9 Ways to Incorporate Reading into the Holiday Season

The Holidays are such a busy time of year. Sometimes during the hustle and bustle of the season, people find there isn’t much time left for reading. Here are some fun ways to fit reading with your children into this hectic time of year.

  1. The Twelve Books of Christmas:

Just about everyone has heard the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but what good is a partridge in a pear tree? And, seven swans a swimming…probably not the most practical gift. Instead, select twelve short books that your children will enjoy. Wrap them in gift wrap and open one each night to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas. Children and adults will enjoy snuggling together under a warm blanket and reading or listening to a quick story before bed.

  1. Read the book before seeing the movie or television show:

Many children look forward to watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” on television. In the days leading up the watching a holiday show, read the book together. Grab a bowl of popcorn or a cup of cocoa and enjoy time together talking about the book and movie.

  1. Light the Menorah and light up young minds:

Make it a holiday tradition to read by candlelight during the eight nights of Chanukah. Poems or short stories read year after year become treasured childhood memories.

  1. Learn about traditions:

While Christmas and Chanukah are two of the major celebrations, there are several other lesser-known holidays. Visit the library or local book store and look for books about the winter solstice, Kwanzaa, St. Lucia Day, Three Kings Day, Saturnalia, Omisoka, and Boxing Day. Learning about other traditions is fun for children and adults.

  1. Audio books count:

When traveling to visit friends and relatives, grab an audio book and take reading on the go. Libraries loan a wide assortment of audio books – everything from preschool stories to long chapter books. Listening to an audio book makes those long car rides feel shorter.

  1. Don’t forget the writing:

Have children write a Wish List, a letter to Santa, or sign their names in holiday cards. Encourage writing on different wintery surfaces such as pressing a finger to write on a frosted window or walking through the snow to write out large letters to spell a word.

  1. Long lines = fun times:

Print out a copy of a familiar holiday story such as “Frosty the Snowman” or “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and keep it in your purse or wallet. When waiting in line at the store or in a restaurant, grab that story and begin reading it. When reading it, leave out certain words and allow children to fill in the blanks. It’s fun to hear how the story changes when children can change character names or events. “‘Twas the night before…Tuesday…when all through the…backyard…not a creature was stirring, not even a …police man…” and “Frosty the…teacher…was a jolly, happy soul, with a…hundred books…and flat tire…and a mouth made out of…spaghetti…”

  1. Fireside fun:

Light up the fireplace, put on pajamas, and read together. Different readers can take turns reading or each reader can read and act out characters from the story. Maybe a different reader reads each night.

  1. Try something new:

Whether it be a new recipe or a new game, encourage children to read the directions aloud. To make oral reading more fun, read in different voices. Try reading with an elf voice or the voice of an abominable snowman.


Even though this time of year is a busy one, be sure to make time for family reading.  Doing so shows children that reading is fun and important. Children who are read to everyday – even if just for 10 minutes – do better in school, gain a deeper understanding of our language, and develop a rich and varied vocabulary. Make time to read today.

Tammi Brandon, M.Ed., CDP

Tammi Brandon is a Master Instructor and Education Consultant with Brainspring Educator Academy.

Bring Brainspring Orton-Gillingham multisensory instruction to your classrooms, transforming struggling K-12 readers into skilled learners through our effective, evidenced -based approach.

Raising a Reader: A Six-Step Guide

As parents and educators, we all want our children to grow up and become successful adults. In our society, being successful and fulfilling the American Dream requires the skill of literacy. Without it, the hope of living the American Dream diminishes. Our society is literacy driven – even the most mundane tasks like filling out a job application or assembling a piece of furniture require basic reading skills. Here at Brainspring Orton-Gillingham, our daily lives are filled with literacy. We are often asked, “What can I do to help my child at home?”

So, what can you do to encourage literacy? Here are six simple things all families can do.

1. Read.

From the time baby enters the world, read to her. Nursing moms can read aloud magazine articles and coffee-drinking dads can read newspaper bits to baby as she sits in her highchair munching on Cheerios. Read everything and anything: street signs, food labels, menus, and, of course, books!

2. Model.

Take time to read yourself. Curl up with a good book. Demonstrate that reading is enjoyable. Show your children that it is fun to read and that reading lasts a lifetime. Rather than turning on the television, grab a book…even if it is just for 15 minutes. Do it on the daily. Your own interest and excitement for reading will become contagious.

3. Word Play.

While reading and singing might not seem to have much in common, they do! Sing rhyming songs, alphabet songs, songs with varied vocabulary. Being able to rhyme words is an important step in emerging literacy, so show that it is fun through song. Play games with the language, too. Try talking about an everyday activity using only one letter to begin the words in a sentence. Instead of “time to brush your teeth” replace the first letter of the main words with a new letter, such as M, and you get “mime to mush your meeth”. Building word awareness is critical to reading success.

