Easily Improve Phonics Instruction with Concrete Objects

Teaching phonics with concrete objects can help spelling patterns to stick. Multi-sensory phonics instruction for first and second grade.

One of my favorite memories from Kindergarten was creating a Letter Museum. My teacher asked my classmates and I to bring in objects, pictures or drawings of things that started with the letter we were learning that week. We were all so proud of our museum, because it was something we had a hand in creating, and it had personal meaning to each one of us. 
Do you know why a primary alphabet has pictures above each letter? The reason is simple, it is building a relationship between letter name (and how it looks) and sound. If a student were to get stuck when retrieving a letter sound, the picture cue could help stimulate a connection. 
easily improve phonics instruction with concrete objects
Dough Mats from Lakeshore Learning.
My Kinders love these!

What happens though, when our students move beyond the 26 letters of the alphabet? What can we do to help build those connections? Using concrete objects to introduce new spelling patterns can create a deeper association and lasting memory of these new skills. We can use my Kindergarten teacher's idea for the "Letter Museum", and keep it relevant for our first and second graders.

You could certainly, still ask your students to bring in objects that match the phonics pattern/spelling skill you're teaching, however, that could get difficult because of the many ways to spell the same sound (LONG A: a, a_e, ai, ay, eigh). 

Instead, we can control the experience a little more by providing our students with unique opportunities to make memories with the new skill. 
teaching spelling patterns that stick using concrete objects
When teaching my students about the final -ck sound, I like to use the visual of a BACKPACK. All of my students know what a backpack is, AND, perfectly, a backpack goes on their back - kind of the final -ck sound goes on the "back" of a word/syllable.

They create their backpack from a file folder and "stuff" it full of pictures and words that follow the final -ck pattern. This activity, while it takes some time, not only helps my students with a visual, but it also solidifies when they should use the final -ck pattern.

When I only have my students in front of me for 20-30 mins each day, I have to make the most out of the time I have with them. A multi-sensory project like this may look like just another creativity, but I make sure to include word sorts, picture matching and encoding practice. This activity when paired with decodable readers, could last most of the week in my small groups. 
Even though it can be fun, it doesn't always have to be a project, or a grand production. When teaching R-Controlled vowels: 
  • We pull out the pirate patches for AR
  • We snack on popcorn for OR
  • We draw a simple picture of angry dogs for ER, IR, UR
When possible, I also try to find a read aloud to help introduce new skills to my students. THIS post shares a great book to read for R-Controlled Vowels.
These ideas while simple, can have just as great an impact on our students. The only goal we have is to help solidify a memory, and make retrieval of these sounds/spelling patterns automatic. All of this can be done with the experiences we create during our phonics block.


Let's start a list! Share in the comments some ideas you have for concrete objects. Make sure you list the phonics skill/spelling pattern it applies to.

And before you go, check out these related posts: 

My #1 Classroom Organization Solution

Classroom organization must-haves for back to school! Book boxes for small group instruction can relieve teacher stress when planning out your classroom.
I know how much you love classroom organization! It's a real feel good part of setting up our classrooms, once you figure it out. But before that, it can be a big source of stress. It took me several years to figure out an organization system that worked well for my small group instruction. And now...I want to share that with you! 

Book Boxes!

I have used these Storex book boxes, from Wal-Mart (5 for $9.97) for the past two years, and instantly fell in love. I'm a big fan of color coding, and my school uses the Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) system, which is also rainbow color coded. These bins made for no-brainer organizational alignment. 

The bins hold materials for the small groups I see throughout the week. Each grade level gets their own bin. In each bin is a folder for each student, which contains student references (such as Fundations cards and comprehension posters), our group book, progress monitoring materials, and anything else we might need for the week. You could easily modify my color coded "grade level" bins to hold materials for the small groups you meet with, just within your classroom. 

Storex is a storage solution company based out of Montreal, QC, and they were generous enough to send me a set of their newest storage option to try out before the school year ended. 

