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Project SEEL: part I. Systematic and engaging early literacy instruction.

Part I of a three-part series, this article describes Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy Instruction (SEEL), a program designed to engage and motivate children as they learn early literacy skills. The project, implemented in Spanish as part of a dual-language program, used a variety of interactive literacy activities and tailor-made texts to expose children to target phonic patterns. The teacher and trained assistants provided practice with reading and writing the target literacy patterns using customized texts associated with read-alouds, story enactments, play routines, and "make and do" activities. This article provides the project's rationale; describes the texts, activities, and contexts; and explains how the program was implemented in a dual-language (Spanish-English) kindergarten.


Children from Spanish-speaking backgrounds must be provided opportunities to succeed in learning to read. To create an early literacy program that will be effective for these children, educators must understand the children's needs and appreciate the importance of making activities engaging and relevant.


Children from Spanish-speaking backgrounds are vulnerable to literacy problems. A report by the National Center for Education Statistics (1998) revealed that 67% of children from Hispanic backgrounds were reading below basic levels by the fourth grade. In addition, the gap between good and poor readers in the fourth grade widened over the 8 years from the time of that report to 2001 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2001). To counteract this trend, educators need to engage children from minority language backgrounds in positive literacy experiences (Nord, Lennon, Liu, & Chandler, 1999; Serpell, 2001). Effective early instruction can provide the foundation for later educational success (Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan, 2000).

The National Research Council's report on prevention of reading problems encourages early instruction in the child's native language, stating that literacy instruction should not be introduced in any language before reasonable oral proficiency in that language has been achieved (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Once oral proficiency has occurred, an important component of dual language immersion is to teach reading in children's native languages before emphasizing reading and writing in English (Denton, Hasbrouck, Weaver, & Riccio, 2000; Genesee, 2002).

As literacy skills are introduced in the child's stronger first language, the teacher can monitor for generalization to the second language (Genesee, 2002). Reading in both English and Spanish requires many of the same skills and strategies. After children acquire skills in their native language, they can successfully complete literacy tasks, such as isolating initial sounds, learning spelling patterns, and recognizing words, in a nondominant language, (Denton et al., 2000). As Denton et al. noted, learning specific skills in their native language gives children a deeper knowledge of "how language works and strategies for processing language regardless of the language in which these insights and strategies are developed" (p. 345). Engagement and skill development are influenced by linguistic familiarity. For example, when adults read to children in the children's native language, they are much more attentive and actively engaged than when they encounter literacy experiences in a second language (Garcia & Godina, 1994).


Researchers have documented the importance of teaching phonics skills directly and making reading meaningful (Gutierrez-Clellen, 1999; Lyon, 1999; National Institutes of Health, 2000). Despite these findings, teachers and researchers often have concerns about how to implement blended meaning-skills instruction in a dual-language program.

Early childhood educators are troubled by the loss of interest in reading that may occur if direct phonics practices are heavily emphasized in classrooms with young children (Neuman, Copple, & Bredekamp, 2000) and with children from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds (Gallego & Hollingsworth, 2000). Researchers and educators have argued that children from different backgrounds need to be engaged in experiences that (a) make learning socially relevant and (b) build upon prior knowledge (Gallego & Hollingsworth, 2000; Pappas & Zecker, 2001a). In analyzing reading approaches implemented in Spanish-speaking classrooms, Freeman and Freeman (1996) stated that the traditional approaches overemphasize teaching sound--symbol associations in drill-type activities. These phonic-based approaches assume that decoding at the word level will generalize to skilled reading at the text level and that the child will automatically comprehend. Too much attention in kindergarten and first grade on teaching phonics at the word level, however, may limit children's appreciation and comprehension of more demanding connected texts later on (Cummins, 2002; Freeman & Freeman, 1996).

Although educators recognize the importance of enhancing both skills and meaning, there is no established way for achieving an integrated meaning--skills program. Some researchers focus on providing opportunities for children to engage in purposeful reading and writing (Reutzel, 1997). Other programs address meaning and phonics components separately, working on comprehension and phonics at different times and places in the curriculum (California Department of Education, 2001). Literature-based programs expose children to quality trade books but often supplement this with systematic skills instruction (Morrow & Gambrell, 2001). Another approach advocates embedding skills training and practice into meaningful contexts, such as stories, games, songs, and finger-plays (Notari-Syverson, O'Connor, & Vadasy, 1998; Richgels, Poremba, & McGee, 1996; H. K. Yopp, 1992).

