A Week of Language Arts for Young Learners

Young learners need active, engaged, hands-on learning, while they simultaneously need to focus on growing new literacy skills, which is hard cognitive work! Scientists actually call this cognitive work "developing a reading (and writing) brain!" New cells are growing in fertile soil, so we need to provide the right seeds, fertilizer, and consistent daily care!

How we schedule each week is dependent upon each student's needs, the demands of the group (family or classroom), and the educator's passion and stamina! We all know that a perfect week is rare. But we can strive for an ideal week.

An exemplary week is a combination of these competing ideals: consistency, flexibility, seasonality, individuality, challenge, manageability, and forgiveness! A tall order! 

Let each weekly language arts schedule include the following ingredients for the young learner, and you will achieve this ideal over the course of a year:

  1. Review new and prior learning so that skills become automatic.

    For new readers, sound-to-symbol relationships need to be practiced 2-3 times a week, constantly reading and writing new letter sounds with old ones. Older learners should review spelling rules/literacy concepts that have been explicitly taught. Practice can be flexible by sometimes playing card games, sometimes actively knocking letters down, sometimes writing with markers on a window, etc. This can be seasonal by creating theme-based materials for variety, or incorporating learning into birthdays, holidays, or other educational topics. This can be forgiving by reducing work-load on an emotional day, a busy day, or a sick day.

  2. Engage in multisensory practice to improve sound tracking (processing) and sound blending skills.

    This is an easy step to skip each week, but is a key ingredient to both success and engagement. Again, consistency matters for this aspect of learning. For both new and even older readers, building 5 words each day with Letter Tiles is more helpful than building 25 words once a week. Multisensory practice deepens learning. However, because it takes more energy than paper and pencil tasks, it is easy to skip once a child begins to make progress. Please resist this temptation! Be flexible by letting your student modify and create new games. Understand what skill your student needs, and what the teaching process is within each method, and then feel free to create your own. Again, take advantage of seasonal themes. Holiday cookies with target letters or words can get a sprinkle each time the sound is heard. There is no end to creativity, but there is limited energy. Forgive yourself if the ideas we have provided are enough most of the time.

  3. Read and write everyday at each student's learning level.

    Phonics workbooks (especially the Pinwheels workbook) give a lot of opportunity to incorporate reading and writing into every day. However, feel free to supplement with other books that are controlled for the student's current phonics level. Use extra practice sentences when needed. Label things in the house. Notice signs. Some children can sit for 20 minutes at a time, and others need to gradually build their attention skills. Many short lessons throughout the day can get the job done, but don't give up. Create holiday cards and homemade holiday decorations with messages. Copy greetings. Drop everything and celebrate a beautiful or important day—knowing you are consistently working other days of the year!

  4. Read aloud many times a week, if not every day.

    In the novice reader stage, there is a big gap between students' listening comprehension levels and their reading comprehension levels. Listening to age-appropriate stories and factual information supports students' oral language skills in a myriad of wonderful ways, building into grammar skills, vocabulary development, sustained attention, background knowledge, and an understanding of story elements, to name a few. As students age and progress, the gap between their decoding and comprehension skills begins to narrow, but we still want active, read-aloud practice very consistently for reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension practice!

  5. Let students select their own books to peruse and read.

    Picture books, familiar stories, comic books, and library time are all important ways to create the habit of becoming a life-long reader. Independent time with a book on one's lap should be positive and relaxing, if possible. Create special nooks and private spaces, and allow time for private book time each day. Even if your novice student is just "reading," this time builds into their value and love of literature!

  6. Create writing stations or spaces with an abundance of writing resources.

    Keep paper and various writing implements handy, and let students create at will. Scissors, tape, glue sticks, envelopes, letter stamps, colorful paper, inexpensive cards—all in various shapes and colors—inspire writing attempts and build into fine motor skills. Add new items now and again to lure the uninterested. Colored file folders or grown-up office supplies can magically appear. Leave time for this "free writing." Celebrate written creations by displaying, taking pictures, and sharing with friends and family. Learning is a process that needs both guidance and space. Guidance for success. Space for independence and ownership.

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