Who needs Magic Rimes?

Any student who is struggling with decoding will benefit from the Rime Magic sequence. When students who are in third grade and above score below a 3.0 grade equivalent on a word recognition assessment, the Magic Rimes will straighten out the problems that are tripping them up. If first-graders are immersed in the Magic Rimes for 10 minutes or so each morning, they will begin second grade with a strong decoding base. Second-graders who score below 2.0 will quickly respond to the Magic Rimes in a small group.

How soon can students begin Magic Rimes?

It is my strong belief that emerging readers should begin attending to letters and sounds in the context of meaningful, connected text (Routman, 2003; Miller, 2002). After creating a classroom where first- graders are immersed in reading and writing activities and surrounded by leveled books for shared, guided, and independent reading, we usually begin Magic Rimes in short lessons in a whole-class setting. Some first-graders will be ready to move quickly through the Rime Magic sequence, while others will be looking out the window to find something they can relate to. But this should not stop us! Because the Rime Magic lessons are thoroughly scaffolded and students are immersed in them each day in a fun, nonthreatening manner, even youngsters who are the least prepared to begin first-grade literacy activities will soon perk up and begin to chime in with the rest of the class. I have been amazed at how quickly they pick up letter-sound correspondence and the blending of onsets and rimes when they didn’t recognize a single letter on the first day of school!

Is kindergarten too soon to start Magic Rimes?

Kindergarten teachers sometimes want to bring the beginning steps of Rime Magic into their curriculum when they feel that their students are ready. However, I do not see the need to start the Magic Rimes in kindergarten. I would rather see shared reading and interactive writing, guided reading for those who are ready, and plenty of literacy activities that are meaning-based rather than starting too soon with isolated letters. Of course, any inspired kindergarten teacher who plays with the Magic Rimes in an engaging way, interspersing the decoding activities with lots of stories and reading and writing, will reap benefits in building a foundation for reading.

What about first-graders?

When introducing the rime cards to first-graders, begin with one consonant in front of the rime (ip – sip, dip, tip), but move on to two and three-letter blends (slip, trip, strip) soon after. Don’t worry that many of your students do not seem ready for this: they will master two and three-letter blends as you immerse them in the Rime Magic process.Always remember:The Rime Magic sequence is a PROCESS.This means that each step is about immersion rather than mastery.When the process is complete and your students begin to have success while they enjoy a book, you can call it mastery.

Where do I begin with a fifth-grade student or an eighth-grade student?

No matter the age or grade level of the struggling reader, if word recognition is below 3.0, begin atStep 1 of the Rime Magic sequence and move through the entire sequence. Most upper-grade students will move very quickly through Steps 1 and 2, usually within a couple of minutes. I start at the very beginning even with adults, just to make sure that they are have a solid grounding in short vowel sounds and blending.The speed of the sequence has less to do with age and more to do with the brain’s ability to process print.Always begin at the beginning. Older students will be relieved to see right away that you are moving quickly into two and three-syllable words.

What is the best size for a Magic Rime intervention group?

As long as students are grouped according to their word recognition scores, the group size can be very flexible.Three to six students is ideal if students are grouped appropriately, but we have had great success with even larger groups as long as they have similar word recognition scores. Students with severe language processing issues may need one-on-one intervention to get the best results.

Is it best to group students homogeneously or heterogeneously?

Because reading intervention groups are best set up to meet the specific needs of struggling readers, it is best to group students according to need. If you are grouping students to work on Magic Rimes, use their word recognition grade equivalent scores to set up the groups. Students who score below 1.0 will work well together with Magic Rimes combined with shared, guided, and independent reading of leveled books. You can group those who score between 1.0 and 2.0 together, and groups of students scoring between 2.0 and 3.0 work well together. If you have students in one group who have too much of a range in their word recognition scores, you will have to slow down too much for the stronger students and the lower-scoring students will fade into the background, waiting for the stronger students to lead the way. However, in first grade and the beginning of second grade, it works to immerse students in the Rime Magic sequence in a whole-class setting at first, then continuing in small groups with those who need it.

