EAL Classroom Basics- Word Building

Our last post covered the EAL basics to have at your fingertips for Letters and Sounds to best support English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners. This post focuses on word building as the next step.


While the EAL learner may know many words in their own language, they have the added step of learning the English for these words also. Focusing on building vocabulary is important and there are many resources to help with this including:

Big Box Of Easy-To-Read Words

The Big Box Of Easy-To-Read Words is a game students can work on independently. They match the 125 word puzzle pieces and 125 photo puzzle pieces to build vocabulary.


Basic Skills charts are a great way to learn the basics necessary for the classroom and are usually found in most classrooms. Singing the days of the week and the months of the year helps students retain information.

Photographic Learning Card Set 1

Photographic Learning Cards can be used in many different ways, simply to learn vocabulary, then to develop sentence structure and story telling. Resources that grow with students and can be used in multiple ways are always a good choice.

Pre-teaching vocabulary for a new math or science concept can give EAL learners an advantage. Understanding the keys words to be introduced gives them a safe starting point and builds confidence. They are then better able to contribute to discussions and maintain the teaching and learning pace in the lesson.

CVC Words

Learning consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words is the next step after learning letter and letter sounds. Many of the resources mentioned in our last post can be used for CVC words. Here are a few more:

Big Box of Little Words

The Big Box of Little Word Puzzles has 60 CVC words to build. This activity allows students to practice their letters sounds as they decipher the words using pictures cues to support learning.

Phonics Pebbles

These phonics pebbles are great for developing letter recognition, word building and blending skills. The tactile pebbles can be combined to create more complex words and the colour coding for vowels always helps for CVC activities.

Playing with word families

Word Family Tiles

Word Family Tiles have 42 onset tiles and 35 rime tiles allowing students to make their own words and explore the families in a fun way.

Pop For Word Families

Pop For Word Families allows students to play a fun game once they understand how words are made using a family ending.

Sight words

Sight words are a challenge to teach because they often do not follow rules and need to be memorized. Luckily there are many fun ways to learn sight words.

Sight Words String-Ups

Sight Word String-Ups are a fun interactive way to introduce and practice learning sight words.

Sight Words Bingo Game

Bingo is always a hit and students enjoy the game without realizing they are learning challenging words.



Sight Word Readers K-1 Variety Pack & Classroom Pack

Sight word readers are a natural way to teach sight words in context and the more students are exposed to words the better.


Having students begin with readers at this point is a great way to help them understand why they are working so hard and also to celebrate the success they are having. Levelled readers gradually increase the difficulty of the text and help students to gain skills and confidence.

What are you doing to help your EAL students build word power?


Early Reading Language Resources we Love!

Rose is in kindergarten half time and her reading and writing is developing in leaps and bounds. She is reading sight words and simple readers but her confidence is low. When she is not in kindergarten she wants activities to complete with Granny. These are a mixture of independent tasks and those which will need Granny help!

Matching Upper and Lower Case Letters

This is a great activity Daisy enjoyed at the same age. Correct letter formation is important to know at an early age to ensure a student’s kinaesthetic (movement) memory commits to well formed letters. It is more difficult to unlearn an incorrect method.

Identifying Initial Sounds with Alphabet Objects

Alphabet Objects

With 3 objects for each letter sound, sorting these objects requires phonics skills.


Making words with Word Building Pebbles


Letter pebbles are great for the visual and tactile reminder of letter formation and their sounds. As Rose lifts the pebbles she makes the letter sound and places in order to make a word.

Playing with Word Families

This post involves Daisy making cvc words from a game and dice.

Using Letter Tracing Stamps

Tracing letter stamps

We all know writing goes hand in hand with reading. Read about how Rose uses letter stamps here.

Using Build-A-Sentence Cubes 


With six colour coded sentence structures and  a related high frequency word on all six sides, there are lots of sentence options with these cubes.