Meaning-based instruction incorporates systematic, repeated experience with literacy targets into literature or within social contexts so that children acquire needed skills and simultaneously construct an understanding of the purpose and function of print (Kucer, 2001; R. Yopp & Yopp, 2001). McFadden (1998) noted, "Instruction that embeds learning in activity and makes deliberate use of the social and physical context is a powerful way of bringing about robust and functional knowledge" (p. 7). The use of an integrated approach has been recommended for teaching reading to children who are native speakers of Spanish (Gutierrez-Clellen, 1999), but specific programs of this sort have not been published. One option that deserves more exploration is providing first-hand experiences in a social context and having children then read, write, and talk about what they have done, thus achieving knowledge and leading beginning readers to negotiated and co-constructed meanings (DeTemple & Snow, 2001; Watson, 2001).


Positive engagement in interactive literacy activities benefits the literacy learning process because it motivates literacy learning, transmits positive attitudes about reading and writing, and assists in skill development (Guthrie & Knowles, 2001; McKenna, 2001; Verhoeven & Snow, 2001). Researchers and educators believe that engagement is important in meeting the needs of children from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Engagement by children increases their willingness to attend to and process examples of patterns (Ladson-Billings, 2000).

Closely related to engagement in instruction is the importance of interactive social experiences in the process of literacy learning. Incorporating reading and writing into interactive discourse contexts--such as read-alouds, story enactments, representational play, and authentic social exchanges-can facilitate interest in reading and support both decoding and text-level comprehension (Baker, 2001; Pappas, Hart, Escobar, Jones, & O'Malley, 2001; Pellegrini, 2001; Ruben, Liao, & Collier, 2001). In interactive reading, where teacher and students relate story content to their own lives and co-construct or negotiate meanings, students are able to obtain a deeper and more elaborated or organized understanding. Interactions around print as children plan and engage in social events, read and write about experiences, and engage in discussions about stories can deepen and activate personal meaning (DeTemple & Snow, 2001). High levels of involvement in contexts of discourse is a recommended practice for teaching children from different cultures (Gallego & Hollingsworth, 2000; Gutierrez-Clellen, 1999).

Many researchers have acknowledged the importance to literacy learning of mediated social interactions with adults (Hiebert & Martin, 2001; Moll, 1992; Morrow & Gambrell, 2001). Although skills can be taught in teacher-directed instruction, they should also be facilitated in interactive contexts that engage children and activate their attention (Dahl, Scharer, Lawson, & Grogran, 1999; Lyon, 1999; Verhoeven, 2001). In social contexts, print combines with oral language, contextual cues, actions, and interactions to activate meaning (Gee, 2001; Pappas & Zecker, 2001b; Watson, 2001; Willinsky, 1990). Social contexts promote positive attitudes about reading, permit children to view literacy as a social rather than isolated decoding process, and scaffold skill development.

Teaching early literacy skills in engaging social contexts is consistent with developmentally appropriate practice. Many researchers emphasize the need for instruction to match the learning styles of young children and to make print relevant to children's lives (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1995). Two recognized developmentally appropriate contexts for teaching early literacy skills are play and story enactments (Owocki, 1999; Pellegrini & Galda, 2000; Roskos & Christie, 2000). Through play, children can explore the functions and forms of written language. Embedding print and sound play into representational play contexts is one way to facilitate emergent literacy skills in a developmentally appropriate manner (Christie, 1991; Crystal, 1996).


Because skill acquisition and automaticity depend on practice, children should be provided with frequent, motivating opportunities to read and write (Verhoeven, 2001). Practice presupposes that children understand the purposes and value of literacy, approach reading instruction enthusiastically, and have access to materials at their level that they want to read (Verhoeven & Snow, 2001). Educators are more likely to meet these conditions if they build variety into instruction.

Variety is particularly important when teaching children who are at risk for reading problems because they need additional exposure to compensate for limited or restricted prior literacy experiences (Gutierrez-Clellen, 1999; Leseman & deJong, 2001; Pellegrini, 2001; Phillips, 1972).Verhoeven (2001) noted, "Low achieving children not only need more time to engage in learning to read and write, but they also need supplemental high quality instruction to accelerate their literacy development. Teachers should provide children with authentic reading and writing instead of repetitive practice of isolated skills" (p. 132).


As teachers of reading for Spanish-speaking children consider resources for engaging their students in learning to read, they must select texts and materials that are appealing and culturally appropriate. Texts that incorporate compelling language, meaningful words, familiar experiences, and interesting illustrations tend to effectively engage children (Hiebert & Martin, 2001).

Educators and researchers have expressed concern that direct instruction materials are generally not inherently engaging (Freeman & Freeman, 1996; Graves, Juel, & Graves, 2001). Phonetically controlled texts tend to contain restricted vocabulary, lack compelling plots, and fail to relate to children's experiences. Because these decodable stories are written to highlight target phonic patterns, characters and plots are subordinate to those patterns. Sometimes, the result is that these texts fail to connect to children's lives, thus reducing children's interest in reading (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1995; Brisk & Harrington, 2000; International Reading Association, 1998; Neuman et al., 2000).

