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Lips the Fish Reading Strategy: Using the Initial Sound

Lips the Fish Reading Strategy

Let’s talk about the Lips the Fish reading strategy. Using Beanie Babies to help students remember key strategies is a great guided reading tool. Lips the Fish is a key strategy for your new(ish), readers. It involves teaching children to get their lips ready to make the first sound of the tricky word. Let’s get into it!


This is part three of a six-part blog series. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out parts 1 and 2.

What is the Lips the Fish Reading Strategy?

Lips the Fish reading strategy is about getting your lips ready to make the first sound. This reading strategy works really well with new readers who have a solid understanding of letter sounds. This works especially well when paired with the Eagle Eye reading strategy. Children should practice looking at the illustrations, and then the first letter of the word they are trying to decode. When paired with appropriately leveled texts, this can be very beneficial in figuring out the tricky word.



Here’s an example of a book I use with children when I first introduce the Lips the Fish reading strategy.


The combination of Eagle Eye and Lips the Fish can make decoding tricky words a breeze! With this introductory text, children have the Lips the Fish image above the word they should try to decode. In some cases, Eagle Eye is enough to help children read the word. However, there are instances where a picture can possibly represent more than one word. For example, looking at the images below, if children are only using picture clues, they may mistake the gorilla for a monkey. However, if they start to make the initial sound, they can self-check themselves and know that it is not a monkey.

Introducing the Lips the Fish Reading Strategy

The reason for using Beanie Babies to help teach reading strategies is because children find it easier to remember the characters than just the name of a strategy. And with remembering the characters, children can then make the connection to the reading strategy. It’s a win-win!

I refer to each Beanie Baby as our “Reading Buddies.” Whenever I introduce a new reading buddy I follow this routine:

  • Show students the actual Beanie Baby and introduce them by name.
  • Explain the reading strategy that this particular Beanie Baby wants us to remember. It sounds something like this:

“I want to introduce you to our next reading buddy. This is Lips the Fish. Lips the Fish reminds us to look at the first letter of the word we are trying to figure out so we can make that sound. She tells us to get our lips ready.”

  • Model using the strategy. I display an appropriately leveled text on our smartboard for this.
  • Give children a Lips the Fish reading strategy “watch” to wear. This gets them excited and wanting to use their new strategy. You can see a picture of my son rocking the Eagle Eye watch below!


  • Do a group activity that encourages children to try the new strategy.


Lips the Fish Reading Strategy Activities

So now let’s talk about the kinds of activities we can do to help support the Lips the Fish reading strategy.  Here are some examples of Lips the Fish reading strategy activities.

1. Initial Sounds in Words with Pictures

Find pictures that could be perceived as two different words. For example, garbage or trash, jet or plane, bunny or rabbit.

If you haven’t taught children about Eagle Eye yet, make sure to check out this post before you go any further.

Below is an example of a guided reading warm-up that I use while teaching about Lips the Fish. Children have to look at the picture to help them figure out the word. However, the images on the cards can be perceived as something else, so it is imperative that they self-check by using the initial sound.


2. Using Lips the Fish in Sentences

Here is another Lips the Fish reading strategy activity that I like to use in small groups. It’s the same concept as the above activity, but slightly harder. Children will read a sentence and use both the picture clue and the initial sound to figure out the tricky word.



Lips the Fish Visuals

Providing visuals is a helpful tool for children. I like to hang up posters, provide desk plates, bookmarks, and more, to help children easily access our reading strategies.


Teaching Children to Use this Reading Strategy

When it comes time to start working on this reading strategy with your students, there are a few things you can do to guide them.

  • Have children take a picture walk prior to reading
  • Remind children to look for the pattern in the text
  • Encourage them to track words on the page
  • Review Eagle Eye and Lips the Fish
  • Model getting stuck on the word that doesn’t match the pattern and using the illustrations to figure it out. Check your guess by now using the initial sound of the unknown word.
  • Have children ask themselves, “Does this word make sense?”

I typically follow the above at the start of our guided reading lessons. This provides an opportunity to remind children of important strategies, but it also gives me a chance to work closely with individual children.

Providing Incentive to Students

Okay, so your children know about the Lips the Fish reading strategy, they understand how to apply it, but how do we get them to actually do it during independent activities?

Throughout the years I’ve come up with incentives and ways to encourage our children to do just that. Here are a few of the resources I use:

2. Buddy Badges: When I catch students using their reading strategy, I give them a Buddy Badge. Buddy Badges go on a chain and they say “I was caught using Lips the Fish”. Children can wear these Buddy Badges during reading groups and reading time. Throughout the rest of the day, they have a place to hang them in our room.


3. Self-Checking Charts: Another way to incentivize students is by providing self-checking charts. These charts are to be completed and filled in by the students themselves. Whenever they catch themselves using a strategy, they color the reading buddy in.


What’s Next?

While working with children in small groups, make sure to collect data so you understand which children need more support, and which are ready to move forward.

It is imperative that you find a system to help you monitor and track reading and comprehension progress. This will help you determine the next steps and plan the appropriate reading lessons to help them grow.

Taking notes during one-on-one reading conferences doesn’t have to be difficult. It can be a matter of jotting down keywords or phrases.

For me, these are the main things I want to collect data on:

  • The date, name, and level of the text they are reading at the time of the conference
  • The strategies they are using independently (with or without success in deciphering the word).
  • Specific decoding observations. Example: “Attempts to sound out words but struggling with blending the sounds.”
  • Specific comprehension observations. Example: “Answers recall questions easily”
  • Goals and next steps. Determine what you want to work on with this specific child in order to push them to the next reading level.

Here’s an example of the I use to track this information.




If you’re interested in learning more about these reading strategies, grab the free guide now!


Interested in having the resources and activities shown in this post, grab the Lips the Fish unit here!



Up Next is Stretchy Snake. Click here to read!

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Hi, I’m Michelle! I’m a teacher, mommy, and curriculum designer from Long Island, NY. I’ve taught both general and special education, with a focus on grades pre-k through first. My passion is hands-on learning, and finding ways to make all things engaging and fun!

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