Stars and Sparks Have What in Common?

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Students will be able to know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.

Big Idea

Working with stars helps the students practice working with the r-controlled vowel sound /ar/.


10 minutes

Gather students on the rug using a preferred classroom management technique. I like to use my “Stop, look, listen.” The students stop what they are doing, look at me and listen for the direction. I usually preface the direction with, “When I say go…” This reminds the students to listen to the whole direction before moving to follow the directive.

In this case I would say, “When I say go I would like you to clear your space, push in your chair and go take a spot on your dot. Walking feet, go.” By saying walking feet I am reminding the students to use walking feet in the classroom to ensure safe movement between areas.

When all of the students are seated on their dot in the rug area I ask the students to stand and tell them that we are going to go on an adventure in space.

“Boys and girls we are going to listen very carefully to the directions given by the narrator so that we know what to do and when to do it. You will need to make sure you are in a spot where you have room to move without bumping into another person. Make sure your body is your control. If I see anyone who is losing control I will have to have that astronaut sit out at the space station until they are ready to join the adventure again. Is everyone ready?”

I start Adventure in Space by Greg and Steve from the On the Move CD.

I use this action adventure as a way to get my students thinking about our main unit - Space. Having a kinetic experience gets my students blood flowing, brains warmed up and ready to learn. I feel this activity helps the students make the connection between our main topic and the activity we are about to begin.  



40 minutes

“Today we are going to read on the SMARTBoard with our interactive book from the PebbleGo website.”

This website is a subscription based website, so your school will need to subscribe to the site in order for you to be able to use the resources available. The site costs $900.00 per year for a school wide membership. If your school can not afford the membership, then I suggest using the book

Stars – Exploring the Galaxy, by Thomas K. Adamson, which is what I used before my school invested in the PebbleGo site. ISBN-13: 978-0736867467

 I open up the screen on the SMARTBoard where the site has already been loaded.

I select one of the students to tap the speaker which allows the narrator to begin reading. The students can easily follow along as the words become highlighted as the narrator reads it.   

During reading we will go over some of the vocabulary words as we come across them within the text. I use the fairsticks to select a student to tap on the “pop-out” word which opens up a window and the narrator reads the definition. We review some of the meanings we have heard from previous texts; such as “gas” which we learned in our States of Matter unit.

When we get to the “Star Color” page it is interesting for the students to find out that the color blue, which is defined as a cool color in the art world, is actually the hottest kind of star. A red star is the coldest kind of star; yet red is defined as a hot color in the art world. This makes for a nice discussion about opposites and how many words have multiple meanings depending on the subject area or context it is used in.     


After listening and reading the star book on the SMARTBoard I tell the students, “Now that we have finished reading I would like someone to tell me how to spell the word “star.””

I select a student who has their hand raised following the correct classroom protocol.

“”Well done Rachel; the word star is spelled s-t-a-r.”

“Boys and girls, I want you to listen closely as I sound out the word star and see if you can tell me the sounds that you hear.” I very slowly sound out the word star.

Then I select a student with their hand raised to tell me the sounds they heard as I said the word star.

“Finnley says that he hears the blend /st/ and /r/, but that he did not hear the /a/ sound. Is he right?”

“He is right. You do not hear the /a/ sound but the letter a is helping the letter r say its name making it a strong r sound like in our sight word are.”

“Boys and girls I would like you to think very carefully of any words that you know which may have the /ar/ sound. When you have a word which has the /ar/ sound let me know by raising your hand and we will note it down on the SMARTBoard to see if you are right.”

As students raise their hands with words which they think have the /ar/ sound in them I write the word on the board and we discuss it together as a group.


After there is a good selection of words on the board I tell the students, “Today at one of the integrated work stations you are going to get a Ziploc bag with five stars in it. The stars are of different sizes. It will be your job to put the stars in order from smallest to largest. Once you have the stars ion order from smallest to largest, you will write an /ar/ sounding word on each star.”