To compensate for the limited number of compelling decodable texts, teachers of reading in Spanish need flexible procedures for adding more meaning to skill-based materials and for creating additional opportunities for children to practice reading and writing phonic patterns. One way to integrate skills with meaning is to personalize and adapt instructional texts. Teachers can design materials to fit children's reading levels, interests, and backgrounds (Walker, Rattanavich, & Oiler, 1992). Creating personalized texts, integrating opportunities to read into varied contexts, and associating texts with personal experiences can provide purpose and meaning for reading, as well as capitalize on the social dimensions of literacy (Gallego & Hollingsworth, 2000; Gutierrez-Clellen, 1999).


Project SEEL, a program that integrates meaning experiences and skill instruction for native Spanish-speaking children, was designed to increase children's exposure to literacy patterns in interactive and engaging ways. The program addresses the need for motivating and interactive instruction in dual-language classrooms by tying hands-on experiences to personalized, decodable texts.


The instructional program was field-tested from January to May in a half-day Spanish/English kindergarten classroom in Provo, Utah. The bilingual program followed a developmental model, which is designed to provide 90% of the instruction in Spanish during kindergarten and then increase the amount of instruction in English as the children progress through the grades. Although the goal had been to present 90% of the instruction in Spanish, interactions with an English-speaking teacher's assistant and participation in nonacademic classes (computer lab, physical education, music) limited the children's exposure to Spanish to 70%. All literacy instruction, however, was conducted in Spanish.

The classroom consisted of 22 children, ranging from 5 to 6 years in age. Most of the children came from homes of low socioeconomic status, all were of Hispanic descent, and half were recent immigrants from Latin American countries. Spanish was the predominant language spoken in all of the children's homes. (See B. Culatta, Setzer, Wilson, & Aslett, in press, for additional information about the participating children.)

Curricular Goals

The literacy goals at the beginning of the project (second semester of kindergarten) were for the children to be able to identify letter-sound correspondences, blend syllables and phonemes into words, recognize the same first syllable in words, and read and write CV and CVCV words with the /a/, /e/, and /o/ vowels. Strategies were also implemented to strengthen appreciation for the meaning and purpose of reading and to build story comprehension skills. An important overriding goal was to activate strong interest in texts and in the literacy process.

Activities to help children recognize and spell CV and CVCV words were presented systematically, with /a/ vowels presented first (represented in words such as cama, cava, capa, caja). Once the children were recognizing a core of CVCV words with the /a/ vowel, words with /e/ vowels were introduced (represented in words such as teme, bebe, debe). Words with the /a/ and /e/ vowels together were also highlighted in instruction (cena, cabe). The sequence then progressed to introducing words with /o/ vowels and words with combinations of /o/, /a/, and /e/ vowels.

Some incidental exposure to words with /i/ and /u/ vowels was incorporated into the later stories, but time did not permit highlighting words with these vowel patterns. Although typically the /i/ is presented before the /o/ in Spanish literacy programs, the /o/ was presented before the /i/ during this project because of the greater number of meaningful words that could be created with /o/ vowels. Together, the /o/ and /a/ or /o/ and /e/ combine to form a number of words that would be highly meaningful to the children, such as bajo [low], boca [mouth], bote [boat], and toma [take, feed].

Service Delivery and Contexts

The classroom teacher and undergraduate students from Brigham Young University carried out the instructional activities. Instruction was conducted primarily in large and small groups, but some instruction also occurred at the computer station and in noninstructional contexts, such as snack time and transitions. The university student instructors conducted an additional small-group literacy rotation 4 days a week (Monday through Thursday).

Large Groups. One 15- to 20-minute large-group activity a week was designated to introduce Project SEEL themes and stories. The teacher, assisted by one of the university students, conducted the session. In these large-group gatherings, the teacher and a student instructor told a story dramatically and encouraged the children in some audience participation, such as having the children pretend to go to sleep while listening to the story Llama in Pajamas (Voss, 1995) read in Spanish or hiding the llama's pajamas in various places (e.g., lata, caja, cama [can, box, bed]). After telling the story, the teacher would also involve the children in some shared reading of a teacher-generated, controlled text related to the target theme or story.

At other large-group sessions during the week, the classroom teacher would engage the children in shared reading of previously introduced stories to support the children's skill development. The teacher would guide the children in rereading the texts, which were presented as chart-paper stories or displayed on the classroom wall via a computer projector (see R. Culatta, Culatta, Frost, & Buzzell, this issue, for more information about the use of the computer). At still other large-group work times, the teacher would read or tell stories not related to Project SEEL's themes or activities and guide the children in reading syllable charts (e.g., pa, pe, pi, po, pu).

