Inside the colorful classroom at North West Elementary School in Amityville, first-grade teacher Sandra James led a "chaining" exercise.
Her 23 students practiced how to identify words using sounds that correspond to letters on large cards she passed out.
"Look at your card please and make sure you know what sound it makes, because right now I am going to say a sound and you need to come up," James said. "Zzzzz . . . aaaa . . . pppp. Let's go!"
One by one, the children holding each letter walked to the front of the class and arranged themselves in order.
"Boys and girls, what word does that say?"
"Zap!" the kids shouted.
"Right now that word says zap. Listen very closely," James said. "I need it to say zzz . . . iii . . . ppp."
A student holding the "a" card sat down, while another stood in the former student's place with an "i" card.
"What word is that, boys and girls?"
"Zip!" the kids said.
"You see how the sounds can change to make new words?" James said. "Good readers and good writers always use their strategies to sound out each letter to make a word."
After a break, it was time for math. Students are called, once again, to the front of the classroom, lining up in a group of five on one side and four on the other.
"I want someone to tell me a number sentence or an equation for what they see up front," James said.
A girl named Mya said, "Five plus four equals . . ." She paused and counted each child. "Nine."
James wrote the answer on a smart board.
"Instead of you counting all of them, you should have just went five, six -- everyone!" James said.
"Seven, eight, nine," the kids continued.
"Does it matter which side the sum is on?" James asked.
"No!" the students responded.
"When I learned math . . . our equal sign was always to the right, not the left," James said. "But this new math, we can do it this way as well."
When James asked the students to create their own number sentences, she implored them: "Do not let that equal sign fool you. You are smarter than that equal sign!"
"I'm going to laugh at it," one boy said, smiling.