Better Behavior Toolkit: Emotional Literacy

Emotional Literacy or Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify and express your feelings as well as identify and express the feelings of others. Just like walking and talking these skills are developmental and must be taught and practiced. This skill is also a prerequisite to emotional regulation, successful interpersonal skills and problem solving, thus one of the most important skills learned during the early years. (Denham, 1986)

This emotional development happens gradually and is usually linked closely to children’s language development. The desire to express thoughts, needs, and feelings with others motivates children to develop and use language.

The development of speech and language includes…

  • Receptive Language, which is the ability to comprehend language and includes listening to, recognizing, and understanding the communication of others, and is developed first.
  • Expressive Language is the ability to express wants, needs and feelings using words, phrases, or sentences. It also includes gestures and facial expressions.

Once children develop enough language for simple communication, they can simultaneously begin to build their emotional vocabulary. Learning feelings words are easy to teach because your facial expressions will go along with the words to aid in the connection in the brain. For example, when you say “happy” your face is smiling, laughing and your voice will sound light. This vocabulary can be taught directly in isolation or incidentally through play and activities.

As children develop vocabulary it is critical to introduce them to general emotion words (happy, sad, mad, etc) and then a variety of shades of meaning for emotions (excited, furious, embarrassed, etc). Labeling children’s emotions allow them to begin to identify their internal state, which is fundamental in them beginning to learn to regulate their emotions. Being aware and verbalizing that they are “angry” is an important step before teaching children to regulate themselves or calm down in place of throwing a tantrum.

It is also important for adults to empathize with the feelings of children. This is how they will eventually learn to empathize with the feelings of others. They can learn to read physical features and body language as well as the tone of voice to determine how someone is feeling. So when a child is sad, the adult can say things like “Your head is down and your mouth is frowning, do you feel sad? What made you feel sad?” This follow up reinforces that usually a feeling is created by a happening or situation, or person.

Older children can learn that they have a choice in how they react to situations to empower them to not let situations or other people determine their state, but that they can choose their feelings and emotional state regardless of what may be happening around them. What a gift THAT is!!! There are probably many adults who would benefit from learning that lesson as well! 🙂

According to Joseph & Strain (2002), for emotional vocabulary to effective adults must first spend the time necessary to build positive relationships with children. This is the foundation necessary to maximize influence to build emotional vocabulary…and ALL learning!

The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning is a great place for parents and teachers to access strategies and materials. Among other useful resources, there is a book list for feelings, emotions and relationships. Click the link under the picture to get the free 6 page PDF list!

In conclusion, the importance of devoting planned attention to teaching emotional literacy cannot be overstated. Children do not come already wired with it. Denham (1986) finds that we may expect fewer challenging behaviors and more developmentally sophisticated and enjoyable peer relations. What a wonderful world this would be if everyone was socially and emotionally regulated! We have the power…one child at a time!!


Denham, S.A. (1986). Social cognition, prosocial behavior and emotions in preschoolers. Child Development 57 (pp 194-201)

Joseph, G.E. & Strain, P.S. (2002). Building positive relationships with young children. (Click HERE for the article)


Better Behavior Toolkit: The Circle of Security

A child exhibiting challenging behaviors is likely to be scolded, punished, and even ignored by adults and other children (since children take their cues from the adults) and unfortunately this reaction to the behavior will reap the exact opposite of what the adult desires, which is better behavior.

Building a secure, trusting relationship with the child can be a long exhausting process and can take much longer than patience allows for. But research proves that this very relationship can bring “strong and persistent” benefits including…

  • they like school more
  • they participate more actively
  • they perform better academically
  • they get along better with other children
  • they develop better social skills
  • they are able to exert more control over their emotions
  • for children at high risk, a close relationship diminishes aggressive behavior and boosts academic achievement

Wow, a positive relationship sounds a lot like a magic wand, wouldn’t you agree? And the best part is, it’s totally and completely free. All you need is the desire to do it and a boat load of determination!

Here is a diagram of the Circle of Repair. Mom/Dad can of course be substituted with any trusted adult!

The two videos below offer more explanation of this strategy and process. The first on is geared towards parents, and the second is geared more for teachers. But there is great information in both!

Research states that there are 2 critical factors of interactions: sensitivity and responsiveness. These factors require being aware of the child’s signals, interpreting them accurately, and responding to them appropriately. When adults respond empathically, listen carefully, keep promises, and accept (not condone) the negative emotions, it allows the child to believe that adults can be trusted to respond to their needs.

