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First Year Teacher Program



Teacher Toolbox

The First Year
The Struggling Reader
The Alphabetic Principle
Phonological Awareness
Classroom Management
No Child Left Behind


Diary of a First Year Teacher

Teacher Toolbox  –  The First Year

In This Article

First Year Teacher - What to expect and how to survive

Please note: some of these links are to PDF files - you'll need a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer to see them.

What To Expect Your First Year Of Teaching
By Amy DePaul
U.S. Department of Education
Office of Educational Research and Improvement
Read more

Survival Guide For New Teachers: How New Teachers Can Work Effectively with Veteran Teachers, Parents, Principals, and Teacher Educators
By Amy DePaul
U.S. Department of Education
Office of Educational Research and Improvement
Read more

Differentiated Instruction/Grouping


Why is it important?


Not all students are alike. Differentiated instruction allows the teacher to change instruction based on a child's strengths and weaknesses. Differentiated instruction is based on these beliefs:

  • A one-size fits all curriculum will not meet the needs of all students.
  • Students differ in their experiences, background, ability and learning styles.

The model of differentiated instruction requires teachers to be flexible in their approach to teaching. Teachers adjust the curriculum and presentation of information to the learners within their classroom, instead of expecting them to adjust the information presented. Classroom teaching is a mix of whole-class, group and individual instruction. The intent of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student's growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is, and assisting in the learning process.


How do I do it?


Initial and on-going assessment of student readiness and growth are essential.

Meaningful pre-assessment naturally leads to the identification of what skills need to be addressed. Assessments may be formal or informal, including interviews, observations and standardized assessments. Using pre and on-going assessments informs teachers to better provide a variety of approaches to presenting material to students. This ongoing assessment allows the teacher to determine what and how skills should be taught in the classroom.

Classroom Management

Depending on the lesson and how it is delivered classroom management may change. Student expectations must be clear and concise during these learning opportunities.

For more information, read:

Working with Parents

Parents play a vital role in their child's education. It is necessary for parents to feel included and wanted within their child's classroom. As a classroom teacher it is essential for you to create these opportunities.

As a new teacher to the field or even a veteran having a parent involved in your room may be a scary thought. You can't help wondering if they are watching you or the students. Here are some easy tips to include parents in their child's classroom.

  1. Provide parents with a newsletter explaining the events that have occurred over the past week. Parents love to know what is going on in their child's classroom and newsletters also provide a great tool for parents to use when asking their child about what they did during the week.

  2. Include them in classroom activities.

    1. Ask for a mystery reader (that is a parent) to come in each Friday afternoon. Ask parents to sign up in advance for this role. Set aside a 15 minute time slot for the mystery reader to read aloud a story to the class. You can have the parent choose the story (maybe their child's favorite) or you could have books set aside for use during this time.

    2. If you are working on an art project and need some extra hands, parents are wonderful people to ask.

    3. Field trips.

    4. Ask for volunteers to cut out lamination.

    5. Cooking projects are great fun for students and parents to lend a hand.

    6. Personally invite them to school performances.

    7. Ask for a parent volunteer to be in charge of your book orders. This leaves one less headache for you to do. A parent volunteer is great at collecting the money, filling out the order form and calling or mailing it in.

    8. Parent Teacher Conferences
      • Send parents a form to complete ahead of time asking them for their feedback about the year thus far. Questions about what they like about the classroom as well as what areas they would like more information in, would be acceptable on this form. Parents want to feel that their voices are heard.

    9. Use the Launching Young Readers video tapes and hold a Reading Information Meeting. Invite parents in your room to learn more about what they can do at home to help in their child's development as a lifelong reader.

Examples of Language Arts Blocks

Note: Some districts or schools have a standard language arts block that they follow or use the suggested order of the reading curriculum. The following examples are samples of what this block of time 'may' look like. All teachers should be sure they cover all of the essential components in a systematic and regular manner.

