Teaching sounds spelled in a variety of ways

grrrGrrrr! One of the frustrating aspects of English spelling is that similar or same sounds can be spelled in a variety of ways. On the other hand, the same spelling combination can make different sounds! This post will provide some teaching hints to help children with these spelling issues.


For sounds that are made in different ways, such as the “rrrr” sound, write the main sound in the middle of the paper (for example, rrrr). Then divide the page into halves, thirds, or however many sections you needs. For the “rrrr” sound, you would need sections for rer, ir, and even or and ar (though those two can sound a bit different). Within each section, write a list of words that have the rrrr sound, and are spelled with the specific spelling combination.

Vowel sounds:

You can do the same with vowel sounds. For example, write an “a” in the middle of the sheet, in a square. The divide the sheet into as many parts as you want to work on–“short a” words, and “long a” words with “ai“, with “silent/magic e“, with “eigh“, and with “ay“.


Spellings with alternate sounds:

Keep in mind that some chunks, blends, and digraphs have alternate sounds. You will also need to teach these alternate sounds, and again, the easiest way is to teach a group of words that have that same sound. Some examples:
– “ow” as in “cow” (cow, bow, how, crown, frown)
– “ow” as in “blow” (blow, crow, slow, snow, grow)
– “oy” as in “toy” and “oi” as in “boil”
– “ew” as in “blew” and “ue” as in “blue”
– “ow” as in “cow” and “ou” as in “thou” … and “ough” as in “plough”!

– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-ed“: lifted, hunted, landed
– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-t“: jumped, walked, asked
– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-d“: happened, cared, soared

That tricky end-of-word “y”:

– “y” at the end of words when pronounced as “i“: sky, by, my, fly, cry, try, sly (note that these words are usually short single-syllable words)
– “y” at the end of words when pronounced as “e“: happy, marry, bunny (note that these are usually two syllables, and have a double consonant in the middle where the syllable break happens)

And then there are those multiple pronunciations of sounds like “ough”:

though and thorough … cough and trough … through  and slough … tough and rough and, yes, that’s enough!

What other tricky sound spellings can you think of? Add them in the comments! Thanks!

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Tips on Choosing Books For Your Children

childrens booksSummer holidays are a wonderful time for children to spend lots of time simply enjoying  reading. And with the new school year starting in a few weeks, this is also a good time for them to practice and build their reading skills in preparation. But as you take your child to the library, bookstore, yard sales, exploring online, or digging through your own collection of books, you may be wondering how to choose the best books for your child’s personal needs and interests. This post quotes tips which I have provided to the parents of my tutoring students.

Choose books that are fun, interesting, and enjoyable:

While we want to encourage our children to read books that give them a bit of a “challenge” and encourage them to try new sounds, longer words, and deeper understanding, we also want them to continue to read books that are “easy” and enjoyable for them. Often these are “favorite” books, which make reading a “happy” experience. Encourage them to share these “favorites” with younger siblings, neighborhood children–or even the cat or dog or a beloved stuffy or doll. If they don’t have favorites, look for easy-read books that are on topics of interest to the child, have lots of repetition and rhyme, have common sight words (frequently used words) they easily recognize,  are humorous,  and have great illustrations.

Choose books that are great read-alouds:

As your child reads aloud, encourage her to read smoothly and with expression. If you can find books in which there is simple dialogue (conversation), that is especially helpful, as you can encourage the child to make her voice sound like the character who is speaking. You may also want to “take parts” as in “Readers’ Theatre” where each of you reads the words of a different character. Point out “exclamation” marks (and words with strong feeling), and “question” marks, and demonstrate how to “sound excited” or to “ask a question” when reading. All these simple methods will help your child develop fluency as she reads–and will at the same time really develop their ability to think about and understand the story on a deeper level!

Choose a wide variety of reading materials:

You can also add other reading materials to the child’s reading list–not just fiction books, but homework books, practical reading (newspaper articles, grocery lists, etc.), the information on a cereal box, pamphlets and brochures, greeting cards, recipes, emails or letters, comics, photo-essays, websites, and whatever else your child tries to read. Children’s magazines, such as Chickadee, are excellent for early readers. They are not only colourful and fairly easy to read, but they also have many practical, hands-on activities. Your child can add each article, set of instructions, etc. to the growing reading list. Just as in math, practical-application-reading makes learning the “theory” of reading more interesting to many children.

