More Useful Resources for Implementing Literacy Instruction in this Age of the New Normal by Dr. Sam Bommarito

More Useful Resources for Implementing Literacy Instruction in this Age of the New Normal

By Dr. Sam Bommarito


Judging from the response to last week’s blog entry on resources for teaching literacy using distance learning, it is evident that teachers are looking for useful, research-based resources with which to start the new year. Accordingly, this week I am going to extend the list of resources for teachers and include resources that can be used both in distance learning and in face to face classrooms.

I will begin with the material created by Dr. Tim Rasinski. Rasinski is an expert on the topics of fluency and prosody. I find that his premise, that teaching is both art and science, provides a balanced, research-based view about how literacy instruction can proceed. If you don’t already, I would highly recommend you follow him on Twitter – @TimRasinski1.  Over this summer, he has been sharing many of his materials for free on Twitter, and he has a variety of materials that can be used in elementary literacy instruction at all levels. Here are some highlights:

The flagship of the fleet is his Megabook of Fluency (Melissa Chessman Smith was the co-author). It has passages designed for performance reading. The idea is that the student practices reading a short passage or poem aloud for several days and then performs the passage/poem. In the classes I push into, that performance is often done on SeeSaw and is shared with the teacher, students’ parents and from time to time with other students. We use the writers workshop convention that no student is required to share with other students unless they want to. The Megabook’s passages include things for both the younger and older student. Rasinski also has a lot of materials designed to help build vocabulary knowledge and background. He also has word study materials built around prefixes, suffixes and roots. Such a word study is effective in building student background in the content area. A trip to his website would well be worth your while. Here is the link



Phonics and FluencyWord Ladders

Jennifer Serravallo is another writer with multiple books and resources. Here are some of the things she has written:

When doing presentations for literacy conventions or training for preservice teachers, I always promise that my sessions will be “the land of 1000 takeaways”, at least 1000 ideas teachers can take and use on Monday of the week after the training. Recommending books like these allow me to make such claims. Each of the books about strategies contains 300 different ready to use lessons.

Here are some things to keep in mind when using Jennifer’s materials:

First, be sure to employ a gradual release model when teaching the strategies from the first two books pictured. Teachers who teach their students to name or explain the strategies do not get the same results as teachers who teach the students to actually internalize and use the strategies. Nell Duke has a couple of decades of research indicating that when reading strategies are taught using a gradual release model, students reading scores rise in a statistically significant way. Nuff said.

Second- remember that leveling systems using the Fountas and Pinnell criteria tell you more than just how easy it is to decode a book.  They also give you detailed ideas on what the text structures are for each level. Jennifer’s book Understanding Texts and Readers gives you a detailed analysis of what that means for upper-level elementary texts. She explains how to use that information in order to have better conferences with your students. By the way, she also has books around conferencing and other topics that will help you help your students.

The Facebook page that focuses on how to use her materials has turned into what I call the world’s largest teacher’s lounge. In addition to the periodic professional development activities that are done on this site, there are daily interactions by teachers asking and answering questions about how to use Jennifer’s materials. Want ideas on how to do a 3rd-grade unit around inferencing, or a 5th grade writing unit about persuasive writing- just ask.  Teachers on the site offer answers in real-time. When I’m stuck about what to do for a particular student or particular class- I sometimes post a question on this site. I usually get great ideas from a variety of teachers within an hour of making the post.  Like I said, it is the world’s largest teacher’s lounge. Just remember to frame inquiries and observations in a way that protects the anonymity of your students. The name of the Facebook page is the Reading and Writing Strategies Community. It has over eighty-eight thousand followers.  Also, remember that Jennifer’s books are readily available on several websites.

Another book that provides some practical, game-changing ideas for implementing a literacy program is Burkins and Yaris’ Whose Doing the Work. Too often, teachers front-load their lessons in guided reading in a way that does all the work (all the thinking) for the student. The problem of approaching things that way is that the critical scaffolding that results in students internalizing and using the strategies never happens.  However, if you think carefully about what work you are leaving for the student and why and plan accordingly, then the scaffolding/gradual release, which results in an improvement in reading, does happen. The book is chuck full of ideas about how to do this. It is widely available on all venues where professional books are sold. As mentioned last week, Dr. Jan Burkins also has a site where she gives great ideas for getting started this fall. Here is the link.

Who Doing the Work

Word Callers are an important but often neglected group in literacy instruction. Nell Duke notes that they are a significant source of lower scores on statewide reading tests. They cannot be helped by a “Phonics Cures All” approach to literacy instruction. Teachers need a resource that will help them identify these students and carry out teaching that will help them. Such a resource exists in this research-based book, Word Callers. Kelly Cartwright is the author; Nell Duke is the series editor. A copy of this book should be on the shelf of every teacher in the nation.


.There is a growing consensus that teachers should be spending more time teaching phonics. Concurrently, there is a growing realization that teacher preparation programs have not given teachers all the tools they need to do that.  I am a centrist. I advocate for using what is most effective among all the various approaches to teaching literacy. In the case of teaching phonics, that means teachers need to know all the different ways to teach phonics. Many folks act as if the NRP (National Reading Panel) report found that synthetic phonics is the superior approach. The fact is that what the panel actually found was that using systematic phonics is the key to a successful phonics program. A great source for learning about all the different ways phonics can be taught is the International Reading Association’s Educators Guide to Phonics Instruction. Here is a link to that pdf.

Phonics PDF by ILA

Some books that have helped me build my understanding of phonics and use of orthographic information are:

Speech to Print

So, there you have it. These are all good resources to look into as you begin your literacy instruction this fall. It is going to be a beginning of the school year like none we’ve ever seen. However, teachers are an adaptable lot. We will find a way, we always do. I hope that some of these resources will help you to help students in the coming school year.

Happy Reading and Writing


Dr. Sam Bommarito aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching.

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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2 thoughts on “More Useful Resources for Implementing Literacy Instruction in this Age of the New Normal by Dr. Sam Bommarito

  1. luqmanmichel

    ‘In the case of teaching phonics, that means teachers need to know all the different ways to teach phonics.’

    What are the different way?
    I teach the correct pronunciation of phonemes of letters.
    This is critical as most teachers are teaching the wrong pronunciation of phonemes.

    Then I teach blending.

    Sound symbol skills + Blending ability = Basic phonics.

    Any child be able able to read when the above skills are taught correctly.

    1. doctorsam7 Post author

      For the different ways see the ILA handout on approaches to phonics. Included in it are analytic, synthetic, and orthographic approaches to teaching phonics. I agree that the proper pronunciation of letters is important, that why I included Dr. Moat’s book in the post. Not every child is able to read when the skills you specified are taught- see the book about Word Callers and the extensive research contained in that book. I spent over three decades as a reading specialist/staff developer. There is no one size fits all solution to the teaching of reading, but there are solutions for every child. Teachers need to fit the program to the child, which means they should know all the ways to teach phonics. Synthetic phonics is one way, it is the way I usually try first- but it is not the only way.


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