Grade: 3-5
Subject: 4 Blocks

#1234. Classrooms That work chapter 5 mailring discussion

4 Blocks, level: Elementary
Posted Sat Aug 7 13:57:22 PDT 1999 by deb (
Coloma Elementary, South Haven, USA
Concepts Taught: reading, 4 blocks

The Four Blocks Mailring has been discussing the book Classrooms That Work written by Patricia Cunningham and Richard Allington

I used the book "Word Wizard" with my 2nd grade class today and they
loved it! I had them write the first word on their chalkboards and then
see if they could change it to another word. Sometimes I had to give
clues to what it was. The brighter ones said that it was much harder
than Making Words, and they liked that part. The squeals of delight
were music to my ears. I wrote the whole list on the board as we went
along and then reviewed them after. At free reading time there was a
mad dash to get the book to read by themselves!

I ordered the book from and it arrived promptly. Next week
I'm doing "There's An Ant in Anthony". I think after I'll have kids
look for words in their names and try to find other words with that word
in it.

MAKING WORDS in 2ND grade (an activity to do occasionally):

I had a great experience today with Making Words. I had the kids make
as many words as they could using the given letters and record them on a
sheet, 2 letter words, 3 letters, etc. I gave them 3 minutes and told
them this was not a race or a contest, just a chance to work on their
own. When the time was up I asked the kids to give me the words one at
a time. If you didn't have the word recorded, write it down. Someone
came up with "ten". Then the next person said "net". I asked what
direction would I have given for that word? They came up with "Change
the letters and make a new word!" I thought "Boy, they really ARE
listening when we do this." This happened a
couple other times and I again asked what would my directions be?
Sometimes they said,"Change the vowel to make a new word." I looked in
the 2nd Grade Month by Month and we covered every word listed and then
some. They even got the Mystery Word: notebook. Comments were,
"This was fun to do it this way. "I liked it because it was really
challenging for me to think of words on my own." I wouldn't do this all
the time but I considered today a success!

For the On the Back activities we did -ent. I gave them a number of
words and then asked for suggestions from the class. They came up with
continent, current, invent (which I expanded to invention, invented,
inventing, inventor). Anyway I was really pleased and the kids were so
proud of themselves. It was a great lesson.


I teach first grade and our OT really wants us to push correct pencil
grip. She'd like to come into the classrooms to help but there just
isn't time. I bought the molded grips this year but she says to try to
get the kids to change on their own first and keep those as a last
resort. This year I began writing the 5 word wall words a day. During
this time I really stress correct grip and letter formation. Rest of
the day I just don't have time to think about it! I must say that
spending this 10 minutes a day on handwriting has produced the neatest
group of writers and the best spellers I've had in 10 years of teaching
first grade!!
<all of the letters they will need for the lesson. This is morning
work. They have to cut apart the letters and manipulate them to find
all of the words. >>

Hmmm...Here are some thoughts...While there is probably some value in
this activity, it doesn't provide the explicit practice of
teacher-directed Making Words. As the teacher "talks through" the
directions: "change just oneletter to make the word..." "can you add
one letter to make the word..." the students have the opportunity to
see exactly how individual letters work within the words. Making Words
provides focus on (and more instruction) in the "how" of
encoding/decoding, especially important for the rookie. "Finding" the
words that can be made from a set of letters doesn't provide this.

Nancy in San Jose
When I started making words with my first graders for the first time
back in September, I had the same concerns. But I followed the book
(Making Words) word for word and lesson by lesson. At first my low
students didn't have a clue but I guided them through it or they made
corrections when the word was spelled on the chart. It was not long,
about October and they were doing it without help. I soon
noticed that the children who could not identify letters or sounds when
they entered first grade- soon knew each letter and sound due to
making words. It constantly reinforces letter and sound recognitions.
This year was the first year that every student (yes even my LD child)
mastered ending sounds on the level tests. The only thing I did
different this year was making words. I think that having the students
rearrange the letters taught ending sounds better than any workbook or
skills page.

However we did making words for 30 minutes twice a week. This is also
the first year that every child has passed spelling. I had 10 title
kids at the beginning of the year and 5 of them have been tested out of
our title 1. I am a firm believer in making words just as it is.
But I don't think first graders can do it 15 minutes.
ON THE BACK activity

I am very confused about on the back activities for word wall. It was
my understanding that the on the back activity was to transfer
knowledge from a spelling pattern on the front or to deal with
endings. Please
You're half right! The purpose of the On the Back Activity is to
transfer knowledge. Sometimes it might be to show kids how to apply
their knowledge of a spelling pattern---"If you can write 'best' which
is one of your Word Wall words, then if you wanted to write a story
about going out West, how would you use best to write West..."
Sometimes we just alphabetize the 5 words, sometimes fill in the blanks
of 5 sentences with the 5 words, sometimes change the suffixes of one of
the words bake, baking, bakes, baker... So many things can be done with
the high frequency words to extend the students' use and understanding
of words. ---Cheryl
MAKING WORDS how often?

