans, additional graphic organizers, worksheets, and flashcards.  Our students experienced the same success in the classroom.

Sally Snake 2

Your students can meet Sally too along with our other reading strategy animals in our complete Common Core Guided Reading Strategies Unit.

Individual supplemental Sally Sounding Out Snake units focus on a variety of one-syllable word combinations and are a great supplement to any general education, special education or intervention curriculum. This can be used during whole group, literacy centers, or as independent work.

Aligned with Common Core Literacy Standards in grades K-2, each unit includes the following activities and worksheets:

  • Differentiated lesson plans for sounding out words
  • Suggestions for use
  • 4 Graphic organizers for decoding and spelling
  • 7 Phonics worksheets for decoding and spelling
  • Word lists for one-syllable words (sorted by vowel type)
  • 32 Flashcards and activity ideas
  • Sounding Out Snake poster and puppet graphic
  • Decoding and Comprehension strategy poster
  • 4 Sentence writing worksheets with word banks and editing checklist
  • Customizable worksheets to allow for differentiation

Check out each “Common Core Phonics Activities for One-Syllable Words” unit below:

#1 CVC
#2 Digraphs
#3 Blends
#4 Double Letters f,l,s,z
#5 R-Controlled Vowels
#6 Silent e

Meet Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk

“What’s up? I’m Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk.
I help you break unknown words into small chunks.
Look for little words or sounds that you know,
Put them back together as a word and you’ll be the star of the show!”

Moving from decoding one syllable words to two and three syllable words can be very challenging for many students.  As students begin reading multi-syllabic words, it is important for them to know how to break words into units larger than individual sounds.  Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk gives students the skills and practice they need to become efficient at decoding longer words.

My students love when I bring out Charlie!  When using his strategy, they feel confident and encouraged to read “big” words in isolation and in context.  Our complete, 130 page, phonics unit includes activities, worksheets, and printables for the following syllable types: Closed, closed with blends, vowel-consonant-e, -le, open, r-controlled, digraphs and diphthongs. This unit is great for guided reading, intervention, independent review, reading centers and homework.

Aligned with Common Core Literacy Standards in grades K-3, this unit includes the following activities and worksheets:

  • Differentiated lesson plan for chunking multisyllabic words
  • Suggestions for use
  • Graphic organizers for two and three syllable words
  • Phonics worksheets for decoding two syllable words
  • Word lists for multisyllabic words with various syllable patterns
  • Flashcards and multi-sensory activity ideas
  • Chunking chipmunk poster and puppet graphic
  • Decoding and Comprehension strategy poster
  • Sentence writing worksheets with word banks and editing checklist
  • Customizable worksheets to allow for differentiation

Complete Unit Preview

Download here so you can introduce Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk to your students today!


Visual Schedule


Are your mornings hectic, frazzled, or full of frustration? Try making a visual schedule to break down all of the steps. Use photos or clip art as a visual cue. Kids can refer to the chart to see what they need to do. No more nagging needed! 🙂 Our mornings are so much smoother using this simple tool.  I also made a “Bedtime Routine” visual schedule.

Easter Egg Fun

Super fun way to practice basic skills; fill plastic eggs with letters, sight words, math facts, etc. and have your kiddos choose eggs from a bucket or find them around the house. When they open them up, they can practice the skill inside. You can even have them turn in the eggs for candy or pennies or other rewards.

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