Teaching reading and spelling with vowel sounds

Maybe you’ve seen it. You begin reading with your child and the tears begin to flow. Your frustrated child can’t put the sounds together; can’t pronounce the words. It’s understandable. Out of the 26 letters in the alphabet, 5 of them are vowels. Those 5 vowels create 19 different sounds depending on the letter combination used in a given word.

Here are a few things to consider when teaching the short vowel sound:

  1. Introduce each vowel sound. Here is a video with short vowel sounds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQwQ7FWL4MM
  • short /a/ as in bat
  • short /e/ as in bet
  • short /i/ as in bit
  • short /o/ as in bot
  • short /u/ as in but
  1. For each short vowel sound teach a gesture or hand movement to go with it.
  • Short A – put your hand under your chin. Remind your student that when you say /ă/ your chin drops. Say, “Short a says, /ă/.”
  • Short E – Hold three fingers out horizontally. Say, “Short e says, /ĕ/.”
  • Short I – Touch your finger to your nose like you are dotting an i. Say, “Short i says, /ĭ/”.
  • Short O – Form your mouth in the shape of an o. Say, “Short o says, /ŏ/”.
  • Short U – /ŏ/”.Put your hands together and use your thumbs to form a u. Say, “Short u says /ŭ/”.

Remind students to do these gestures each day when they say the short vowel sounds.

You can also use these gestures when segmenting words for accurate spelling. For example, after you dictate the word rat, the student can say each sound in isolation. /r/ / ă / /t/.

 spell trek3. The game, Spell Trek, uses visuals for the vowels and reinforces vowel recognition, phonics, and spelling. During this game, players draw vowel tiles and use them to complete words. Scoring is based on the length of the word spelled, with a bonus point for more complex words.

Here is a video tutorial that parent can watch and receive additional tips on how to play Spell Trek as well as how the game can reinforce spelling and phonics.

I became a SimplyFun Playologist because I truly believe in providing children with multiple ways to learn and succeed in school. Academic game play is fun and effective. Please browse my SimplyFun web page for games and toys designed to help your child play, grow, and learn.

Please visit my SimplyFun web page today https://www.simplyfun.com/pws/gamestogrow/tabs/playologist-home.aspx

Night by Elie Wiesel

Close Reading Lesson: Night Chapters 1 – 2 

Below is a full close reading lesson from Night chapters 1-2. You can download the entire lesson by following this link: Night Chapters 1-2.

Close reading involves paying especially close attention to the text. It means not only reading and night_by_elie_wiesel__by_kuraicat-d3c0urnunderstanding the meanings of the individual printed words, but also making yourself sensitive to various ways in which skilled writers tell their stories.

Elie Wiesel is a master storyteller who uses his abilities to spark interest and activism. Night is his memoir, rooted in Jewish storytelling tradition. His book gives us an eyewitness account of the events and brutality that occurred in Auschwitz. Wiesel’s aim in writing Night is not only ignite our compassionate nature as we experience the cruelty and torture bestowed upon Jewish people during WWII, but also to open our eyes to what happened in the Nazi concentration camps in hope of preventing it from happening again. He dedicated his life ensuring that the inhumane murder of the six million Jews would never be forgotten, and that no other humans would ever be subjected to genocidal homicide.

Throughout the following assignments, students will read selected passages carefully. They will not only understand what is written, but also consider how it is written and how the writer’s literary techniques contribute to the meaning and purpose of the work as a whole.

Students are encouraged to underline key vocabulary words. Highlight literary devices. Answer the questions with complete thoughts and sentences; and immerse themselves in the Holocaust experience as seen through the eyes of 15-year-old, Elizer Weisel.


