8 Effective Ways to Differentiate Concept of Word Lessons

Teaching students to read is so much easier with concept of word poems. Modeling with COW poems helps students make the connection between spoken words and print. This post includes lots of teaching activities you can do with just one poetry set.

Concept of Word may be a term you’re unfamiliar with, but simply put. It is when a child is able to connect spoken words to print. When little ones enter kindergarten, they often come with a range of skills. Some may be reading, and some may know only a few letters. We’ve even had a few still learning colors. So why should a kindergarten teacher spend time working on teaching concept of word? How does a concept of word lesson benefit those at the front end of the spectrum? In this post, I’m going to share with you ways you can use concept of word poetry sets to teach ALL students regardless of reading readiness.


Teaching students to read is so much easier with concept of word poems. Modeling with COW poems helps students make the connection between spoken words and print. This post includes lots of teaching activities you can do with just one poetry set.

The best way to work on concept of word or COW is with a poem that has either two or four lines and 4-6 words per line. Poems longer than four lines are too difficult for students to memorize, and therefore, they should be avoided until your little ones are closer to the transitional stage. Your poems should follow either an ABCB or AABB rhyme scheme and MUST be taught ORALLY first using pictures for cuing. It is very important that students memorize the poem first for a true measure of COW development.

With my intervention students, there are a few ways to scaffold instruction. I use touch points as a scaffold during the modeling phase and during practice. For those who are not ready for independent COW activities, this modeling will eventually become habit. Additionally, you can use hand over hand practice as another aide. This was especially helpful for one very inattentive child I taught. I worked with his group in the last 30 minutes of the day, a tough part of the day for him. Finally, limiting to just two lines for those who struggle memorizing four can make a big difference. We need to set kids up for success, so keep these options in mind.


Introduce and Teach the Poem

The first step for teaching your poems is to post or project pictures tied to the text. Talk about the pictures and share the words. You can add hand motions or sing the words. You can clap along with the rhythm. As students become familiar, you can begin modeling how YOU read and track the print.

Teaching students to read is so much easier with concept of word poems. Modeling with COW poems helps students make the connection between spoken words and print. This post includes lots of teaching activities you can do with just one poetry set.

Emphasize Beginning Sounds and White Space

When I’m modeling, I really emphasize the beginning sounds of words and point out the white space between words. As I model tracking the poem, I provide a touchpoint grid for my kids to touch as we say it together. This helps them connect the voice to print match.

Practice with Fancy Pointers and Aides

Once students have memorized the poem, the next step is to practice reciting it and tracking the print. Bring out your fancy pointers. Have your students use highlighters, stampers, and markers to mark beginning sounds and the white space between words. As I work with decodable texts, I also use these same techniques.

Work on Words in Isolation

The final step with COW is to work on words in isolation. Students can match word cards to the poem’s text. With the poem memorized, you can also model how we can recite the poem and track to find the word in the poem in order to figure out the word.


During your whole group lessons, you can differentiate to hit each student where they are developmentally. This is VERY important to understand as I’ve heard kindergarten teachers say, “My students don’t know letters and sounds yet. They aren’t ready for Concept of Word.” That is just not the truth because the more we surround our students with text, the easier it is for students to learn letters and sounds. Students must be surrounded by print even when they can’t read it! The more we read TO them and the more we INVOLVE them, the quicker they will learn. The modeling we do includes ALL students, and I believe in a gradual release model, “I do. We do. You do.”

When you differentiate the lessons, you will include scaffolding for all levels. For some students, this means “reading” and tracking on their own soon after you introduce. For some students, the support of touch points may be needed the full week. Accurate tracking is long from developing, but they will learn. Never fear. They will get there if you keep the routine in place.

Letter Recognition and Sounds

During your whole group lessons, reviewing and practicing letter recognition and letter sounds involves all of your kinders. I love playing I Spy with flyswatters. Of course, you can have students identify letters they see (and circle them). You can question to have students share the sounds they hear at the beginning of selected words or supply other words that begin with the sound.

Another idea is to match letter cards to letters within the poem. I love projecting these poems and having kids use the Smartboard markers to circle or highlight the letters we’ve worked on. You can also make a list of words from the poem that start with the letter “?”. Reading the word list can emphasize the letter’s beginning sounds.

Working on Rhyme

When you are modeling the poem, it’s a great time to work in word play. Of course, you’ll point out the rhyming words at the end of the lines. You can also have rhyming picture cards and have your students LISTEN for the word that rhymes with the focus word. For example, you might choose BAT as your focus word. If your COW poem is Humpty Dumpty, you could have your students raise their hand when they hear a word that rhymes with BAT. (Humpty Dumpty SAT on a wall.)

