An Introduction to Podcasting

Not everyone is a visual learner or wants to sit in front of the computer reading. Many of the postings on this blog will include an audio file at the bottom which you can listen to by clicking “play now” or you can set your computer by automatically download new episodes by finding the “subscribe” button in iTunes. I hope you enjoy!

An Introduction to Blogs

If you’re reading this, you don’t need glasses. Also you’ve found the Open Court blog. If you’ve never seen a blog before, know that blog is short for web log (as if the term web log was easier to understand than blog).

Think of this blog as a place to find short articles about teaching the Open Court Reading Program as well as updates on the web site, Open Court The great thing about a blog is that it’s interactive. You can post your comments to any article at the bottom and others, including me, can respond. I encourage you to leave your comments to agree, disagree, or ask for clarification (feel free to visualize, draw conclusions, and make predictions as well).

Teaching Sight Words

The Sight Word Turtles are located here and are available for kindergarten and first grade. They are aligned with the Open Court decodable books.

The Turtles are a way of organizing high frequency words to make them fun for students. For teachers, they can be used to assess student knowledge of sight words. For example, Mario is on Turtle #3, Nancy is on Turtle #4.

Each week, use the weekly homework sheets to assign 4 words for students to learn. Print the corresponding turtle on the back of the homework.

Some teachers have students color in the words once students are able to read them. I did have students color the words when I taught kindergarten and then put these on the wall. In first grade I wouldn’t have students color the turtles because I wanted them to keep practicing previous weeks words even if they had already them correctly. Struggling readers would know a word one week but then forget it the next.

The parent reports are a form letter designed to reduce teacher workload and maximize instructional time. You can assess students right from the form or use the sight word turtles and then circle the words students read quickly and send the form home to parents. Using this regularly holds students and parents accountable to student learning.

Chants! Everything You Always Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask


Chants are rhythmic poems you can recite with students to teach unit concepts and reinforce key vocabulary.


Decide on key concepts you want to teach for a particular unit. For example, for the first grade folktale unit I decided to teach elements of folktales and genre vocabulary such as heroes and villains. For the melody, choose a simple rhythm like a football cheer, a call and response military cadence, or a popular song.


The chant needs to be posted on chart paper and on the wall for the duration of your unit. When you are reading the chant bring the students up to the chart with you to raise the level of engagement and get oxygen flowing to their brains. I teach the chants in 5-10 minute increments as sponge activities or transitions. After teaching the rhythm or melody and going over it a few times on different days, ask students to identify interesting vocabulary that they may not understand. Students will likely choose the key vocabulary you cleverly planted in the chant but may also choose some words that surprise you particulary when you are working with English Language Learners who may not understand some simple words that you take for granted. Examine the difficult vocabulary that students choose by discussing and defining in the context of the chant and your current unit. Whenever possible have pictures available and you can glue these onto the chant (examples of pictures used with chants are included on the first grade games unit page).


Chanting provides an additional level of engagement for high achieving students as well as scaffolding difficult vocabulary for English Language Learners and struggling readers. Chanting appeals to different learning modalities and helps students internalize difficult vocabulary which can later show up in their own writing.


Chants are available for many, though not all, stories on and can be found on the appropriate grade level/unit pages.

© 2006 by Mathew Needleman, Open Court

Reading Fluency Benchmarks: A Reasonable Approach

How to help students meet their goals and improve self-esteem (yours as well as theirs)

by Mathew Needleman, Open Court

Say Goodbye to Fluency Charts

First let me tell you what I do not do. I do not put up a fluency chart on the wall showing where everyone is reading. Gail Tompkins confirmed this for me in Literacy for the 21st Century. While this might provide some subtle pressure if all your students were within ten words or so of the benchmark, and I know there are schools like that, what about the student reading 2 words a minute? It’s not like with just a little practice they’ll go from 2 to sixty in six weeks. The students who are far below the benchmark might begin to feel like they can never catch up and be embarrassed by their scores. I realize many teachers try to embarrass their students into achieving but this doesn’t work. Imagine if teachers’ student test scores were published on a chart and your students had scored the absolute lowest and your chart stayed up all year, how would you feel? Our union has an agreement that teacher test scores cannot be publicly posted. I think we need to treat students with at least the same respect as we ask for as professionals.

High (but Reasonable) Expectations for all Students

Although we do want all students to reach the benchmark and I do believe that all my students can get there, the speed at which they get there is unique to every child. If students are below the benchmark we can only get them to benchmark incrementally by setting reasonable goals along the way.

At my grade level each subsequent assessment expects a 10 word per minute jump in fluency speed. I believe 10 word a minute is a reasonable jump to expect from students. However, this means if a student is reading 10 words a minute on the first assessment I expect them to reach 20 words a minute on the second assessment. If they jumped up ten words a minute on each assessment, they’d be a seventy words a minute by the end of second grade. The truth is once students understand the concept of reading and are provided with much practice they often make greater jumps than ten words a minute. Nevertheless, ten words is a reasonable amount to expect in terms of growth.

How this Works

Although I still must communicate with parents that their child is below grade level, in my discussions with students I set the ten words a minute goal with them, “Tommy, you read twenty-five words a minute today, I expect the next time we read together that you will be reading at thirty-five words a minute. How are you going to get there?”

The Results

Previously, if students didn’t make it to the sixty-five word a minute benchmark, students and their teachers would be failures. With the ten word a minute jump expectation, I can acknowledge a lot more students for meeting and even exceeding this expectation. I must tell you about Harry who went from reading thirty words a minute to reading eighty; he met his personal goal and the benchmark. But I must also tell you about Maria who was reading twenty words a minute last time and went up to forty words a minute this time; she did not make the state benchmark but she doubled her reading fluency. For Maria, this was an amazing accomplishment and I have no doubt that she will continue making gains. She feels good because she made her personal goal and I feel good because I am helping Maria move from where she was at the beginning of the year to where she is now and will be by the end of the year.

But What About the Rest?

There will be students who do not make their personal goal. In my class, there were about four out of twenty. Those are the students who I am making very sure to work with over the next six weeks to help them improve. I am not as concerned that they are under the state benchmark but I am very concerned that they are not making what I consider to be reasonable progress.

© 2006 by Mathew Needleman, Open Court