How many of you do make words EVERY day?
I don't think you're going to want to get in the habit of doing Making
Words every day. As much fun as it is, I think you and your students
will grow tired of it. Also, there are too many other wonderful
activitites to include in the second segment of the Words Block to get
stuck on just one activity.


This year I decided to bite the bullet and change my spelling
curriculum (I DID have administrative support on this though. Our class
used the Word Wall everyday. We did Making Words (which I love!), and I
started to do other activities once I got a hold of the Month
by Month book.
I still was expected to have weekly spelling tests, so I
arranged my lists to follow word families (using frequent
chunks/rimes). We worked with the pattern/s of the week (and some high
frequency words too). I helped make students aware of how many words
they could spell if they only knew those chunks. After the spelling
test that week, I put the high freq. words on the word wall, and a word
that had the chunks that we practiced the week before.
When my students write, they are held accountable for words on
the WW. SInce previous chunks are on the wall, I also make sure they
spell words that contain those chunks correctly too. (For instance, if
someone spelled the word might incorrectly, I would let that child know
it is like the word night on our WW. They know that they would have to
correct that word in their writing because it is has a chunk they know
in it. It has made them more accountable for the spelling patterns they
studied during the year.)
The Working with Words block has helped me out so much this
year! I actually enjoy this part of my day (unlike previous years). I
was even observed by my principal during a Making Words lesson this year
(I never would have had him observe a "spelling" lesson in previous
As for my co-workers, they have asked me a lot about my Word
Wall and Making Words activities (although, I am certainly no
expert!!). I haven't completely admitted that I used a different
spelling list each week (I don't know how I managed that one). I am
confident that my students have a stronger sense of how words work this

I teach first grade and have struggled with the spelling issue for many
years, as I feel it is very developmental. This year after much reading
I used a combination of approaches which I have loved. I have combined
the practices of "Making Words" in Cunningham's book with those of "Word
matters" in Fountas and Pinnell. In their writing folders the students
have a list of high frequency words for spelling. Each week as they
have mastered spelling words they highlight each with a yellow marker.
This way I can hold them accountable for those they already know. Each
student also has a spelling buddy they work with during the week. I
made this choice for them with a lot of thought as to who they would
work well with and if they were similiar developmentally. Here's my
weekly plan:

1. I choose a "mystery" word such as "parrots". I try to have it
correlate to our theme somehow. I write the the consonants in black and
vowels in red on separate cards. The students do the same. At first I
guided them by making words (Cunningham approach). "Make a two letter
word which begins with the letter t". Add a letter to the end that means
the opposite of bottom"... We go on for about 10 minutes making and
breaking words this way."Eventually we lead up to the "mystery word". I
pretty much follow the Cunningham approach with some minor changes. As
the students became more capable they had about 5 minutes to find as
many words as they could on their own before we began together. Each
word we made was then listed on a word card in the pocket chart.

2. After a break the students choose their list of 4 Core
Spelling Words for the week from these words. They must choose words
they can read and have not had for spelling before. I know this because
we keep a list in our writing folders and from the word list. This
allows the opportunity for students to choose words at their
developmental level. For example from the word parrot some students
will chose simple 3 letter words while others can concentrate on more
difficult words with consonant blends or diagraphs. I
monitor very closely the words I think are appropriate.

3. Each students must also choose 4 Personal words from their
high frequency word list in their writing folder. ( These are the Word
Wall words). Again I make sure they are words that are important for
writing. If during the week a see spelling errors on words they have
already had they go back on a "Words I Need to Learn" list in the folder
and they must choose these words first the next week. This way they are
held accountable for every word they have learned. It is important to
approach this positively and not as a punishment because some words can
be difficult to learn.

Tuesday - Friday:
1.Short spelling lessons during large group time using white
boards and strategies from word block. Usually the words focus on the
words from the mystery word using spelling patterns. We might sort the
words several ways, number of letters in the word, endings, how they
sound - short vowels, .... (Fountas and Pinnell)

2.Each day the students also have a specific activity for
practice (Fountas and Pinnell). They include; Mix and Fix,"Look, Say,
Cover, Write, Check", Buddy Check, Make Connections, Crossword puzzle,
Word Search and Buddy Test. The words are stapled to their Poem Book
which goes home nightly and written in a book at school so the list is
never misplaced.