4. Read, read, and re-read.

While you may tire of reading the same story over and over again, your child likely will not. Go ahead and read that same book every night. Help your child become engaged in the story by saying, “what comes next?” or leaving out a word and asking your little one to fill in the blank. Have your child turn the pages. And remember to point out details in the picture. Tell the author’s name and ask about the characters in the story.

5. Read the world.

Words are all around us! Turn every day into a reading adventure. While shopping, go on a letter hunt by choosing a specific letter to find on store signs, tags, boxes, and bags.  Visit the local library and the book section of your local store and browse through the books. Take a book with you wherever you go…to the doctor’s office, to the park, to the restaurant. Read whenever and wherever you have the chance. Make reading mobile.

6. Talk.

This seems simple enough. We do it every day. Children who do not hear rich and varied vocabulary tend to be “word poor”. So, speak to even the youngest child in full sentences and use complex vocabulary from an early age. Instead of, “Do you want your baba?” try asking, “Are you feeling hungry? Would you like to have a bottle of warm milk?” or, “I think you might be ready for your bottle. Let me get one ready for you.” Using a variety of words and sentence forms increases vocabulary development and helps prepare children for literacy.

Reading lasts a lifetime and it is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. So, grab a book and start reading today.

Tammi Brandon, M.Ed., CDP

Tammi Brandon is a Master Instructor and Education Consultant with Brainspring Educator Academy.

Brainspring’s Educator Academy helps teachers bring Orton-Gillingham based multisensory instruction to the classroom. Our nationally accredited Phonics First® curriculum helps transform struggling readers into skilled learners with an effective, fun, multisensory approach.

For more information please visit brainspring.com or call 1-8007323211


The Importance of Controlled Readers

What are Controlled Readers?

And Why are they Important to Emerging and Struggling Readers?

Controlled Readers are an excellent resource for beginning and struggling readers, yet they are seldom used in most reading programs.   They are extremely effective for helping students gain confidence in reading while also building fluency.  Controlled Readers are a series of short stories that typically follow the sequence of skills taught in a particular program.  What makes them different from Leveled Readers is that they only contain the skills the student has specifically learned.   A Leveled Reader may emphasize a particular skill the student is practicing but they also contain many patterns the student has not learned.

Syllable Patterns

Some of the main syllable patterns that are taught to students are listed below.  They are listed in the order of frequency that they are used in the English language.

In Kindergarten, students often start learning the first pattern, the Consonant-Vowel-Consonant pattern (CVC) or closed syllable pattern.  These are typically one syllable words with short vowels, like “sit”, “hot” and “pan”.  This is the most common syllable type, so it makes sense that we start to teach reading with this pattern.

Leveled Reader vs. Controlled Reader

The next set of pictures shows an example of a Leveled Reader vs. a Controlled Reader.  The words in the text are color-coded to match the syllable types listed above.  Both contain beginning first grade level text.


At this point, most students have learned the CVC pattern (blue) and a few sight words (red).  As you can see, the Controlled Reader (right) has all blue and red words, whereas, the Leveled Reader contains a mix of syllable types, including patterns the student has not learned.

My Story

When my daughter was in Kindergarten, the teacher focused on teaching the CVC pattern.  My daughter could read and spell words containing this pattern pretty accurately.  She left kindergarten on grade level.  Three weeks into first grade, I received a letter stating she was behind in reading and they wanted to pull her out a half hour a day for remediation.  I was shocked and berated myself for not working with her more over the summer.  I readily agreed to the extra help.

When conference time came around, I saw the reading specialist and asked her what they were working on.  She looked at me and said, “short u makes the /u/ sound”.  I thought this was odd since my daughter could read and spell words containing short vowels with accuracy.   The reading specialist must have noted the expression on my face because she said, “Well your daughter is at a Level 7 and she really should be at a Level 10”.  I asked her what was the difference between a Level 7 book and a Level 10 book.  She looked at me and asked, “What do you mean?”  I wasn’t exactly sure how to reword my question, so I did what many people do, I slowed my words down and enunciated my question more clearly.  “What is  the  skill  difference   between   a   Level  7  book   and  a  Level  10  book?”  In our program, Phonics First®, three levels would mean the difference between three specific skills.  She still didn’t understand my question so I asked her to send me a copy of a Level 7 book and a Level 10 book.

When I took a look at both books I was shocked.  I thought, “of course she can’t read these books!”  They contained silent-e words, vowel teams, diphthongs; patterns that had not been taught to her yet in the first two months of first grade.  To me, this is similar to teaching a child addition and then giving her a worksheet with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and then saying there is something wrong with the child because she isn’t successful.  I found it shocking that this is standard practice with most reading programs!


Fast-forward fifteen years.  As a Certified Dyslexia Practitioner and Instructor, I see this scenario happen often.  Many of the students we see at our Learning Centers do not have a learning disability; they simply struggle to learn to read the way it is presented.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am not against the use of Leveled Readers.  But they should be used in conjunction with Controlled Readers.   The Leveled Readers give the student the practice they need to read uncontrolled text.  Yet, if we truly want to assess students’ reading skills based on the skills we have directly taught, it’s important to provide texts that limit the patterns that have not been taught.  And if we want students to practice reading the skills that have been directly taught, then we must provide controlled text.