Kindergarten Language Arts Block

  • Reading aloud (15 minutes)
  • Shared reading or interactive writing (15 minutes)
  • Reading workshop (40 minutes)
    • Work with two groups per day, alternating
    • Other students working on language arts related activities
  • Writing workshop (20-30 minutes) - includes sharing of written pieces and reading them aloud

First Grade Language Arts Block

  • Sustained Silent Reading - open choice (10 minutes)
  • Reading aloud (20 minutes)
    • *Using different times during day for a total of 20 minutes
      • Shared reading or interactive writing (20 minutes)
      • Direct Instruction in reading groups (60 minutes)
    • Work with two groups per day, alternating
    • Other students working on language arts related activities
  • Writing workshop (40 minutes) - includes sharing of pieces written

Second Grade Language Arts Block

  • Sustained Silent Reading - open choice (20 minutes)
  • Reading aloud (15 minutes)
  • Shared reading (25 minutes)
  • Direct Instruction in reading groups (60 minutes)
    • Work with two groups per day, alternating
    • Other students working on language arts related activities
  • Writing Workshop (60 minutes)


The Basics of Reading Instruction

Let's begin by defining some basic terms in reading instruction. Initially, these words may not feel very concrete until we are able to use them in context.

Effective reading instruction builds steadily upon children's developing understanding and use of both spoken and written language. It includes an understanding of the following elements:

  • Print Awareness Understanding the relationship between written and spoken language and understanding how print is organized on a page.

  • Alphabetic Knowledge Knowledge of the shapes and names of letters of the alphabet.

  • Decoding Understanding how to read each letter or letter pattern in a word to determine the word's meaning.

  • Grapheme A grapheme is the smallest part of written language that represents a phoneme in the spelling of a word. A grapheme may be just one letter, such as b, d, f, p, s; or several letters, such as ch, sh, th, -ck, ea, -igh.

  • Phoneme A phoneme is the smallest part of spoken language that makes a difference in the meaning of words. English has about 41 phonemes. A few words, such as a or oh, have only one phoneme. Most words, however, have more than one phoneme: The word if has two phonemes (/i/ /f/); check has three phonemes (/ch/ /e/ /k/), and stop has four phonemes (/s/ /t/ /o/ /p/). Sometimes a phoneme is represented by more than one letter.

  • Phonemic Awareness The ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.

  • Phonemic Awareness Activities/Exercises Activities or games that stimulates the growth of phonemic awareness in children. Activities/exercises are oral, never written.

  • Phonics Phonics is the understanding that there is a predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds of spoken language) and graphemes (the letters and spellings that represent those sounds in written language).

  • Phonological Awareness Includes phonemic awareness (work with phonemes), but is broader. Phonological awareness also includes work with rhymes, words, syllables, and onsets and rimes.

  • Alphabetic Principle Understanding that there is a systematic relationship between the sounds of spoken English words.

  • Irregular/High-frequency Words Recognition of words that appear often in printed English, but are not readily decodable in the early stages of reading instruction.

  • Onset and rime Onsets and rimes are parts of spoken language that are smaller than syllables but larger than phonemes. An onset is the initial consonant(s) sound of a syllable (the onset of bag is b-; of swim, sw-). A rime is the part of a syllable that contains the vowel and all that follows it (the rime of bag is -ag; of swim, -im).

  • Spelling and Writing Understanding how to translate sound-letter relationships and spelling patterns into written communication.

  • Syllable A syllable is a word part that contains a vowel or, in spoken language, a vowel sound (e-vent; news-pa-per; ver-y).

  • Reading Practice with Decodable Texts application of information about sound-letter relationships to the reading of readily decodable texts.

  • Reading Fluency Practice in reading a variety of texts so that reading becomes easy, accurate, and expressive.

Adapted from: Guidelines for Examining Phonics and Word Recognition Programs, Texas Reading Initiative, Texas Education Agency (2002)

and from: Put Reading First:: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read, 2001

First Year Teacher was a pilot project of Reading Rockets, which is service of WETA, Washington D.C.'s flagship public television station. Funding for First Year Teacher was provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs; The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation; and The Overbrook Foundation.

© 2004 WETA