I have really enjoyed the way I teach spelling and have found
the children caught on very quickly as to what was expected of them. I
did not begin this with my first grade until around December. I think it
would work well at least through third grade while students are
developing at such varying levels. Recently I tested my students on the
words and found they are remembering them beautifully. Also if they can
spell a word already why waste their time on going through a set of
weekly words they can already do! I have used the words from Fountas and
Pinnell as the first 100 words but since December all but 5 are now
working on the second 100.

someone wrote:
At an inservice last year the suggestion was made to put the alphabet
letters cards mid or a third of the way down on the wordwall. The lady
then put her word wall words below the letters and her theme words
(which changed) and student names above the letters.
Just a little caviat----Don't put so much on the Word Wall that kids
don't pay attention to it. Your expectations are very clear for the
high frequency words---they'll always be used correctly, even in their
rough draft writing. Your expectations of those other words are
different, I assume---and should be. I would suggest cluster charts in
other areas of the room for theme and content words. --- Cheryl

I hope teachers won't ever think that they must use a certain list of
words for their classes. You have the flexibility to tailor the words
for the
needs of your children. If even the weakest of your kids know the
suggested words and they use them correctly in "real" writing, then--by
all means--find other frequently used words that they do need to
practice and use those as your WW words. Look at their writing to
determine what's needed. Also, it works both ways. If at second grade
your kids still don't know the first grade words, feel free to include
some of those on your Word Wall. -- Cheryl

There was some discussion a few weeks ago about the letter vests that
were available through Lakeshore. Unfortunately, Lakeshore no longer
carries them. Has anyone seen them elsewhere?
Thanks, Bonnie >>
This may already have been shared, but---- You can improvise on the
letter vest idea very, very inexpensively. Just take the large ziploc
bags (1 or 2 gallon ones). Punch a whole in either side at the top.
Inside put a colorful sheet of construction paper to give it body.
String a piece of yarn or ribbon (about 24+ inches) through the 2
holes. On your computer--or by hand--make all the letters of the
alphabet (multiples as needed) on single sheets of white paper. Find
some way of filing these for easy access. Now, any time you want to do
Making Words with the little ones, you slip the needed letters into the
bags and let the kids wear them---hands are free, of course. It works
great and lasts a long time. Very little investment of $$$$. Hope
this will help someone. ---Cheryl


One more comment on Word Walls. . .You can begin with the names and keep
your Four Blocks program "pure". Look at p. 130 in The Teacher's Guide
to the Four Blocks (Cunningham, Hall,& Sigmon) it says, "most first
grade teachers begin WW with the names of the children." In Month by
Month Phonics for First Grade (Cunningham & Hall) on p.8 under Focusing
on the Name . . .it says, "or make it (child's name) the first word you
add to your WW." p. 28 "Many teachers begin their WW by adding th name
of te special
child chosen each day in Aug/Sept to their WW." p. 30 note that the WW
depicted starts with names!!! On p. 16 of Month by Month Phonics for
Second Grade it also talks about starting WW with names. p. 31 depicts
this again. We do ask the you are stingy with the words you put on the
wall. The WW words suggested in Month By Month Phonics have the
rationale for the words choosen in each of the books: Gr.1 on p. 29,Gr.
2=p. 19, Gr. 3 = p. 8. Pat came up with the idea of a WW over 20 years
ago. They are now popular and many companies have put them out. We
don't know their rationale. We do like the bigger and bolder "WWPlus"
packages from
Carson-Dellosa that have our names on them. We really don't know
anything about the other WW-- including Carson-Dellosa other WW
packages.WW are there to help kids when reading and writing; especially
struggling students. Too many words too soon defeats this purpose. They
don't know what words are on the wall, can't remember where to look, and
if you have more than one WW often don't know which one to look on.
Theme boards or charts are good for "temporary" use (fall words). Most
teachers see the pay off for WW when the children write, but it is also
a second chance for stuggling students to learn to read these
words. Dottie