Do I need to go through the entire set of Magic Rimes in a sitting?

No, it is not absolutely necessary, but I always do if I can. It takes only a few minutes to do the whole set of Magic Rime Cards because you are not spelling a word for each and every rime, just here and there. However, if you only have a couple of minutes, saying a few of the rimes and spelling a few words will effectively add to the immersion process.

In Steps 2 and 4, do I need to have students spell a word for each and every rime?

No! It is best if you have students spell a word only here and there as you go through the stack of Magic Rime Cards. If we spelled a word for each rime, it might get boring and predictable. I usually have them spell a word only when I can quickly think of a word for the exposed rime.When I can’t readily think of a word, we just say the rime three times and go on to the next one. I suggest that you print the Embedded Rime words on the backs of your Magic Rime Cards so that you don’t have to think of words as you go along.

Should I begin with the short a rimes, then the short e rimes, to make it easier for my students?

It is very important that you present the Magic Rimes in random order.This is counter-intuitive to the way we usually try to make learning as easy as possible for our students. I have found that struggling readers actually learn to decode much faster when they are presented with rimes beginning with random vowel sounds.They are forced to use what they have learned about the vowels to make fast decisions about the pronunciation of the rime.When they can count on the rime always starting with short a, for example, they must utilize much less of their brain power. Shuffle your deck of Magic Rime Cards or Embedded Rime Cards.We must remember that struggling readers do not have time to be moving lock-step through the sequence of a teacher’s manual.They need to catch up now, this school year, even if they are several years behind.You will find that your intervention students enjoy rising to this challenge.

Can we jump ahead if students are close to 3.0? Will we be wasting time starting at the beginning?

No. Although students who are close to 3.0 will move very quickly through the Magic Rime sequence,they will benefit from experiencing the entire sequence. Since they will make such fast progress, you will not be wasting time. You can also expect improvement in spelling with mastery of the Rime Magic sequence.

How can you tell all students in the group are getting it when there is so much unison response?

At first, just relax and bond with your students, enjoying the shared unison immersion of the Magic Rimes. After spending some time with Step 4, when you are fairly certain that most of your students are able to recognize the rimes and spell the two-syllable words, find a time to check in with one student at a time, quickly assessing their ability to identify the rimes and spell the finger-scaffolded words by themselves.This can be important since some students who have language processing issues or who are very shy tend to let others take the lead and become skilled at chiming in with them.

My student isn’t getting it. Do some students just need something else? What if it doesn’t work with a particular student?

I have met only one student out of many hundreds of students who could not improve significantly in decoding using the Magic Rime process coupled with the multi-syllabic word and spelling techniques outlined in this book.This boy could only read by sight memory. Once he read a story with me, he could then read it on his own but could not pronounce even half of the individual words. It is my assertion that over 99% of students, including those in special education, will make significant improvement using the Magic Rime process.When teachers come to me about a particular student that is “not getting it,” we find that they make good progress with me. My conclusion is that the relationship between teacher and student, in addition to key elements of instruction such as pacing, make the difference between success and failure (see Chapter 16, But Wait! Where does the Magic Come From?). It is important for teachers to master the subtleties of the Magic Rime instructional sequence, and to realize that just as with the students, learning is a process of immersion. It gets easier with each session of practice. Do not fall into the trap of thinking it isn’t working. Just like anything else, the more you have developed proficiency, the better your results.

How long will it take for students to gain mastery?