Small Groups. In addition to the large-group sessions, the children participated in two types of small-group gatherings per week (four 20-minute sessions or 1 hour and 20 minutes of small-group instruction a week). Two of the small-group sessions consisted of drill-type phonics tasks conducted by the classroom teacher; the other two sessions consisted of the interactive Project SEEL activities conducted by the university student instructors. Each small group consisted of five to six students.

In the structured phonics sessions, the children identified letter-sound associations and blended syllables into words. The teacher would hold up a letter and ask what sound it makes. If the children needed support, he would provide the response in the form of a familiar chant that consisted of giving the letter name, producing a word that starts with the letter's sound, and then giving the letter sound (e.g. "pe [letter name], pato, pato, /p/, /p/, /p/"). In blending syllables into words, the teacher would use a "push and say" strategy of placing out a written syllable, supporting the children in reading the syllable, introducing another syllable, and then engaging the children in simultaneous reading of the syllables in closer approximation. After the children produced both syllables, the teacher asked what word the blended syllables made. As the semester progressed, the teacher also engaged the children in guided and shared reading of commercial decodable books during these small-group sessions.

In the more interactive Project SEEL small-group sessions, the children engaged in shared reading and interactive writing of words as part of cooking and art projects, games, scripted play, and story enactments. The instructors provided the children with opportunities to read and write so they could take turns, make choices, comment on characters' actions, obtain materials, and give directions. After each hands-on activity, the children would read simple decodable stories about their experiences or write words to complete story frames. As the semester progressed, the children did more independent reading and more writing of words from dictation.

Noninstructional Contexts. Some additional opportunities to read and write were embedded into noninstructional contexts, such as transition, snack, and free-choice times. These novel experiences were designed to activate interest in the literacy process, integrate purposes for reading and writing into the class community, and increase the children's desire to talk about literacy experiences.

One shared group event was to hide a plastic frog in various places in the classroom for the children or teacher to discover at odd times. This activity was an extension of the book [??]Tu mama es una llama? [Is Your Mama a Llama?](Guarino, 1993) in which a baby animal (e.g., rana [frog] or vaca [cow]) attempts to find its mother in various places (e.g., "[??]La mama rana esta en la cama [o lata o caja]?" Is the mother frog in the bed [or can or box]?"). After reading and enacting the book, the teacher would occasionally hide the frog to provide a chance for interaction involving words from the story (e.g., "Hay una rana en la lata" ["There is a frog in the can"]). When the frog was found, the children pretended to take his picture while using empty disposable cameras. The teacher wrote on the board, "Hay una rana en la lata" ["There is a frog in the can"], took real digital photographs of the flog, and made a bulletin board and book showing the frog in his various hiding places. The children also dressed up as animals and pretended to hide in strange places (e.g., "Hay una rana en la cama" ["There is a frog in the bed"]).

Another example of a social opportunity to read occurred when the teacher created reasons to read during snack time. In one instance, each child was given an envelope with a picture of a house (casa) drawn on the outside, along with the written sentence "La pasa esta en la casa" ["The raisin is in the house"[. The children would read the sentence to ask for a raisin to be placed inside their envelope or to tell others that they had a raisin inside. The classroom teacher and his aide responded enthusiastically to the children's reactions ("Hey, you have a raisin in your house!").

Computer Station. The computer station provided an additional context for supporting targeted literacy skills. Computerized reading and writing activities that were related to the children's story experiences were created to reinforce exposure to literacy patterns. After the children participated in an enactment or play activity, the research team created a computerized book based on that experience. The children were able to work with these computerized books at the classrooms' computer station, and in some whole-group sessions the stories were displayed to the class via a computer projector. (R. Culatta et al., this issue, provides information on the use of the computer in the instructional program.)

Small- Group Activities

In project SEEL, the children were exposed to frequent examples of target literacy patterns within several types of small-group activities, such as story enactments, scripted play, games, and cooking or art projects. The content of the small-group activities was related to the theme or story introduced in the large group. Interesting hands-on materials were a part of all activities.

Story Enactment. Story enactments were used to support comprehension and decoding. In the small-group sessions, the children enacted stories that were introduced in the large group, and they read and wrote about their experiences. Both trade books and decodable stories were dramatized and enacted with props.

The stories were enacted either with the children taking on character roles or with the children manipulating props and cutouts or figures of animals and people. In the enactments, the children were permitted to improvise and elaborate their parts as long as their contributions fit logically within the theme. When not all of the children could take an active character role, the story was enacted twice so that the main parts could be rotated. When only some children acted out the story, others took participatory audience roles, engaging in some of the actions and reading cue cards to direct the characters.

