Making Words - An Innovative Word Building Activity Introduced by Pat and Jim Cunningham

Making Words (Includes examples and tips)

The Strategy

“Making Words” is an innovative word-building activity introduced by Pat and Jim Cunningham. The objective is for children to create various words from a given set of letters, which make up the “secret” word. After making 15-20 words, the teacher and children sort the words based on patterns and rhymes. This phonics strategy is a multilevel, hands-on approach to teaching phonics and spelling.

Adhering to the basic principles of the constructivist paradigm, “Making Words” allows students to “do the work of the learning.” Throughout the lesson, students use concrete manipulatives in order to learn about and create various words. Each student is given his/her own miniature pocket chart, as well as cards with individual letters written on them. This allows students to physically hold and actively manipulate letters in their pocket charts. The consonants and vowels are written on different colored cards, which is primarily to emphasize the distinction.

This activity is multilevel by including both easier and more difficult words. This allows for all students to be actively involved. The higher ability students will be challenged, and the lower ability students will be challenged, yet not frustrated.

The teacher guides students through a process of selecting letters to build short and long words. During this 15-minute activity, children are encouraged to explore different words, letter-sound relationships, and letter patterns. After making new words, children also sort these words by letter patterns—an effective tool for strengthening spelling and decoding skills.

“Making Words” is a challenging and enjoyable activity that helps students discover relationships between letters and sounds, as well as understanding how to detect patterns in words. “Making Words” also helps students increase their vocabulary, articulate words, and learn the correct sequencing of letters and sounds in words. Ultimately, this activity also improves students’ abilities to read and write by helping them learn to decode and spell unfamiliar words. In addition, “Making Words” can easily be linked to literature or a theme unit the class is studying. For example, if the class is currently studying fruits and vegetables, “watermelon” would be an appropriate secret word. Depending on specific text that the class is currently reading, specific words can be selected which directly promote word identification.

This fast-paced activity is a powerfully motivating instructional method that students will perceive as a fun game. Students will be eager to be the first one to figure out the “secret word.” All in all, “Making Words” is an actively engaging way for students to learn about phonics.

Putting the Strategy into Context

There are several methods to extend this strategy to other areas of the classroom, including the following:

Encourage students to look for additional words to add to the pocket chart as “transfer words.” Continuously add these words as they appear throughout curriculum activities. Have discussions about what characteristics make the word(s) similar to the existing words.

Have a contest to see who can make the most words out of a jumbled word written on the board. Let students work either independently or in groups/pairs. The winner(s) gets a special prize or privilege.

Teach a lesson on compound words. Since the “secret word” in this particular lesson is “watermelon,” a way to extend this lesson would be to have a discussion about compound words.

Ask students to come up with a “secret word” of their own. They must also come up with the “answer key” (ie. all the smaller words using the letters of the secret word). The teacher then should check for accuracy and the results from each student. Students can then pair up and try to see if they can figure out their partner’s “secret word” (as well as making as many words as possible).

During Literacy Centers, let students play Scrabble. The game of Scrabble is a wonderful educational tool that sharpens students’ spelling/word-making skills, increases their vocabularies, and encourages the use of dictionaries. It is a fun and competitive game of word play, yet without fear of judgment of poor grades.

During Literacy Centers, let students play with foam letters to make words (either individually or in small groups).

Each day/week, give students a word Jumble puzzle. Since the Jumbles from the newspaper may be too advanced for younger children, the teacher could create custom-made word Jumbles for the class. The teacher could jumble up word wall words, and use a humorous riddle for the final answer. The following is an example:

WORD WALL JUMBLE
Unscramble these five jumbled words (from the word wall) by writing one letter in each space. Then, arrange the squared letters to form the answer to the riddle.

e v g i ___ ___ ___ ___

i t g n h ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

r o p s t s ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

k o e j ___ ___ ___ ___

f a r e t ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

Riddle:
What is full of holes, but holds water?

___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

Demo Lesson #1

w a t e r m e l o n

The word “watermelon” is an appropriate word to use for this activity due a variety of reasons. First, the word ties in with the current unit of study (fruits and vegetables). Second, “watermelon” is a 10-letter word (with multiple vowels), which allows for a great number of multilevel words. Among these words are “abracadabra” words (words that can be made with the same letters in a different sequence), proper nouns, and words that most students should have in their listening vocabularies. (Note: Because “watermelon” is such a big word, this lesson can be extended to 2-3 days in order to give students ample time to discover and sort new words.)

