How to Differentiate when Teaching Reading with an Anthology

Student reading a book
Let's talk about how to differentiate when teaching reading with an anthology! Many, many teachers are required to use a reading anthology as a base for their ELA instruction, or at least their reading, and grammar instruction. A few years ago in second grade, I was using Journeys for teaching reading skills, spelling words and patterns and grammar.  Yes, technically, the program, and all others such as Wonders and Reading Street, come with options for differentiation. However, I found the differentiation suggested never quite met my students need. Some ideas were too easy, and the main workbook pages, suggested activities and writing assignments were just too hard for at least a third to a half of my class.

I worked hard on searching for ideas to do some of my own differentiation and visited teacher blogs, attended conferences and trainings and read a lot. I wanted to share some suggestions with my fellow teachers. Then I will share some resources I made for my own class so the reading anthology and what I created could coexist and meet everyone's needs!


The Content

This is where you differentiate what the students learn. Often this can be focused on student interest. For example, if you read a the  non-fiction text in Journeys called "Animals Building Homes," (about animals like bees and beavers that build their own habitats) students could select which animal they want to write about for a written response.

The Process

For process, you differentiate the activities used to assist students with the learning of skills and concepts. For example, in my small reading groups, I would perhaps have ELL students build more background knowledge about a topic by looking at objects mentioned in the text (or photos of them) whereas another reading group would not need to spend as much time on building background.

The Products

This might be the easiest starting place for many educators. For example, if most students were expected to practice 10 spelling words with rainbow writing, a struggling student could focus on 5 with a specific spelling pattern. In writing, a student who is looking for enrichment could be expected to add more details to their writing and have a topic sentence and closing sentences earlier in the year than other students.

A Tip for Your Sanity

Don't try and differentiate everything for everyone immediately! You will lose your mind. Seriously! Take it one subject area or topic at a time. Someone once suggested to me when I was a brand new teacher to start with one math lesson a week, and then the next week do two and so on.

I Made my own Differentiated Resources! 

I decided to make a comprehensive (like seriously, usually around 100 pages) resource of grammar, comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary activities for each (30) text in the 2nd grade Journeys program to help me solve a lot of my challenges and meet my students' needs.

So I will share some images from these resources which are over on Teachers Pay Teachers,  but you can also see how things like spelling words, comprehension responses, etc. are differentiated in this sneak peek video of the Henry and Mudge resource (week 1) .

Let's check out two different ways you can share the Read and Response Comprehension questions with students. The option of the left is a standard printable (or you can use TPT's Digital tool to use the PDF digitally). the option on the right is great for interactive notebooks, if you want to mix things up, or you want to sneak in some fine motor practice with cut and glue.

Read and respond page with linesRead and respond page for interactive notebook
For other comprehension activities, I added in some differentiation by presenting similar activities in different formats, such as these story summary pages. Also, some activities have lines, and some do not so you could choose which is appropriate for certain students. A flip book for interactive notebooks is also included, as as well as alternative wording for story summaries such as first, next and last.
Story summaryStory summaryStory summaryStory summary
With spelling, there are color and black and white cards (for your printing needs), with the basic Journeys spelling list. It also includes blank cards so you can add other differentiated word lists. 

Spelling cardsSpelling cards
There are also grammar practice pages, no prep and some are presented at different levels of difficulties too!  Here on the left students simply identify the subject and predicate but on the right students write their own centers and identify the sentence parts.
Grammar review 2 pages
Will this solve a lot of your challenges? Yes - time, hard work and more!  It made my life much easier once I started using them with my second graders. And the other 29 resources are very similar with quantity and types of resources. BUT they also are bundled! If you look at the unit bundles like this one:
Cover of Journeys weeks 1-5 bundle
And the full year bundle is at a huge discount!
cover yearlong Journeys bundle

So, keep in mind that when you differentiate academics, don't try and do it all at once! And think about how you can differentiate with content, process, and the product.

 If you have more ideas on how to differentiate when teaching reading with an anthology like Journeys and Wonders, let me know! 
Student reading books

Making Back to School Work during the Pandemic

Let's talk about making back to school work during the pandemic. 
I know, so many towns, districts, and states are not sure what they are doing and so many things are UP IN THE AIR. But I hopefully can give you some tips, whether you are going back to school in person, in person part time/hybrid, or fully remote / distance learning. 


