Word Wall (Sight Word) Center Activities

My students need extra practice with our word wall words,” is a common theme with many teachers that I know.  It’s also something that my own son needs extra practice with at home and was a frequent need in my own classroom.

Here are some engaging activities that you can integrate into your literacy centers, another portion of your word study block or even at home (for parents).


Note: for additional information on word walls, read this post: https://literacywithlisa.com/category/word-walls/

  1. Rainbow writing: students write the words, a different color for each letter.
  2. Word wall hunt: students search for word wall words in their independent reading books, big books, class charts, poems, etc. They can record the words in their notebooks or on a designated recording sheet.
  3. Partner read/spell: Students work in pairs.  One partner reads a word from the word wall while the other person spells the word (without looking).  First person checks and then they switch roles. IMG_1128
  4. The Wheel: Just like the Wheel of Fortune, one person will play “Vanna.” This student will choose a word from the word wall (without telling anyone else) and then write a blank for each letter in the word on a sheet of paper.  Students in the group take turns guessing letters until the word is spelled.
  5. Bingo: print a reproducible sheet here:  http://www.bingocardprinter.com/pdf/blank.pdf  One student will read the words while the other students play.
  6. Word Wall Memory: Materials needed – word wall cards written on index cards, two for each word. Students turn all the words over.  They then take turns turning two cards over at a time, reading each word aloud.  If the two cards match, he/she takes the card.  If not, play continues with the next person. Player with the most cards at the end of the game wins.     IMG_1127
  7. Syllables: Have the students write two columns on their paper like this:           Word                 Number of Syllables  The they choose words and record the number of syllables for each.
  8. Word wall sort: Materials: set of cards with word wall and non-word wall words written on index cards. Students sort the words into two categories.

What other games/activities do you use in your own classroom to reinforce sight words? Please share them here!


Write Your Heart Out (at home or at school)

Looking for a way to get your child to do more meaningful, authentic writing at home or school?  Maybe you encourage them to write only to be met with cries of, “I hate writing,” or “I don’t know what to write about?”

Try having them create a heart map.  It’s fun, easy and something that will be sure to foster ongoing inspiration in them (and you). And if you’re a “artsy/crafty” mom (or dad!) or teacher, even better!

What is a heart map?

I first discovered the heart map in the book, Awakening the Heart in 2003.  It changed my teaching and also my view of poetry and writing in general.  I highly recommend the book, especially if you are a classroom teacher.  A few years ago I even heard the author, Georgia Heard, speak and it was truly one of the most memorable workshops in my teaching career.

A heart map is a visual representation of “all the important things that are in your heart, all the things that really matter to you.  You can put: people and places, that you care about; moments and memories that have stayed with you; things that you love to do, anything that has stayed in your heart because you care a lot about it.” (Heard, 1999, page 108).

How do I get started?

Whether you’re doing this at home or at school…

1. Start by creating your own heart map as a model.

Materials needed: construction paper or chart paper for the model, sturdy paper for the child’s heart (consider tracing a heart on a file folder because they are sturdy), colored pencils, crayons, markers, cut-out photographs, tape and other art supplies

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(Map of a 2nd grade teacher’s heart)

2. Share your map with your students.  Discuss why you put each person, memory, etc., in your heart.  Illustrate the importance of choosing items for the heart that are truly meaningful (i.e. really part of your true heart!).  This “thinking aloud” will help the students understand the planning process that you go through as a writer.

3. Have the students plan the components of their hearts.  They can sketch our their heart on a separate piece of paper and/or make a list of what to include.

4. Let them get started! Play some quiet music in the background for inspiration, if that moves you.  Nutcracker (my daughter’s favorite), classical, jazz.  This will help them to relax and let go in the moment.

5. When finished, display the hearts and/or glue to the inside of their writing notebooks or file folders.  The students now have an ongoing list of writing ideas to carry them forward for the school year and beyond.

6. And last but not least, encourage them to choose something from their hearts and start writing!

Center Link: If you use literacy centers in your classroom, consider creating a “Write your Heart Out” center or add this as an option to Independent Writing.

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Let’s all remember the importance of what’s inside of our hearts and help our students to do the same.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Focused Students or Interrupting Chickens?

