I am not a speller. The way I was taught how to spell was to practice a list of 10 words writing them over and over and over again. The idea is that you will be able to recognize how a word is supposed to be spelled because you had written it so many times. Perhaps this method did work for the words on the list. Maybe. However, I didn’t transfer the information into new words and it certainly didn’t help with a word I had never spelled before. So, you can understand how I might be feeling inadequate to teach spelling to my children. I recently read a post by This Reading Mama about using Making Words activity to re-enforce spelling. I had never heard of “word families” until recently. Word families are like patterns. Patterns? I like patterns. Patterns are in math, math I understand. Maybe I could teach spelling. Or at least get a good long way.
I made my own making words activity. Grace picked gardening for this month’s theme focus. So the making words worksheet that I made uses the phrase “flower garden”. I made a list of words she could make if she got stuck, but my intention was for her to take the lead. I was intending for her to work 15-20 minutes with me. Just like everything I have ever done with her, it didn’t go how I had imagined. In this case, it went much better.
This was the first time I had ever done this activity. I didn’t know what to expect or what I could teach during it. Because of that, I made this activity more of an exploration for both her and I. While I didn’t have any particular goals for this activity, I can see how you could and I will give ideas on how.
The process we used
Free play. I set the letters, flower worksheet, and squares of green in front of her and told her that every time she makes a real word that she could glue a part of the stem to the flower with that number of letters. “Let’s see how long we can make each stem.”
Unscramble words. I handed her the letters r,e,a. “Can you make a work from these letters?” I was expecting her to make the word “are” but she made the word “ear” instead.
Use word families. When she made the word “ear” I ran with it. “This word says “ear” can you add a letter to the beginning to make a new word? Can you make any other words in the “ear” family?” She liked this part. Probably because it involved nonsense words. Later I pointed to a word that she had already made and asked, “Here you made the word “low”, how can you use that to figure out how to spell “glow” or “grow”?”
Make big words. After working on her own for about 15 minutes, she decided that she wanted to make only big words (5+ letters). This was very difficult for her. I ended up giving her letters to unscramble and then giving her hints about what the word was. “This word starts with w and ends in er. I ____ what it could be? (wonder).”
The mystery phrase. When it looked to me like she was loosing interest, I pointed out that all of the letters would make a secret phrase. “The phrase has two words. The first word starts with an f and the second a g. Look at the picture for a hint.” After moving the letters around and getting nowhere, I asked her “what is this a picture of?” Then she got the first word as flower. Once there were less letters, she was able to figure out garden on her own.
Call out words. I thought she would be done, but I was wrong. She wanted to make the flower stems longer but couldn’t find any more words on her own. So, I called out words that I thought of as she was working and she created them. If she spelled it wrong I corrected her. She spelled flow f-l-o. “The O sound in flow is spelled o-w.”
She ended up spending about 45 minutes on the activity. This is a child who would throw the biggest fit if asked to spell simple words that I knew she could spell. She is also a perfectionist and normally won’t try anything that she doesn’t feel she can be 100% successful immediately. I was amazed at how well she concentrated and accepted instruction/correction. I am looking forward to doing this activity again and seeing if the results are the same.
How to use the idea with a particular list
Let’s pretend you want your child to practice words in the ‘ug’ family. Use a long word that has the letters u and g, ladybugs would work well. You can then make a list of all of the “ug” words you can make using these letters: bug, lug, dug, slug. Let’s say that you want him to also practice the word hug. After creating all of these words, you could ask, “How can you use the word “bug” to help you spell “hug”?
I was very surprised by how many spelling ideas I was able to sneak into this lesson. We talked about: word families, alliteration, open and closed syllables and even some vocabulary when she accidentally made a word that she didn’t know (like warden). When I set up this lesson it was as an experiment. I didn’t imagine it being useful for more than practice. Now that I have used it, I can see how it has the potential for more. Next time I try this activity, I am going to have goals and see how it works out.
If you would like to see another making words in action visit Buggy and Buddy.
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