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Starring: Diana Solis

Diana Solis uses a little competition to motivate her beginning readers.

"The students want to play this challenging game after each guided reading lesson," reports Diana Solis. "They beg to play the game, no matter what level group they're in. They like the feeling that the teacher is giving them one-on-one attention. They like that they are winners all the time and that the rest of the group is listening quietly and noticing how well they can read."

In Solis' first grade classroom at Oak Hills Terrace Elementary in San Antonio, Texas, students must conquer eight reading levels and many, many words before they are promoted. Solis has her students analyze, write, and read new vocabulary repeatedly.

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"We use magnetic letters to make the words and write them in shaving cream and on a piece of paper -- anything that makes it fun and makes the children want to write," shared Solis. "My students' faces light up each time they can read a sight word we've been practicing during small group work."

With those experiences behind them, students are ready to test their skills in a favorite "game." Solis times each student in the group to see how fast the youngsters can read all their words. That method helps strengthen students' fluency in reading. They stay more focused, and Solis notes that they master their assigned words more quickly.

"I call the game Can You Beat That Time?" Solis told Education World. "I post the words on index cards on a chart behind my table. I time each student and point to each of 5-10 words for the student to read. If the student reads one word correctly, I go on to the next word; if the word is incorrect, I assist the student with strategies to figure out the word."

At the end of the activity, Solis posts on a star the lowest time achieved, and the students try to beat that score throughout the week. Even when they aren't able to reach that goal, students enjoy the attempt as a "game." Guided by their teacher, it's an activity in which they cannot "lose." Solis is careful to set goals that are within students' grasp.

"The students get excited because they don't know that the time they have to beat isn't important. They forget that they're actually reading a new word they might not have wanted to learn, or weren't motivated to learn, before," says Solis.

The students' reward for their practice is a sticker to place in their sticker books. At the end of each month, Solis counts the stickers and gives prizes to the top performers. Even reluctant readers enjoy the spotlight, and the positive "pressure" of knowing that their turn to read will come encourages students to take their reading studies very seriously.

"Whatever game you want to play, you have to set students up for success, stay positive, make it challenging, and make each student the focus for a time," added Solis. "If you do all that, you will always get great results."

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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