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Please use what works for you and your child and ignore the rest.  Every child is different.  If this information does not seem to be a good fit for your particular child, then keep looking and experimenting until you find what works.


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Make Your Own Magnetic Word Wall

No matter what method you use to teach reading, one thing is the same – kids need lots of practice.  This can be difficult to provide when kids know only a handful of words. 

There are some phonics-based books which may be useful, but what you really need at the very beginning is a more or less endless supply of things to read that include all of the words your child already knows, plus can grow to include new words as they are learned.  One method I’ve found really useful is to create a set of magnetic words (like the Magnetic Poetry™ sets), for the refrigerator.  (School teachers call this a “word wall”.)

There are lots of ways you can use your word wall.  Of course, you can just practice reading with individual words.  But our family’s favorite is to make what we call “wacky sentences” and read them aloud.  These are sentences that are silly but grammatically correct.  Mom sat on the cat.”  The pig is in the van.”  Mike can sit on the car.”  Other ideas are:

--Group words that rhyme – at, fat, cat, hat, mat, bat, rat, sat, pat, that -- and ask your child to read them.  Later on, you can ask your child to find all the words that rhyme with a given word.

--Show how ending punctuation changes a sentence by reading aloud.  Susan can.  Susan can?  Susan can! 

--Make an “apostrophe s” magnet and show how to use it.  “Mike” becomes “Mike’s”, as in “Mike’s cat is in the hat.

--Make a “silent e” magnet, and show how it changes the vowel sound:  hat to hate, can to cane.  “A silent e makes the vowel say it’s name.”

--Find out what words make grammatical sense in a sentence.  For example, words that fit in “The _____ is in the car.” will be nouns.

--Begin to talk about verb tense.  Mike are in the car.” doesn’t sound right, but “Mike and Matt are in the car.” is just fine.

You can buy a Magnetic Poetry™ set for beginning readers, but it’s fun, easy, and cheap to make your own customized set. 

I’ve experimented a bit with different methods.  Word wall sets sold in teacher supply stores often use laminated words with Velcro™ on the back, and a large piece of fabric to stick the words on.  This gets expensive and you need somewhere to hang the fabric.  I’ve had some success using small pieces of mat board with magnetic strips glued to the back.  However, cutting the mat board is difficult and requires a sharp blade – not always a good idea around younger children!  Here’s the best method I’ve found.  It’s easy, and produces great results!  You will need a magnetic sheet, an adhesive, and some paper. 

Home improvement stores (like Home Depot) sell large magnetic sheets, about the size of two sheets of paper.  They’re designed to cover unneeded heating vents, and cost about $10.  Craft stores sometimes sell these too, but they tend to be smaller and more expensive. 

My favorite adhesive is a spray called “Super 77”.  It comes in a can, like spray paint.  It works really well.  You can get it at a home improvement store, or you may be able to find it in a smaller can at a craft store.  It’s not cheap, but a little goes a long way. 

I usually use my computer to print out the words I want to use.  The disadvantage is they can smear if they get wet.  You can also use rubber stamps or just write them neatly with a marker.  I use 36 point type, so the words are about ” high.  You’ll want to consider your font choices carefully – Times New Roman is good, since many books use a similar typeface, but some of the letters may be confusing – “g” is an example of this.  Arial or another simple font may be a better choice.  I put three spaces between each word – this gives enough room to cut them out.

You’ll want to put some thought into the words you use.  (Sylvia Ashton-Warner, an influential educator who taught and wrote in New Zealand in the early 1960’s, advocated using a “key vocabulary” for early readers, using words that were important to the individual child.)  Here are some ideas:

--Family names (the child’s name, Mom, Dad, and sibling names)

--Pet words (dog, cat, fish) and the names of your pets.

--Common words (the, and, is, are, on, at, can, a, an).  I made several copies of each of these.

--Word families (an, can, fan, ran, man, pan, tan, van, Dan, Nan)  (make, take, cake, bake, rake, take, fake, Jake, quake, wake)  (all, ball, hall, tall, wall, mall, call, fall).

--Punctuation marks (. , ! ?)

--Names of friends.

--Words from favorite books, either the names of characters or words that are often repeated in the book.

--Any other words the child knows or is learning (stop).

--Any word the child would like you to include.

I also found it useful to look up the Dolch sight words on the web.  Some of these were useful (said, my, your), some were less so (seven, yellow, because).  Find the whole list at  (This list of “beginner words” was developed in the 1940’s by Edward W. Dolch.)  A more modern list is at . Thirteen very frequently used words are a, and, for, he, is, in, it, of, that, the, to, was, and you. 

You’ll probably want to start out with about half a sheet of paper full of words – you can always add more later.  It’s better to introduce this activity with only a few words – too many can be overwhelming and defeat the purpose.

Once you’ve got a sheet of words to use, trim carefully around the edges so you won’t waste any of the magnet on the blank parts of the page.  (Don’t cut apart the words yet, though!)  Take your supplies outside, and lay out a sheet of newspaper.  Put the word sheet upside down on the newspaper, and spray the back with adhesive.  Use a back-and-forth motion like you would with spray paint.  Carefully pick it up and place it onto the magnet sheet.  While the paper is drying, don’t forget to turn the adhesive can upside down and spray until nothing comes out.  (This cleans the nozzle.)  Once the adhesive is dry, you can cut apart the words.  Voila!  A custom-made word wall set!  Your words can even travel with you – just take your words along on a cookie sheet!

Once you’ve made a set, you’ll come up with lots of other ideas.  Why not make a personalized set as a birthday present?    Make a portable set, with smaller words, to fit in a tin box – you can make sentences on the lid.  Make a set of tangrams!  Do a math set with numbers, + - =, and things to count.  Make a quilt design set by making color copies of a few fabrics and cutting them into squares and triangles.  Make refrigerator magnets as gifts, using pictures from seed catalogs. You could even try magnetic paper dolls!  Have fun!