To support story comprehension, the university student reviewed the story before the enactment and highlighted main ideas and relationships. Important ideas were emphasized as the children dramatized the story events and as the instructor commented on the children's actions. In taking on the roles of narrator or stage manager, the teacher elaborated story content, made implicit ideas explicit, illustrated meanings with facial expressions and gestures, recast important information, and adjusted the complexity of the vocabulary and syntax to the children's language levels. He recapped main story ideas and story structure in a summary or discussion of the story after the enactment.

In addition to supporting comprehension, the teacher and university student instructors used the enactment sessions to expose the children to the target letter-sound patterns. Opportunities to read and write target words were incorporated (a) as the children read cue cards and signs to announce the events and (b) following the enactment as the children read and wrote about the story. The Project SEEL team created simple decodable texts, with predictable elements, that were based on the enactment to provide the children with additional opportunities to read words that exemplified a target pattern. The interactions within the enactments elaborated the meaning of these decodable texts. After the enactment, the children were asked to write key words that fit within a summary of the story. They were given a simple framework of the story with a few key words eliminated, which they could fill in from dictation.

Scripted or Representational Play. In the scripted play activities, children were permitted to act on thematically related props in flexible and creative ways. In some cases, options for acting on the objects and carrying out events were suggested or demonstrated by the instructor. In the scripted play, the children had control over how to manipulate the materials, as long as their actions fit within the theme and they used the objects appropriately.

Word play was incorporated into the play themes. One scripted activity that highlighted syllables with the /a/ vowel was a water play that consisted of letting animals and people swim or wash in various containers (e.g., "La mama lava la vaca en la caja [o lata, taza, tapa]," "La mama nada [o papa] nada," "The cow washes in the box [or can, cup, top]," "The mother [or father] swims"). Reasons to read target words were also incorporated into the play. The children read so they could take turns, select materials, request actions or turns, signal choices, and make comments. The children were able to make choices about which character got to swim in which container or what object the character got to wash.

After engaging in the play, the children read a teacher-made decodable story that was based on the play experience. Instructors also helped the children write target words from dictation. For example, as a follow-up to a story about a rat who took a bath in lots of white foamy bubbles, Maisy Takes a Bath (Cousins, 2000), the children signaled decisions in writing as they washed and played in the thick foam. They also pretended that the rat was taking a bath in whipping cream and wrote words to signal where they wanted to put the whipped cream and what they wanted to do with it.

Games and Play Routines. Clearly organized games and routines were also used in the small-group sessions. These included songs, finger plays, and tightly defined play activities with set roles, actions, and signals to convey the action sequence. The routines included clear expectations for how, when, and by whom the objects were manipulated. Opportunities to read and write were embedded into the games and routines. For example, while participating in a scavenger hunt, the children read words for places on a map to find a list of items needed to make a potato into a person. In another routine, the children created a dinner (cena) by going from place to place in the classroom (e.g., mesa, cama, mapa [table, bed, map]) to collect ingredients (e.g., "Saca las pasas" ["Take out the raisins"]) from containers (e.g., caja, lata, bata [bed, can, bathrobe]) and to place or paste them on a paper plate to create a "dinner."

Rhythmic chants and finger plays associated with gestures and actions were also used as structured routines, with the children reading repetitive phrases on cue cards to signal and comment on the sequence of actions. For example, a routine titled "Five Monkeys Side by Side" (Cinco monos lado a lado), based on the poem "Ten Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed," began with having five children stand side-by-side (cinco monos lado a lado) by a bed made out of a sheet placed on the floor. One "monkey" jumped onto the bed ("Un mono salta en la cama"), leaving the other four "monkeys" behind ("A cuatro monos los dejo"). The "monkey" on the bed then pulled another "monkey" by the tail ("Uno jala la cola del otro") on with him or her and fell off ("El mono se cayo"), leaving that "monkey" alone on the bed ("Otro mono se quedo"). The children read each verse on cue cards while the "monkeys" would jump one by one onto the bed, pulling the next "monkey" on and then falling off the other side. After playing the routine, the children read the entire text as a choral reading.

Projects. Several "make and do" projects were used as literacy activities. In an art project, the children read to obtain materials and followed directions to make a fairy out of a cardstock dress (ropa), a balloon face (cara), a cloth cape (capa), and a cardboard wand (vara). They also read as they carried out a story about the fairy: "[??]Hay una hada? Dale una cara. Dale una capa. Dale una cana. Dale una rama. [??]Las hadas usan ramas? [??]No! Dale una carla, [??]Las hadas usan canas? [??]No! Dale la vara magica, [??]Hay una hada!" ["Is this a fairy? Give her a face. Give her a cape. Give her white hair. Give her a branch. Do fairies use branches? No! Give her a pole. Do fairies use poles? No! Give the fairy a wand. There's a fairy!"]