Of course, it will be different for each student, depending on the reasons for each student’s falling behind. Some students will make several years growth in word recognition in the space of a few months. Some students with varying degrees of difficulty with language processing will take much longer. In general, you can expect to see significant progress in very few lessons, as long as the Magic Rime work is accompanied by daily shared and independent reading. If your students are fortunate enough to participate in guided reading groups or a Readers’ Workshop (Calkins, 2001) in addition to their reading intervention, all the better.The more shared, guided, and independent reading, along with consistent intervention, the faster your students will move forward. Some upper-grade students make two and three years growth in word recognition in just a few sessions!

When are we finished with the Magic Rimes?

If your students have completed the entire Rime Magic sequence and are able to easily recognize the rimes within the Embedded Rime Words, continue with the multisyllabic word and spelling strategies. At some point, you might want to administer a follow-up word recognition assessment. If they score over 3.0, they are complete with the Magic Rimes and should continue with the multisyllabic word strategies. If they do not, then they need more practice recognizing the rimes in words as they read connected text.

Will the Magic Rimes be appropriate for students transitioning into English?

Absolutely! Students who have developed their oral language in English and are transitioning from a bilingual classroom to an English-only classroom need to make this transition quickly and efficientlyso that they don’t fall behind. Because they have learned to read in their first language, they have an advantage over students who enter English- speaking classrooms as Newcomers. But they need a streamlined approach.The Magic Rimes get right to the heart of the matter. In our extensive work with Spanish-speaking students, for example, we have found that the ability to see the rimes inside words makes the transition from focusing on syllables in Spanish to the onset/rime structure in English much easier.

When should I begin

. . .. . . the Rest of the Rimes?

I usually do not begin The Rest of the Rimes (Step 6) until we have some mastery with Steps 1 to 5. If the program you are using at your school suggests teaching rimes other than the Magic Rimes before you reach Step 6 with your students, there is no problem.You should feel comfortable spending a few minutes with the Rime Magic sequence within the context of the reading program that your school has adopted. Even if other rimes have been introduced through the program you are using, wait to begin Step 6,The Rest of the Rimes, after you complete Step 5.

. . . reading connected text?

In kindergarten! It is never too soon to expose students to reading books and poems and any other kind of print. Every reading intervention group must divide its time between the focus skill, especially if it is other than a comprehension-based goal, and real reading. If you are working on the Magic Rimes, be sure to have students engaged for a section of time with the shared, guided, and independent reading of appropriately leveled books.

. . . the Embedded Rime Bonus Cards?

The Embedded Rime Bonus Cards (see Chapter 14) were developed to help students with processing difficulties, such as letter-sequence confusion, to see word parts in an order that makes sense. However,I have found that all upper-grade struggling decoders benefit from the Embedded Rime Bonus Cards and move through them very fast if there is no serious processing issue. I recommend the Embedded Rime Bonus Cards for fourth-grade students and older who are significantly behind their peers in word
recognition.You can start using the Embedded Rime Bonus Cards immediately with upper-grade students, even at the beginning of the Rime Magic sequence.

. . . the multisyllabic word lessons?

The Base Word Constancy and SMILES strategies (see Chapter 6) lend themselves to whole-class instruction and can be implemented beginning in second grade. Upper-grade reading intervention students who need a smaller group to get the full benefit of these lessons can begin right away, even as they are beginning their Rime Magic instruction.

. . . the Long Vowel Spelling lessons?

We usually begin LongVowel Spelling lessons during the second half of first grade.When LongVowel Spelling becomes a part of the routine in the primary grades, the need for it in the upper grades will begin to disappear.

Is it a good idea to try to find poems that have that have particular rimes in them for practice?

No. Just as it is best to introduce the Magic Rimes in random order, it is important to give students practice in seeing the rimes in all kinds of words that they encounter in their reading. Because many of the wordsin English are so irregular, it is up to the teacher to guide students in noticing rimes in the words thatcan showcase a rime that has a regular pronunciation, such as the ag in staggering, the ad in Madagascar, or the out in shouted. Before long, your students will be pointing them out to each other, and this will have a positive effect on their reading proficiency.This is good news for you, the teacher, because any poem at an appropriate readability level will do!