Controlled Readers are Important!

Controlled Readers can be difficult to find.  They are typically part of a particular program and follow the sequence of that program.  The good news is most Orton-Gillingham based programs use Controlled Readers and they all follow a similar sequence.  At our Learning Centers we use the Controlled Readers that go with our Phonics First® program, however, we supplement them with additional Controlled Readers such as S.P.I.R.E., Wilson, and Alphabet Readers.  Over the years, we’ve worked with many struggling and emerging readers.  They are often pleasantly surprised to find they can, not only read the controlled text, but that it takes less effort.  They start reading more accurately, build speed, and gain confidence.  For many students, Controlled Readers are an essential tool for creating fluent readers.

Stephanie Cork, CALP CDP

Stephanie is the Director of Program Development for Brainspring Educator Academy.

Director of Program Development


The Struggling Reader with the Thick, Exciting Book


Sliding in between student desks I glanced over small shoulders, peeking at the pages they were engrossed in. I wandered around, enjoying the quiet classroom and the busy, noisy brains hard at work during our Reading Workshop. Just as I was about to invite a student up to my desk for a reading conference, I spotted him. An earnest young man pouring over the pages of the massive book, How Things Work, by David Macaulay. My heart went out to him since I knew that 1) the book was far above his reading level and he most likely did not understand what he was reading, and 2) that he loved non-fiction books about machines and had probably been excited to choose the book.

During my years teaching 4th grade, I encountered this scenario many times.  My students who struggled with reading often picked books far above their reading levels. As much as I disliked telling a student they couldn’t keep a book in their reading box, I knew it was important for them to practice reading on their own at an independent reading level, meaning a book they can read with 95% accuracy.

“Fluency (reading words smoothly and accurately) is important because it provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension. Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate on decoding the words, they can focus their attention on what the text means.”         – From “Reading Interventions: Fluency”.

As a teacher, I wanted to help my students to choose books for independent reading that they could read fluently on their own, but I did not want to squash their enthusiasm or make them feel embarrassed. Thus, I started a routine I called “desk books”.

Desk books were kept in the student’s desk and were separate from the books kept in student reading boxes. Everyone had a desk book. Reading boxes had rules (only books at a student’s reading level were allowed) but desk books were blessedly free from rules. Desk books could be any book the student was interested in, at any reading level and for any reason. This gave the students and I a lot more freedom in the way we talked about who could read what. Instead of, “You can’t read that, it’s not at your reading level.”, I could say, “Hmmm…this seems a bit tricky for you. How about you keep it as a desk book and we’ll choose another book for your reading box?”

This routine was empowering for all my readers. During Reader’s Workshop students read only from their reading boxes, ensuring that they spent the most time with independent level books, but at other quick reading times, desk books reigned supreme. Struggling readers had the opportunity to choose any book in the classroom library, quite a wonderful thing when usually confined to a narrow section. They could choose a book they found fascinating or could even try to read the popular series that half the class was buzzing about. Most importantly for some, their peers would see them reading bigger, harder books. Surprisingly, desk books also gave more choice to my more advanced readers who wanted an easier book because they loved the story or a break from more challenging work.

Desk books were also a wonderful management routine. Desk books, as aptly named, were in the desks, right at the students’ fingertips. We used desk books for quick quiet moments, like reading for a few minutes to settle down after lunch, as a quiet way to transition from one subject to another, or when a student was done with regular work and had a little extra time. If I misplaced my teacher manual or the stack of math practice papers I could say, “Desk books out” and continue my search in a relatively quiet classroom. We also packed in 10-20 extra reading minutes a day, slipping more learning into the often-unused moments of a school day.

There were a few guidelines for desk books to help things run smoothly. Students could have up to two desk books and could switch them out if something more interesting came along. New desk books could only be chosen first thing in the morning or at the end of the day in order to avoid having wanderers searching for the library for a new one instead of reading. Students who forgot to switch desk books during allotted times had to re-read the one they had in their desk or borrow one from someone at their table group.

As I squatted down next to the possible budding engineer, he looked up at me and set down the heavy volume. Because of previous conversations he knew what I was thinking. “Oh,” he said, “I forgot. I should read this during desk book time, right?” I nodded, and he quickly slipped the book into his desk and grabbed another from his reading box. He settled in to work with a more appropriate level story without too much fuss, knowing he would still get to read his fascinating book later on.

Audrey Bon, A.B.Ed.

Audrey is a tutor at Brainspring Learning Center in Plymouth.


“Independent Reading”, Spear-Swerlinghttp, Louise. <www.readingrockets.org/article/independent-reading>.

“Leveled reading: The making of a literacy myth”, Pondiscio, Robert, 2014.       <https://edexcellence.net/articles/leveled-reading-the-making-of-a-literacy-myth

“Reading Interventions: Fluency”, Educational Service Unit #1. <http://www.esu1.org/SPED/RtI-readfluency.html>