Pokémon, Tommy, and Me

Tommy was obviously a very bright first grader, but he was lagging
behind his peers in learning to read.

I was fortunate to get to work with him before he got far enough
behind to become discouraged.At our first meeting together, I chatted with Tommy about school,
his family, and his interests. Like many first graders at the
time, Tommy was interested in Pokémon–those funny-looking
cartoon and card game characters. We did a little bit of reading
together, and it was apparent that Tommy was absolutely clueless about
how letters can represent sounds.We played a picture sort game*,
where Tommy could match the beginning sounds of words to their
corresponding letters. That’s all that we did during our first
session–I had wanted Tommy to know that our sessions
together would be fun and positive.After I left Tommy’s school, I went to buy some Pokémon stickers.
Fortunately they are quite popular and
I had no trouble finding them.At our next session, Tommy and I worked together to start an Alliterative
Alphabet Chartof our own. Our chart was similar to our own selection of ABC
Charts With Popular Children’s Characters,
only we used Pokémon animals.
You can find a list of all the Pokémon characters’ names
at http://www.pokemon.com/by clicking on the “Pokédex” button.I had already selected which characters represented the sounds
I wanted to work with the next day, and
encouraged Tommy to guess at which letters might be used at
the beginning of each Pokémon character’s name.
The first day I selected “Pikachu,”  “Seel,”
and “Ditto.”  I still remember Tommy squeal with
delight,

“Seel!”  when I showed him his favorite character.  We worked with
more picture sorts**to reinforce those sounds.We were later able to move on to more challenging letter combinations
with the characters, “Charmander,” “Snorlax,”
“Slowpoke,” and “Squirtle.”  We also
did additional picture sorts*using those same letter combinations.Later, I encouraged Tommy to write out the character’s names.
Fortunately, most Pokémon names are spelled
fairly regularly, so Tommy was able to do this successfully
with some guidance from me.  When students
write, they are building reading, as well as writing skills.Of course, we also did other activities.  We always read from
some easy books, discussing the plot and how it connected to
the illustrations.  We also played a lotto game in which
Tommy matched pictures that rhymed.  For example, he would
match the pictures for “nail” and “pail.”
At first, this was harder for Tommy than you might imagine.The rhyming activities were essential to Tommy’s success.
After all, if he couldn’t recognize sounds in spoken
words, he certainly couldn’t be expected to recognize sounds
in written words, either.Before long, Tommy “got it!”  Once he learned to listen
for sounds like initial letters and rhymes, he was able
to use this knowledge to figure out new words.

Before finishing first grade, Tommy was able to read enthusiastically
along with his peers.  I wish that we could
always assist struggling readers as early as first grade, and
have such gratifying success!

*
Picture Sorts courtesy of
Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (3rd Edition) Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (3rd Edition), Donald R. Bear, $18.00

**
Picture Sorts courtesy of Phonics Year by Year