Another project involved making banana bread to follow up a story about a mouse who sneaks into a family's kitchen and makes a mess as he helps himself to a snack (Mouse Mess; Riley, 1997). In the cooking project, the students read a decodable recipe to make the banana bread.

Instructional Supports

As they furnished frequent opportunities for the children to practice reading and writing target patterns, the teacher and university student instructors provided individualized levels of support in the small-group sessions. They engaged the children in simultaneous and guided reading of the decodable texts and helped them segment and blend syllables into words. To support blending, they also used the "push and say" procedure, a process of reading syllables written on cards and then blending them as the cards were moved closer and closer together. In texts composed of both predictable and decodable elements, the teacher would alert the children when they needed to pay careful attention to the letter-sound associations so they could read.

To support the correct spelling of target patterns, the instructors exaggerated the use of key words within play routines, focusing attention on the phonological pattern before providing the children with opportunities to write the words. For example, as the children enacted a story, the instructors commented on their actions using target words containing /a/, bombarding them with salient examples of the phonological pattern (e.g., mama cava, nada, lata, caja). They then arranged for the children to write words from dictation to complete story frames or to make choices or requests. Initially, they supported the children by breaking whole words into phonemes or syllables and repeating the sound or sound sequence. When the children needed support in retrieving letters to go with particular sounds, the instructors provided letters from which to choose or repeated the sound and gave the letter name (e.g., "eme, eme, /mmm/, /mmm/, /mmm/" [for the letter "m"]). If children needed more support, the instructor wrote the letter for them to copy and stated its name and sound ("Aqui estd 'eme', 'eme' dice /m/, /m/, /m/" ["Here is 'M,' 'M' says /m/, /m/, /m/"). Once a child wrote a word, sound, or syllable, the instructors read it, sometimes segmenting the syllables and reblending them into the word.

Additional practice reading the personalized Project SEEL texts was incorporated into other contexts. At different times in the week, the teacher would guide the children in rereading the chart paper versions of the texts the children had encountered in the Project SEEL activities. Printed versions of the texts were placed in the classroom's bookrack, and computerized versions were made available at the computer station. As the semester progressed, the teacher and university student instructors cut back the amount of support for most of the children and gave them more responsibility for reading the texts independently.

Integrated, Theme-Based Units

The Project SEEL activities and texts were developed within themes that could be integrated into different classroom contexts. Integrated instruction connects the texts, elaborates meaning, and increases children's exposure to targeted material. The first unit was integrated with a theme of digging and exposed the children to CVCV words highlighting the /a/ vowel (e.g., cava, pala, rama, tapa, para). The teacher introduced the unit by reading and dramatizing the book Cava, cava (L. Wood, 1988); the children pretended to be the characters who were digging in various places and ways (e.g., a man operating heavy equipment, a dog digging a hole, a woman planting a flower). The only printed word in the book was cava (dig), so the teacher elaborated the meaning by producing comments, nonverbal gestures, and vocalizations as he pretended to dig.

After introducing the text, the university student instructors and the teacher presented the children with a smallgroup digging activity that involved using puppets and paper cutouts (e.g., "vaca, mama, papa, y rana" [cow, mother, father, and frog]) to dig for objects and written words in a bin of beans (e.g., "Mama cava para la cama [o tapa o rana]" "Mamma digs for the bed [or lid or frog]"). The children decided the following items:

* where each character would dig (e.g., "Cava en la lata o cava en la caja" ["Father] digs in the can or digs in the box"),

* what the character would dig with (e.g., "cava con la pala, la pata, la lata, la caja o la tapa" ["digs with the shovel, paw, can, box, or top"]), and

* what he or she would dig for (e.g., "cava para la cama, cava para la tapa" ["digs for the bed, digs for the lid"]).

The objects and actions all were represented in words that illustrated the targeted pattern: tapa, lata, caja, pala, rama, y pata (top, can, box, shovel, branch, and paw [made of cardboard]).

