Making Words

4 of 6 in series- Balanced Literacy

We live and breathe words. – Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

Good readers use multiple strategies while struggling readers tend to cling to one. (Generally, poor readers cling to decoding which I call “hiss and spit – sounding out words.”) I find most children don’t know how to blend the sounds properly while attempting to decode which makes this strategy totally ineffective. How do they learn to blend sounds effectively?

Use a technique titled: Making Words.

Reading requires multiple strategies. I call word work, Making Words, the reader’s tool box. Readers need tools, skills and strategies, to figure out new words when they get stuck on a word. Please see Guided Reading to find out more strategies that help readers.

Word work, Making Words, involves the following skills: learning high frequency words, word chunks such as word families, syllables, and prefixes; homophones, and anything involving word study. (Word family study is wonderful, because it focuses on patterns in words which our brain can make sense of rather than sounds in isolation. Additionally, 20% of the population can’t discriminate sounds making learning to read only phonetically a set up for failure. However, people that can’t discriminate sounds can learn word families, because they recognize patterns.) (I also emphasize this to children: “Look for the little words in the big words”.)

This post focuses on an activity titled: Making Words, because it is my favorite way to teach all of the skills listed above in one lesson.

It is important to not only teach words in isolation, but make connections with the newly learned words in their reading. Here is what research has to say about Making Words:

Aiken, A.G., & Bayer, L. (2002). They love words. The Reading Teacher, 56, 68–74.

  • In “Making Words,” an innovative word study activity introduced by Patricia Cunningham (1991), students are guided through the process of manipulating a set of letters in sequence to construct words.
  • This instructional strategy is actively engaging and meaningful for students because when students notice patterns and make discoveries about written language they can apply them to other reading and writing situations.
  • When words are connected to a story or current classroom lesson, students are able to have greater success with phonics lessons.” (

I highly recommend the following books to delve into this topic deeper helping children get essential skills needed to soar in reading:

Month By Month Phonics

Working With Words

Making Words

This book is available for each grade level: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I’ve used them all. Photo Credit:

Making Words

This is an invaluable resource for teaching word work to grades 4 and above. Photo Credit:

This link takes you to a detailed list of Working With Words activities adapted from the book listed above. I’ve used all these activities. The children love them; and best of all, they learn. 🙂

I listed the resources above, because anyone can use them and follow the lessons. You don’t have to be a certified reading teacher to teach phonetics and reading skills correctly, you just need to be pointed in the right direction to lessons that work. Please remember that I use all the lessons in the book (I don’t omit steps.) to get maximum results: consistency and systematically is the key to instilling tools for your reader’s toolbox. 🙂

Making Words

Photo Credit:

Before doing the first Making Words lesson, I introduce the concept of making words to the children by reading the book: Word Wizard by Cathryn Falwell

I even let them wear a wizard hat. I’ve done this in a classroom setting and in my home with just one student. Either way, it works!

I tell the children they are words wizards. They love this idea. 🙂

Next, I follow the lessons in the books I listed above. Here are some pictures of what Making Words looks like. The nuts and bolts of Making Words is best learned by using the books I use which are listed above. Patricia Cunningham is the best; thus, when you use her books, you are learning from the best and using the best information. I find that many people don’t know that the information is available. It is my desire to point you in the right direction so that you share skills with children enabling them to read better. (I am not affiliated in any way. I am just passionate about the books, because I’ve used them and the activities work.)

Making Words

This is what Making Words looks like near the end of the lesson. The lessons are multi-level which I like. They incorporate review along with new concepts. This is a lesson done at home. You can also use magnetic letters instead of letters on index cards. I’ve done both.

Making Words

This is near the end of the lesson. This step is called transfer. It involves writing. It is one of the most important steps, because they use newly learned skills to transfer and apply knowledge. This solidifies the learning.

Making Words

This is what it looks like in a classroom at the end of a complete lesson.

This post is part 4 of a 6 part series titled: Balanced Literacy which includes the following:

Guided Reading

Reading Aloud

Self Selected Reading

I like good strong words that mean something… – Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

In summary, learning to read is more complex than listening to someone read aloud. Although, reading aloud is invaluable. Becoming a good reader involves consistent, intentional, and systematic lessons such as Making Words which make up balanced literacy. Good readers utilize multiple strategies; therefore, we must teach them and role model them.

Let’s make a positive difference~ one word at a time.


Please share this article with others that you think would benefit from these tips. Also, please ask any questions that you may have about teaching children reading or writing. Leave your questions in the comments. I’ll answer. 🙂

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