  • beadle bea•dle noun – a church officer
  • divinity di•vi•ni•ty noun The state or quality of being divine (godliness).
  • edict e•dict noun an official order or proclamation issued by a person in authority.
  • fascism an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.
  • Gestapo Ges•ta•po noun the German state secret police during the Nazi regime, organized in 1933 and notorious for its brutal methods and operations.
  • ghetto ghet•to noun A ghetto is a part of a city in which members of a minority group live, especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure. During the Holocaust, the creation of ghettos was a key step in the Nazi process of separating, persecuting, and ultimately destroying Europe’s Jews.
  • Hasidic Ha•si•dic adjective – of or relating to Jewish Hasidism
  • Judaism Ju•da•ism noun Judaism is the collective and monotheistic religion of the Jews
  • Kabbalah Kab•ba•lah noun – a part of Jewish tradition that deals with the essence of God. Whether it entails a sacred text, an experience, or the way things work, Kabbalists believe that God moves in mysterious ways.
  • mysticism mys•ti•cism noun – the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight)
  • Nazi Na•zi noun a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, which controlled Germany from 1933 to 1945 under Adolf Hitler and advocated totalitarian government, territorial expansion, anti-Semitism, and Aryan supremacy, all these leading directly to World War II and the Holocaust.
  • Nyilas Party noun a pro-Nazi party comprised of a fascist anti-semitic party that assisted the SS in deportations of Jews in Autumn of 1944. Nyilas Party assumed power in late 1944.
  • Passover Pass•o•ver noun The name “Passover” is derived from the Hebrew word Pesach which is based on the root “pass over” and refers to the fact that God “passed over” the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt during the last of the ten plagues.
  • phylactery phy•lac•ter•y noun a small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law
  • prophecy pro•phe•cy noun – a prediction
  • rabbi rab•bi noun a Jewish scholar or teacher, especially one who studies or teaches Jewish law; a Jewish religious leader.
  • Shavuot Shavu’o noun the Festival of Weeks. A time leading up to Passover that recalls the giving of the Torah; also a harvest festival.
  • synagogue syn•a•gogue noun the building where a Jewish assembly or congregation meets for religious worship and instruction.
  • Talmud Tal•mud noun The Talmud (Hebrew for “study”) is one of the central works of the Jewish people.
  • Zohar Zo•har noun the chief text of the Jewish Kabbalah, presented as an allegorical or mystical interpretation of the Pentateuch.

Literary devices

  • ancillary characters less important characters who highlight more significant characters or interact with them in such a way as to provide insight into the narrative action.
  • characterization step by step development of a character highlight and explain the details about a character in a story.
  • connotation the shade of meaning each word carries beyond the minimal, strict definition found in a dictionary.
  • diction – word choice – A study of diction is the analysis of how a writer uses language for a distinct purpose and effect, including word choice and figures of speech.
  • diction types:
    • colloquial words – conversational language – Is there dialect?
    • slang – highly informal
    • jargon – the special language of a profession or group (lawyer talk, technical talk)
  • dramatic irony when the readers know something that the characters do not know.
  • imagery a literary device that uses visually descriptive language that pulls from any one or more of the five senses.
  • memoir a written factual account of someone’s life
  • metaphor an implicit, implied or hidden comparison between two things that are unrelated but share some common characteristics. A metaphor is similar to a simile, but it does not use the words “like” or “as.”
  • parallelism when the writer establishes similar patterns of grammatical structure and length.
  • personification a literary device that applies human characteristics to something nonhuman. For example: The sun kissed the flowers.
  • rhetorical question a question asked in order to create dramatic effect or to make a point, rather than to get an answer
  • sequence order of events in a story
  • simile a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid. A simile uses the words “like” or “as” in its comparison.
  • style describes the words and characteristic way that a writer uses words, sentence structure, parallelism and literary devices such as imagery, simile, anaphora, or irony to achieve certain effects.
  • stylistics those features that distinguish how a writer write rather than what they write about such as sentence length, preferred rhetorical devices, tendencies in diction, etc.
  • symbolism the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities.
  • theme central idea or meaning that unifies a literary work
  • tone – The manner of expression showing the author’s attitude toward characters, events, or situations. Tone is reflected in the author’s “voice.”

Close reading Chapters 1-2

Directions: Carefully read the following passage. Use the chart provided to guide you in analyzing all of the passage’s important elements. The claim has been determined for you.

CLAIM: Chapters 1 & 2 include significant prophetic warnings First warning: Moishe the Beadle Sequence of events:

  1.   Moishe the Beadle is a poor, foreign Jew who lives in the town of Sighet. He is a teacher, well versed in a Jewish tradition known as the Kabbalah, which involves mysticism. 15-year-old Eliezer asked his father to help him find a master to teach him Kabbalah (p. 4). Moishe the Beadle becomes that person.
  2. When all foreign Jews were expelled from Sighet, Moishe the Beadle was among them (p. 6).
  3. Later, he returns to Sighet after a massacre of foreign Jews to warn the Jews of Sighet of coming danger.
Passage #1: Moishe the Beadle’s (pg. 7):

Day after day, night after night, he went from one Jewish house to the next, telling his story and that of Malka, the young girl who lay dying for three days, and that of Tobie, the tailor who begged to die before his sons were killed.