Another activity highlighting the /a/ syllable pattern was modeled after Rip's Secret Spot (Butler, 2000), a story about a dog who digs and buries his owners' things. In a customized decodable text written in Spanish, a dog (named Bata) digs (cava) and buries the mother's top (tapa), the daughter's toy frog (rana), and the father's cup (taza) in a hole. The mother (mama), father (papa), and daughter (Mara) discover the hole and one by one dig up their things with a shovel (e.g., "La mama cava con una pala" ["The mother digs with a shovel"]). The mother then gives (da) Bata a branch or stick (rama) to bury instead ("Mama da una rama a Bata"). The children enacted and read the "Bata cava" story, which was displayed on chart paper. The story led to a small-group digging experience where the children let toy animals (rana, vaca, rata [frog, cow, rat]) dig in dirt. In this activity, the frog would dig and get dirty and the mother or father would tell the frog to go to get washed ("Ve a lavar"), wash the frog ("Mama lava la rana en la lata" ["The mother washes the frog in the box"]), dry him ("Seca la rana"), give a robe to the frog ("da la bata a la rana"), and wrap him up in the robe ("La rana esta en la bata" ["The frog is in the robe"]). The children made animals (rana, vaca, rata) dig and the mother and father figures wash them. The children also dressed up as frogs with paper "frog" hats and wrapped themselves up in a large bathrobe ("Hay una rana en la bata" ["There is a frog in the bathrobe"]).

To follow up the small-group activities, the instructors made the "cava" materials available during free play so the children could dig for cards with words written on them (e.g., cama, rana, tapa [bed, frog, top]) or objects with /a/ syllables in their names (e.g., lata, taza, vaca [can, cup, cow]). The children also played with digging in cereal flakes at snack time. In addition, the teacher placed a book about the children's experiences, illustrated with pictures of them digging, in the classroom bookrack (e.g., "Juliana cava en la caja," "Silvia cava en la lata," "Marie cava para la tapa" ["Juliana digs in the box," "Silvia digs in the can," "Marie digs for the top"]). The teacher also put small flipbooks, with the first syllable being ca and the final syllable changing to make different words (cama, cara, casa, cava), in the children's cubbies.

Text Types

A variety of texts were used to illustrate targeted word patterns. These texts included teacher-created stories, adapted versions of trade books, commercially available controlled texts, story frames, social notes, and signs.

Teacher-Made Texts. Teacher-made decodable materials that were tied to the children's experiences were used to activate meaning and to expose the children to examples of words with the target pattern. These texts were created by selecting a theme, identifying a core of related words with the target pattern, and connecting statements made with those words into a unified story. A native or proficient Spanish speaker reviewed the texts before the instructors introduced them to the children.

With the teacher-made texts, the children were bombarded with examples of target phonic patterns in varied yet interesting ways. A text with a restaurant theme exemplified the initial syllable pa in words such as pasa, papa, pala, y papa (pass, potato, shovel, and father). To exemplify the syllable pa, a "father" (papa) would pay (paga) for French fries (papa) or raisins (pasas), pass (pasa) the food from one child to another (e.g., pasa para Lydia: pass to Lydia), or pass the food directly to a particular child (e.g, pasa a Juan: pass to Juan). The father and children also used a shovel (pala), paper scoop (papel), or Styrofoam paw (pata) to pass the food (e.g., "Pasa con la pala," "[He] passes [the food] with the shovel"). As the children engaged in the predictable and repetitive play routine, they were able to read a number of similar and relevant phrases or sentences that went along with their actions (e.g., "Lydia pasa la papa con la pata," "Marta pasa la papa para Papa").

Adapted Versions of Books. In addition to instructor-created texts, the project designers selected children's trade books to be read, dramatized, and enacted. The children's enactments were then written at simpler levels to be decoded using the Language Experience approach. For example, La casa adormecida, the Spanish version of In a Napping House (A. Wood, 1984), was made accessible to the children as a written text by writing about the enactment in this simple, predictable way:
   Hay una casa. Hay una cama. Hay una mama. Hay
   una nina. Hay un perro. Hay una gata. Hay una rata.

   Hay una arana. La arana pica a la rata. La rata toca a
   la gata. La gata toca al perro. El perro toca a la nina.
   La nina toca a roared. Por eso se quiebra la cama.

   There is a bed. There is a morn. There is a girl. There
   is a dog. There is a cat. There is a rat. There is a
   spider. The spider bites the rat. The rat bumps into
   the cat. The cat bumps the dog. The dog bumps the
   girl. The girl bumps the mother. They break the bed.

The reading of trade books was then accompanied by hands-on play activities that were written at controlled or decodable levels. In a replica play activity based on La casa adormecida, the children piled plastic and cardboard people and animals (mama paper, rana, vaca) onto beds made out of Styrofoam containers, made the characters fall onto each other after the spider bit the rat, and then broke and cracked the beds when the characters landed on the bed.

Commercially Available Controlled Texts. Some commercially available texts were used as they were written, although sometimes minor adaptations were made. The book Cava cava, mentioned previously, was used as written because it consists solely of the word cava on each page. Hay una ciudad (Herman, 2001) is another early predictable and decodable text that was used as written. After the story was read and told, however, a rewritten text was incorporated into follow-up play activities to expose the children to additional examples of targeted words.