Keep a record of the books your child reads:

As your child reads each book, have him list the title and the author on a chart. He may also like to record the genre (adventure, science fiction, mystery, etc.) and the reading level  or type of book (picture book, chapter book, fiction, non-fiction). You may even want to add a column for the number of pages (so he can see how his reading is developing), and list 2 or 3 new words he learned in each book. You can also have a column to record the number of minutes for each reading session. Most children will also like to assign each book a rating. One fun way to do this is purchase star stickers of different colours; the child can decide which colour will represent a rating level.

Graph your child’s reading progress:

When your child starts to read simple “chapter books,” you may want to create a simple graph, with the reading days listed on the x axis, and chapter numbers on the y axis. Each day the child can draw a dot to show the day and what chapter they got to that day (or a bar instead of a dot), to keep track of progress. (You can also use a graph for picture books that are too long for a child to read in one sitting, but in this case, use page numbers on the y axis).

Involve your child in choosing books:

Of course, the #1 piece of advice for choosing books for children is to let them be involved in making the choices. You can direct them to particular sections of the library or bookstore if you want them to read a certain level or type of book, or you can even narrow the choice down to perhaps half a dozen books that meet the purpose you have in mind. But do let them have the final choice(s) and they will be far more likely to be interested and engaged in their reading. And when you’ve chosen the books together, then allow the children to choose at least one book totally of their own choice (as long as the content is suiable for children, of couse). Comic books, magazines, how-to books, workbooks–even if you think the material is too easy or too difficult, personal choice always encourages reading!

What tips or questions do you have related to choosing books for children? Be sure to share them in the comments below. Thank you!



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Site changes

time for changeUp until now, this Pen and Paper Mama site has covered all my business. That includes tutoring, editing, and writing. Now I have started a new site, Norma J Hill.com, on which I will feature writing and editing material. This Pen and Paper Mama site will continue to feature information on tutoring, as well as continue to be my hub site for all my websites and blogs.

Over the next while, I will be making changes to this site. There will be a lot more posts that deal with tutoring and learning. I had a goal for the summer to improve all my sites. And I still want to do that, but unfortunately I fractured my elbow, which is really slowing me down. I am using Windows Speech Recognition software to help me type faster–and I think it will help as I get used to it, and as it learns to understand me! So please be patient and bear with me. Thanks!

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Tips on working with an editor

editingBe clear and open about your editing needs:

Tell the editor exactly what you want done with your manuscript, your timeline, what you can afford, and any other similar details. Talk all your requirements and questions over with your editor upfront, and request a written contract that covers all these details. If the editor has different ideas, listen to them carefully, and consider how those changes could improve your manuscript. But if you really disagree, you are better off to find a different editor. And likewise, a good editor will also let you know if a different editor would be better for you to work with.

Discuss fees, and get an estimate and contract:

Discuss the fees up front and get an estimate in writing, which includes what will be done, the estimated time, and the estimated final cost (most editors will provide a minimum and a possible maximum estimate). If you have a cap which you can pay, say so. In that case, if the editor realizes the manuscript is more complex than expected,  he or she can stop and discuss what you want to do–for example, find more funds, do more self-editing first so that the editing job will be less complex, or end the job.

Ways to save editing costs:

The length of time it takes for the edit, and the cost, will depend on the quality of the work you submit. Make your piece as polished as you possibly can before submitting it to the editor (and don’t be surprised if it still needs a lot of work). Another possibility is to have the editor do the first couple chapters, then return it to you. You can examine the types of errors you are making in your writing, and then do another revision of your manuscript to be edited. This often saves you time and money, and is also a valuable leaning experience. If you have friends who are good readers and writers, and are willing to do “beta reads” and give you advice, ask for their input if they are willing. Many communication formats use editors: film, video, magazines, newspapers, blogs, books, fiction, non-fiction, technical writing. Be aware that depending on the format, editing time and deadlines may range from a few minutes to a year or more.

On the other hand, if your piece of writing clearly needs a great deal of work, the editor may choose, rather than doing a full edit, to return it with an overall summary of what they have seen as ongoing issues (for example, a weak beginning and ending, plot problems, language, point of view, mechanical problems, plagiarism), and ask you to do a rewrite. You will pay for that initial edit, but in the end it will be the best for you and your piece.

Be realistic about editing time:

Editing will quite likely take longer than you expect. You will almost always need more editing than you expect, because there will be more problems with your work than you think. Then you will almost certainly need to revise and resubmit for more editing. A good edit almost always requires at least 2 to 3 full read-throughs by your editor, with you doing revisions each time. And don’t forget, once your book has been set up for printing, there will need to be a final proof-read. So when you are planning your timeline—and your costs—keep this in mind. Remember, too, that your editor also has other editing jobs to do, and other personal responsibilities, and cannot be expected to do “rush jobs.” If you demand a rush job, you will either be turned down, or you will be charged extra, usually from 30 to 50% more than regular rates.