Do you ever feel like you’re being interrupted more than you’re actually teaching? You’ve planned a great guided reading lesson but spend the majority of the time reminding students about what they’re supposed to be doing.  Maybe you feel like a “chicken with its head cut-off,” running from table to table, trying to keep your students on task.

I recently discovered this book, Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein.  It’s a great read aloud to help introduce centers and the idea of no interruptions.

And it doesn’t hurt, of course, to create a list of responsibilities with your students to further promote independence.  Encourage them to solve problems on their own instead of interrupting your group!

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When everyone knows where they’re supposed to be – and how to be independent – there will be less interruptions and more time for teaching.

So how do you teach procedures to keep your own students from being “Interrupting Chickens?” Please leave a comment and share your ideas here.  Let’s all stick together and avoid getting “pecked!”

Happy reading,


Center Board Gallery

Looking for ways to organize your center rotation schedules?

Check out these different systems from K – 3 teachers at my school.  There is no “right” way to do this.  The important thing to remember is that your system is:


*easy to understand

*kid friendly



What do you do in your own classroom to stay organized?

Have a great day and keep reading!


P.S.  For more info on this topic, check-out my other posts:






More writing – of their own choice

When I show teachers a sample literacy block, one of the most frequent comments that I hear is that they aren’t sure how to find enough time for writing. Or, that their students don’t get enough time to write topics of their own choosing.  Sometimes, this might be because teachers haven’t had a lot of background on how to support students in this way.

It can be scary to say, write about whatever you want.

The fear is that students will write for two minutes and say, “I’m done,”or worse, not start at all. So we fall into the trap of telling them what to write about, giving them prompts instead of empowering them to think for themselves.

Do you like it when people tell you what to write about? I’ve taken writing workshops before and for me, I hate being told what to write about or worse, finish this story starter.  Some people like that, so a range of topics can be useful.  The key, however, is to not stifle our students’ own creativity. When we let them write about what they want, we are teaching them to find their own ideas from the life around them, and most importantly that their life (and ideas) matter.

So a range of ideas can be useful but we don’t want students to always equate writing with following a specific prompt, topic or story starter.

Wondering how to integrate this into your own classroom without completely revamping your schedule and instruction? Here are a few easy tips to add more independent writing.

*Add to a center/workstation.  Teach them how them how to keep a list of their own ideas (i.e. things I’m good at, hobbies, favorite foods, etc.) and how to write in different genres (i.e. letter, list, brochure, poems, etc.).  When they visit this center, they can choose to write about anything from their notebook, in any genre that they choose.

*Heart maps (see my other post – Write your Heart Out – for more details on this)

*Let them share – whole class and in pairs  This lets them know that their writing matters

*Model with your own writing – YOUR life matters too and is a lot more interesting than you might think. Don’t be afraid to write about it for your students. What you have to say is much more interesting and insightful than a pre-written prompt from your basal series.

*Display all examples of their writing – not just their “best” work.  This will teach them to learn the writing process and take ownership of their work.

*Teach them to notice the way that other authors write. Keep a basket of books that you’ve read together that can help support their own writing.

*Use repeating texts and let them write their own verions. Put this in a center. Examples include:

The Important Book

When I was young in the mountains

When I am old with you

Letting students write about what matters to them doesn’t need to be scary or difficult.  Once you let them go, you will be amazed at what they create, from their own lives and ideas.

The Book is the Hook

Have your students ever said, “I don’t like to read.” Or, “I can’t find any books that I like?”

Sound familiar?

When this happens, it’s easy to throw our hands in the air in frustration and give up.  Why can’t these kids stay focused? Why can’t they can’t read independently? Why can’t they be quiet?

In her book No More independent Reading without Support, Debbie Miller states that “the best way to build stamina is through engagement.” (2014, pg. 58) She then cites a study that when students have access to a wide variety of interesting texts (that they are able to choose on their own), reading gains are roughly four times as large as the small effect of systematic phonics instruction alone. (Guthrie and Humenick, 2004).

How do we help students find books that interest them?  When we add this to all the other responsibilities and strategies of our already busy teaching lives, this can seem like a daunting task.

