Three years ago, I went into the neighborhood teacher supply store--where the owner knows me by name since I'm a constant visitor--looking for the magic silver bullet to help my remedial students improve reading and spelling. Because programs based on sound/symbol relationship (phonics) are in right now, I was determined to buy a simple program I could use with my elementary students in a resource room. I am happy to say that I found it.
For three years, first with elementary students and now with middle school kids, I have used Making Words: Multilevel, Hands-On Developmentally Appropriate Spelling and Phonics Activities written by the current gurus of reading, Dr Patricia Cunningham and Dorothy Hall.
The premise of the book is quite simple. First, the author lists a magic word. Then, the letters that make up this word are given. I write them down on a sheet of paper and photocopy onto colored paper. The letters are placed first in alphabetical order and then the vowels are listed. For example, if my initial word were holidays I would list d, h, l, s, y, a, i, o. The students would cut out the letters and place them in that order. Then I would guide them possibly using a pocket chart, the board, or however I choose, into making smaller words with those letters. For instance, we might spell together, using some of the letters, sail, hail. Then, we might try nail or fail. Next, we could make day, say, hay, lay. To check that they have the concept that ay together can be read as a long a they would spell way for me. We could continue and make lid, lids, hid. If the group were advanced, we could go on with sold and hold or even golden.
We would review by having them write a sentence using new words--gold, mail, did--for example. Sometimes we sort the words for specific spelling rules.
At the conclusion of the lesson, they would have to guess the magic word that uses all of the letters.
Each lesson is totally scripted to simplify it for the teacher--or substitute. After using this book, there are three more in the series that get progressively harder.
For variety, I have written the letters on lima beans and distributed bags for each student and guided them in making the words. One year, as a first day activity, I used the school name as my magic word. If you have one student up at the board, it becomes a fun and challenging lesson and is not threatening. You can use the name of the month, an upcoming holiday, seasonal, or vocabulary word form the reading assignment.
Once you are proficient, you start making up your own words to teach a phonics lesson in a fun way. I like words with e and s, so I can review the silent e long vowel rule and remind students about plurals.
I have sat up in bed at night, listing the words I could make from education--it has every vowel so it is a great word for reviewing vowel teams and other spelling rules--as well as strawberries--I brought fresh or gummy strawberries to school for a treat at the end of the lesson.
I highly recommend this book for teachers in first through eighth grade as a fun way to sneak in a phonics lesson that is not boring.
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