Moishe was not the same. The joy in his eyes was gone. He no longer sang. He no longer mentioned either God or Kabbalah. He spoke only of what he had seen. But people not only refused to believe his tales, they refused to listen. Some even insinuated that he only wanted their pity, that he was imagining things. Others flatly said that he had gone mad.

As for Moishe, he wept and pleaded: “Jews, listen to me! That’s all I ask of you. No money. No pity. Just listen to me!” he kept shouting in synagogue, between the prayer at dusk and the evening prayer.

Even I did not believe him. I often sat with him, after services, and listened to his tales, trying to understand his grief. But all I felt was pity.

“They think I’m mad,” he whispered, and tears, like drops of wax, flowed from his eyes.

Elements of Style: Identification and Analysis:

How are words arranged in the passage? Does the author use simple or complex sentences? Are there unique uses of fragments or       run-ons?

What about structural devices such as ancillary characters, and parallelism?


Carefully examine the language of the passage. Pay attention to the author’s diction (word choice), including vocabulary and words with strong or weak connotative meanings. Underline key words and terms that determine the author’s diction.





Figurative Language

 Identify key rhetorical devices, such as simile, metaphor, personification, symbol, symbolism, and imagery.

Comment on their effect on the passage as a whole.



 What is the speaker’s attitude in the passage? What aspect(s) of the text suggest this? Is more than one attitude or point of view expressed? Does the passage have a noticeable emotional mood or atmosphere? What effect does tone have on the reader?


Foreshadow vs. Prophecy

 A foreshadow is a hint or suggestion of what is to come. Prophecy is a direct claim, especially made by a prophet or individual under divine inspiration. Is this passage an example of foreshadow or prophecy? Explain your answer.



 In identifying the theme, it is necessary to recognize the human experience, motivation, or condition suggested by the literature. Who are the subjects of this passage? What are the circumstances or conditions surrounding the main idea?  What is the theme of this passage?

Thank you for visiting. To see more of this lesson, click this link.

Animals of the African Savannah: DIY Giraffe

Kids can’t resist this googly-eyed giraffe made of a few boxes, paper mache’, and toilet paper rolls that will soon stand tall in our classroom’s unit on the African savannah. This group project includes a variety of art activities that compliment the various age and ability levels of my homeschoolers.  Thus, 5-year-old Khloe can paint the ears with washable tempera paint, while 11-year-old Lauren attaches the legs and neck with strips of of newspaper. Here’s how we did it:

To kick start our project, I painted the boxes the night before and let them dry overnight.
To kick start our project, I painted the boxes the night before and let them dry overnight.

I used two boxes for each giraffe: a a large one for the body and a small one for its head. I don’t have exact dimensions. You’ll have to use your own judgement.

20150817_114450The girls put on old tee shirts to protect their clothes and we all went to work.

We used toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls for the neck and legs. The girls attached two paper towel rolls with painter’s tape and covered the entire piece with newspaper strips to build the neck legs and for the legs, they attached three toilet paper rolls and covered them with newspaper strips.


A word on working with paper mache: It is essential that you allow the paste to dry completely before adding another medium such as glue or paint on top of the paper mache. Otherwise, your project could rot on the inside and even grow mold. Unless you allow each part to dry thoroughly, you could eventually wind up with a rotted mess.


INGREDIENTS & RECIPE: Mix flour and water to get the consistency that you are most comfortable with. Use a fork to smooth out the lumps.


Wrap each leg and and the neck with torn strips of newspaper and paste.  Be careful to not over saturate the paper rolls or they will collapse and turn to mush. If any part becomes too wet, lay strips of dry newspaper over the saturated section and let the paste hold each strip in place. I suggest wrapping 2-3 layers. Smooth each strip and fill in any air pockets. Let the paper mache dry overnight.


The next morning, I painted the neck and legs and left them to dry overnight.

Next, the girls used brown construction paper to cut the spots. They glued spots all over the giraffe’s body, neck, and legs.

To assemble the neck and legs to the body, I took a few extra steps to ensure durability.


I positioned each limb and stuck four small craft sticks strategically around. I wrapped painter’s tape around the sticks and neck and then covered with newspaper strips.