Someone I know puts a library pocket at the bottom of each letter's
list, and in that pocket is a copy of each word on the word wall under
that letter. The kids can take "these" words back to their desks to
copy and then return them when they're done.
Another idea!
An idea I saw on a visit to Centerville, GA, might help you: They bought
pocket folder with 3 brads. In the folder they put three sheets of
plastic baseball card display sheets. Each sheet has 9 windows---for a
total of 27 little windows. After cutting the sets of letters, they put
them in the folders so that the kids had a set of all alphabet letters.
Inside the front pocket, they put a ziploc bag in case the lesson might
have to be continued at some point. Letters could then be placed in the
baggies in the pocket until the lesson is resumed---later that day or on
another day. And, yes, you've got to have several of each letter for
each child. We usually copy 4 of each vowel per child and 3 of each
consonant (might want 4 of those, too?).
deb wrote:
I wrote the letters directly on the file folder. Then I had the kids
place their folder on their desk on Friday. I wrote the 5 new words on
their file folder during the day Fri whenever I had a chance. One thing
that helped was that I didn't collect the folders so as I walked around
the room conferencing and doing other stuff, I would quick jot some in.
If they went to gym or music, I'd jot them in. If a parent walked
into my room on Friday, I gave them the list and had them walk around
the room recording the new words. It worked great (actually it was a
BIG pain but, I couldn't allow the misspellings that the kids would on
occasion put on the word wall. They loved trying to find the new words
on Friday because I didn't introduce them until Monday. They loved the
idea of knowing the secret! I had kids writing them down to practice
over the weekend --------------- I love 2nd grade! They are so into
secrets that they learn spelling if it is a secret!

I tried to write the words on the board one letter at a time and model
to have them write on the portable word wall, it wasn't worth it. I
spent more time double checking the size of the words, the shape, the
spelling then it takes to write them yourself.

If a child didn't have the folder on Fri, they brought it Mon and I
quick recorded. deb

<< I understand that Four Blocks does not use spelling tests, BUT what

if the parents want spelling tests? >>

It's not exactly true that 4-Blocks doesn't use spelling tests. Many of
us still have to gather grades for spelling. We just don't do it
exactly the way we used to do it. We give tests that are consistent
with the theory that guides this block. We might give 5 Word Wall
words, 5 words from the On the Back activities of that week (or from the
patterns from Making Words, etc.) and a couple of sentences of
dictation that use old and new WW words or applications of those words.
It's a fairer way of evaluating where kids are.

We also need to educate our parents about why some of our methods have
changed, especially in regards to spelling and spelling instruction.

Today we played Mind Reader. I must tell you that most of my students
aren't sure what a letter is, only a few are able to really read our 8
little word wall words. But we're getting there. I sat them on the
rug, in front of the 8 words, in sets of 2 with clip
boards, paper and pencil. I already numbered the paper from 1-5 (I
learned during word wall work that that was a 20 minute lesson in
itself) We reviewed the words, and I made a big deal about it being a
fun game. I wrote my chosen word (and) so they couldn't see it, and
placed it on the counter. Then we began.

T. says: The word I'm thinking of is one of these words on the word
wall. Let's read them. Talk to your partner and pick any one. Write it
next to the number one on your paper. (etc etc) Eventually they began
copying a word. And then we all got to read the word each duo wrote.
(and I ran around showing them where the 1 was)

T. Now I'm going to give you a clue. The word I'm thinking of has 3
letters. I pointed to each word on the wall & we counted its letters.
If it didn't have three I covered it up with a sticky note. I think we
were down to: the, and, was. Which one of these words do you think I
wrote down on that white board? Write it next to the number 2.

T. Listen for the next clue. The word I'm thinking of has an a in it.
So we talked about each one and covered up the a-less word. They chose
one and wrote it down.

T. Now we only have two words left. And and was. Here is my last
clue. Get ready to write it next to number 4. (big tah dah) The word
I'm thinking of has a soldier (tall) letter in it. (gosh, they've
pretty much figured it out. Horray!)

Since I only had 4 clues, I have them write their ultimate answer on
#5, then I show them my word and we make stars if we match. I ask
them, "Raise your hand if you wrote and for #1." and "....for #2. etc.
And it was great fun. (the hands are waving all over the place)

Having partners helped. I made sure all the clues were positive (eg:
nothing like "my word doesn't have....") And, obviously it was very
step by step.

I wish you could see their papers. Many didn't write each time. Many
in the wrong places. Many illegible, or spelled wrong. But... some
did, and they all had fun yelling answers & getting excited.

Thanks for listening
Katharine in Ca / first grade summer school


I, too, have used Be A Mind Reader with my summer school bunch. They
absolutely *loved* it and ask to do it again and again! (This is coming
from a group of kids who didn't enjoy doing much besides drawing at the
beginning of the summer!)