Working with publishing house editors:

If you are working with a traditional publisher, including book publishers, magazines and newsletters, websites, and other publishers (and printers), you must follow their rules, their in-house style guide and standards, the “look” of their products, the type of content they are looking for, and their deadlines. A book published through a traditional publisher often has a timeline of 1 ½ to 2 years; magazines often require submissions up to 6 months to a year before the publishing date. And for every kind of publisher, you must know their vision, their needs, and their reader’s needs. Carefully check out products they have already published that are similar to what you are writing; check out their websites; and check out sources of information such as Writer’s Digest manuals.

If you are publishing through a traditional publishing company, your work may go through edits by several editors specializing in different aspects. Check each of their edits, and learn from them. Don’t just check the “overall edit.” But before you even think of sending your manuscript to a traditional publisher (directly or through an agent), make sure you have self-edited it, had beta-readers go through it, and even had a freelance editor go through it. It is very difficult to get manuscripts accepted by traditional editors, so it is essential that it is already as good as you can make it before you submit it. Of course, you should also do the same before submitting to a freelance editor. It’s your pocketbook—and your reputation as a writer—at stake.

Follow all rules and deadlines:

Even simple works, such as submitting poems or short stories to an anthology or a contest, require you to follow their deadlines and their rules (for example, the type of software they require, the font and font size, margins, spacing, and the style guide they require). If you break even the simplest of their “rules,” you may well lose the opportunity to be published. Furthermore, if there is a specified length (in words and/or number of pages or columns), never try to “squeeze” your piece into the given space by single-spacing, widening margins, making the story into one large paragraph, or joining dialogue conversations into one paragraph. You expect your editor and publisher to be professional—and they expect you to be professional, too. Even in “practice” writing and publishing experiences, such as school assignments and anthologies for writers’ camps, write as a professional.

What other tips can you share about working with editors? We’d love to have you share them in the comments below. Thank you!

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Using word chunks to sound out words

Encourage your child, when she is learning to read, to watch for “mini words” or “chunks” she recognizes within words. It is a lot easier to sound out words in “chunks” than to sound out each letter individually.

For example, it is easier to sound out “flashes” as “fl-a-sh-es” than as “f-l-a-s-h-e-s” and it makes a lot more sense to the child–after all when we make the “sh” sound we don’t say “s-h” (suh-huh) or for “es” we don’t say “e-s” (eh-suh).

If a child is having trouble with a certain consonant combination, think of lots of easy, short words that use the combination, and start with those. For example, for “sh” you can point out words like “she, ash, wish, fish” etc. After practicing these several times, your child will soon be noticing the “sh” combinations in more difficult words, and sounding them as “sh.” You can also give your child an old magazine or newspaper or anything that has words on it, and have her search for words with the particular consonant blend. Then circle those words and try sounding them out.

To practice a particular “sound chunk” (like ow, at, ay, ar, ick, ill, etc.), write the chosen chunk on a paper or white/blackboard, and place a copy of the alphabet where the child can easily refer to it. Then together brainstorm as many “family” rhyming words as possible, first using the alphabet letters in order. It is best to start with “short vowel” chunks. For example: -at: at, bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, rat, sat, tat, vat.

Then go back to the beginning of the alphabet, and brainstorm words that use consonant blends. For example: –at: brat, chat, flat, spat. If possible, also think of some multi-syllabic words that “contain” the sound: chatter, mattress, flatter, splatter.

When the child really “gets” the short vowel chunk, you can move on to the similar “long vowel sound” chunk, as in: -ate: (ate, date, fate, gate, hate, late, mate, rate . . . crate,  grate, plate, state . . . create, fateful, statement). While you are doing this, you can of course discuss the spelling rule for magic/silent e.  You can even match up the short and long vowel words to show how adding magic e changes the vowel sound: at/ate, fat/fate, hat/hate, mat/mate, rat/rate.  Once your child understands that, you may also want to use this opportunity to introduce the spelling rule, “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking and says its name, and the second vowel is silent,” using examples such as bait and wait.  For a child who is intrigued by spelling, you can even toss in a couple words like weight and freight!

Another method for working on particular “sound chunks” is to write the chosen chunk in the middle of a page, circle it, and draw lines outward, connecting to more circles. Add single syllable words using the original sound chunk in these circles. From these circles draw more lines out, and more circles. Keep building words this way. Try for 4 levels for at least some of the words. For example: at, cat, chat, chatter or at, bat, brat, bratty.  Or, if you’d like to do it with long vowel sounds, you might do: ate, gate, grate, grateful  or  ate, fate, deflate.

