Sight Word Fluency – Answered Questions

This is going to be a bit of a follow up to my blog about my Ball Words and Sight Word Fluency System post that I did last week.  Since I’ve had so many questions regarding my Ball Words, I thought I’d try and hit some of the most frequent questions here.  So hang on and hopefully I’ll get it all covered.  If you have ideas or other questions, please feel free to chime in with a comment.  I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Do you have a set of each dolch word list on rings for each student in your classroom?  Is there a list that goes home letting parents know which words you are working on?  How do you introduce them?

I don’t have an individual ring of words for each child.  I usually have more sets for the first several balls than the last just because there are less students that will get to those last sets of words.  You can kind of see how I organize them here. 

Included in the set is also a ‘take home’ list of words for you to print off for your students.  My students are so independent with this system that as soon as they pass a level, they help themselves to the next list and stick it in their mailbox for home.

I also need to mention the best way I have found to make these.  Print on cardstock, laminate and then cut.  Now I know you’re all thinking the laminate won’t last but honestly.  I have had to replace very few as long I used my Scotch Thermal Laminator 2 Roller System (TL901).  It’s inexpensive and works great. 
The laminate I also purchase through Amazon because it’s the cheapest and best quality I have found.  I’m telling you, you’ll love it. OLP 3 Mil Letter Laminating Pouches Qty 100 Hot 9 x 11-1/2 Glossy Thermal Lamination Sheets Pockets 9 x 11.5 Range anywhere from $10.00-13.50 a box depending on the specials they have going on at any given time and with a $25.00 purchase you can get free shipping.  Love that!
When do students practice and how do they practice when everyone is working on a different set of words at any given time?
At the beginning of the year, of course, we are concentrating on letters and sounds with Top Bananas. Top Bananas is like ball words but it focuses on mastering letters.  Once students have mastered those, I let them start working on ball words.  Every year is different and every student is different.  You just have to feel out your class for what is right for them.  I know one thing for sure and that is, you can’t start until you have your classroom management and expectations down.  Don’t start too early.  If you have your rules and expectations down solid, this system can run itself in many ways because you’re kiddos can work independently with the materials.

Practice happens in my classroom when there is any down time.  When activities are finished early, during rest time, anytime there isn’t anything else going on a student may grab a ring of ball words and practice.  I-spy bottles and I-spy pictures can be used for earlier finishers as well.  If you walk into my classroom during rest time, you’ll find 26 students working on ball words at various levels. Quite often, students who have passed a level will work on those still trying to master that level.  I love that sense of collaboration.  It’s wonderful to see them cheer each other on.  So much so that when someone passes . . . we all do a cheer.  They love that!

When do your students get assessed and what criteria do you have for passing?
Typically, a student needs to be able to recognize the word and name it with ease and without sounding it out (out loud-sometimes I can see them sounding it out in their head and I give it to them) within several seconds.  These words are meant to be fluent so I don’t let them sit and ponder over them too much.  Now that being said, ‘fair does not mean equal.’  The first day of school, one of my little honeys rattled off all 220 words.  BooM!!! Just like that.  So his challenge was to be able to spell each of the words.  (He just passed beachball ‘spelling’ words this week.  The key is to make sure everyone is challenged but also that everyone is able to find and feel success.  I usually assess during my rest time or whenever there is a minute or two available to do it.

How do you organize the games and other activities that go along with the set?

I use this cart (10 Drawer Mobile Organizer)  to house all of the games, I-spys, recording sheets, word wall ball sets and take home word lists.  It only has 10 drawers and there are 11 Dolch word sets but you can easily house the last two sets in the same bottom drawer or add a hanging pocket chart to the side for the last list.  I usually have this cart right next to my word rings so when I student passes, they can easily just open a drawer and pull out the next list.  I don’t have to chase down lists for them.  They do that independently.  I can also easily house the I-spy bottles on the top of the cart as well. Here is the actual item.
They have a fifteen drawer one too that I’ve been coveting.  I really would love to get it.

How do you display your ball word posters?
I made my ballword posters a couple of years ago with my Silhouette Portrait  paper cutter.  I have the little Silhouette which I LOVE LOVE LOVE, but I hope to upgrade to the larger one someday. 

This is an example of some of my posters in November. 

I have another example from Heather at Mrs. Shelton’s Kindergarten too. 

I think it can really be anything you want.  My next door neighbor teacher just posts up a piece of paper that says Baseball Champs and lets the kids sign it as they pass.

What do you do if you have struggling students who even with extra help you are afraid will never pass?

I have been fortunate enough that when I say all students pass ball words, all students really have passed them in my class in the past but I also understand it is unrealistic to think this would happen in every class every time.  You have to find ways to let your class find success.  I spend alot of time each year talking about the difference between what is fair and what is equal.  For kindergarteners, a great activity to illustrate this is the band-aid activity.

If you don’t know it, here is a link to a classroom blog about it from Mrs. Saylor.  I never remember to take pictures when I do it for some reason.

In any case, you may decide one student gets unlimited time to say the words, another student might only have to do half.  You have to know your students and know what you need to do to make the activity challenging but within their reach to be successful.   You could even say, every month a student who passes a goal gets to be part of a celebration.  That way regardless of the goal, anyone who has worked hard gets to celebrate.   I would never have a celebration and NOT include a child.  But that’s just my personal opinion.

I think you will find with ball words, it kind of takes on a life of its own.  It starts out slow but once students get the hang of reading words and figuring out what they need to do to practice and master them, it snowballs.  Everyday, I’m making new certificates for students who have passed a new level.  I seriously can’t catch up but it’s a good problem to have.

What comes after Ball Words?
What comes after ball words is Speed Readers, but I’m not quite ready to show them to you yet.  Be on the look out though.  It’s another system I’ve used in my class for several years but I want to pretty it up for you a bit before I unveil it.

If you have any other questions about Ball Words, feel free to leave me a comment below.  I’m anxious to hear how it’s going for you.

Marsha Moffit McGuire

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