Monday, April 8, 2013

Five-Minute Writing: Fun Time Learning

We were recently aboard the Logos Hope when it was docked here in Hong Kong and went a bit crazy on the books.   There was a great collection and best of all, the prices were amazing!   Everything was priced in “units.”  I guess they had to, just to keep things easier and more standardized for them since the ship docks in different ports .  Having everything in a standardized “unit” saves the trouble of re-pricing the items to the local currency each and every time they change ports.   Every 20 units is HKD5.

Among the stash that we got was this Five-Minute Writing|Fun Time Learning pad.  This one was 100 units, so HK$20.  It is a series of short worksheets designed to be completed in five minutes or less.  It has exercises for everything –anagrams, rhymes, synonyms, antonyms, homophones, parts of speech, tenses, capitalization, punctuation, similes, etc.

While waiting for Josh (1.5 hours), Zoë went through several pages of this.  She was excited about ‘beating the clock.’  I think she gets a certain sense of satisfaction at being able to complete so many exercises in such a short time.

The answer key is right at the bottom of the page.  What I do is tear off the bottom part before handing out the sheet (torn from the pad).  Sometimes Zoë checks her own answers against the answer keys when she’s done and she gives herself a big star and a huge smiley face whenever she gets all answers correctly.
This learning pad is great for taking out with you as an activity for when you have to wait around.   The series also come in Addition, Multiplication, Handwriting, etc.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Flash Kids–Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension: Grade 2 (Flash Skills)  Reading Comprehension: Grade 4 (Flash Skills)  Reading Comprehension: Grade 5 (Flash Skills) Reading Comprehension: Grade 6 (Flash Skills)

I love workbooks.  Yes, I am one of those moms who make her kids do worksheets.   On weekends, they do at least two double-sided pages a day.  That’s not much.  They easily finish in under 10 minutes.  If they want to earn extra computer or TV time, they do extra worksheets.

In my search for workbooks, I came across the Flash Kids series.  They have a whole host of workbooks to choose from. I will talk about the Reading Comprehension ones first.

I had originally gotten the Reading Comprehension 2 for Josh when he was in Year 2, but soon realized that they were a bit too easy for him.  Zoë, at the time 4 and not in Year 1 yet, was interested in them. I got Josh to do Reading Comprehension 3 while I worked with Zoë on Reading Comprehension 2.  She would read the words she could read by herself and I would help her with the words that she didn’t know.  Some passages she could do all by herself; some passages I would read for her.  I was not too fussed that over the reading part.  What was important for me was how much of what she/we read she was able to comprehend. Within a couple of months, we had finished the entire Reading Comprehension 2

The exercises after each of the passages/stories vary.  Some would be open-ended questions, others would be multiple-choice questions.  There were some that would require her to re-tell the story in the correct sequence. She would do simple crosswords for some.   She had to match cause-and-effect statements. There were True/False and fill-in-the-blanks drills.

As the levels go up, the stories and passages get more challenging –longer, more advanced vocabulary, trickier questions. For example, in Reading Comprehension 4, you get topics like Where Do Diamonds Come From?, Leonardo da Vinci, Polar Opposites, etc.   In Reading Comprehension 5, you are asked to summaries, differentiate facts from opinions, give clues to support the conclusion in a story, identify settings/conflicts/resolutions/themes, write your own story.

There are answer keys at the back of each book, as well as a “You are a reading champion!” page.  I usually staple or tape the pages of the answer keys together (haha!).

What I love about this series:
  • The passages and stories are interesting, filled with fun facts and information.
  • Small, not bulky.  Each workbook measures only 8.8 x 6.8 x 0.2 inches and fits easily into your purse or a child’s small backpack.  Great to keeping the kids occupied when we go out and they have to wait –say, at the doctor’s office, waiting for our orders to come in a restaurant, etc.
  • For the lower levels (2 &3), there are stickers to play with at the back of the book.  The stickers relate back to some of the passages/stories in the workbook.
  • The exercises are varied throughout the book, very engaging and they challenge the child to think in different ways.
  • The stories and passages are illustrated in color, making the read more visually stimulating.
  • They are only USD 3.95 each (and you get FREE shipping –worldwide! -when you order from The Book Depository).
If you feel that your child finds a level too easy, you could always get the next level up.  Workbooks are to help kids learn new concepts, practice/reinforce concepts they have learned in school… and I believe the Flash Kids series definitely do this –in a fun and engaging way.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Read Write, Inc, Phonics Series

Read Write Inc. Home Phonics: Fat Frog: Book 1ERead Write Inc. Phonics: Nog in the Fog Book 1bRead Write Inc. Phonics: Rag the Rat Book 2aRead Write Inc. Phonics: Nip and Chip Book 2bRead Write Inc. Phonics: Run Run Run! Book 3a

With Josh, there wasn’t any “Yay, he’s reading!” moment.  We would read with him every night at bedtime.  I vaguely remember trying to get him to sound out letters in a word; he was not interested.  I didn’t push it.  Then one day, it seems, he was reading and that was that.  I don’t remember doing phonics with him.

