Wonders Reading Program – Start Smart Phonics

As primary educators, we know that our students need a TON of direct instruction in phonics, comprehension, grammar, writing, and even collaborative conversations. Being able to do all of this while also integrating direct instruction in Science, Social Studies,  differentiated Guided Reading groups, and implementing necessary 21st Century skills can be a lot to manage. These, along with others, are the reasons for why my district chose to adopt the McGraw Hill Wonders Reading program for this school year.  In this blog post, you’ll read a little about my initial reaction to our training as well as some questions for you to consider when planning out your year.

*Please note all references from this point forward will be based on Grade 1 Unit 1.

Yesterday, my teammates and I ventured into a PD to introduce us to this new program.

Thus far, I’ve seen:

  • The first 3 weeks of school laid out through Start Smart
  • Unit Overview of the content as it aligns to standards each week
  • Descriptors of Unit Projects
  • Suggested Uses for your own texts
  • Scope and Sequence
  • If/Then charts for moving forward after assessments

All of this was touched on in the training…but so was EVERYTHING else the program has to offer. I’ve got to say, it is exciting to see how much you get with this program but it is also immensely overwhelming. By the time the presenter had us login to the digital portal, my mind was shutting down. I realize there are many digital resources to be utilized (like parent notes, online assignments, running records, digital texts, songs, etc.) but I have not even wrapped my mind around a single day of this plan! My initial reaction?

Where do I even start?

After the training was over, I went home and dove in to the teacher’s guide.

I’m a fan of “big picture” thinking and like to see everything at a glance.

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 1.40.57 PM

In the first 3 weeks of school, this is what Wonders says you will cover with their lesson plans. That is a LOT. So, let’s take a step back.

The first days of school are full of tears (from students and maybe even you), teaching expectations and routines, assemblies, fire drills, and an overall sense of “Let’s just get these kids home safely by the end of the day.”

Point being: do not kill yourself just trying to fit in Wonders because it says you are supposed to start on day one.

In fact, the handy dandy online portal does include a “drag and drop” function of their lessons in the calendar. This would allow you to move lessons around when there are changes or disruptions to your schedule. However, I’m not there yet and I don’t expect you to be there, either.

Assuming you’ve survived through those first few days, let’s break Start Smart down subject by subject.

Phonics: The first 3 weeks are all about phonemes (introducing the sounds the letters make). With my particular student population, this is not something I will need to do explicit instruction on in my classroom. However, I ALWAYS begin teaching the Phonics Dance in the first week of school.  Ask yourself:

Is this something my kids are going to need? And, is there something I already do (and am comfortable with) that I know can serve the same purpose?

The purpose of reviewing all of the phonemes is to: 1) formatively assess their letter knowledge, 2) introduce specific mouth shapes, 3) teach correct sounds. For me, I am 100% comfortable allowing the Phonics Dance to continue serving that purpose for my students. Don’t reinvent the wheel if it means adding stress to your day.

Start Smart also offers a brief introduction into the short vowel sounds. Unit 1 Week 1 goes back to short a for phonics instruction and for spelling patterns. My thought? Don’t beat yourself up if you cannot get to all of the Word Work lessons in the first 3 weeks. Just like our instruction centers around routines and procedures, this Start Smart unit is meant to help introduce your students to the routines of your instruction so that more time is focused on teaching and not on direction-giving.

Phonological awareness: Start Smart begins with isolation, segmenting, deleting, blending, syllables and rhyme. If you are looking for a way to “fit it all in,” think:

  • Do all of my kids need this? If your answer is no…
  • Is this something that I am already doing in my Guided Reading? Could I add it to my Guided Reading?
  • Is this something that I could incorporate in morning work? In homework? 


There is no reason for us to get overwhelmed by a new program! It is meant to be a GREAT resource, not a strict script. Stick with me as we dig through this together and I look at Concepts of Print and Writing next!


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