Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Making Big Words

Making Big Words by Patricia Cunningham and Dorothy Hall is a teaching resource manual which includes 144 lessons consisting of active, hands-on, manipulative activities through which students discover letter-sound relationships and learn to look for patterns in words. Students are given a set of letters and are asked to make between 15-20 words, beginning with short words and continuing with bigger words until the feature word of the lesson is made using all the letters they've been given. The book has step-by-step directions for implementing the program in your classroom, but I chose to modify the materials to fit my own needs and those of my students. What I came up with has been one of the more popular literacy activities in my classroom this year. The children love it because it is fun. I love it because it is easy to manage and accommodates a wide range of ability levels.

Here is what Making Big Words looks like in Room 202. My first adaptation of the program was to ditch the reproducible paper letter tiles in the back of the book and replace them with plastic ©Bananagram letter tiles. I have two ©Bananagram games that I purchased at yard sales so I have enough tiles to make three "packets" for each week's lesson for our Word Work Station. Having three packets allows me to cycle all 25 of my students through the activity every week. The book's authors describe Making Big Words as more of a teacher led activity, but I've made it an independent partner activity instead of using teacher directed lessons. Finally, I add my own written extension component to each week's lesson. These additional activities are more focused on vocabulary development and meaning rather than encoding and phonics. I can easily customize each week's written requirement to match whatever vocabulary skills we are learning at the time. For example, multiple meaning words is eligible content in fifth grade so when "pitch" was one of the small words the children had to make in one week's lesson, one of their "On Lined Paper" activities was to find three different meanings of the word pitch and write a sentence with good context for each meaning.
I store each week's lesson sheet and the letter tiles needed for that week's words in a plastic page protector. I keep the letter tiles in a small Ziploc bag that fits neatly inside the page protector along with the list of that week's words. I pair students in flexible partnerships and they take turns asking and making the words from week to week. Each pair of students works on the written component of the activity together and hands in one paper with both of their names on it. This system works equally well when pairing students of like ability, or with partnerships where one student is an expert and the other student needs more support.

This is a routine that has become a staple of my literacy program this year, and I can see it being an integral part of my instructional programming in years to come. The book is definitely worth the $13.36 they are asking for it on Amazon. Once you have the book, you can quickly set up a Word Work Station in your classroom that is easy to maintain, update, and correlate with whatever vocabulary skills you are teaching.

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