Zoë (4yo), on the other hand, had been doing letter sounds whenever she sees letters, instead of calling out the letter names.  She has been trying to sound out the words that she wants to write.  She would occasionally get a few right, but many of her words are mostly consonants. For example, Cinderella would be “Sndrla” or Jasmine would be “Jazmin.”  Anyway, because of this, we started to get her to read some of the simpler words whenever we’d read to her.

I came across the Read Write, Inc, Phonics series at the local library and decided to check out a couple of books for Zoë.   SO glad I did.  The books were simple enough for her to sound out/read all by herself.  The stories are short, with a touch of humor that the kids could easily relate to –which makes the child that much more willing to patiently sound out/read the words.  Being able to read the stories “all by myself!” definitely boosts their reading confidence and gets them all the more motivated to tackle other books in the more advanced levels.

What I really like about the books:
  1. The stories are short enough, but still interesting (not dry a la "David and Jane run. David and Jane play. David and Jane sleep."); often humorous, which the kids will definitely appreciate.
  2. The illustrations are fun and colorful.
  3. There is a section prior to each story where you "practice" the letter sounds first to get the child familiarized with the letter sounds for when he/she attempts the words in the story.  There is also a section for Green words (words found in the story that the children could sound out) and Red words (sight words).  It really helps to do this section at the beginning of each story (no matter that some of the Red words are the same for most stories).
  4. There are questions to ask the child at the end of each story to make sure they understood what they have read.  These are great “discussion starters.”
  5. There are Speed Words for each story --words that appeared in the story for the child to review and practice reading (in and out of order).
Zoë has just moved on to the non-fiction series of the Read Write Inc. books (one book featured for each of the seven levels –below).
Read Write Inc. Phonics: Non-fiction Set 1 (Green): CampingRead Write Inc. Phonics: Non-fiction Set 2 (Purple): Puppets?Read Write Inc. Phonics: Non-fiction Set 3 (Pink): BaboonsRead Write Inc. Phonics: Non-fiction Set 4 (orange): Up in the Air - Book 3Read Write Inc. Phonics: Non-fiction Set 5 (yellow): a Mouse in the House - Book 5Read Write Inc. Phonics: Non-fiction Set 6 (blue): Save the Whale - Book 1Read Write Inc. Phonics: Non-fiction Set 7 (grey): the Ice and Snow Book - Book 3
There are five books to each level.  We are currently working our way through Level 6 (blue).  I am not totally clear on how these levels are structured in the non-fiction series as some books in the lower levels have some more challenging words than some books in the higher levels.  That said, we are sticking to going through each of the levels in order, although I don’t fuss too much if Zoë sometimes chooses to read a book from a different level to the one that she’s currently working on.

It has been really wonderful going through each book with her.   Reading these books alongside Zoë has been such a joy  --seeing her aha! moments and witnessing the growing confidence in being able to read independently and best of all, being able to share in her delight as she goes through her reading journey.

Here is a link to a video of Ruth Miskin explaining synthetic phonics and sharing some top tips on teaching your child to read:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Workbook | Language Arts (Spectrum)

With 60* students in Josh’s class, I don’t expect the teachers to be able to always give each child individual attention.  I am not complaining; I think his teachers are doing a fantastic job and they have my utmost respect for what do on a daily basis.

I supplement at home once in a while.   We borrow books from the library, I buy books.  I also buy workbooks.  No, I don’t make him do the workbooks every day.  Once in a while, I’ll ask that he does 2-3 pages.  Sometimes he would just do the number of pages that I asked him to;  other times, he would flip through after he’s finished the pages I wanted him to do and do a few more extra pages because he wants to.

