Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Daily Word Ladders: A Fun Way to Increase Vocabulary and Build Decoding Skills

Have the test prep blues invaded your classroom? The symptoms include the appearance of an abundance of standardized reading passages, multiple choice math and reading questions, and open response prompts, often accompanied by moans and groans, as well as looks of helplessness and frustration in the eyes of your students. Sadly, I can not offer you a cure for this depressing ailment, but I do have a suggestion to help alleviate the symptoms temporarily. The antidote for the symptoms of the test prep blues is a simple, three-letter: F-U-N!

F-U-N recently arrived in Room 202 in the form of a teacher resource book that was delivered to my classroom two weeks ago. I had forgotten I even ordered Daily Word Ladders with Scholastic Book Fair dollars earlier in the year, and I didn't pay the book much mind when it arrived. It wasn't until I had a chance to look at Daily Word Ladders over the weekend that I realized what a great resource I had stumbled upon.

According to Scholastic, "Kids climb to new heights in reading and writing with these engaging, reproducible word building games! Kids read clues on each rung, then change and rearrange letters to create words until they reach the top. All the while, they're boosting decoding and spelling skills, broadening vocabulary, and becoming better, more fluent readers." The activities in the book look like this:

There are three levels of puzzles: K-1, 2-3, and 4-6. In addition to the reproducible sheets, the teaching resource comes with a CD of all the page files that can be uploaded on your interactive whiteboard using ActivInspire software. 

I have been using a word-ladder-a-day as a collaborative team challenge, and my students are LOVING it. I print four copies of each word ladder challenge, one for each team/table in my class. I give the sheets out face down and prepare the children for a timed competition. Each day, a different student gets to scribe for their team while everyone at their table works to finish the ladder puzzle before all the other tables. The teams work furiously as they vie to finish the puzzle first and win a coveted "house point"( think Harry Potter and the houses of Hogwarts) for their team. Three minutes seems to be a reasonable time limit for completion of a puzzle, and it takes another minute and a half to check the answers. That's less than a five minute investment for a pretty substantial return.

In just a few days, we've added the words "dame" and "tine" to our vocabulary repertoire, and my kids have gotten a crash course on nursery rhymes because nobody could fill in this blank:  "__________ be nimble. __________ be quick," during our second word ladder challenge. These benefits are awesome, but they're nothing compared to the fun we are having and the enthusiasm we are generating while thinking and learning together. It's such a welcome diversion from the intensive test prep regiment we've been following lately.

I can't wait until we've had a few more days of practice, and I can challenge my students to make up word ladders of their own. It will be interesting to see if they can successfully create original ladders to share with one another.


  1. I bought that book this summer and make copies, but I haven't used it yet!! I need to start them next week! I know my kids will love them!

    1. Molly, Today the kids learned the meaning of the word soot. The book is great. I hope your kids like it as much as mine do.

  2. Great idea! Thanks! I wanted to let you know I really like your blog and nominated you for a Liebster Award for up-and-coming blogs! Check out the details here