As I said, I have been using the "Large Book Bins" for a few years, and couldn't be happier with my day to day classroom organization. However, three times a year when benchmark screening comes around, I cringe at the sight of the intervention room. It has always looked like a tornado rolled through at top speed, until this last assessment period! I was gifted the BRAND NEW "Double XL Wide Book Bins". My team and I used these super large bins to hold everything we needed for end of the year assessments (both reading and math in most cases). They housed our student packets, teacher administration packets, grade level checklists and student folders (for every student on our caseload - that needed to be "stuffed" before end of the year filing). The color coding made organizing a breeze, because my Type A teacher crazy has rubbed off a little bit on my teammates too. 
I would regret not mentioning that Storex has expanded the Wal-Mart selection for this Back to School season! In addition to the large book bins, they also have a rainbow set of 5 pencil trays, individual caddies, and cubby boxes with LIDS! The caddies and cubby boxes are available in a gorgeous turquoise color, so run fast to get them! I have not used these storage options in my classroom, but after seeing them in store, I am trying to figure out how I could - especially the cubby boxes, they are a great size and super sturdy! 

Pros and Cons


  • SO STURDY! These books bins are a beast even for rough and tumble classes. 
  • Variety of sizes, and options for organization in general
  • Book bins have connecting edges for neat storage
  • Color options (if you love the colors of the rainbow + black and turquoise)
  • Coordinating colors across different "lines" of organization (my Large Book bins, perfectly match my XL Wide Book bins)
  • Wal-Mart line is affordable, even if purchasing on your own, and they have had a BTS presence for at least three years (hopefully they aren't going anywhere, anytime soon).  


  • Color options (missing orange, white and pink - which I think are popular classroom colors)
  • Label pockets included only with the Large Book Bins
  • Organization options outside of the Wal-Mart line is pricey if you are purchasing out of pocket, but would be a great option to ask your school to look into. 

What are other teachers saying?

Jenn from Reading in Room 11 says, "Year after year I would change the way I organized my reading materials because I never found a system that I loved. All of that changed when I purchased my first set of Storex bins! I loved them so much that now I use them to organize my books too! They are the perfect size, durable and lightweight! I will never use another bin!"

Kristina, a first year teacher from Utah says, "This upcoming year I will have an entirely flexible classroom. I will be using the bins for my students to store the things that they need every day. The bins will be easy for them to move around the room when they need to find the best spot for their best learning experience!"

Anna, a 3rd grade teacher, says "I love the Storex brand book boxes above all others! For years I tried different boxes in my classroom, but they never had the colors I wanted, and they never stood the test of time. These Storex boxes have lasted me many years and are well worth the investment. Pretty AND useful!!" Anna has also created beautiful labels for her Storex book bins. Check them out HERE

For several years, I tried different organization options for my small groups. I've used mailboxes, a rainbow cart with drawers, even magazine boxes - which got me close to happy, but they were just not sturdy enough. I spent more money than I care to admit trying to find something that worked.  Since stumbling upon Storex, and all they have to offer for classroom organization, I have not turned back! Everything just works, and with some of their sets being available at Wal-Mart, for a very affordable price, I have been able to grow my organization collection on a teacher's summer budget.


I would love to hear if you have tried the Storex book boxes (or other sets) in your classroom, and how they have been working out for you!

Check out these related posts: 

All You Need in a Teacher Survival Kit

dIdeas for what to keep in your personal teacher kit. Great tips for first year teachers.
Are you a first year teacher, or maybe looking for ways to be a little more comfortable in your classroom? Either way, our classrooms are where we will spend the majority of our weeks, months and years...so it is important that WE (too) have what we need in the classroom. 
It is time to build (or restock) your teacher survival kit. So, what do you need?
When I put my teacher comfort kit together, I considered items that would help me either day to day (must haves) or occasionally (wouldn't want to be caught without) . Then, I went room to room in my house and made a list of things that would be helpful to have at school.
Here is what I came up with...

