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Friday, June 9, 2017

The Summer Camp Approach to Teaching Reading to Non-English Speaking Students

At First Focus Learning Systems, we are committed to serving students of all levels of English reading, writing, and comprehension. A particular challenge we face is teaching English to students who have no prior experience of the language. These students are typically from a foreign country, or are otherwise immersed in a different language within their home community. Often, a parent will ask: ‘how will you teach my non-English speaking student to read and understand English?’

Over the past eight years, First Focus has evolved and successfully tested the “Imaginary Picture Story” to create a phonics-based foundation in English for non-English-speaking students.

First, we assign a corresponding picture to each letter in the alphabet. For example, we tell the students to imagine that the letter "b" is a "bear"" and that "t" is a "tent". 

The "Imaginary Picture" story becomes the foundation for students to gain a solid understanding of the sounds of the letters. Visual imagery in our course books helps reinforce the sounds of consonants.

The next two focal points are penmanship and vowel sounds. We emphasize neat penmanship by ensuring that students: 

Make a direct connection to the "Imaginary Picture" by writing the the letter representing the sound.
Identify and articulate if uppercase or lowercase letters are "Tall" or "Short" respectively to emphasize pencil placement

Vowel sounds for A, E, I , O and U are taught by making use of the “long vowel sound rule.” For each of these five letters, the “long vowel sound” is exactly the same as the letter’s name. For example, the letter A in cake is pronounced the same as the letter name “A.” After students are thoroughly comfortable with long vowel sounds, we move on to short vowel sounds and more complex words.

An Israeli grandmother brought her granddaughter to the First Focus summer camp for two consecutive summers.  The student did not speak english at the beginning of the camp season.

By developing and following this distinct process, we have seen remarkable results when teaching non-English speakers. We’ve had the privilege of observing students—many of whom recently moved to the U.S. from countries like China or Israel—quickly ascend to a level of English knowledge that is consistent with their grade level. For more information and testimonials, check out our website: or call 650-938-3100.

We welcome your questions and comments!

Authors: Vivian Mendoza and Coby Simler

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Why a Summer Academic Experience Matters

 The three month summer vacation is great time for kids and a disaster for academic achievement.

Educational research has not discovered any benefits to the embedded practice of interrupting their educational learning progress for three months during each summer.

The opposite has been well documented, the three month summer disengagement with the learning process has been shown to contribute to an accumulated learning deļ¬cit among all students. 

Academic school standards and expectations have become more challenging and students can easily fall behind in foundational skills such as reading, writing and math.

Reading: Taking a JumpStart Approach

Reading is the most essential skill for a successful educational career and is the gateway for intellectual development.

The one-week JumpStart Reading Camps are operate from June 25 through August 17, 2018.  Many students find a deeper level of engagement by attending for two or more weeks and are able to demonstrate significant progress during the summer.  Each camp course book is designed to provide two weeks of instructional content and have different topic material for each week. Students who complete a reading camp are better prepared for the incoming grade level expectations.  The exposure to an academic program during the summer provides an opportunity to advance their skills from the end of the school year.

The JumpStart Reading Camps are designed for students entering PreK, Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades.  More information on the reading camps is available at First Focus Reading Camps

The Power of the Pencil

A growing number of students are becoming excellent writers and in our opinion, have the potential to becoming influential bloggers.  Given the career and business opportunities for describing events and craving persuasive article, we have noticed a resurgence of interest in written communications and creative writing in particular.  While all students can feel a sense of pride when they see their articles published, our writing teachers have cultivated an emerging sense of pride among our students who are connecting to the power of written communications.

Posting articles on internet forums can lead to blogging which can be the beginning of a digital identity, even at a young age, and this experience can help develop skills essential to the 21st century economy.   Our writing teachers have embraced this effort to promote the development of written communication skills within our academic camps and after school classes.  The writing camps, designed for students entering the 2nd through the 8th grade, are defined as Beginning Writing, Intermediate Writing and Advanced Writing.  

 Why First Focus?

The camps are an accelerated learning experience over one week, Monday-Friday.  This nature and design of our camps promote a framework for critical thinking and comprehension skills that contribute to academic success.

Students who receive a learning experience during the summer show a significantly higher level of skill retention, leading to a higher level of early engagement with the curriculum for the upcoming school year.  For more information, please visit , email us at or call 650-938-3100 from 1:00- 6:00 pm Monday - Friday.