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Teaching Tip: Learning new words with magnetic letters

Michele Dufresne

Learning new words with magnetic letters

This month, I am focusing on ways you can create opportunities for your students to learn new words. In last week’s tip, I talked about creating echoes across the day and week so that students have many opportunities to see and use the new words they are learning. This week, I am going to focus on using magnetic letters to teach new words.

Children learn most of what they need about literacy by reading books and writing stories. But many children in our classrooms have not learned how to attend to print. Learning a few words well will help these children gain footholds in print. Using magnetic letters can be very helpful. Magnetic letters provide children with useful, tactile experiences that will make remembering these first few words easier.

It is critical for you to have several sets of really good magnetic letters. If your school doesn’t provide you with any, try to find a way to get a set for your classroom.

There are many kinds of magnetic letters out there on the retail market. You want letters that look like the letters in the books your students read. You can check out my favorite letters. They are made of foam, have no fat or distorted shapes, and are highly magnetic. I like to have six trays of letters, one for each student in a Guided Reading group, along with an organized box for me.

When teaching a new word, start by having the students find it in the book they have just read. After they locate the word, ask the students to find the letters of the word on their trays (or just hand them the letters). Make the word on an easel while the students watch you. Then slide each letter to the left, rebuilding the word. Run your finger under the word and repeat it.

Ask the students to make the word on the table. Ask them to slide the letters to the left, rebuilding the word letter by letter. Have them run their finger under it and say the word.

Over the next few days have the students make, scramble, and remake the same word. Have them check it by running their finger under it, repeating it, and making sure it looks right.

You can also have the students write the word (in the air, on the table with their finger, on a whiteboard, in a sand tray, or on the iPad), and trace the magnetic letters for additional reinforcement of the word.

You can see me working with a boy named Collin here to see what all of this might look like.

You do not need to do all of this in one lesson, but over the course of a week, have the students in the group return to the same few words until they are read and written without hesitation.

Happy reading!

Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books  early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.

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