Gum/Mints - Good to grab quick after lunch or on your way to an afternoon meeting.

Snack - I keep fruit cups because they have a longer shelf life, and are healthy.

Bowl/Mug - For the mornings I forget breakfast and quickly pack a baggie of oatmeal. I can heat up breakfast in my room before I become the hANGRY teacher all my students fear!

Fork/Spoon - I constantly forget to pack a spoon for my yogurt, or a fork for my salad. I was tired of running all the way to the cafeteria to grab one, so now I just leave one in my special drawer.

Blanket - You may be able to do without this one, but any teacher that lives in the North knows what it is like to come back from a school break on a Monday. The heat hasn't kicked in yet, and the ten layers you wore are not cutting it. A more universal alternative would be to keep an extra fleece at school. 
Medicine - Something like Advil/Tylenol for those quick on-set stress headaches. Cough Drops - This would be something you could bring in when you are sick, or something to leave in your special kit. Teacher Bandaids - I don't know about you, but my school's bandaids do not stick, so I keep a personal stash of the good ones.Feminine Products - enough said.Lotion - I have used this more than I thought I would. Not only for myself, but also with some of my littles as "Magic Boo Boo Lotion." For when they have nothing visible needing a bandaid, but have something that is distracting them, out comes the Boo Boo Lotion. Deodorant - If I have a late night event for school, and stay with out going home, I make sure I have things to give myself a quick refresh.  Floss/Mouth Wash/Travel Toothbrush - This goes along the lines of the quick refresh, or the surprise meeting after you ate onions on your salad.Mini-Makeup Kit - One more for a quick refresh. I had this in my kit the first year after my son was born, I used it more on a daily basis because I would run out of the house without doing my makeup. But, this might be another thing you can leave out of your kit and only bring in when you have a late night.Chapstick - For when I inevitably loose/run out of the one in my purse.Contact Solution - this is a must have for obvious reasons!  Bobby Pins/Hair Ties - Sometimes you just need to throw up your "Messy Hair, Don't Care!"Safety Pins/Needle/Thread - You never know when you will need to do a quick fix on something. 
Shout Wipes -  If you have you ever dribbled on yourself at lunch, or watched a marker roll off your desk and on to your pants, you know why this is a smart add. Lint Roller - I personally use a big roll of tape. But if I had a little more room in my drawer, I would add a lint roller

This is quite a lengthy list, and you probably will not have a need for everything on it. I personally do not keep EVERY single item on this list in my special kit, but I do have most of it. It really comes down to what you need, and what you have room for. I have dedicated a filing cabinet drawer to my special kit. The only thing that doesn't fit is my blanket (I keep that rolled up and stashed in the closet). I have a friend that uses a good 'ol fashion Cabodle, and another that keeps only a small clutch of things (I'm amazed at that). I also do not keep full sizes in my kit, I use travel sizes to save a little bit of room. When I run out of something (like mouthwash or Tylenol), I just replenish the travel size from my home supply.
 So, what do you include in your "Teacher Survival Kit"? How do you store your survival items? Please share them below in the comments so others can benefit from your experience! You can come back here to see what others have added, so make sure you 

Check out these other related posts: 

Help Readers Bloom with Make Way for Ducklings

Spring has sprung, and I am very excited to share a classic Spring story with you and your students. I had forgotten how much I loved this story, until it was gifted to my son, during a recent trip to Boston. 
When we checked into our hotel, the front desk couldn't help but notice my slightly overly excited three year old, who waited patiently bounced off every wall! When they delivered his "very special big boy bed" it came with a welcome bag. He received a water bottle, coloring book, special bedtime snack, and story. To say that it was thoughtful, would be an understatement! 
When tucking my son into bed that night, we read "Make Way for Ducklings" - the most perfect Springtime in Boston story! 
Not only is this a cute leisure bedtime read, but it is also a great read aloud to share with your students. There are many skills you can emphasize with an interactive read aloud. 

