LitCentric Making and Breaking Words K-5. Word study lessons to improve reading, writing, and spelling for 37 common phonemes.

Making Words is the Perfect Addition to Your Word Study Program

Making words is the perfect strategy to support students’ development of phonics, phonological awareness, spelling, and vocabulary. And it’s really easy to do! Read on to learn the basic tools you’ll need and learn how to conduct a lesson for your students.

What is Making Words?

In a making words lesson, the teacher guides students to spell words that have a target phoneme spelling pattern, such as /ay/ words or /igh/ words. The teacher calls out a word, uses it in a sentence, and the students use magnetic letters or letter cards to build words. The “mystery word” at the end of the lesson is the word that students can build using all the letters they have used during the lesson.

Why Try Making Words?

This method of word study was pioneered by Patricia Cunningham, the author of many books and articles on the subject. The beauty of the making words strategy is that it’s a low-risk situation, meaning that students don’t lose points or have to erase incorrect responses. Instead, they can peek at how their neighbor is making a word, and can easily change their work by swapping letters and sounds by hand.

Making words lessons are brief and quickly paced, so students learn to stay focused the entire time. They’re perfect for practicing a sound spelling that you just introduced to the whole group, or for review and differentiation in small groups. And best of all, students absolutely love it! The lessons feel like a puzzle or a game, and students will ask you when they can do making words again. It’s powerful!

How Do Making Words Lessons Work?

To conduct a making words lesson you’ll need the following items:

  • A list of words that (mostly) contain the target phoneme (these lists can be found in my Making and Breaking Words kit)
  • A set of manipulative letters for making words for each student (these can be paper letters, plastic magnetic letters, or digital letters for remote learning)
  • A pocket chart or document camera for demonstrating word building
  • A whiteboard or chart paper to record words built
  • Small whiteboard or word study notebook for each student
Photo of making and breaking words lesson materials

Making words lessons follow a particular routine:

  • Provide each student with little letters to participate in the lesson. Each lesson in my Making and Breaking Words kit lists the letters you will need to build the ten corresponding words to practice the target phoneme.
  • Show students the target phoneme they will be practicing during the lesson. Review how to say and spell the phoneme. Let students know that some of the words they will spell in this lesson will have this sound, spelled this way.
  • Read the prompt for the first word from a Making and Breaking Words lesson. While students make the word from letters, read the sentence provided that contains the word.
  • Ask a student to spell the word correctly for the group. (There’s no need to wait until all students are done. These lessons are quickly paced.) Use big letters to spell the word in a pocket chart or little letters under a document camera. Write the word on a dry erase board or chart paper to keep a running list of words from the lesson (you will ask students to refer to this later).
  • If some students spell the word incorrectly, encourage them to fix it quickly.
  • Repeat the process for all ten words. The final “mystery” word will contain all the letters from the lesson.
  • Direct students’ attention to the list you wrote of all ten words from the lesson. Read the practice prompt(s) from a Making and Breaking Words lesson and watch as students write the rhyming words on small whiteboards or in word study notebooks.
  • Review the target phoneme one last time by saying and spelling it aloud together. Remind students to say and spell this phoneme when they read and write. Put away all lesson materials.

Making and Breaking Words Make a Great Literacy Center

Included in my Making and Breaking Words kit are task cards that prompt students to build words independently. Students use the task cards to make and break words of their own choosing while practicing the target phoneme. Task cards are best used after students have successfully participated in a Making and Breaking Words lesson with the teacher.

Photo of making and breaking words lesson card and letter cards

A Making and Breaking Words literacy center can have one or several task cards for students to practice. Students select a task card and gather the letters they’ll need that are listed on the card. Next, students make and break words on their own and record them in their word study notebook or other designated location. Recording the words this way is a good practice opportunity for students, and it serves as documentation of their work that you can refer to later.

Making and Breaking Words is Worth the Investment

I love lessons like these because they are easy to prepare and take little time to teach, but they have a big impact when used as part of your word study program. Check out my Making and Breaking Words kit and try the approach for yourself. You students will love it!

Try it Tomorrow!