My Webcam Part 2: More About Distance Learning Literacy Activities and Why I Do Them by Dr. Sam Bommarito

My Webcam Part 2: More About Distance Learning Literacy Activities and Why I Do Them

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

Last week I talked about some of the new capabilities using a webcam brought to my literacy work. It has been a real gamechanger.  Adding it made the one-on-one literacy lessons I do as close to being there with the child as you can get. I meet my literacy students once a week. They are in grades K-2 and need extra help in reading. The sessions last only 30-40 minutes, and I try to pack as much bang for the buck as possible into the lessons. Here are some of the things I do in each session, how the webcam and selected features of the Zoom application help, and explanations of why I do them. This week I will be explaining what I do when I am teaching a decodable book.  The lesson is built around a decodable book from the award-winning Headsprout computer program which is published by A-Z Learning. More about that in a minute.

When I was doing my sessions in person, having the students make and break words and/or phrases was a key feature of almost every lesson.  By using a real-time live feed from my doc camera, I am able to do almost the same making and breaking activities with the student as I did when I was with them in person. Let’s look at making and breaking words from a story they were about to read.

I begin by asking the student to spell the two chunks we will be using in the story.  In this case, they were “an” and “in.” I then put one of the consonants with the chunk, saying the consonant sound and then the chunk. I ask them what word I just made. They say, “tan.” I repeat the process with tin. Then I put the t back and ask them what to do if I want to make tan. We repeat that with each of the consonants. At the end, I add “Fr” to an to make Fran. Fran is the name of one of the characters in the story.



Next, I demonstrate by making and breaking words and phrases for them.  I also ask them to make and break the words/phrases for me.  These phrases are related to the story they will read.


I first read the phrase to the student, pointing to the first letter of each word. I then ask them to read the phrase for me, as I point. Remember this is all live and in real-time.  They can see what I an doing because I use Zoom share screen to show them the making and breaking tablet.  Pointing to each word as I read and having them do the same is a vital teaching move. Clay calls it “making it match.”  Some of the prompting I do includes saying- if you see five words, say five words if you see three words say three words.  Any teacher who uses level 1-4 books with kids knows that many kids first memorize the whole book. Word by word pointing and asking them to go back and find particular words helps the child develop the concept of word. Instead of viewing reading as listening to a whole book and memorizing, they instead learn to view reading as figuring out each and every word as they go along.

The next picture illustrates my next teaching move. I break the word as shown below. Then I make the word and put it back into the phrase. I then break the word again and ask them what to do. They tell me to put back the c, then the a and then the n.


I break each word in turn and repeat the process. Sometimes, depending on the child, I break more than one word at a time. When the making and breaking is finished, I then have the student read the book. Here are some screenshots of the decodable book, which is a benchmark book in the Headsprout program.



I have them read the book to me.  I point to the first letter of each word. They see a real-time screenshot of the book.  This decodable book comes from the award-winning software program called Headsprout.  Here is a link where you can find out more about Headsprout

Head Sprout only

Headsprout has a carefully thought out scope and sequence.  It is adaptive, teaches the students the sounds they need to learn, and scaffolds them into using that sound-symbol knowledge to decode. It can be used as a stand-alone program. However, I find it is more effective when used with Raz-Kids plus (more about that at another time), and I have chosen to supplement it with the making and breaking/story creating activities I am describing in this blog.   It is most certainly not the only software program out there. It does happen to be one of the programs I’m using this summer with my kids.

In the way of full disclosure, I have used products by Learning A-Z for years. I have even done presentations for them, and last year they sent people from their main office in Phoenix to present their products to our local ILA. What I like about their products is they are well designed. The designs incorporate the latest research on how to teach reading. They have some great, easy to use diagnostic reports built into all their software. In my opinion, they have the best tracking and reporting system in the business. Their software goes through extensive field tests before being marketed.

During the week, my kids continue to do Headsprout lessons.  The next week I have them make their own book following the pattern of the benchmark book from Headsprout. Here is a sample from one of their books. This book gets added to their home library along with a copy of the decodable book by Headsprout.


Regular readers know that decodable books are not the only books you will find in my student’s home library. There are also trade books, Keep Books (predictable books with a high percentage of high-frequency words), books that they have written inspired by Keep Books, and at some point,  books they have written using their Writers Notebook. They also read books from the Raz Kids plus programs and those books include well-designed quizzes over what they read.  In a previous blog, I wrote about Language Experience stories. Even my youngest kids create them. Adding those stories to their home library gives them a lot of reading material.  See my blog about creating language experience stories, here is a link  BLOG ABOUT LANGUAGE EXPERIENCE.  In that blog, I also talked about how this can all be done using distance learning.

So that’s how I am using the webcam for word work and for work with decodable books. I think it is clear that my students read a variety of books, including decodable books, predictable books, trade books, and books they’ve written themselves using Language Experience. We have conversations from time to time about which books they like the best. They learn the importance of having favorite books and favorite authors. They learn the importance of talking about what they are learning from their various books.  I hope this blog gives you ideas about how to make the new normal of distance learning as kid-friendly as possible. In the meantime, Happy Reading and Happy Writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito aka the new distance learning guy

Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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