Book Summary

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (also the author of Blueberries for Sal) is a Caldecott Award winning story, about the journey of a family of ducks. Starting with Mr. and Mrs. Mallard looking for a place to nest, they fall in love with the Boston Public Gardens. But, after encountering some busy bikers, they eventually settle on the banks of the Charles River. After hatching their ducklings, and teaching them all the ducky ways, Mrs. Mallard does not give up on the Public Gardens. She enlists the help of Michael the policeman, to help her and her ducklings to their final family home. 

Teaching Vocabulary

Teaching vocabulary is so important, and often a skill that is overlooked. Introducing vocabulary can help set the stage to activate prior knowledge, while at the same time, begin to introduce new concepts to our students. Many times I have seen a student struggle to decode a word (that I really thought they should know), not because the phonics of the word was too difficult, but because their vocabulary just wasn't there yet. The vocabulary in this story is rich, not only as an introduction to a study on ducks, but also for words our students will encounter in other texts.
One activity I love to do when introducing new vocabulary, is to read off a list of words before starting the story, and have students predict what the words mean. This gives me a sense of their knowledge, and how much time to spend instructing on these words. I then assign each word to a select few students (the ones I know need a job to stay engaged) and it is their job to listen for their word throughout the story. When they hear their word, they quietly hold up a card to signal it's time to discuss the word. Then, using context clues, we try to uncover the meaning of the remaining words. I also DO NOT limit my students to ONLY the words I selected. Again, sometimes they surprise me with words they are unfamiliar with - and the whole point of going over vocabulary is to build background knowledge for the next time they encounter the word.

Before, During and After Reading

As I mentioned before, this book can make for a nice leisure read, as you transition out of the chaos of recess, however, this story can also be used to practice skills you have covered with your students throughout the year. By using before, during and after reading questions, you can engage your students by discussing genre, making predictions and inferences and evaluating characters, setting, and important events. The depth our students are able to pull from the story, can truly depend on our scaffolded questioning.
Providing our students with the opportunity to ask questions is another important experience that can create during our interactive read alouds. I try to encourage all types of questions.  My students ask clarifying questions, if they need more of an explanation. But, they can also ask their peers comprehension check questions, which allows them to take on a teacher role. This allows my students to have great input in their learning, and increases their metacognition of the story - a skill (I hope) that will transfer into their independent reading.

Making connections by building knowledge

Normally, we talk about building background knowledge before reading with our students, however after reading is another opportunity to build on our students' understanding. New knowledge is best developed by the connections our students can make. This charming story can make a wonderful transition into a study about ducks, and other oviparous animals.
Be sure to grab your blog exclusive FREEBIE! This non-fiction reader (2nd grade recommended) about ducks, and graphic organizer can help to expand your students' background knowledge about ducks.

... And there's more

This story has potential to bridge connections with your math curriculum. Mr. and Mrs. Mallard have eight ducklings - that makes a family of 10. Your students could explore ways to make ten, and write word problems about the infamous Boston family. 

Additionally, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard name all of their children with final -ck word family endings. If applicable, a lesson or review of final -ck would be an appropriate phonics connection for this story. Check out some of these "student and teacher approved" final -ck activities!
If you have used this book with your students, I would love for you to share how you have made connections and built upon your students' knowledge - you can share in the comments below.

Don't forget to check out the other incredible ideas, lessons and strategies shared by my teacher friends, linked below.  HAPPY SPRING!

Check out these other Mentor Text lesson ideas: 

This post was part of a mentor text link up hosted by The Reading CrewOn each blog, a lesson using a book and focusing on a vocabulary, comprehension or writing skill has been featured. The posts and resources from The Reading Crew, never disappoint, and this time was no different. Check out all the posts below
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