Writing Sentences with Sentence Strips

Writing Sentences

This paper is fabulous for disccussing letter formation as we did here.

The invitation

The colour recognition of “dirt, grass and sky” adds an extra step, helping a student remember the letter structure.

Playing Spot It! Basic English.

As well as reinforcing sight word recognition, this game is just pure fun!

Of course one of the main activities Rose does is READING!



Supporting Early Writing

Rose has started kindergarten and is loving it. She is eager to learn and loves to read and write. Her reading is mostly of the illustrations at the moment and she loves her quiet reading time. Writing she is also eager to partake in but her confidence is low. She is hesitant to write many letters without support even though she knows her upper case and lower case letters and their corresponding sounds.

To encourage her to write, with less frustration over letter formation, we are using Tracing Letter Stamps as a guide for writing.

Tracing letter stamps

When sounding out a word Rose selects the letters, checks her choice with me and then stamps. Yes this child is a perfectionist. Daisy would have been happy to choose her own letters and would then argue her choice was right if I corrected her. Rose hates to make a mistake and the stamps seem to be helping to build her confidence as an emerging writer.

Tracing letter stamps

When she has completed a word or sometimes a sentence she writes on top. For this I do try to watch and correct, to ensure she does not develop incorrect letter formation habits. Bad habits can be difficult to break as we all know. At this age, once the movement is committed to kinaesthetic memory it is much more difficult to alter.

Rose seems much more content with writing when using stamps as a reinforcement with letter formation. A happy writer is much more likely to write!

Tracing stamps are available in lower case and upper case sets as well as numbers and signs for math.

Tracing Stamps

Check them out here.

If you are interested in upper and lower case letter activities check out this post: matching-lower-and-uppercase-letters


Letter Formation using Sky, Grass and Dirt.

Daisy has begun working on lower case letters more earnestly at school and we are supporting this at home. She finds upper case letters much easier and has to be reminded to use lower case letters. Gentle reminders and modeled examples of writing helps.

She was struggling with writing on a line so it was time to give more help with the ‘sticks and circles’ we call writing.

The invitation

I cut up a sentence strip into word sized strips and taped it onto the light table. The light table makes everything appear cheerier but it is not necessary for this activity.

The alphabet line behind shows both upper and lower case letters. If your children are not familiar with upper case letters, sticking to the lower case might be better.

The alphabet line is coloured with Chubbi Stumps, (my favourite crayon for wee hands):

  • Blue = sky
  • Green = grass
  • Brown = dirt

The bottom three sentence strips are already coloured and the top two are for Daisy to colour.

Looking for dirt letters.

We talked about how letters are mainly in the grass but some reach up to the sky and others reach down into the dirt. As we identified the letters we made a big (2′) letter with our arm and hand in the air.

Using finger spacing between the letters

Daisy then wrote her name and chose other words to write.

She used her pinkie finger to ensure enough space was left between the letters.

There you have it: a colourful way to reinforce the position of lower case letters.

Letter formation, sky, grass and dirt!

Sentence strips can be bought in many forms, even reusable wipe off versions are availalbe now. Check out the options below:

Storytelling puppets

Rose is at that great age where she is just beginning to tell stories. Her confidence is growing as she reads more books, telling the story with the help of pictures. The words may not match but she is so proud to be able to interact with a book in such a way.

Using the pictures as prompts encourages her to tell her the story with more detail. Using concrete things she can manipulate encourages even more interaction.

I modeled telling the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears using a Reversible Storytelling Puppet. Goldilocks is visible and then if you turn the puppets upside down you have Papa Bears on one side and Mama and baby bear on the other. It is cute and Rose is now able to tell the story herself. Having baby bear come out of his mama’s apron adds to the story.

She particularly enjoyed flipping the puppet over and saying “Look, bears!” and “Look, Goldilocks!”

Reversible Storytelling puppets are also available for Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs.