Doesn’t every child deserve to believe that?

I would say…absolutely!!!



Hamre & Pianta, 2001 Can instructional and emotional support…make a difference fro children at risk of school failure? Child Development.

Dombro, Jablon, & Stetson, 2011 Powerful Interactions.

Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978 Patterns of Attachment

The Power of Social Stories!

Social stories are a very effective way to teach and reinforce routines and expected behaviors in the classroom and at home. Children love to read, retell, and listen to stories which makes this an ideal method to teach routines, expectations, and social skills. The story format disarms children since you are not correcting or scolding them, and they can be more receptive to seeing the characters in the stories make mistakes and solve problems. Children can identify with the feelings and behaviors of those characters and are introduced to a new way of responding and reacting in similar situations.

The site below is a great one-stop shop for social stories and explains why, when, and how to use them. The also have TONS of examples of free social stories. Even better, they have an abundance of images you can use to create your own indivualized stories!! Click the link below the picture to check it out!! 



Top 10 Must Have Literacy Books — For The Love of Literacy

I love everything about reading. I love reading, I love teaching reading and I love reading about teaching reading. 🙂 Here are my top 10 books that I believe that every literacy leader should read. I have read most, and I have a couple that are on my summer reading list. 🙂 Teaching with Intention: […]

via Top 10 Must Have Literacy Books — For The Love of Literacy

Student Agency vs. Reading Instruction — Making Good Humans

It is no secret that this year I have been trying to create a classroom culture that respects and supports’ my students’ agency in their journey as learners. One of my biggest challenges this year has been figuring out how traditional approaches to reading instruction can fit within a model designed to help students take back ownership […]

via Student Agency vs. Reading Instruction — Making Good Humans

12 Tips for Powerful Guided Reading Teaching!

By Irene Fountas, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Director/Author/Professor The following are some guiding principles from Irene Fountas that may help you get more power in your teaching: Notice the student’s precise reading behaviors. Eliminate ineffective behaviors and help the reader do what proficient readers do. Select a text on which the reader […]

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 2.24.26 PMvia Twelve Tips for Powerful Teaching in Guided Reading Lessons — Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Guided Reading Self-Assessment: Test yourself!!

Imagem-blog-Geopi-CamilaΟ  I use an assessment to determine the levels of my students (Assessing Reading Progress: Setting Goals & Monitoring, The most important focus for guided reading success, )

Ο  I group my students based on their reading levels or needs (How to group students, How do I find out what my students need? The most valuable resource for literacy instruction)

Ο  My groups are made of less than 6 students (Teachers can respond to children’s reading more effectively. Amendum, et al., 2009)

Ο  I know the reading behaviors needed for my students to reach their next level (Guided Reading freebies!  The most valuable resource for literacy instruction)

Ο  I know the text characteristics for all the levels represented in my class (F & P Guided Reading Text Level Descriptions)

Ο  I select books based on appropriate text characteristics for each level (Find information for selecting appropriate texts here)

Ο  My students reread previous books for the first few minutes of the lesson (The Power of Rereading)

Îź   I use running records to assess my students’ growth or frustration once a week, per student (Running Records Resources, Running Records App)

Ο  I move students based on the results of the weekly running records (Assessing Reading Progress)

Ο  My book introduction allows students to access the text, but leaves them work to do (How to Craft Strong Book Intros for Guided Reading)

Ο  I take anecdotal notes while students are reading and note strengths and weaknesses (Observing and Noting Reading Behaviors)

Ο  I engage groups in conversations about the text

  • Literacy develops best through social interaction and dialogue with others (Dowhower, 1999)
  • Teachers should make a shift from asking predetermined questions designed to ensure that the students arrive at the “right” meaning to facilitating conversations that encourage students’ exploratory talk as they arrive at a deeper meaning (Gavelek and Raphael, 1996)


Ο  I have a variety of appropriate independent, shared, or project-based activities for the remainder of the class that keep them engaged while I am working with my groups (What does research say about literacy centers?,  Powerful resource for small group instruction)

Ο   There are no interruptions during my guided reading lessons from the remainder of my class (How do I organize my classroom for small group instruction?, 3 ways to ensure success at small group and center time, Powerful resource for small group instruction)

Ο  I make sure when my groups leave the table they are applying what we practiced during guided reading (Critical component for guided reading success)

How’d you do?