Another thing to try is have your child look for words he already knows, that are found within other words. For example, in and to are found in into; up and on in upon; to and day in today and so on. Using these very simple combinations is a great way to introduce compound words. To help your child, in the beginning you can draw in a light slash between the two words (in/to), and if necessary, cover up one part of the word so the child can focus on the other part, then switch the covered part. Start by covering the different parts with your finger; then have your child do the same with his own finger. Another thing you can do is make a little pile of paper slips, each with a separate small word, and then have your child try putting them together, to discover which ones actually “go together.”

Some words have a “full word” plus a “chunk”: dark+er=darker; child+ren=children. You can use the same methods to help your child figure out these words, as you would use for real compound words.

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Read and Do–and Scooby Doo Too!

Read and Do . . .

Holidays are coming, so here are some fun learning tips for those times when your child is needing something entertaining to do.

If your child enjoys “hands-on” activities, gather some books and magazines written for children that include “how-to” articles. You can often find old copies at thrift stores. “Science experiment” books are also great for this. Even if the writing is above the child’s current level, you can read the article to her, letting her “read along,” reading the words she does know. Compare the words to the pictures/illustrations. Gather the needed materials. If glue is required, get out the glue bottle, and compare the word “glue” in the instructions with the word “glue” on the bottle. Using crayons? Read the crayon colour words. Do as many comparisons as possible between the “direction words” and those words on the real objects. And then get busy doing the activity.

You can extend this activity to include writing and/or other ways of presenting information. For example, your child can take photos of the process, or draw illustrations, and write captions and/or descriptions of the process, to send to grandparents or to post on the family bulletin board (or to take to school for show and tell). This also works for doing activities as well as making things–for example, directions on how to make animal hand shadows using a flashlight or candle for back lighting, or doing a science experiment.

. . . And Scooby Doo too!

It’s high time I posted another “Friday Freebie!” So here are two of them — exercises and activities I put together for the following Scooby Doo books:

The first freebie is a set of activities for each of the books in the Scooby Doo Sight Word books  package.  Well–at least 9 of the 10 books; I seem to have lost book #3. Each book features a different kind of reading comprehension exercise: multiple choice questions, placing correct words in sentences, true or false, matching sentence parts, putting sentences in correct story order, short answer questions, finding rhyming words, answering questions about pictures, answering thinking questions, and unscrambling vocabulary words. Maybe, as a final challenge for your Scooby Doo fans, they could make up their own activity for book #3!

And the second freebie is a Scooby Doo Howling on the Playground Readers Theatre play based on the book!


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What do editors look for?

What do editors look for? Do you really need an editor to help you with your writing? If you are good at spelling, punctuation, and grammar, that’s what is really important. Right? No! Editors can help you with so much more. Just check out the list below:

– Are there unnecessary words, lack of clarity, complicated language, boring or incorrect vocabulary?
– Is the first chapter compelling enough that the reader can’t wait to read the rest?
– Are tone and style consistent throughout? Are the story facts consistent?
– Is the copy readable for the intended audience? Will it be interesting for the intended audience? Does the writer have a particular audience in mind?
– Does the writer have a clear purpose, and has that purpose been achieved?
– Is there a clear theme, and do the main ideas and the details relate directly to the theme?
– Will the reader interpret your message the way you mean?
– Are the plot and characters strong or compelling? If not, what can be done to strengthen them?
– Is each scene in the story plausible? How does in fit within the context of the story, and within the particular genre?
– Are there parts of the story that do not help advance the plot or character development? Is anything “missing”?
– Is there material of questionable taste, potentically libelous material, or incorrect facts?
– Does the ending or conclusion tie up all the loose ends in the story? Is it believeable and satisfying?
– Does the manuscript conform to the required style?
– Is the writing both grammatically sound and balanced in content? Both aspects are absolutely necessary.
– Is the content logical? Does it make sense?
– Are there incomplete, long or awkwardly worded, or incomprehensible sentences?
– Has the writer used passive language rather than active? Has he used direct, active, precise verbs?
– Is the author “telling” rather than “showing”?
– Is there good sentence variety (simple, complex, compound-complex)?
– Are tenses consistent? Have words like “that” or “there is/are” been overused?
– Is using swear words or other informal street language appropriate to the piece of work?
– Have precise, interesting, accurate nouns been used?
– Have too many tags been used in conversation? Or has the writer used action, setting, and other devices to make it clear who is speaking?

Did you know — editors who are also writers hire editors to check their own work, too. It is so easy to miss our own mistakes! If you have questions about editing, check out the other posts on this blog … or email me with your specific questions.

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