Many of these students have already experienced a lot of failure, so I
wanted to make sure everyone felt successful, even if they didn't guess
the word from the first few clues. One thing I did was have several
students share their guesses after each clue. I made sure to point out
how the word they chose did indeed match the clues I had given so far.
(If someone chose a word that didn't match one of our previous clues, I
just focused on how the word *did* match the given clues.) This
encouraged the "higher-students" to look for *all* of the possible words
that matched the clues. The "lower-students" felt successful if they
found a word that matched the clue I had just given.

Katherine, I like your idea of using sticky notes to cover up words
which didn't match the clues. One time I did the opposite of what you
did: when students shared their guesses after each clue, I listed their
responses on the chalkboard (under the word wall). When we went on to
the next clue, we crossed out words that no longer matched all of the
clues and added words we hadn't noticed earlier.

This really is a wonderful activity! Cara


>My teaching partner and I have to give letter grades so we came up
with some ways to assess for grades even though we don't like doing it.

1. Every other day we do 5 dictation sentences. The only words we
grade are the word wall words. Each sentence usually has about 3-4 word
wallwords in it.

2. We do grade the various activites we do from the Month to Month
Phonics for Third Grade book. (like: What Looks Right, Word Sort and
Hunt, Rounding Up the Rhymes, etc)

3. We do making words with the letters but we do use that Making Words
Sheet that came through the ring a while ago for a grade once or twice a

4. After Christmas, we started spelling tests that consist of:
the weekly word wall words
5 previously posted word wall words
5 words "built" from previous word wall words (like:
friendliest-built from friends and unusual-built from usually and
excitedly-built from excited)
5 dictation sentences (grading only the word wall words)
5 student sentences that must have 2 or more word wall words
We figure out how many possible points by counting all the word wall
words in total. (We only thought of this second semester. We'll do it
from the beginning of the year next year! When we send the monthly
calendar home we write on the back what the words will be for each
weekly test and the dates. Plus a written explanation of the other
components of the test. The parents love this!) ((We are also going to
build in the rimes studied in the Month to Month activities next year))

5. I also collect one written piece unannounced and grade it for the
word wall words only as a spelling grade. (I learned about this on this
mailring a while back)

I think that's it. I have generated many more spelling grades than I
expected. I do most of the Month to Month activities daily and on the
overhead so if they are tuning in they should get good grades. I
follow the Month to Month book like a bible!! I love it.

Hope this helps! Ginger


deb wrote:

> > How many of you begin the year by putting up 5 sight words on the
word wall? Or does everyone start with names only?

I start with have, because, said, was, they (page 18 of second grade
book). There really isn't a right or wrong order. I do the names
activities during the first two weeks like Shelby is the sh sound etc.
I keep the names on their own list -----Dottie said that on the word
wall or a separate list are both correct.

Here is my two cents worth. Last year I had 3rd grade LD students
reading at the First Grade level.

What about spelling? Is working with words really enough?
All of the activities put together make a great spelling program. My
kiddos did better this year than any year I used a traditional program.
My focus for spelling time was the Word Wall words.

What about spelling tests?
I, too was required to give a test on Friday. I gave the test in the
computer lab. (Easier for my kiddos and the word wall is back in the
room!) I gave the five words we added for the week as well as five
review or pattern words. This year I think I will include more of the
"on-the back" type activities. I also gave a sentence that included
words we had learned and patterns. I usually threw in a "bonus" word
that was on our theme chart.

What do you say to parents who feel the words are too easy, too hard?
In choosing the words for the week, I try to include one basic word,
one more difficult (like friend!), a pattern word, and then two other
words that came up in their writing during the week. This way I had
something to tell the parents on both sides of the fence, and everyone
was challenged.

What do you send home as spelling homework?
I send home the making words homework sheet. There is one in the back
of the Making More words book, but I created my own on the computer. I
also work on the visual-spatial aspect. I use graph paper to draw the
shapes of words and the kiddos have to fill in the shapes with the right
word. This is of course after we have done the activity in class. I
also have them write a sentence for their favorite word and illustrate.

Is there a strong phonetic sequence and what is it?
I just use the kiddos writing as my guide. I have a post-it on my
computer screen and as I see a word that we need to include for the
next week, I write it there. On Thursday when I am writing my parent
letter, I can then look at the note and decide what the words for next
week will be.

What about direct phonics instruction? Can I substitute Open Court or
another program for the working with words portion?
As an LD teacher, this is where my training is. My humble opinion is
that it is not necessary. The key is to make everything the kiddos know just why they are learning what they
are. They need to apply what they learn, and with so many of these
programs, the only application