 “As I am working I need to keep in mind Mrs. Clapp will be using a checklist to go over my work to make sure I have followed the directions I was given. Did the student write their name on their work? Are the stars in order from smallest to largest? Did the student come up with at least five /ar/ words? And, is the student’s work neat and tidy?”

After I have gone quickly over the checklist I ask, “Does anyone have any questions?”


Once I feel the group has a good grasp of the instructions I send the students over one table group at a time to maintain a safe and orderly classroom. It usually sounds like this;

“Table number one let’s go have some /ar/ word fun.

Table number two, you know what to do.

Table number three, hope you were listening to me, and

Table number four, you shouldn’t be here anymore.”


Allow the students 15 minutes to work on this activity. Set a visual timer and remind the students to look at the timer so they will use their time wisely. 


Why teach r-controlled vowels?


It is important to teach r-controlled vowels because the "r" subtly changes the sound of the vowel. For example, think about how you pronounce the vowel sound in the word cap and can. The pronunciation changes in the word cape and cane with the addition of the silent "e." The pronunciation is different again when the letter "r" is added; carp and carnage. Students need to be introduced to these sounds to aid in reading and comprehension.   


5 minutes

When the time is up I blow two short blasts on my whistle and use the “Stop, look, listen” technique mentioned above.

“When I say go, I would like you to clean up your space remembering to take care of our things, push in your chair, and use walking feet to go and take a spot on your dot.”

Students know to put completed work in the finished work bin. Any work that is not completed goes into the under construction bin and can be completed throughout the day whenever the student finds he/she has spare time or it will be completed during free choice center time.


Once the students are seated I tell them that their exit slip for today is to tell me one word they know which has the /ar/ sound.

“Boys and girls your exit slip for today is to tell me a word you know which uses the /ar/ sound. Think back to the words we came up with on the SMARTBoard and the words you used on your star shape. You also came up with /ar/ words when you were ordering stars. You will need to think of two or three words because once someone has used a particular word it is…”

I allow the students to chant back, “It is Off the Menu!”

“That’s right. Okay I am going to give you ten seconds to come up with two or three words. Ready? Go.”

I look at my watch and time for about 10 seconds.

“Okay ten seconds are up. Everyone should have a few /ar/ words ready to go.”

I use the fair sticks to determine the order of the students

Once a student has told me his/her r-controlled vowel word (using /ar/) they are able to use the hand sanitizer and go to get their snack. If a student is unable to give me an answer, they know they can do one of two things.

  1. They can ask a friend to help, or
  2. They can wait until everyone else has gone and then we will work on a controlled /ar/ word together.

Using this exit ticket procedure gives me a quick glimpse into which students have grasped the concept of the lesson activity and those which may need more work. The students who need more practice with the concept will meet with me in a smaller group setting, such as reading work station time, to go over the concept again. 


I use the R-controlled vowel /ar/ checklist to see if the students were able to come up with some /ar/ words on their star ordering activity.

The checklist helps me stay focused on the objective for the lesson. Depending on what I observe on the student’s work determines whether that particular student is competent with the skill or needs to have more practice under a different format – say small group or individual session.


As additional assessment I will place the "Find the /ar/ Assessment Activity" sheet at the students table for morning work the next day. This looking at the students work tells me which students are able to transfer the information gained from yesterday's activity to today's task. When a student is able to take content from one lesson and apply it to another lesson then they show beginning mastery of a skill.     


Students put together a star book using pages from Build-a-Skill Instant Books, R-Controlled Vowels and Vowel Digraphs published by Creative Teaching Press. ISBN -13: 9781591984139. 

Student sample 1         Student sample 2           Star book description. 


Students play a math game called “A Trip to the Stars.” Students have two dice and a sheet of stars. Each star has a numeral on it ranging from 2 through to 12. They roll the dice, add the numbers together and then color in the star which matches the resulting sum. The object of the game is to try and get all of your stars colored before the rest of the group. If you roll a number which has already been colored, then it is the next players turn.  


Students listen to the video clip from the Kids Phonics website on the computer during either free choice center time or reading work stations. This is a phonics video where the students hear the R-controlled vowel in words like scarf, star, etc.