It doesn’t need to be.  Here are a few quick ways to help your students get “hooked” on their own books. So you can spend more time actually teaching and less time monitoring off task behavior.

  1. Model how you choose books. Are you sharing the process that you go through as a reader? Try this with different baskets and genres in the classroom.  And if you are an avid reader at home, discuss the types of books that you read and how you find ones that you enjoy.
  2. Teach students about the different genres in your library. Showcase different genres in your daily/weekly read alouds and keep a living chart that lists all the books that you read as a class, along with the genre for each.
  3. Have class discussions about favorite genres/authors. Make a chart and display.

Our Favorite Books/Genres/Authors:

Judy Blume

Horrible Harry (series)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Flat Stanley

Jack Prelutsky

  1. Encourage students to keep track of their own favorite genres and books. Create a chart of click here for a sample recording log. Reading Interests
  2. Allow students time to choose books thoughtfully.
  3. Create a book rack or basket where students can display individual book recommendations. Customize the format of their recommendation, depending on their age and developmental level. For example, in third grade, they might write a summary of some of the highlights of the story on a notecard, without giving away too many details (or the ending). They can attach the card to the book. In primary grades, they might write one or two sentences about why they liked the story and/or draw a picture of their favorite part.
  1. Create a bulletin board with each student’s picture, along with the name of their favorite book. Allow this display to rotate throughout the year.
  2. Read books to your students that you love. Display them proudly and encourage the students to read them as well.

Read Aloud Spotlight: Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind is the story of a boy who absolutely hates reading and his teacher who is determined to help him find books that he loves…Take a moment to read it to your class as a way to develop a community of readers.  It is also good for a few laughs too, especially when the principal dyes his hair purple!


Parent Link: You can do this at home too!  Model how to choose books that interest you with your own book collection or on your weekly visits to the library.  Have conversations about favorite books and encourage your child to make a list.  And most importantly, read with your child every day!  We can never underestimate the power of reading aloud.

Ready to begin?  Just choose one of the tips above and get started today. Then share your progress and/or any other comments/ideas that you have!

Happy Reading,


Scaling the Mountain of Independent Work Time – Planning Activities

As teachers, we know that keeping the rest of the class engaged during small group instruction can be a challenge.  Planning independent work time options (i.e. centers, workstations) can feel like a mountain to climb. This does not need to be the case.

We should not expect (nor desire) to scale Mount Everest on day one (or two or three).  Instead, we can view this mountain as a series of individual steps to be carefully orchestrated in advance. Follow these easy steps to get you started in your own classroom.  With patience and planning, you will reach the summit in no time!

The Plan: What should my students do while I pull groups?

Step One: Make a list of all the independent options for your own class. A great place to start is with independent reading.  Other options include independent writing, word work, buddy reading and listening center. Click here to see a more comprehensive list that you can adapt to your students:

  Step Two: Once you have decided on options for your class, it’s time to plan out all the materials. For example, if you are introducing independent reading, you will need leveled books, book baggies and/or bins, pencils, reading logs, sticky notes, etc.  Write this out for each center that you plan to introduce.

    Step Three: Now decide on the procedures that you need to teach for each workstation/activity.  When deciding on procedures, don’t assume anything!  Sometimes it’s helpful to think of your students as visitors from another planet.  Don’t assume that they know to push in their chair and throw trash in the wastebasket. Take time to teach exactly what’s expected. To continue with the independent reading example, you will need to teach routines such as: how to choose books, how to know if a book is “Just Right,” how to return books in the library, where to sit during this activity, etc.

Step Four: The final planning step is to decide when to introduce each center. Plan to allow for at least one week between each activity, so the students have time to practice and build stamina. Then be flexible and adjust as needed.

So you’ve made a list of ideas, procedures to teach, materials needed and due dates.  (Click here for a chart that you can use with your colleagues: Independent Work Time Planning Sheet). What now?  Where to go next?

Start by introducing one thing, such as independent reading or another item on your list.  Take it slow and give your students time to practice.


Other resources to support meaningful independent work activities include Literacy Workstations, The Daily Five  and Words Their Way

Happy Climbing,



P.S. This is a great video on the subject of establishing procedures for independent work                                                                                     time during guided                                                                                   reading:

Classroom Management with Jenna