Differentiated Phonics Instruction – Virtual Learning Edition

Last spring, when schools closed, I didn’t know what to think. I was in shock to be honest. When has this ever happened? I had never heard of it. My thoughts began to race…Of course, I understood that health and safety are top priority, but I began to think about my students and the progress they had made. Would that progress be lost? How can I possibly teach struggling learners in an online setting?

As an intervention specialist, I was in a bit of a predicament. My students had been struggling during in-person instruction. That is why they were referred to me. If online learning was proving to be a struggle for students who had not previously been struggling, what was to become of my kiddos? I knew I had to act quickly. I could not risk my students losing the tremendous progress we had made over the course of the school year. I wanted them to feel successful even though the odds were stacked against them. I wanted them to know that I cared, that I still believed in them, but most importantly, I wanted them to believe in themselves.

In order to continue to make progress, I needed to hear them read and help them learn the remaining phonics skills we had yet to cover. Then, it hit me…(cue the music)…


There are a ton of online resources, but this one is an absolute must!

This is an online platform that I had used for years in the classroom, but now I NEEDED it! I needed a way to see my students’ decoding skills in real time during our live virtual lessons. I then created my first set of lessons, using the Draw It activities as a means of students using the skills and strategies we had learned in class: breaking apart words or chunking, highlighting the target phonics skill, and so many more!

I had never taught Nearpod during an online lesson before, but I figured that it should work. There was only one way to find out! I sent out my first Zoom link to parents, along with instructions on how to bookmark Nearpod. (I had to reassure parents A LOT. I asked them to trust me that this process would work, but the truth is I had never done this myself.) My first lesson came, and by the end of it, my students were BEGGING me for another lesson. I am totally serious. They were so excited to play Time to Climb again and work to earn “Monster Points”. (If you read last month’s blog post, you know exactly what I am talking about.)

Well, as you can imagine, I then became a Nearpod lesson-creating machine. I made a Nearpod lesson for EVERY phonics skill I taught. CVC Words through Diphthongs, I have a lesson for them all!!!

I had my online phonics program down to a system:

Day 1

Introduce Phonics Skill – Use a gesture to represent the sound

Highlight the new skill in a single-syllable word and practice reading the words out loud, sometimes using the recoding feature on Nearpod

Matching Activity – Students independently read single-syllable words with the target skill and match the words with their pictures

Time to Climb with single-syllable words

Day 2

Review Phonics Skill – Review gesture

Practice chunking – Highlight the new sound in two-syllable words and practice sounding those words

Students write on their screen to practice chunking multi-syllable words.

Matching Activity – Students independently read two-syllable words with target phonics skill and them to their pictures

Phonics Fluency Passage – Students highlight words with the target skill and read the passage out loud three times

Comprehension Questions

Time to Climb – Students choose the best sentence with two-syllable words to match the picture

Day 3

Review Day / Fluency Practice Day – Review the same sound if needed OR review all sounds covered so far

That brings me to my blog and TpT store. I would love to be able to share these lessons with you and help you navigate an online phonics program. Trust me, this works!

I have created differentiated Nearpod lessons and supplemental worksheets to go right along with them. Grab the bundle or purchase the individual Nearpod lessons. Save your time and deliver targeted phonics instruction in your literacy centers as independent work or via Zoom during distance learning.

Click here to view the All-In-One MEGA Bundle. From there, you can click on individual lessons or worksheet packets if you wish to purchase them separately.

Virtual Classroom Rewards and Incentives

Over the summer, I have spent numerous hours collaborating and brainstorming with teachers from across the globe. In preparation of this coming school year amid the global pandemic, we discussed the biggest challenges of distance learning. One common challenge arose from these virtual conversations:


How can we motivate students and get them to attend regularly when we are not in the same room as them?!

Trust me…I get it! We have zero control over a student’s learning environment and almost no control over their daily schedule! We, as teachers, can encourage them to come to our virtual lessons on time, but if a student does not log in, there is very little we can do. This, as a teacher is heartbreaking! How can I ensure my students are receiving the best possible education if I cannot get them to show up?

I have come up with a solid virtual management plan that is kid-tested and teacher-approved! This plan can work for Kinders all the way up to middle schoolers. (Sorry high school teachers! I have never taught past middle school. Props to you though for teaching teenagers though.) Read on and learn how to use Class Dojo and create your own virtual store. It is worth the time! Trust me…this works!!!

First off, let me answer the question that EVERY one of my students was dying to know as soon as they found out about our Virtual Class Store:

How do I earn points?! How do I get invited to shop at our class store?!

FYI – This came from a sixth grader, so you know the store must be pretty exciting!

You can give out points for anything your heart desires, but my go-to reasons are for being “on time and ready” for lessons, completing all classwork and homework, and showing kindness to our class/parents/teachers. I added the latter this school year. I am trying to help parents out by encouraging my students to find a way to help out at home, whether helping a sibling log-in to a class meeting or helping a parent by cleaning up around the house. I encourage you to think outside the box when awarding these points.

And now…what we’ve all been waiting for…


I am all for intrinsic rewards, but sometimes a teacher just needs some good old fashioned prizes! Treasure boxes are fun, but I definitely like to reward my students with privileges rather than just toys they will most likely lose in a minute or two. Now that many of us are in a virtual learning environment, this gives up the opportunity to put our creative thinking teacher hats on and brainstorm some unique student prizes.

