Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Using Magnetic Letters to Make Words, Part 1

This is the ninth of a progressive series of posts that we will be featuring on the Hameray Blog every Thursday for 10 weeks (for the other posts,   click here ). It's authored by special guest blogger Paula Dugger, who is an educational consultant with a rich-literacy background that includes serving as a Reading Recovery Teacher/Teacher Leader, first grade teacher, Title I and high school reading teacher, as well as a Reading Coordinator. Hameray is thrilled to be able to share with you Paula's classroom-tested ideas and experience in helping young learners achieve their early literacy goals

Magnetic Letters and Cognitive Development

Activities using magnetic letters can help in cognitive development both consciously and unconsciously in young children. The letters are colorful, three-dimensional, and they lend themselves to movement and touch. Letters are a part of the print we see around us in the world. Using soft foam letters (Hameray offers a great set of   uppercase  and   lowercase   foam letters), children can learn many skills:

                  -To categorize by sorting, matching, and classifying

                  -To differentiate colors, shapes, and letters

                  -The concept of letters by name, sight, shape, and sound

                  -The concept of words by sight or by putting together sounds to form words

As previously mentioned, my series of guest blogs is on specific activities that use magnetic letters to help with the cognitive development of preschoolers. No activity should exceed five to ten minutes depending upon the age, ability, and interest of the child. These activities should be seen as fun games, and each will be a little more rigorous than the one before. The blogs will be divided into four groups:

                  -Teaching colors

                  -Teaching similarities and differences (or comparing and contrasting)

                  -Teaching the alphabet (letter names)

                  -Word analysis (making words)

Using Magnetic Letters to Make Words

Once a child has become familiar with recognizing letters by name and even forming letters, it is time to introduce the concept of words. Putting together letters in a certain order will produce a word. Words are everywhere. The objective of this blog post and the next one is to help the child learn familiar words such as their name by using magnetic letters. This activity will help the child to form words that s/he can easily read and write. Having a set of core words that s/he can read and write will help set the stage for success once formal schooling begins. Whenever introducing a task, make sure the child understands what s/he is to do. A great framework is listed below that demonstrates how to scaffold an activity by modeling and gradually releasing the activity to the child.   

Materials used in this Activity: Foam Magnetic Letters and Magnetic Whiteboard

Activity #9: Unscrambling Letters to Make Words , Part 1

Begin this activity by either writing the child’s name (or targeted word) as a model or using magnetic letters as a model.

Then place in random order the letters of the child’s name and ask him/her to make his/her name just like shown in your model. Make sure to use the lowercase letters with only the uppercase to begin a name or proper noun. Using all upper case letters will create problems down the line, especially in school when the correct form will be required. It is better to learn correctly in the beginning, as it is not always easy to undo learning.

For Carter’s name, I would place each letter in random order and say while pointing to the model, “Here is your name,  Carter .” Can you make your name with these letters just like I did?

If the child’s name has another word embedded in his name, I would use it as the next word, such as  car  and  cart  which appear in Carter’s name. I might say, “Carter, your name has the word  car  in it. See it here. Can you make the word car? Your name also has the word  cart  in it. Can you make the word like I have underlined?” Having a link from his/her name to other words will provide a fun opportunity to learn other words.

Of course, not all names have words embedded in them, so you might select new but familiar words like  mom dad cat or any short word that will have some meaning to the child.

I would not attempt to teach more than one or two words at a time. When coming back to the activity after some time away, always start with the “known” words to see if the child truly has learned the words. Try having the child unscramble the letters without the model if you think the child can successfully complete the task without it. If assistance is needed, then provide the model.

Ultimately, the child should be able to unscramble the letters to form previously introduced words without assistance or a model. Letting the child have many opportunities to practice writing the words and locating words in print will also help in learning. The child should be able to form, read, and write the word to have it mastered. It often takes many opportunities and encounters with specific words for most children to learn words and to recognize, read, or write them automatically. Be patient and do not attempt to introduce too many words at once.

Listed below are some suggestions of high-frequency words that you might want to introduce once you exhaust familiar words such as the child’s first and last names, family names, and color and number words.

A fun independent activity is to provide letters for specific words and, using a model, form the words with the magnetic letters. A great source of words found in print with an accompanying picture can be found in the Hameray   Letter Buddies   series.

This was the ninth activity in the series. If you'd like to see the other lessons,   click here !

- Paula Dugger


Paula Dugger has a B.S., M.Ed., and Reading Specialist Certification from The University of Texas at Austin and Reading Recovery training through Texas Woman’s University. Paula does educational consulting and training through Dugger Educational Consulting, LLC and can be contacted at np.dugger@att.net

Paula and her husband Neil are parents to two wonderful daughters, Alicean and Ashley, two sons-in-law Kevin and Patrick, and grandparents to Carter. She also raises registered Texas Longhorns on the weekends. The longhorn cattle are featured in her first book published by Hameray Publishing Group, titled   Longhorns .

If you'd like to order some magnetic foam letters to try out this activity for yourself, you can find them on the  Hameray website . If you're teaching at this stage of literacy, you might also be interested in the Letter Buddies books. Click on the images below to see some key features of the series!