If you’ve been told that your school is using the Riggs program for reading instruction, you may wonder how anyone can teach phonics for the recommended 2.5 hours a day. But Riggs is not a phonics program. It’s a finely-sequenced, comprehensive, language arts program that starts with the basics of letter-formation, spelling patterns, blending, and syllabication, yes, but it teaches much more.
Once Riggs students begin to have the basics down, for example (once they are spelling and reading whole words), they take the next developmental step and learn how to combine written words to create sentences, which they then begin to read, to analyze, and to expand upon during daily writing lessons. During these activities, students receive direct, explicit instruction and guided practice in syntax and composition skills while their teachers continue to expand their knowledge of content area words (from history and science) and academic language. Why? Because Riggs teachers understand that a good written vocabulary is essential to logical, sequential reasoning in the same way that a good oral vocabulary is necessary for accurate thinking, so they concentrate on developing of these vocabularies in their students.
Reading their own written words and sentences which illustrate new concepts helps students to do this (these sentences are all individually decodable texts), so students do that during practice sessions (building fluency). And other sessions are devoted to having student practice penmanship skills to give them a command of easy, readable writing (which facilitates self-expression and clarifies ideas). And so on. By the tenth week of school, Riggs students are practicing most of the following activities and ready to read children’s literature.
Riggs students learn how to analyze, organize, study, and work steadily and attentively during these activities, and as they continue to develop their oral vocabularies (Riggs students listen to--and discuss--vocabulary-rich literature from day one), they also continue to develop their writing and reading vocabularies (they learn to write and read at least thirty new words a week beginning in the fourth week of school). While doing this, they continue to develop their fluency rates and broaden their understandings of a large number of spelling, pronunciation, and syntax concepts, many of which are then illustrated on wall charts or reference books, which students learn to create for that purpose. These are their primary learning resources, used throughout the workday to explain correctly any word that comes up in their speech, writing, or reading (and used to explain the structure and meaning of many English sentences).
So there you have it. There is no need to worry about what your students will be doing during daily Riggs time. In fact, as you study McCulloch’s teaching text for yourself you will probably begin to imagine yourself in a Riggs classroom and find yourself wishing for even more time. And you will, because the Riggs Institute’s techniques are not limited to language-arts time. They can easily be used to show your students how to write the specialized words that are related to their history, geography, science, and math lessons, and every teacher who does this has reported that it drastically imporves student learning. Can you see why? These words, too, are words. They can be analyzed and explained by your Riggs students; they can be talked about, organized, and studied; they can be combined to create sentences which express and clarify thoughts; they can be modified with prefixes and suffixes, and so on. And they probably should be.
Why not have your students create a History Notebook filled with timelines, names, and maps which can be referenced during daily work? I’ve seen such student-made notebooks, and they are amazing. I’ve seen some amazing student-made Science Notebooks, too (also recommended for accelerated learning): books filled with carefully-made diagrams and other graphic organizers, books filled with correctly-spelled words about biology, botany, and geology--books which help students to write about those things which they are learning.
The Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking is not a phonics program. It is a finely sequenced set of lessons for teaching the elements of written English--the tools of learning--and it uses research-based techniques that can be adapted to the teaching of other subjects.
Skill Building Activities
- Daily Songs (memorizing and singing--or dramatizing)
- Daily Poems (memorizing--orally only at first--and reciting)
- Daily Sayings (memorizing and reciting)
- Listening to vocabulary-rich literature
- Oral Narration (from literature, nature study, art study)
- Identifying Riggs “Checkpoints” on the paper (base line, middle dotted-line, top base line, lower dotted-line, margin lines)
- Identifying Riggs “Checkpoints” “on the Clock” (2,10,8,4)
- Making Circles & Parts of Circles (using checkpoints)
- Making Straight Lines (using checkpoints)
- Making Clock Letters (using checkpoints)
- Testing Clock Letters (using checkpoints)
- Making Line Letters (using checkpoints)
- Testing Line Letters (using checkpoints)
- Practicing Penmanship to Fluency
- Writing Phonograms 1-26 (using checkpoints/saying sounds aloud)
- Reading Phonogram 1-26 (giving all sounds for each letter)
- Testing Phonograms 1-26 (dictation from sounds alone)
- Correcting Phonogram Tests
- Practicing Phonograms to Fluency
- Summarizing Informational Text (oral)
- Making Graphic Organizers (Begin with Charts 1,2,3: Spelling Patterns & Sounds)
- Using Graphic Organizers
- Writing Phonograms 27-55 (see above)
- Reading Phonograms 27-55 (see above)
- Testing Phonogram 27-55 (see above)
- Practicing Phonograms to Fluency
- Encoding Spelling-Vocabulary Words 1-6* (Cont. to #120)
- Recoding Spelling-Vocabulary Words 1-6* (Cont. to #120)
- Analyzing Spelling-Vocabulary Words 1-6* (Cont. to #120)
- Decoding Spelling-Vocabulary Words 1-6* (Cont. to #120)
- Testing Spelling-Vocabulary Words 1-6* (Cont. to #120)
- Reading Spelling-Vocabulary Words to Fluency
- Writing Phonograms 56-71
- Reading Phonograms 56-71
- Testing Phonograms 56-71
- Practicing all Phonograms to Fluency
- Writing simple sentences from dictation.
- Writing simple sentences with correctly-spelled words and proper punctuation.
- Reading simple sentences with correctly-spelled words and proper punctuation.
- Copywork (begin with simple sentences)
- Close Reading Practice (fables and non-fiction source texts)
- Fluency Practice (stories and informational texts)
- Key-Word Outlines (fables and non-fiction source texts)
- Summarizing from notes (Oral)
- Summarizing from notes (Written)
- Sentence Building (with parts of speech)
- Sentence Analysis (with parsing and diagrams)
- Expanding Kernel Sentences (with parts of speech and stylistic techniques)
- Commonplacing (for older students)
Master Riggs teachers report that their students are working so hard during these skill-building activities (many of which should be practiced until behavioral-fluency occurs) that they don’t have time to be distracted or disruptive in the classroom. They are too busy learning.