Letters: aeeolmnrtw

Make:
2 3 4 5 6
we
me men
met
wet
net
ten
tee
tea
ate
team
meat
mate
late later
alter
Walter

Sort for: -en, -et, -ate, words beginning with “m,” “l,” t,” & “w”

Abracadabra words: team/meat/mate

Homophones: tee/tea

Transfer words: pen, bet, date

Additional Words and Ideas from the “watermelon” example

2 3 4 5 6
on
no
me
at
an
we
or
Al ant
war
tar
not
lot
rot
one
men
ten
man
ran
tan
won
ton
wee
Ron
Mel
nor
now low
tow
row
mow
law
raw
ate
let
tea
let
net
wet
met
mat
rat
are
arm
ore
eel want
rant
lone
tone
loan
moan
lawn
tram
team
meat
meet
lane
mane
wane
earn
term
mean
lean
rate
late
mate
tame
tear
mare wear
wore
worn
rent
lent
went
mole
role
warm
worm
lame
meal
teal
real
reel
tame
name
won’t
malt
melt
note
more
Rome
tore
water
melon
alone
woman
women
eaten
later
alter
lemon
lower
mower
meter
tamer
wrote
learn
tower relate
Walter

Sort for: -ot, -en, -on, -an, -et, -at, -ame, -ane, -ate, -ent, -ole, -ore,

-one, rhyming words, homophones, words beginning with certain letters

“Abracadabra” words: mate/tame/team/meat, ant/tan, war/raw, tar/rat/art, not/ton, won/now/own, tram/mart, rate/tear, meal/lame, more/Rome, later/alter

Related words: wear/wore/worn, man/men, woman/women, mow/mower, low/lower, late/later, tame/tamer, eat/ate/eaten, alone/lone/loner

Homophones: we/wee, won/one, meat/meet, lone/loan, reel/real

Homographs: tear/tear

Proper Nouns: Al, Ron, Mel, Rome, Walter

Transfer words: cat, spot, when, than, van, plan, grow, bet, yet, sea, flea, date, state, steal, tent, spent, blame, cane, airplane, hole, store, telephone

References:

Cunningham, P.M. (2000). Phonics they use. New York: Harper Collins.

Cunningham, P. M. & Hall, D. P. (1997). Making more big words. Torrance, CA: Big Apple.

We We are all students at UNC-Charlotte.” Say WE

Me - “My mom went with me to the gym.” Say ME

Men - “Men means more than one man…When boys grow up, they become men.” Say MEN

Met - “I met my friends at the movie theater” Say MET

Wet - “I got very wet when it started raining outside.” Say WET

Net - “My dad uses a large net to catch lots of fish.” Say NET
**Abracadabra word—changing the order of the word to make a new word

Ten - “I have ten fingers and ten toes.” Say TEN
**change the “n” to an “e”

Tee - (not the kind of tea that you drink—show props) “A golfer puts a tee into the ground to hold a golf ball above the ground.” Say TEE
**pass around tees and golf balls
**take away the second “e” and replace it with an “a”

Tea - “I love to drink hot tea in the wintertime.” Say TEA
**”tee” and “tea” are called homophones. Does anyone remember what it means when words are homophones?
**Abracadabra word--**also, look to word wall

Ate - “I ate spaghetti for dinner last night.” Say ATE
**Change back to TEA

Tea/Team - “I joined a softball team when I was 7 years old.” Say TEAM
**Abracadabra word

Meat - “I try not to eat too much red meat.” Say MEAT
*Abracadabra word

Mate - “Mate is another word for friend.” Say MATE
**hint: think about “ate” and add an “m” at beginning

Late - “I was late to Dr. Piel’s class on Tuesday.” Say LATE

Later - “Sometimes when I say goodbye, I say, “See you later, alligator!” Say LATER
**Abracadabra word

Alter - “Alter is another word for change…My dress was too big, so I paid a seamstress to alter it for me.” Say ALTER

Walter - “My cousin’s name is Walter.” Say WALTER
**Proper noun
ASK & REVEAL SECRET WORD