I used large googly-eyes  at   the end of the box.


I cut two ears from Styrofoam plates and plates and let Khloe and London paint them. I glued the ears on the underside of the smaller box.


Lauren went over our giraffe with a final coat of paint and thus, our giraffes were born.

DIY: Africa wall map that’s dry-erase friendly

I needed a  large map of the continent of Africa that was durable enough for students to roll up, take home, and complete homework assignments; and big enough for them to write on, label each country, color and label the surrounding water bodies, highlight the major biomes, and draw the animals that dominate the various regions. I couldn’t find on that fit all of my needs, so I made my own.  Here’s how:


First, I put two 11″ x 17″ poster boards side by side and taped taped them taped them together vertically, along the back seam. I centered a large puzzle of Africa on top of the two pieces (see photo above). I traced each piece in pencil and then traced over the pencil with a Sharpie.


I taped the two pieces together and used my computer to print the title, “The Continent of Africa.” My hubby laminated it it for me. It works great! Students can write and erase with no problem.


Homeschool cooking: Confetti pasta salad

It took my student, Kennedy, just under 5 minutes to put this colorful beauty together. Her comments after lunch, “This is delicious! I’m gonna tell my mom to make Confetti pasta for dinner.”



  • 16 oz. Pkg. Bowtie pasta (cooked, rinsed, and drained)
  • Large bag (40 oz.) mixed vegetables (cooked, rinsed, and drained)
  • 2 large cans tuna packed in water (drained)
  • 16-oz bottle fat-free Italian salad dressing
  1. Mix together
  2. Refrigerate til cold
  3. Serve

Eezzy peezy

Homeschool cooking: Rainbow salad… nutritional benefits, lesson plans, and recipes to encourage healthier kids

Examples of Fruit and Vegetable Fact SheetsFirst, the freebies:

  • The University of Nebraska has a great FREE resource of fruit and vegetable fact sheets that parents and teachers can download and share with their children.
  • SuperKids Nutrition Inc. in partnership with the American Institute for Cancer Research, has a great lesson that focuses on the benefits of eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
    Students will discuss the health benefits of different colored fruits and vegetables to better understand how they help them to grow strong and healthy. Students will have the opportunity to prepare a Carrot Slaw with Pineapple, Apples and Almonds and learn how a salad made of fruits and vegetables can help them fight off disease.
  • Care connection has some great resources including puzzles, and games such as Vegetable bingo. Seriously, if you teach Health and Nutrition to children, download this resource. It’s called, Colors of Food.


As for today’s lunch at the TAMS and ED home front, we taught our students that just like that wonderful pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, a Rainbow salad leads to a gold mine of healthy eating options for them. Rainbow salads generate fun and excitement. They provide us with a great way to introduce kids to new fruits and vegetables. And, because every color of fruit and vegetable contains a different set of phytonutrients, Rainbow salads should be a regular on your lunch and dinner lineup. It’s important to eat from every color of the rainbow to get a broad spectrum of nutrition.


Whenever my students build their Rainbow salads, I have one rule: Try something in every color. Today’s salad bar consisted of purple cabbage, blueberries, green lettuce, celery, and cucumbers, yellow squash, orange carrots and cantaloupe, red radishes and tomatoes. I also allowed them to top off with a dollop of tuna salad. Here is the nutritional breakdown of those fruits and veggies:


  • PURPLE CABBAGE: Purple cabbage is high in fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. A 1-cup serving of chopped purple cabbage provides 2 grams of fiber, or 8 percent of the 25-gram daily value as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration. The potassium content in 1 cup of chopped purple cabbage is 216 milligrams. Potassium keeps your body’s fluid level from fluctuating to unhealthy volumes, and the Institute of Medicine recommends consuming 4.700 milligrams a day to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Potassium also prevents heart muscle stress by supporting the contraction that fuels your heartbeat.


  • BLUEBERRIES: Blueberries help promote urinary tract health, protect against aging-related eye problems, helps keep memory sharp, and being rich in fiber, is also beneficial for constipation and digestion.