Will this conflict with our school- or district-wide adopted program? Will it confuse students to use a different approach?

No, the Magic Rimes and all of the strategies offered in this book will only enhance the program thatyou are using.We have been field-testing these strategies in many schools in school districts using a wide variety of adopted programs and have seen nothing but positive results. If students are being taught to separate words into distinct phonemes and then are shown words divided between onset and rime, it only adds to their understanding and makes decoding even more accessible.You will find that your students enjoy the Rime Magic lessons, and, for that matter, all of the lessons described in this book. Even more important, these strategies will cause faster growth for your struggling readers, the students for whom some of the more common phonics approaches have failed.The bottom line is: this is not a replacement program; it is a set of strategies aimed at struggling readers and the prevention of struggling readers that bring unusually fast growth in decoding and word recognition. Just slide it into your day for a few minutes and watch what happens!

If I only have 20 minutes for a small group, what is most important? How should I organize my time?

This depends upon the needs of the students in your reading intervention group. If decoding is the issue, we have found that it is best to take care of this right away so that the students can begin to participate fully and confidently with their peers in all of the comprehension activities and instruction going on in their classrooms. Divide the time between the Magic Rime sequence and shared or guided reading, making sure that the students have plenty of books at their independent reading level and time to read them in class. In our after-school and summer school intervention programs, we group students by their word recognition levels and divide the time evenly between decoding, comprehension, and shared, guided, or independent reading. Struggling readers who have no problem with decoding, and whose word recognition grade equivalent is on or above grade level, receive no decoding instruction and the focus is, of course, on vocabulary and comprehension.

How much time in reading intervention groups do struggling decoders need?

The amount of time that struggling readers need in intervention groups depends upon the learning issues of each individual student. It is important to perform ongoing assessment without overdoing it. If you have the time to do a complete miscue analysis or Running Record, you will get all of the information you need to determine instructional needs. However, in my experience, a simple, quick word recognition assessment is enough to determine the need for further intervention in decoding. Extensive phonics tests are not necessary for students receiving Rime Magic instruction, as all of the phonics issues will be straightened out in the process. It is not important to know exactly which consonant blend (onset) or rime they have not mastered. Because of the immersion process in the Rime Magic sequence, each missing skill will fall into place in its own time. If you can provide a small chunk of time for your struggling readers every day of the week, you will be amazed at how fast most of your students improve. I suggest at least three sessions per week, but any amount of time with the Magic Rimes will help.

When do we fit it in?

When classroom teachers identify their low-functioning decoders and meet with them every day for afew minutes, very fast progress will be made.The Rime Magic sequence can be easily implemented when students are circulating through centers, one of which is an intervention group with the teacher. Some teachers meet with their struggling decoders during independent reading time.This is less ideal as it takes away precious independent reading time from the ones who need it most. In some schools, a reading or other support teacher might come into the classroom and take a group of struggling readers. More and more schools are providing after-school intervention or specialized summer school support (see Chapter 13).And of course, students can be pulled out of class to attend lessons in the Learning Center or special education classroom for extra support.

Can aides and volunteers be trained to do Rime Magic lessons?

Classroom aides and volunteers can also be trained to do Rime Magic lessons. However, the training must include coaching until the lessons are conducted effectively.Although the Rime Magic lessons appear to be fairly simple, they require skill and experience to be carried out effectively and efficiently.

What if parents want to help with Magic Rimes at home?

Often parents will ask what they can do at home to help their children make faster progress in reading.I do not suggest to parents that they try to do the Magic Rimes with their children. Instead, I give them suggestions for reading to them and with them. In particular, I show them how to do the TO WITH BY strategy (see Chapter 9) with a book or part of a book or magazine that is just out of reach and very high interest. Language experience works well for the youngest readers. Parents write down what they say and read it with them a couple of times before asking them to read it themselves.