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All About the Making Words Strategy

Janelle Cox


The Making Words strategy is a popular word-recognition strategy that was developed by Jim and Pat Cunningham. This hands-on activity promotes the development of phonological awareness as well as students’ understanding of the alphabetic principle. Here we will take a look at the steps in planning and presenting this innovative, interactive activity.

Making Words Strategy

The Making Words strategy is a creative way for students to learn spelling patterns and become good decoders. It is also a great hands-on activity to help struggling readers. This word-recognition strategy allows students to construct words using a tangible modality. This activity is like a puzzle: Students arrange letters by changing one letter, adding a letter, or moving letters around to make a new word.

Steps in Planning a Lesson

Use the following steps when preparing and planning a Making Words lesson plan.

·Think of your “mystery word” first. This is word that will use all of the letters in the activity.

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·Make a list of all of the possible words that can made from the mystery word.

·From all of the words that you choose, pick the words depending upon the following criteria:

1.     To create a multilevel lesson you will need a variety of little and big words.

2.     Words that can be sorted for a specific pattern.

3.     Words that can be made from the same letters in different place (ant/tan).

4.     A word that students have heard before.

·Write down all of the words from smallest to largest on paper or index cards and store away.

·Create a strip of paper students can cut out like the example below.

Steps for Activity

1.     Each student gets a strip of letters and cuts them apart.

2.     Then the student manipulates a set of letters to construct a word that is dictated by the teacher.

3.     Each lesson begins with a two letter word and ends with a word that uses all of the letters. For this example, we will use the following letters:







4.     Use two letters to spell the word “at.”

5.     Take the “t” away and add a letter to spell “an.”

6.     Add a letter to “an” to spell “ant.”

7.     Use the same letters you used to spell “ant” but move them around to spell the word “tan.”

8.     Next, let’s spell another three-letter word. This word is something that you can wear on your head (hat).

9.     Now let’s use our letters to spell a person’s name (Hank).

10.  If you change the first letter in the name “Hank” you can spell “tank.”

11.  Now it’s time for the “mystery word.” This is a word you say when someone give you something. Give students a minute to see if they can figure it out on their own. If they can’t, then you can say that it begins with a “th” or ask them to spell the word tank, but add the letter “h” somewhere in it.

12.  Once students have made all of the words, then have them say and spell the words, as well as sort for patterns (rhyming, beginning and ending sounds, etc.).

What methods of word-recognition strategy do you use in your classroom? Please share with us in the comment section below! We would love to hear your thoughts.  

Janelle Cox is an education writer who draws on her 15 years of professional experience in the education system. Janelle holds a master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, where she provides educational information and lesson plans for teachers around the globe.


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