Teach the Five Components of Reading (with Just One Thanksgiving Phonics Poem)

With the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaching, November is a shorter teaching month, so every literacy mini-lesson really needs to count.

Would you believe one short Thanksgiving poem can help you teach all five of the essential components of reading? It’s absolutely true. For example, the Thanksgiving poem, “Mashed Potatoes,” targets the consonant digraphs /ch/and /sh/ as well as the r-controlled vowels /or/ and /ur/, but you can also include all the other important areas of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

First of all, what are the five components of reading?

Here’s a very brief summary…

1. Phonemic Awareness:

Phonemic awareness has to do with hearing and discriminating between letter sounds, so it’s all about the ears, not about the eyes.

2. Phonics:

Phonics skills help readers learn the rules of letters and the sounds they make to be able to decode new words. For instance the letter g has a hard and soft sound. The hard g sound starts words like good and go. The soft g (sounds like a j) in words like giraffe and giant. When directly teaching phonics, it’s important to focus on letter sounds and phonics patterns which are the most consistent first before delving into all the tricky exceptions to a rule.

3. Fluency: 

Generally, fluency is how well a student reads aloud (orally) with appropriate speed, accuracy and expression. I’ve always told my students to think of Goldilocks while reading aloud, because we don’t want to read too fast or too slow, but just right. We also want to try to read accurately and with expression, because it’s never fun to listen to someone read in a monotone voice like Robbie the Robot. Becoming a good oral reader takes practice.

4. Vocabulary:

Vocabulary development is learning new words and their meaning. Students who have been read to (and spoken to) frequently can understand many, many words they are not yet capable of reading on their own. However, when they eventually do come across one of these words in text, they will already have an understanding of its contextual meaning, which is a real advantage when a student is learning to read. Building vocabulary is an important part of stretching and growing as a reader.

5. Comprehension:

Comprehension refers to understanding what you’re reading, which is the whole point. True comprehension has many layers because some students may have a surface level of understanding, but struggle to go deeper by making connections or inferences, etc.

Image of Thanksgiving phonics poem, "Mashed Potatoes," by Lorrie L. Birchall

Thanksgiving Phonics Poem: “Mashed Potatoes”

This Thanksgiving poem targets phonics skills (consonant digraphs and r-controlled vowels), but it’s not hard to use the poem to teach all five components of reading:

1. Phonemic Awareness: (Listening and discriminating sounds)


  • Read the poem aloud without showing students the poem.
  • Say: “The title of the poem is ‘Mashed Potatoes’ and the word mashed has the /sh/ sound. Now I’ll read the poem again and I want you to listen for other words in the poem that have a /sh/ sound like mashed.
  • Read the poem again. Have students give a thumbs up when they hear the sh sound in the poem.

2. Phonics: (Teach the consonant digraph /sh/)

  • Give each student a copy of the poem. Read the poem aloud together.
  • If possible, have students circle or highlight all the words with the /sh/ sound. Make sure students are aware that the /sh/ consonant digraph can be found at the beginning, middle or end of a word.
  • Using magnetic letters, make and break other words containing sh (mash, cash, dash, dish, wish, ship, shop, and so on…)
  • Brainstorm other words containing the/sh/ sound. If time, write the words on a chart, or dry erase board, circling or highlighting the /sh/ digraph.

3. Fluency: (Reading aloud with appropriate speed, accuracy and expression)

  • Have students practice reading the poem silently to themselves and then aloud to a partner. Rereading the short text of a poem is a great fluency builder for readers of all abilities.
  • Discuss how the poem’s punctuation affects reading aloud. For instance, the comma tells the reader to pause. The ending exclamation point tells the reader to add extra excitement to their voice.

4. Vocabulary Building: (thank, thankful, thankfully)

  • Base Word: Discuss the meaning of the base word thank (verb)
  • Suffixes (ful, ly) : Show how the suffixes (ful, ly) added to the base word thank form new words…thankful (adjective), thankfully (adverb)
  • Adjective (thankful): “I’m thankful for the corn and squash…” (Thankful is an adjective which modifies the pronoun I’m.)
  • Adverb (thankfully): “…make me shout most thankfully.” (Thankfully is an adverb which modifies the verb shout.)


  • Using picture clues: Who is thankful in this poem and what are they most thankful for?
  • Text-to-Self Connection: What makes you shout most thankfully at Thanksgiving?
  • Author’s Purpose: What was the author’s purpose for writing this poem…to persuade, inform, or entertain? (Persuade: the author tries to convince the reader to think a certain way, Inform: the author presents facts, Entertain: the author amuses the reader.) Answer: entertain

Bonus Ideas: Here are a couple more ideas for teaching with this short Thanksgiving poem…


  • Repetition of same beginning sound (…but mounds of mashed potatoes make me…)

First Person Perspective:

  • How do you know the poem is written from the first person perspective? (The poem is written from the “I” point of view)
  • What words help you know it’s first person perspective? (I’m, me)

As you can see, just one little poem can be used to teach a wide variety literacy skills in a short-on-time literacy mini-lesson.

FREE Thanksgiving Phonics poem, “Mashed Potatoes”!

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