Mondays with Miss M – The Journey of a Second Grade Volunteer, Part 3

First things first …. Happy Valentine’s Day and Congratulations to all of the Cybils winners. It’s a re(a)d Letter Day! Can’t wait to get back from school this morning and see all the winners.

Welcome back! Mondays with Miss M is a periodic series about my experiences working as a word-study volunteer in a local second-grade classroom. I didn’t realize until this morning just how long it had been since I wrote this column.

When we last chatted, I was concerned that the kids were guessing at the words too much. I was looking for ways to filter their approach and guide them at the same time. At the time, I was thinking about three ideas: let the kids be the teacher; do more with rhymes; and try the gameshow approach (let them work together).

Where We Are …

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When I arrive on Monday mornings, the kids are enjoying their morning snack and Miss M is reading aloud to the group. Two weeks ago they were reading about Egypt and the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, but usually she is reading one of the books in Dan Gutman’s My Weird School Daze series. She doesn’t read them in order, but instead selects the “theme” based on the time of year. For example, they enjoyed Miss Holly is Too Jolly just before Christmas break. The kids know their part, and enjoy saying “A.J. and Andrea are in L-U-H-V.” What a great way to start the morning! imageThe Monday after the holiday was a total surprise. I visit Miss M’s room at 9 o’clock, and the kids were ready to buckle down and get to work.  They are going through their preliminary routine faster and jumping right in to cutting and sorting their words.  These past few weeks we’ve started working with “y” and how that affects vowel sounds.

The kids still guess at a word, but more often it is about being “first” to get the word and they are getting more right with that initial blurt. Even our most frustrated/reluctant learner is having fun now … and s/he writes the most incredible stories for sentences each week. Our daydreamer has also stepped up and started focusing better. S/He is also more actively contributing to the group.

Last September, the kids used to get a header called “Oddballs.” This was the column title for words that break from a rule, like give, love, said, and rein. Starting in November, the printed header disappeared. Now, the kids have to identify whether or not there are “oddballs” among the words on the list that week.

There have been a couple of times where we have talked about words that aren’t oddballs but also don’t fit the rule very neatly. For example, our headers usually comprise a combination of C, V, and e (silent e): CVC, CVVC, CVCe. For a word like pay, it can be either CVV or CVC … so the kids create a header that works to help them with remembering the rule. It is so cool to see them figuring this out for themselves … and they are SO proud that they have solved the “mystery.”

What We’re Doing …

If the kids had their way, we’d play charades with the words every Monday. For better or worse, most of the words are concepts that don’t lend themselves to charades for someone of ANY age, much less second graders. Failing that, the kids’ favorite thing to do is be the teacher (idea #1). It is a round-robin practice where they get to sit in my chair, pull a word from my stack, and ask their classmate …

  • What is the word? (They have to confirm pronunciation.)
  • What is rule the word follows? (These are things like vowel sound, letter sequencing, y=i, etc.)
  • Does the [a/e/i/o/u] have a helper to say its name? (This is for words with long vowels to get kids to look for patterns.)
  • Then they write it on our chart in the right sort column.

Another favorite game is concentration. I have taken several approaches, from exact matches, to allowing rule matches, to bonuses for homophones. Although we haven’t done a lot with rhyming words (idea #2), I have also started listing words that fit the rules/patterns of the week that are part of our conversations.

Taking my cue from Susan Stephenson’s suggestion in a comment, I created a game that I just can’t win! I cut out a set of words and presorted them haphazardly on the desk. Then, in a round-robin fashion we went through each word to see if it was in the right place. If the word was in the wrong place, the student had to tell us why and place the word in the correct column on our master list (on the big board). Obviously I need to go back to second grade, because only three words were in the right place!  The kids LOVED this game, especially correcting all my mistakes.

When time allows (they are second graders and they have life stories to share!), the kids write four sentences using the words of the week. Two of the students have gotten so excited about having me read the sentences that they will start them while we are working through the sorting. I haven’t found a way to incorporate the “call a friend” idea in our word sorting (idea #3), but we have used it with success with writing sentences. Instead of me answering the question how do you spell [insert word] I ask one of their classmates in our group. My next goal is to get them to start asking each other to review their sentences.

What’s Next …

There isn’t anything I want to tweak with how we approach the words each week. The kids are into a routine, they like their choices, and there’s no point in messing with a good thing. What I do want to do though, is work on writing.

  • One student writes the coolest stories … I want the others to pick up on that idea and weave their words into a theme.
  • Several strive to make their sentences as short as possible … I hope to nudge them to use at least as many words as their age in their sentences. I also want to stack the deck and encourage more variety with questions, statements, and emphatic declarations!
  • Basic grammar … Sometimes we forget to capitalize a letter at the beginning of a sentence, sometimes it’s the punctuation at the end.
  • Basic handwriting … and sometimes, all of the letters are squished together and the reader can’t recognize words.

I am hoping that by having the students read each others’ work the kids will begin applying that keen eye to their own writing.

What I’ve Learned …

First, I love working with second graders. Could I be a teacher? No way, but having a small group to play with words is a blast. If you’re looking for that rock star feeling, volunteer in an elementary school. I was in school today for Jump Rope for Heart and two of “my” second graders came running across the gym to hug me and say “hi.” But I digress … imageVariety is important, but once the kids pick a couple favorites, stick with those. The “game” I choose any given week is really driven by the kinds of words we’re working with, but I know what gets them excited about playing with their spelling words. This is not a competitive group, and while they vie to “go first,” they didn’t like any game where someone could score points and win at something.

In mid-January, Miss M commented that each of the students in my group has demonstrated progress in their understanding of language and spelling patterns. As I told her, THEY put in the work, I just keep the chaos in check. When she called the other day, Miss M half jokingly (I think) asked if I’d take on another group which hasn’t shown much progress … and leave my team? Oh, I could never do that!

Image Credit

Letter M by Rejon on

Game Marbles by NicuBunu on

3 responses to “Mondays with Miss M – The Journey of a Second Grade Volunteer, Part 3

  1. Your enthusiasm, pride in the kids and delight come through so clearly, Terry, I am sure that’s influencing their success. It’s wonderful to read about the nitty gritty and benefits of volunteering in a school.

    Here’s a Book Chook idea for some fun. How about getting them to read their sentences with phonetic pronunciation the way Victor Borge did? (Google youtube, Borge and phonetic pronunciation ) Sometimes hearing it and making gestures to accompany a full stop etc can reinforce other senses and jolt the memory banks.
    Book Chook recently posted…Building Background with Books – Guest PostMy Profile

    1. Thanks Susan. Coming from you that is high praise, indeed. I LOVE how Victor Borge plays with language … I will definitely check it out on YouTube. Might even show up in the mid-Month roundup (hint hint)!

  2. Thanks for a wonderful trip back into the classroom…how lucky this group of children is to have you working with them!

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