Getting to know students via Zoom or Distance Learning

Tips on how to get to know students, build a relationship with students, and help them to get to know each other and build classroom community if you have only video meetings. (of course most of these can be done in the classroom too). 
  1. Show and tells online (set a time limit for 30 sec-1 minute and you could do 6 or more in one virtual meeting.
  2. If possible , at the beginning, do independent or very small group (pair ) meetings once a day to help get to know students and help anxious and shy students start to feel comfortable with their new teacher.
  3. Talent show - This may take more organizing and planing, but like show and tell, everyone could have 30 seconds to a minute to show a talent to the group.
  4. Class get to know you questions - I have sat  with my class in person and done these in the past (here's a freebie) but they are incorporated digitally in the Digital Second (and third) Grade Back to School Kits (see the bottom of the post). You could share your screen, as a slide show as go around and each student gets the next question on the slide. They are fun, like "what is your favorite breakfast cereal?" and "Do you have a hobby? What is it?

SEL from Anywhere

Social emotional learning is going to be key for all students, no matter what this year. I found a few tips around the web and these could be incorporated in person or virtually. 
  1. Snack and Chat - this idea comes from the Not So Wimpy Teacher - have snack every day with a few different students and chat and get to know each other .
  2. Incorporating SEL into writing - change up your writing prompts and incorporate a social emotional piece - have them write about "What are you nervous about this year?" instead of the traditional "What do you want to learn in __ grade?" Other ideas might be - "How are you feeling today?" "What makes you happy?" "What makes you mad? How can you calm down?"
  3. Regular mindfulness and SEL breaks - what could this look like? Think GoNoodle breaks, Yoga 4 Classrooms card ideas, and much more
  4. Teachers Pay Teachers' blog has a whole bunch of ideas at this blog post and some can be used with distance learning.
  5. SEL for teachers website: This website is a little more academic but might be helpful to learn more about research and the latest in SEL


These books are just a few that would work well for in  helping students identity and cope with  feelings whether you are in class or reading books during a video chat.


Staying organized with your parent communication will help, whether you are in the classroom or doing remote learning. I wrote a blog post that you can check out here. A additional tip I saw was to find a balance at the beginning of the year between emailing parents all the time (think twice or more a day) and sending giant, lengthy emails less often. Parents might do better with something in between.


Also, let's not forget about US. We are important and we need to remind ourselves to be flexible and take care of our own social emotional health! Here is a self care tips for teacher post you can refer to for ideas.

Teachers Pay Teachers Resources that Can Help

I took my traditional Back to School Starter Kits for the first two weeks of school (see second grade example here) and turned some of the activities digital. You can have them all digital, all paper/PDFs, or snag a bundle of both. They include the question cards which help you get to know students, writing prompts, math quick assessments, and more.

Here are some images and brief descriptions of what you would have access to if you tried the third grade bundle (the preview of the Second Grade Back to School digital resource is at the TPT listing). There is more than I have been able to show here!

Here's an image from the digital Second Grade Back to School resource.
Clicking on these will take you to the bundles where you can get both options - printable PDFs and digital versions.

Here's a quick walk through of one of the parts of the digital resource for third grade! Just a few seconds but gives you a taste.

Click the image below to pin me for later. Let me know what you think of making back to school work during the pandemic. Can we make it work? Do any of these tips help?

What's Hot in Literacy - Get the Details for 2020

 Bookshelf with What's hot in literacy title

The International Literacy Association (ILA) recently released their research of what's hot in literacy. I've included the infographic if you want a quick glance , but if you'd like to know more  details and how it might apply to you and your teaching, read on!
I will paraphrase at times but also, it will make sense to directly quote the report at other times. The full report can be downloaded here.

ILA infographic on main points of survey

The 5 Most Critical Issues in Literacy Education

According to more than 1,400 respondents they are:
1. Building early literacy skills through a balanced approach combining both foundational and language comprehension instruction (51%)
2.  Determining effective instructional strategies for struggling readers (42%) 
 3. Increasing equity and opportunity for all (40%)
4. Increasing PD opportunities for educators (39%)
5. Providing access to high-quality, diverse books and content (36%) (honestly I think this will be much higher when ILA completes this year's survey)

Let's break these each down briefly...

Building Early Literacy Skills Through a Balanced Approach 

Most say a that a "balanced approach that combines both foundational and language comprehension instruction is among the most critical topics for improving literacy outcomes in the next decade". "When it comes to explicit and systematic phonics instruction, only 32% say it is among the most critical topics. And respondents are split in how much attention the topic is given, with 31% saying we should be paying more attention to phonics instruction and another 24% saying it already gets too much".  So it seems a balanced approach is important in educator's eyes but some feel explicit and systematic phonics gets too much attention and some feel it does not get enough attention.

Determining Effective Instructional Strategies for Struggling Readers 

Half of the respondents stated that professional development is important to help them determine the best strategies for students with literacy challenges. 

Increasing Equity and Opportunity for All Learners 

Students feel all readers need improved access to rich reading materials, and 40% say "making time for student-selected independent reading during the school day is the best way to help all students grow into strong readers".

