Word Chains

Phonological awareness (in particular phoneme manipulation) and word patterns are two important elements in the learning to read and spell process.

Creating ‘Word Chains’ is a fun activity for providing students practice in these skills.

The basic premise is that the student is given a word and then one sound or grapheme is changed to create a new word. A sound or grapheme is then changed in the new word to create another word.

From a phonological awareness perspective, ultimately you want students to be able to do the activity purely as an auditory activity. However, initially you may find it useful to demonstrate the concept using counters. For example, if the starting word was ‘ship’, you could put down three counters to represent each sound.

Then you can change the counter that represents the sound that will be changed. So, for example, you might change the /sh/ to /ch/ to make chip.

Then you might change /p/ to /n/ to make chin.

And then /ch/ to /b/ to make bin.

Then /i/ could be changed to /ee/ to make been.

Once students understand this process, remove the counters. Also remember that with a phonological awareness activity, it is the sound that is important, not the grapheme used to represent the sound.

This is a great activity when you have small amounts of time. If you are a classroom teacher, it might be just before recess or just after coming back into the classroom to help settle the students. If you are a parent, it’s a great activity to do while driving or perhaps waiting for an appointment.

From a reading/spelling perspective you can follow the same process, but with cards containing the letters of the alphabet and the various digraphs the students have been taught. Each card should represent one sound. You could use the cards that come with the Echidna Word Maker which is a free resource.

Students can be given a starting word, such as ‘meat’ which is constructed using the cards.

You can ask students to either create word chains as described above, or you can ask them to change a particular grapheme to see how many words they can create. For example, they could just change the ‘m’ to make heat, seat, wheat or beat. They could just change the /ee/ to make mat, met, meet, mart, or they could just change the ‘t’ to make mean or meal.

Whether you do the activity as a word chain or with a specified grapheme, I would suggest students write down each new word. You can then challenge students to see how quickly they can read the list of words.

If students don’t instantly recognise a word it is important that they sound out and then blend to decode the word, rather than just being told the word. You also might need to point out that in a list like meat-neat-heat-wheat, the ‘eat’ part stays the same and it is just the initial part of the word that is changing. Although this might be obvious to us as adults, young students don’t always instinctively make this connection.

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