Word building activities are a hands-on way for students to practice phonics skills. Breaking apart or putting together words helps students to focus on the individual sounds that letters or letter combinations make. Students can use word puzzles such as word chains or word ladders. The activities are fun for students as they learn how to read. or ELLs it is helpful to include pictures of the words that you are using, or at least for any unfamiliar words for your students. You can even have students illustrate the words that they write down for added practice.
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Word chains are made up of minimal pairs. A minimal pair is two words where there is only one sound that is different. For ELLs this allows them to practice pronouncing each word and only have to focus on changing one sound at a time.
Word chains allow students to focus on the sounds of words and then connect those sounds to letters. For this activity, you change one sound at a time to create a new word. Have students write down a word or use letter tiles to build a word. Students decode the new word. “Make the word cat.” Then tell them a new word. “Change one sound to make the word rat.”
You can also use word chains as reading practice. tell them the sound to change and have the student read the new word. “Here is the word dig” “Change the /d/ sound to /p/. What is the new word?
For phonemic awareness, practice use the pictures without showing any words. “Find stem. Change the /m/ to /p/. What is the new word?
For an in depth explanation about building words with word chains read about shift 3 in Shifting the Balance.
A word ladder is similar to word chains. Students start with a word. Then they are given clues about how to change the word (one letter or one sound at a time) until they reach the top of the ladder.
I have a digital version of the word ladders as well. Take a look to see how to use them.