Increasing Professional Learning and Development Opportunities for Practicing Educators 

These were the top 5 areas in which teachers wanted these areas to be addressed with professional development: 
1. Using digital resources to support literacy instruction
2. Supporting social emotional learning
3. Writing instruction
4. Addressing issues of social justice
5. Teaching vocabulary 

Providing Access to High-Quality, Diverse Books and Content 

A researcher was quoted in the report as saying "We must share many diverse stories and help prevent stereotypes and future generations [from inheriting] bias."  

The Greatest Barrier to Equity in Literacy Education

 Firstly, the number one area in which teachers want support is in addressing equity. "This may be because 60% of respondents felt that teacher preparation programs and colleges/universities are not sufficiently preparing new teachers for the reality of teaching in 2020". Many people agreed that "variability of teacher knowledge and effectiveness is the greatest barrier" to making progress to a place of equity. 

Additionally, survey takers felt that excellent teaching begins with quality teacher preparation programs, but it must be "sustained by research and lifelong learning. From the perspective of respondents, more work needs to be done to...  prepare teachers for the rigorous challenges they will face in the classroom ...."

How Important is Research?

The short answer? VERY.  The long answer: "Respondents place high value on the role of research in literacy instruction and say they would like more support in staying current on the latest findings." Can you understand that? Even as an ILA member myself it is tough to stay abreast with everything going on with literacy research, but half  or more of educators said that staying current is an important responsibility of literacy educators; however, "Nearly half of all respondents—44%—say that staying abreast of the latest literacy research is an area in which they need more support. When it comes to who should provide that assistance, several avenues are cited." 

Literacy is a Human Right

Respondents felt that literacy must be protected. and was a basic human right. Many stated FREE preschool was important in today's day and age. Personally, I never attended preschool myself, but my mom was a teacher and did a lot with me. With that being said; however, I am not sure that with the demands  of 2020's kindergarten curriculums, children can not afford to not attend preschool. What do you think?

Professional Development Needs

What are the professional development needs of today's literacy educators? Almost half of responded stated they want more PD on using digital resources to support literacy instruction. HOW prescient is that? I am sure the answer is going to be much higher for next year.


Unsurprisingly to any of us who currently teaching,  "addressing disconnects between school curriculum and students’ actual needs in terms of literacy support and instruction is the No. 1 greatest challenge in literacy reported by respondents". Additional, supporting students in the areas of SEL and behavior is very important as is supporting students who are struggling in reading. Teachers at my school say they and students all feel overwhelmed and pulled in many directions. Which do you do first or prioritize:  the new social studies standards, students who need social/emotional support, intervene with students who are below level in math, reading, and/or writing, or teach the zones of regulation??

That is the summary of what's hot in literacy for 2020 according to the ILA research completed in 2019. Do you think it hit the nail on the head? Did survey respondents miss anything important?

Bookshelf with pin for What's hot in literayc

Flexible Seating Tips for the Pandemic

Well, those of us who love Flexible Seating and have found it so beneficial, are in for some big changes this year. I'm positing these flexible seating tips for the pandemic to help you frame what may and may not work as you get reading for back to school. It's going to be a big change...


These might work with modifications - such as the same student must be the only one on the chair or seat each day, and maybe with cleaning at the end of the day.  Also these seats could be spread out. For example, with the small side table below, that would become a table for only one student this fall. If you are not sure, ask your administration.

By the way, if you want to look into getting some of these options for your room, click  on the image and you can check it out at my Amazon affiliate link. 


Image of Stability Ball Chairs in Classroom

BOUNCY BANDS - of course! 

These stay on the legs of chairs of tables and will hopefully only be touched by feet!

Image of Bouncy Band on Chair


These can be spread out and wiped down with wipes or cleaners easily.

Image of Wobble Stools in Classroom


The plastic scoop rockers can be spaced out and cleaned daily if you need.
Scoop rockers in classroom


Easily cleaned daily! I just took the legs off of this round table.

Low table in classroom


Side tables like this $10 one from IKEA could be great for one student and easily cleaned.
IKEA side table and Stability ball Chairs in Classroom


Made of rubber or plastic and air, can be cleaned or wiped down. My students sat on these on the floor or stools.
Low table and inflatable cushions in classroom


  • Give kids their own clipboards with their names on it
  • Stricter rules with no moving for the day
  • Spreading out seats  (obviously)


Check with your own school, district, or principal for definitive answers if these are allowed this fall.
  • rugs
  • soft seats like beach chairs and camp chairs
  • cloth cushions
  • pillows

If you want more basics on the Dos and Don'ts of Flexible Seating, check out my blog post with tips here.

Finally, if you're going to be in school part of full time, and you;'d like a Free, Flexible Seating Guidelines Mini Poster, click here or on the image below. if you have a few seconds to give feedback, I'd be very grateful! Let me know what your flexible seating tips for the pandemic are, and how much you are going to change and how!
Cover of flexible seating guidelines freebie