This particular workbook, –(Spectrum) Language Arts Grade 1, – is one of Josh’s favorites.   It might or might not have something to do with the fact that the workbook uses Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter to make the exercises more fun.  This workbook covers fundamentals in grammar and structure –capitalization, punctuation marks, contractions, parts of a simple letter, nouns, verbs, homophones, antonyms, etc. 
What I like about this workbook:
  • It introduces concepts in simple terms, in terms that children could relate to –e.g. Use a period to end a sentence that tells something.  A period is like a stop sign
  • Practically every single page has colorful Little Critter illustrations to help put the lesson in context or even only to liven up the lesson.
  • Proofreader’s Toolbox – Occasionally there are passages to proofread (capitalization, proper punctuation) and the Proofreader’s Toolbox introduces different proofreader’s marks  --e.g.
   Insert a missing comma
   Insert a missing period
Using these marks make Josh feel like he’s a teacher and I think he likes that.
  • Handwriting Check and other checklists – There are certain exercises that require Josh to write a few statements.  At the bottom of some of these exercises, there is either a Handwriting Check (see questions below) or questions that help him review his work himself, instead of having to rely solely on me to check his answers for him.  These checklists encourage him to give his work another look-through to spot if there is anything that he might have missed:
    • Did you take your time?
    • Are your letters sitting on the line?
    • Did you put spaces between your words? 
    • Do your tall letters touch the top lone and your small letters fit between the dotted line and the lower line?
    • How did you do? (I did great!       I did o.k.        I will do better next time.)
  • Each workbook page is perforated so that it could be torn out easily in case you’d prefer to have your child work on single pages.
Spectrum has a range of other workbooks designed for different areas, different grade levels.  I will definitely be checking those out.
*Two classes of around 30 students each have been “merged” and share one huge classroom.  There are two class teachers and three education assistants between the two classes, not counting the parents who help out in the classroom each day.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Encyclopedia Brown Series by Donald Sobol

I remember loving the Encyclopedia Brown series when I was small.  I was impressed with how smart he was, how he could so easily pick out inconsistencies and solve the mysteries.  Why, he even helped his dad, the chief of police, solve some of his cases!  I remember dreaming of setting up my own detective agency, just like Encyclopedia Brown did.   I don’t remember why I suddenly remembered the Encylopedia Brown books, but I’d thought (and hoped) that Josh might probably enjoy them as much as I did.

So, for Christmas last year, I had ordered  the Encyclopedia Brown Box Set from The Book Depository.  It contains the first four books in the series.  I was thinking that I’ll see whether or not Josh would love them before I invest further in more Encyclopedia Brown books.  Each book has about 10 separate ‘mysteries’ that the boy detective would solve.  I figured that each story would be short enough for Josh to go through in one sitting.  Just right.


Because he got so many Christmas presents, –among which was a Star Wars Complete Visual Dictionary that he’d asked Santa for,—Josh didn’t really show any interest at all in the Encyclopedia Brown books.  About a month later, I oh-so-casually asked him if he’d read any of the books yet.  He started on the first story and I could tell he was not very into it.  I think it might have been a little out of his depth.  (I definitely was not 6 when I read the books –more like 8 or 9, I think.)   I didn’t want to push him, so I didn’t bring it up again.

Then one night, Chris decided that he would read one Encyclopedia Brown story together with Josh, because he wanted to check out for himself what I was raving about.  So together they read, with Chris helping to explain the bits that Josh didn’t quite understand.  They then tried to answer the question at the end of the story:  How did Encyclopedia Brown know? / How did he solve the case?  before turning to the back of the book to check out the answer/explanation.

Each story ends with a question and the answers are found at the back of the book.  The answers refer you back to sections within the story where the inconsistencies occurred and explain the why’s and the how’s.

After a couple more sessions of reading the stories with Chris, Josh started to take a renewed interest in the books. I think he really benefited from Chris guiding him along with the first few stories that he got the hang of how the stories work.  Josh started devouring them the way he did with the My Weird School series.  No, he didn’t laugh out loud or giggle or roll over with laughter when reading Encyclopedia Brown, but rather he’d be very quiet and serious in his little corner, with a look of concentration on his face.   Occasionally, he would flip back pages to reread passages.  Sometimes he would ask me what certain words meant.

Josh has gone through all the four books in the box set plus another one that I’d borrowed from the library.  He managed to ‘solve’ at least one case and I remember that he was quite proud that he did so, without checking the answer first.  I might have to go order some more online, as the local library doesn’t carry the complete set.  {I didn’t realize that the Encyclopedia Brown series were started by Donald Sobol in the early 60’s (!) and that it was an HBO TV series in 1989.}