  • CELERY is a rich source of folic acid, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin-C, which are essential for optimum metabolism.  It’s also an excellent source of vitamin K, which helps increase bone mass by promoting osteotrophic activity in the bones.
  • LETTUCE: Vitamins in lettuce are varied and plentiful. It’s an excellent source of several Vitamin A and beta carotene.  Vitamin A is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin, and is also essential for vision. Beta carotene aids the process. Lettuce is also a rich source of vitamin K, which is essential to the development of bone mass.
  • CUCUMBERS: Cucumbers are high in potassium. They contain unique anti-oxidant compounds that help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals.  Because of their high water content, cucumbers also have mild diuretic property, which helps in checking weight gain and high blood pressure.  Last, they have a high amount of vitamin K, which has been found to have a potential role in promoting bone mass and strength.


  • Yellow squash is an excellent source of vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin A , fiber, folate, copper, riboflavin and phosphorus. It is also abundant in potassium, which is a key electrolyte in the balance of fluids and also provides muscle energy.  It’s also high in manganese, a mineral which helps the body process fats, carbohydrates, and glucose.


  • Carrots are root plants that are rich in carotenes that convert into vitamin A in the liver cells. Beta-carotene is the major carotene present in these roots. Beta carotene is one of the powerful natural anti-oxidant that helps protect human body from harmful oxygen-free radical injury. In addition, it also carries out all the functions of vitamin-A such as maintaining good eye health, reproduction (sperm production), maintenance of epithelial integrity, growth and development.


  • This sweet melon is fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free, packed with vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin A. Nuff said. 


  • Radishes are cruciferous root vegetables that are rich in anti-oxidents. A word of advice. Once you bring your radishes home, cut off the green tops as they rob the radish of essential vitamins and minersals.


  • Tomatoes are in the fruit family, but they are served and prepared as a vegetable. They are one of the most popular vegetables eaten by Americans. They can be eaten raw or cooked (baked, stewed, grilled or stir-fried). They are wonderful to eat alone. Many Americans add tomatoes to salads and sandwiches. soups, salsas and sauces. Tomato sauce is used in many pasta dishes such as spaghetti and on pizza. Ketchup is made from tomatoes. They are fat free, cholesterol free, and a good source of vitamins A and C.


Homeschool cooking: Brazillian empadinhas

Empanadas are a delicious change from the ordinary, everyday sandwich. Moreover, if you pack your child’s lunch box with a few empanadas, rice; black beans, and a few plantains, your child will enjoy a healthy and tasty meal made of Brazillian favorites.


Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world. The landscape consists of rolling hills, mountains, tropical beaches, and lush rain forests. This diverse landscape hosts an array of exciting foods including plenteous seafood and fish that live in the Amazon River and fruits and nuts that grow wild in the rain forests.

Brazilians eat a lot of beans and rice. They also eat a lot of beef, including bar-b-qued ribs called Churrasco. The national dish is a bean and pork stew called Feijoada. The stew was created by African slaves working on the sugar plantations near Rio de Janerio.

Today, we’re serving another Brazillian favorite, tiny meat pies called empadinhas, (or empanadas), along with black beans, white rice with lemon slices, and plantains.

Empadinhas can be filled with just about anything: seafood, beans, vegetables, or meat. I stuff mine with a spicy mix of ground beef, cubed potatoes, and green peas. I often make several dozen in advance and freeze them. They freeze well and last about six months in freezer-safe bags. My homeschoolers love them and they also make a delicious lunch box or after-school treat.


  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 2 baking potatoes  (peeled and cubed)
  • 1/2 onion  (chopped)
  • 1/2 bell pepper  (chopped)
  • 2 tbsp garlic  (minced)
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 c. peas
  • Goya all-purpose seasoning, salt, pepper to taste
  • 2 packages pie crust


  1. Boil potato cubes until soft (but not mushy) about 10 minutes.
  2. Sauté onions, bell pepper, and garlic until transparent.
  3. Add ground beef to onion mixture. Brown the meat until crumbly. Add seasoning to taste. Drain excess liquid.




  1. Roll out your pie crust.
  2. Spread a thin layer of meat mixture on bottom layer. Leave about 1/4″ margin all the way around.
  3. Lay second round on top.
  4. Press gently with a fork all the way around.


  1. Use a pizza cutter to cut into smaller pies. I can get about 16 small pies from two rounds of dough. Seal the edges.
  2. Bake on a cookie sheet in a 350° oven for about 20 minutes or until brown.
  3. To freeze, lay waxed paper over the bottom of a cookie pan. Arrange pies in layers. Put a sheet of waxed paper between each layer.
  4. Thaw and bake in 350° oven for 20 minutes.