Emergent readers and struggling readers often need some practice with the building blocks of language–letters, the sounds they make when we put them together in print, and the words they make. While the larger goal of reading is comprehension, readers need to know how to work with letters, sounds and words so that they can construct meaning as they read.
Where do you start when you are tutoring a young reader struggling with letters and sounds? Our instincts often suggest that we teach the parts (letters and sounds) before we teach the whole (the words they make). However, tutors can teach important print and sound concepts by moving the other direction–from the whole (words) to the parts (letters and sounds). Let’s look at an example. The photos below show how a tutor can take a new word–wander–and use it to teach other words.
For example, when we look together at wander, we find other words like wand, and, end, ran, wade and so on. As you and the student or learner “deconstruct” words, you can talk about the sounds letter make when they form new words. For example, the /a/ in wander and wand has a different sound than the /a/ in and and ran. You can take the word ran and talk about making new words by adding different letters (consonants) to the beginning of the word so that you get can, fan, and man. You can also teach spelling rules like how the e at the end of many words gives the first vowel a long sound as in wade. We often call this the “silent e” or “magic e” that is common in many English words like came, made, home, same, and tide.
Let’s look at some other examples of constructing words in the video below. As you view the video, which was created using the ShowMe app, think about how you could use these teaching ideas with kids you tutor.
As you can see from the examples in the video, there’s a lot you can teach from just a few words including vowel and consonant sounds, blends, digraphs, spelling rules, word families and other patterns and exceptions.
Keep in mind that constructing words is just one part of reading although for emergent and struggling readers it is important to learn. If you are working with a child who needs help with letters, sounds and patterns, build a few minutes of practice into your tutoring sessions but don’t set aside reading books together to focus on constructing words. It’s just one piece of the puzzle. Ultimately, we want readers to put these skills into practice and the only way they will do that is with lots of reading.
Want more ideas for constructing words? Check out the Making Words books written by Patricia M. Cunningham and Dorothy P. Hall. They are great resource for activities like this to teach children more about how letters and sounds go together to make words.