University of Pittsburgh School of Education
 

Word Building Preparation

Word Building Preparation

LEADERS Handbook of Early Literacy Strategies and Activities

All rights to the Word Building strategy are copyrighted by Dr. Isabel Beck and the University of Pittsburgh.

The following practical information will help you prepare to teach word building lessons. Using these steps to prepare should help you to conduct an effective, smoothly run lesson.

Steps

  1. Creating Student and Teacher Letter Cards
  2. Selecting a Pocket Chart
  3. Creating a List of Words - Instructional Sequence of Sounds
  4. Preparing a Set of Silly Sentences
  5. Planning for Student Journals

Step One: Student and Teacher Letter Cards

  1. You will need as many sets of alphabet cards as you have students, plus duplicate copies of frequently used letter cards that may occur twice in a word (c, d, p, s, t). Your teacher cards should be the same, except that they need to be large enough and the letters need to be dark enough that they are easily visible from the furthest student desk.
  2. Common vowel and consonant digraphs should also be included (ai, ay, ea, ee, oa, oi, ou, ow, oy, and ch, ck, qu, sh, th), as well as r-controlled vowels (ar, er, ir, or, ur). Because students need to understand that the various digraphs are formed when two letters join to make a single sound, a digraph should be printed on one card, instead of being formed by putting two letter cards together. Blends (e.g. bl, cr, etc.) should be formed by putting cards together, because the separate sounds of each letter can still be heard within a blend.
  3. All letters on cards should be lower case. If you choose to make a word, such as a proper name, which should have a capital at the beginning, you can discuss this with the students as you make the word.
  4. Both student and teacher letter cards should be narrow, so that students do not see a lot of white space between each letter when the letter cards are set next to each other to form a word.
  5. If possible, letter cards should be made from cardstock for durability.
  6. Teachers have found a number of ways to handle student letter cards. You should use whatever method you find most convenient. Some teachers put all the a's in one sandwich baggie, all the b's in another, etc. That way, when they are about to teach a lesson using a, i, d, s, and m, for example, they have baggies of each of these letters ready, and all that needs to be done is for one letter from each baggie to be handed out to each student. It is also easier afterwards to collect all the a's for one baggie, all the i's for another, etc. This is simpler than keeping a separate set of the alphabet for each student, and sorting through it to find the letters they want to use each time. Other teachers use file folders or envelopes instead of baggies. Some teachers take another approach and hand each student a photocopied sheet as each new word building lesson begins. On that photocopied sheet are copies of the letter cards needed for that day's lesson. Students cut out their letter cards and then the lesson begins.

Step Two: Pocket Chart

  1. You will probably find that a fairly large pocket chart is easiest to use, with room in the sleeves for your large teacher cards. There should be several rows of sleeves.
  2. If a pocket chart is not available, you can lean the teacher letter cards against the chalk tray, provided that they are still visible to all your students.

Step Three: Lists of Words

  1. Prior to each word building lesson, you will need to create a list of 5-20 words. Whenever you are introducing a new vowel, vowel digraph or r-controlled vowel, it is a good idea to start with a shorter word list.
  2. First choose the sounds you wish to use, write them down, and then make your word list.
  3. You should start each list with two demonstration words that you will use to start the lesson.
  4. Each new word in a list is exactly the same as the preceding word except that one letter or digraph has been altered to make a new word. You may find you want to use the same word twice in a list.
  5. Lists of words should constantly revisit sounds that were practiced in previous lessons. Most of your word lists will add one new vowel or consonant sound, as well as using some of the previously practiced sounds. (You'll want to make sure you don't add more than one new sound at a time.) However, some word lists should simply review and consolidate previously practiced sounds without adding anything new.
  6. It is very important to make sure that you change sounds in the beginning, and the middle, and the end of the words. Most students are more comfortable with changing the beginning sounds, so it is doubly important to also change middle and ending sounds. Later decoding problems can be avoided if students get used to looking carefully at the middles and endings of words, instead of just looking at the beginning of a word and then guessing about the rest.
  7. There are four sets of word lists which you should teach. For descriptions, click on the Word Building Sounds Sequence immediately below.
Sequence of Sounds:

The sequence in which you teach sounds often affects a student's ability to learn to decode. For information about the sequence recommended by Dr. Beck, which is based on the confirmed research findings of Dr. Beck and others, please click Word Building Sounds Sequence.

Step Four: Set of Silly Sentences

You will need to prepare a set of 3-8 silly sentences, to be used as the culmination of the lesson. Silly sentences should use all the sounds that have just been practiced, as well as providing review of previously practiced sounds.

Silly sentences are written in the form of questions, so that they can lead to discussion of possible answers. For example, part way through the first set of word lists, a silly sentence might read: Can you fit in a tin can?

Because it is often hard to write even a silly sentence using only the sounds that the students already know, it is okay to include a word or two that they are not yet able to read. These words should be underlined, and the teacher should give these words to the students without asking them to figure out the words themselves.

Step Five: Student Journals

You may already have student journals and wish to devote certain pages to word building. You may also wish to give each student a journal dedicated solely to word building.

Return to the main Word Building page.

Resource Texts

Isabel Beck
Bringing Words to Life
The Guilford Press, 2002
Joan Novelli
40 Sensational Sight Word Games: Grades K-2
Scholastic Professional Books, 2002
Mary Rosenberg
Fun and Easy Word Building Activities: Grades K-2
Teaching Resources, Teacher Edition, 2003