10 Best Practices for Brain Compatible Teaching!

  1.  Learners need to feel safe

  2. Learners need to have structureScreen Shot 2017-05-04 at 3.10.31 PM

  3. Learners need novel activities

  4. Require frequent responses

  5. Allow appropriate wait time

  6. Combine content with music or movement

  7. Provide water every 10 to 45 minutes

  8. Offer fresh or dried fruits

  9. Create a relaxing atmosphere that feels “homey”

  10. Allow students to make choices

Critical Component for Guided Reading Success & FREEBIES!!

There is only one way to know if your students are transferring the strategies you teach in guided reading to their reading behaviors, and that is…independent reading!  reading

If you do not have 15-20 minutes in your day for independent reading, find a way to fit it in!  And by the way, you need to be available during this time to observe and confer with your students!

What the research says…

Students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not (Krashen 1993; Cunningham and Stanovich 1991; Stanovich and Cunningham 1993)

Students who do a substantial amount of voluntary reading demonstrate a positive attitude toward reading is upheld in both qualitative and quantitative research (Long and Henderson 1973; Greaney 1980; Hepler and Hickman 1982; Greaney and Hegarty 1987; Reutzel and Hollingsworth 1991; Shapiro and White 1991; Mathewson 1994; Barbieri 1995; Short 1995)

Students’ reading achievement has been shown to correlate with success in school and the amount of independent reading they do (Greaney 1980; Anderson, Fielding and Wilson 1988)

Time spent reading contributes to reading achievement in ways that simply doing worksheets or other activities does not (Allington, 2002; Foorman et al., 2006)

We become more proficient at what we practice (Cullinan 1992)


A few things to consider…

You may need to build the stamina of the students to read for 15-20 minutes at a time, especially if they are new to independent reading.  Start with 3-5 minutes if you need to- rather than having 20 minutes where you are redirecting behaviors for 15 of them!

Make sure students have several books they can read independently, in case they lose interest in one or finish before time is up.  They should also have one or two books that stretch them a bit in the direction of the next level they are working toward.

Allow students to find a space alone n the room where they can get comfortable or move away from others to focus on reading.  Rug squares or pillows would be a good investment.  This sends the message that reading is enjoyable and not just a desk and chair activity!

Consider giving students the opportunity for the last few minutes to talk with a partner about what they read.  You can even offer a topic for  them to discuss like What was something interesting you read? or What made you laugh while you were reading?  Or you could have them discuss a skill you are working one like, What did you learn about your character? or Was your book fiction or non fiction?  How do you know?  This brings in social context of riding and creates accountability for their reading time.  At some point students can begin to come up with sharing ideas or questions.

What should YOU do?

Observe:  Simply watch reading behaviors of the class as a whole, or individual readers to determine teaching or support needs.  Especially when you are introducing things and building stamina.  Here is an inventory you can use to note student behaviors during independent reading.  You can adjust the form as needed here EngagementInventory

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Confer:  Listen in to students’ reading while scaffolding, questioning, or checking on specific strategies you’ve taught during your guided reading lessons.  How else will you know if they are actually applying the strategies they have learned properly- or at all??  Before leaving each student, tell them 2 things they did well and one thing they should work on…”2 Hugs and a Push” or “2 Glows and a Grow”.

Here are some sample of conferencing forms…click on them to get the PDF

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Found some amazing information and freebies here…
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   Here is a free download I found there…
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What are some ideas you have for independent reading?  Comment below!

What do my students need BEFORE formal guided reading? These 3 things!

For teachers in the lower grades, this is a popular dilemma .  In Kindergarten, formal guided reading usually doesn’t begin until around January.  (That shouldn’t be a hard fast rule, though.  Some young learners will be ready sooner, and if they are..START!)  bee readTaking time to front-load important strategies will make the guided reading lessons more meaningful!

According to author Joan Aldrich Knight, these are the 3 earliest strategies before formal guided reading…


Teach students how print works- left to right and top to bottom.  During your read aloud model with your finger.  When singing familiar songs, write out the lyrics and follow the print with your finger or a pointer.

Voice Pointing/Tracking

Students need practice with pointing under each word and there are plenty of fun ways to do it.  You can give them fun things to point with like chopsticks, popsicle sticks with eyeballs, fuzzy balls, or gems glued to the tip, or those witch fingernails that come out around Halloween.  You can also make lily pads and use a frog to move from pad to pad.  Be creative!

Sight Words

Emergent books are full of sight words.  The more words students know, they more fluent they will be once they get started with guided reading.

Building a strong foundation will make your guided reading lessons a breeze!