One of my favorite virtual prizes is a guest speaker ticket. I ask for volunteers to teach a virtual enrichment class: art, story time, coding, science, cooking, etc. (If you are short on volunteers, you can teach it yourself.) Just make it a fun lesson or activity that the students don’t usually get during academic learning time. If they earn enough points, they will get an invite link to a virtual meeting where they will learn to be an artist, chef, writer, etc. Kids LOVE this!!! I usually offer these enrichment opportunities at the end of the month. I spend the rest of the month building up to it! For example, if I have a guest artist teaching an art lesson, I will assign articles about various careers in the art world throughout the month. We will even brainstorm questions for the artist. SO FUN!!!

Another easy prize is virtual backgrounds. These make learning fun and festive. Students can use these backgrounds during live virtual meetings. Make them seasonal and lay them out in a Google Slides where students can “shop”.

These images are from my virtual class store. Students fill out an order form and state the image they would like to purchase. I have a year’s worth of seasonal backgrounds available. Click here to check them out.

All of these ideas AND MORE are described in my FREE Virtual Management System. Yes, you read that right…it’s FREE!!! Click here to download!

Until next time…may your class be managed, and your students be merry! Thanks for reading!!!

back to school (1) classroom community (2) Classroom Management (3) Classroom Setup (2) Differentiated Instruction (3) Distance Learning (2) ELA (1) first week of school (4) Literacy (1) Literacy Centers (2) Nearpod (2) Phonics (1) Reading (1) Reading Workshop (3) Student Rewards (1)

Welcome to the Learning N Progress Blog!!!

Welcome fellow educators!!! First, I just want to say how thrilled I am to be in your company. I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by so much talent and inspiration. For my first blog post, I’d like to share a bit about my vision for this forum. Let me tell you a little about my journey and what has led me to this moment…

This may sound cliche, but I have ALWAYS wanted to be a teacher. I was the kid who lined up her stuffed animals and practiced teaching a lesson. Then, I reflected and re-taught the same lesson to make it better. Yes! I was THAT kid. I started working as a tutor as soon as I turned 16. I officially accepted my job on my 16th birthday. I was the very definition of an “eager beaver”. What I didn’t realize was how truly challenging and rewarding this profession would be…

Throughout college, I worked at a school district and ran various extracurricular programs for kids in elementary school. I am SO grateful for these opportunities, as I learned a ton about managing a group of kids. (Taking a group of 30 energetic 5 year-olds to an amusement park teachers you A LOT.) Kinder teachers, hats off to you! Unfortunately, the economy crashed as soon as I was ready to graduate. Districts in my area were not even accepting subs, let alone accepting applications for teaching positions.

In short, teaching seemed like a pipe dream.

I am not going to lie…Sometimes, I felt like giving up. What got me through it was my love for education. That seems corny, I know. But, when I say I LOVE teaching, I really mean it! I actually ended up going back to school to earn a culinary degree (more on that in a later post 😜). That additional degree allowed me to work a full-time job at night while keeping my part-time teaching job during the day. I was not ready to give up on teaching. If I could just get my foot in the door somewhere…

Finally, it happened…a long-term sub position!!!

Now, this wasn’t your run of the mill long-term position. Due to unexpected circumstances, the room had not been set up. There were no established routines and procedures. There was no end date. The position was unknown. I had been given “those kids”. We have all heard THAT before. This was my first position, and I had been thrown into a very challenging situation. Long story short, I learned a VERY important lesson that first year…

I LOVE “those kids”.

This is when I really discovered what it meant to believe EVERY child can succeed.

That first month, I’m not going to lie, it was rough. I would spend all weekend planning the “perfect” lessons and then realize in the moment that I had to adjust. My kids weren’t ready for those lessons. They needed support…emotional, behavioral, academic…I had my work cut out for me. At the end of the day, I would quickly gather my stack of papers to grade and rush off to my second job at the restaurant. I remember grading papers in the back during my dinner breaks…those were the days…

There was one moment that changed everything for me…I was at a loss with this class, so I decided to pause the plans and lead a discussion with my students in regards to how they were feeling about school. One student in particular sticks out. He responded that he actually was starting to feel better about school because he realized that all he needed to do was figure out what he was good at…That’s it!!!

Every child is good at something. It is our job to help them find that strength and use it to their advantage.

What I realized in that moment was that I had to differentiate my instruction. I started small. Each student took out a piece of paper and brainstormed their own strengths. Then, we did a share out. That moment completely changed the rest of the school year. My students started to realize they were good at something. They were capable. This is now an exercise I do with my class at the beginning of each school year. This 9 year-old changed the trajectory of my career. I decided to dedicate myself to learning how to effectively differentiate my instruction and how to use my students’ strengths to manage a classroom.

Over the next several years, I attended every workshop, read every book I could get my hands on, and collaborated with as many fellow educators as possible. I even started to present on differentiating instruction for a couple of educational companies. I even became the intervention lead at my school, organizing both intervention and enrichment for students in grades K-6.

That brings me here…to this moment.

I would like to share what I have learned with you.

I want to create a place where passionate, inspirational teachers like you go to learn and share ideas about how we as educators can strive to reach EVERY student…because somewhere “those kids” are counting on us. Let’s reach them…together.

Differentiation Made Easy…

back to school classroom community Classroom Management Classroom Setup Differentiated Instruction Distance Learning ELA first week of school Literacy Literacy Centers Nearpod Phonics Reading Reading Workshop Student Rewards

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