Sightword Work

In kindergarten, there are typically a list of words that are taught as sightwords. My feelings are mixed on teaching sightwords in kindergarten because I don’t believe we need to rush to flashing sightword cards in the first semester of kindergarten. I think as kids learn to encode and decode CVC words, then it’s a natural time to focus on sightwords too. Kids hit this stage of development at different times. For this reason, sightwords may be best for kids who are ready for them versus whole group.

So what can we do with sightword work with COW? Here’s a list of ideas:

  • Make it a game and play I Spy
  • Match sightword cards to the sightwords in the poem
  • Make the sightwords in playdough or with wikki sticks
  • Use the sightwords in your stations-Read It, Write It, Stamp It, Build It (with magnetic letters or playdough)
  • Highlighter Hunts
  • Box the configuration

Reading the White Space

Recognizing that the “white space” separates words is an important step to developing COW. To work on recognizing white space, students can circle the space between wordshighlight the spaces, and cut between words to decompose and remake the lines of the poem. Decomposing and rebuilding sentences in whole or small groups is a great way for students to work on matching voice to print and separating words to “replace” the white space.

Comprehension Activities

In addition to word play, teachers can also discuss the meaning of the poem with questioning. Here are a few question stems that come to mind.

  • Who or what is the concept of word poem about?
  • What happened in the poem?
  • How do you think it will end?
  • What might happen next?
  • What happened after ??

For non-readers, illustrating the story or draw/label activities are a great way to get at comprehension without the added pressure of writing. Of course, for those able, adding a sentence or labels is great! Comprehension skills should always be included with any texts we use.

In addition to word play, teachers can also discuss the meaning of the poem with questioning. Who or what is the poem about? What happened in the poem? What do you think about ??? What might happen next? What happened after ?? For non-readers, illustrating the story or draw/label activities are a great way to get at comprehension without the added pressure of writing. Of course, for those able, adding a sentence or labels is great!

Writing Activities

To bring in writing, teachers can provide the poem with one word missing per line (like a Rebus) or teachers can use sentence frames to write about the poem. Student writing provides a great indication of the student’s COW stage. With samples, you might notice scribbles, letter like shapes, beginning letters (or most salient sound) to represent words, beginning and ending sounds, and eventually beginning, medial, and ending sounds. Keep these samples to show parents at conference time.

Reading Punctuation

In the process of reading the poem, it’s a great time to introduce punctuation and what you do with your voice. Drawing attention to punctuation can be as simple as circling with red for a full stop,  yellow for a slow down, an up arrow for questions, and a down arrow for periods. You can also read without punctuation and have students add what’s needed.


Of course, one of the primary skills with concept of word is tracking print accurately when we read. Once the poem is memorized, matching voice to print is demonstrated with accurate tracking. To work on tracking, as I mentioned earlier, you can pull out your favorite pointers. For small group practice, I love using the witch fingers or light rings. Finally, you can get flyswatters from the Dollar Tree and cut out the middle to frame words or small boxes to frame letters. When you ask kids to frame certain words, students must track to find them.

If COW is new to you, there are other blog posts on my site that you can check out. These three are ones that I’d recommend.

Developing a Concept of Word with Emergent Readers

Developing a Concept of Word and More with Animal Poetry

Teaching Tips with Reading A to Z


Sometimes I like to try a resource before I buy it, and I have several seasonal samples you can use for just that. THIS SET is great for the beginning of the year. It’s all about apple picking, a common fall activity.  You can also download THIS SET which is great for now since it’s all about Thanksgiving. If you catch this post in the spring, never fear! THIS SET is about the Easter bunny.


Below, you’ll find a link to the mega bundle in my store. It includes over 800 pages and about 80 poetry sets. This sounds like a lot I know, but you will find that some poems match your classroom themes better than others. Having a choice of poems helps. I have also found that for some students, I need more than one poem in a week because they’re reading and want to be challenged, and one thing the kids love is being able to revisit poems in their poetry books. As the year goes, your kids will build a great anthology for repeated reading in the classroom and for the summer.

If you prefer keeping all of your resources in one place on Teachers Pay Teacher or want to learn more, you can check out the listing and previews HERE in my store or HERE on Teachers Pay Teachers. If you use the BUY NOW widget above, the shopping bag is in the bottom right corner (Hard to see, but something I can’t change.)

Teaching your students to read is so much easier when you use a consistent routine. I truly believe when concept of word routines are combined with lots and lots of word building activities, kids thrive. They move through the emergent reader stage and on to beginning to read. If you have questions, please share them in the comments or email me through the contact form to the right. If you like this resource and want your team to use it too, please email me about site licenses. I’m glad to work with your school.

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