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Magnetic letters launch readers into new words

Michele Dufresne

At this time of the school year, many beginning readers are reading books that have unfamiliar words. Children need to do visual problem solving in order to figure out that new word. You may have spent lots of time using magnetic letters to show students how to look at words, but they are still stopping and asking for help. Marie Clay tells us, "The teacher has to scaffold a child's learning so that the child can problem solve with increasing independence on tasks that increase in difficulty. The teacher supports the child's solving of problems." (Page 136 Literacy Lessons Part 2 ).

What might that look like when reading a new book?


Consider this example from page 8 of Petting Gilbert (level 14/H):

Petting Gilbert by Michele Dufresne

"Gilbert doesn't like to be petted, but he loves to be scratched," said the farmer.

The child stops when he comes to scratched. I might say, "What can you see that might help?" At the same time, I will place my finger in the text and show the child scr.  If that isn't enough help, I might use magnetic letters and build scratched, letter by letter, in front of the child and either break the word into scr-at-ch-ed or ask the child to break it.

Yes, this does take time and slows down fluency of the reading, but after doing this a few times children start to realize what you mean when you say, "What can you see that might help?" or "Look for something that might help you." I keep one set of my magnetic letters on a small tray so I can quickly make a word. My favorite letters are the foam letters that come with Pioneer Valley Books' Working with Words Kits.

So don't get frustrated if a student is stopping. Consider talking less and demonstrating more.

Happy Teaching!
Michèle Dufresne

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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