Story Frames. Story frames are simplified, predictable versions of the targeted texts with key words eliminated. The children completed the texts by writing the words from an auditory model, retrieving words on their own, or picking a word from a list of several alternatives. Using story frames, the children were able to make their own copies of stories that were written partly in their own handwriting and personalized with their own word selections. The missing target words were likely to be readily recalled because the children frequently heard them highlighted during scripted play or story enactments. The story frame that was presented as a follow up to the "hada" art activity described previously read: "Hay una hada. Dale una -- (cara, capa). Dale una -- (rama). [??]Dale una rama? [??]No! Se da una -- [??]Una --!" ["There is a fairy. Give her a -- [face or cape]. Give her a -- [branch]. No! We give [a fairy] a -- [wand]. A fairy!"]

Social Texts. The teacher also created different kinds of social texts that were embedded in shared class experiences and the small-group story and play contexts. Signs, lists, posters, menus, and bulletin boards were used to highlight target words and stimulate conversation.

An example of a social context was "[??]Que hay en su cajita?" ["What is in your cubby?"]. The teacher placed a sign on the classroom door telling the children to look in their cubbies for a note or object related to a literacy theme. The children were able to read the sign, discover a small surprise, and share what they found with their classmates. (The activity is described in greater detail in R. Culatta et al., this issue.)

As the children experienced the different text types in the various contexts and activities, the meanings of targeted words were supplemented with information in oral language, interactions, and context. The children encountered contextual cues and predictable, repetitive linguistic elements to support their recognition of target forms. Additional information about how the various texts were constructed appears in R. Culatta et al. (this issue).


Project SEEL procedures, which consist of an array of instructional contexts, texts, and activities, provide varied and engaging ways to increase children's opportunities to practice literacy skills in Spanish. These procedures are flexible and easy to customize to the needs of both the group and individuals. Teachers of children at risk for literacy problems will find them of particular value.

Research has indicated that associating texts with firsthand experiences activates prior knowledge and places reading into contexts where meaning can be negotiated and co-constructed. Systematically exposing children to targets in highly communicative and experiential activities dramatically increases opportunities for acquiring skills and raises their level of engagement. Flexible and interactive activities give teachers a format for responding to children's input and for incorporating children's ideas.

Although the potential positive impact of incorporating Project SEEL procedures into classroom literacy programs is considerable, implementation of these procedures raises issues about ease of adoption and generalizability of use. Some aspects, such as incorporating reasons to encounter targets into social contexts, might be implemented without requiring much additional time or resources. Other aspects, such as the creation of scripts, activities, and texts, might require increased planning time. Experience has shown, however, that planning these types of activities becomes easier with practice.

Teachers may also feel reluctant to discard structured literacy instruction. Use of Project SEEL procedures would not preclude more structured literacy instruction, because interactive experiences can be integrated into a program that also provides more tightly programmed, teacher-directed practice of skill. The use of an existing structured program can increase exposure to targets and give teachers added assurance that students are receiving instruction in a logical, developmental sequence.

To decrease planning time, the teacher could use an engaging, hands-on instructional program with some packaging of lessons and scripting of activity formats. While learning to create effective personalized texts, teachers may benefit from sample lesson plans and activity formats designed as thematic units. Once created, activities and texts may be adapted and reused with little modification. The scripting of lessons could also help teachers make use of volunteers in implementing supplemental instruction to increase children's exposure to phonic patterns in flexible, engaging contexts. The scripting and sharing of lesson formats decreases the time involved in planning and would increase usability and adaptability by other teachers.

EDITOR'S NOTE. This three-part series of articles details the implementation of a personalized and engaging program for early literacy instruction conducted in Spanish. The project, Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy Instruction (SEEL), uses interactive and engaging activities to increase children's interest in and ability to read and write. Varied and personalized texts and activities were used to expose children to literacy patterns. Part I (this article) describes the project's purpose, activities, and texts. Part II details the processes and resources used for creating computerized books and activities. Part III, which will appear in the Volume 25, Number 3, issue of Communication Disorders Quarterly, will provide preliminary outcome data collected as the project was implemented in a dual-language kindergarten classroom.


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Barbara Culatta, PhD, is a professor of speech pathology and an associate dean at Brigham Young University. Her interests are the relationship between language and literacy functioning in children. Richard Aslett, EdD, has years of experience teaching at the elementary school level and in universities. He directed the dual language program for the Provo, Utah, public school system. Megan Fife, BA, is completing her graduate program in speech pathology. Lee Ann Setzer, MS, is a clinical supervisor of speech pathology at Brigham Young University. Address: Barbara Culatta, McKay School of Education, 301 McKay Bldg., Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602.
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Author:Culatta, Barbara; Aslett, Richard; Fife, Megan; Setzer, Lee Ann
Publication:Communication Disorders Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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