Activities that focus on word awareness are more sophisticated than blending activities; they invite students to think purposefully about the way that word parts combine and to manipulate word parts to build words.
In word sorts, students are given word cards and asked to sort them by related sounds or spellings. In these activities, students examine words, seek out common spelling patterns, talk about what they are learning, and begin to identify larger “chunks” in the words, which is an important skill as students transition to studying multisyllabic words (Blevins, 2017, 2011, 2006, 2001). Teachers can determine the sorting focus in advance and might consider expanding and deepening student thinking by encouraging students to make up their own criteria as they develop more sophisticated understanding, giving students opportunities to use their phonics knowledge and creativity to discern patterns among the words.
Download a printable Word Sort—Short u Activity and invite students in grades 1–3 to sort words by related sounds and spellings using the short u vowel sound.
In word building, students are given a limited set of letter cards and are asked to create a series of words in a specific sequence that generally vary by only one or two letters. These types of activities help students to work with letter-sounds and analyze word part relationships. Word Ladders, created by Tim Rasinski (Rasinki, 2005) in his Daily Word Ladders resources, are a variation and example of word building activities.
Word ladders or chains are game-like activities, in which students use a series of meaningful clues to manipulate the letters in a word to make new words. Called a “ladder” because each new word is built on the previous one, students begin with a single word paired with a meaningful clue. Students then change, add, or take away a letter to make new words based on subsequent clues aligned to “rungs” on the ladder. Teachers can read aloud the clues and guide students to substitute, delete, or add—important phonemic manipulation tasks.
Word ladders add an element of vocabulary to word building. After students have had multiple exposures to targeted phonics skill words, word ladders give them the opportunity to expand their vocabularies by answering clues to determine how to make a new word. These fun exercises involve some detective work that students enjoy, while they develop their awareness of sound-word relationships and build vocabulary at the same time.
Word ladders or chains are game-like activities, in which students use a series of meaningful clues to manipulate the letters in a word to make new words.
Download a printable Word Ladder—Short u Activity to give students in grades 1–3 the opportunity to expand their vocabularies by answering clues to determine how to make new words using the short u vowel sound.
Word sort and word building activities are valuable in systematic, explicit phonics instruction since they give students the opportunity to actively process and develop essential word awareness. Word ladders and word sorts are fun and engaging activities for children to build word awareness as they develop phonics skills and build vocabulary. These two activities can be easily adapted for different instructional goals and accommodate learners at various levels, allowing students to build mastery over time and gain confidence. Finally, both activities provide a game-like experience that is fun and engaging, and well suited for student collaboration.
Word sorts and word building activities, like word ladders, are fun and engaging activities for children to develop word awareness, which is essential to strong phonics instruction and student success. Learn more about phonics and find resources to support phonics instruction at Sadlier’s Phonics page.
Bear, D. R., Templeton, S., Invernizzi, M., & Johnston, F. (2016). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Beck, I., & Beck, M. E. (2013). Making sense of phonics: The hows and whys (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Blevins, W. (2017). A fresh look at phonics: Common causes of failure and 7 ingredients for success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Blevins, W. (2011a). Teaching the alphabet: A flexible, systematic approach to building early phonics skills. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Blevins, W. (2011b). Teaching phonics: A flexible, systematic approach to building early reading skills. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Blevins, W. (2011c). Week-by-week phonics and word study activities for the intermediate grades. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Blevins, W. (2006). Phonics from A to Z: A practical guide. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Blevins, W. (2001). Teaching phonics and word study in the intermediate grades. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Rasinski, T. V. (2012). Daily word ladders: Grades 1-2. New York, NY: Scholastic Teaching Resources.