Goldilocks and the 3 Bears

Little Red Riding Hood

3 Little Pigs

I have tried photographs and flannel board as well as the interactive whiteboard but nothing beats a stuffie they can cuddle too! What do you use to bring your stories to life?

Playing with word families

Daisy has been telling me how she can spell ‘bat’ and ‘cat’ for a few weeks now so I thought it was time for some focused word family play. We started with Hands on Learning Word Family Mats and I limited the exploration to two word families ‘at’ and ‘in’. I also limited the number of initial letters to give her success in word building

‘Cat’ was the first word and was proudly written down.

The word ‘sat’ proved more difficult. As I explained in light table colour bags a few weeks ago, Daisy was inverting her ‘s’s. She is more aware and thinks before writing an ‘s’ now but was still struggling so I quickly drew a big reminder for her finger to run along. I believe it is important to correct her kin-aesthetic memory now, rather than bad habits becoming embedded. The big ‘s’ helped and eased her frustration.

After writing ‘sat’ Daisy remembered ‘Bat’ and wrote it eagerly. It gave me the opportunity to talk about the two finger space needed between words.

She made a few more words and started to lose interest… time to get active!

These write-on wipe-off dice have been in the back of my mind for a while. I occasionally look at them and think….. what a great idea but would they work?

I labelled the red dice with ‘at’ and ‘in’ and labelled the blue dice with the letters t, p, s and b so the initial letters would work with either word family (at or in).

Underlining the letters made it easier to read and orientate. As you can see the ‘at’ in the picture rubbed off slightly. This is because at this point we were throwing with some force on the carpets and hitting obstacles. I explained to Daisy the need for holding only the coloured edges and this system worked well. Using a box or a three sided box, would work well in the classroom to keep the die contained.

Throwing the dice made word making instantly fun again. I love the dice!

We took turns throwing and then reading the words we made.

To add interest Daisy suggested we aim between legs. The great idea had us jumping to block the dice. Fine motor, gross motor and word building all combined to make an activity that did not seem to get tiring for a 4 year old!

Letter writing challenge

I heard about this on CBC earlier in the week and the discussion reminded me of the joy of receiving a letter or postcard. It doesn’t happen very often now, sadly. I will share with you how I introduced the concept to Daisy and then fill you in on the A Month of Letters Challenge.

We were lucky to be able to borrow this lovely mailbox for the rest of the month. It has traveled to many shows all over Canada during the last three years and is still holding together well. A good indication that it will hold up to a classroom’s demands.

Our ECE’s and teachers often don’t recognize it as a mailbox initially as it is blue (no post pickup on Saturday in Canada) but the reaction is usually “Oh, cute!” or “Do you sell these?”. It is even more exciting to me as I see what is inside.

Cards, postcards, letters all with matching stamps. They are a great resource for teaching address format.

We looked at the content and discussed what each was, a card, postcard, letter or small packet. We read the addresses and information on the post and what it meant and why it was there. “Top Secret” and the recycling symbol were of most interest to her.

Putting the post into the postbox was more of a challenge than initially though Daisy worked it out. The envelope had to be the correct way round so the stamp would also fit.

I than gave Daisy a blank postcard and asked her to decorate the blank side however she wanted.

When I saw this lovely drawing I politely asked, as mothers quickly learn to do, “Can you tell me about your drawing?”. I was informed she had drawn the planes like the stamp (see top right hand corner) and included a runway for the planes to land on, herself and sun as it was a sunny day. Duh.. silly mum! We addressed the card and Daisy copied a short message to her friend.

This is the original A Month Of Letters challenge:

  1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
  2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.

We are starting the challenge a little late (anyone who knows me will consider this tardiness quite appropriate!) but a little under two weeks is long enough for a 4 year old and her mum. Our first letter is in the post, yeah!

It seems that the only time I post anything now is at Christmas and that list is getting shorter every year as more friends favour digital cards. I might post the odd baby present but that is it. I miss getting postcards and letters which I read more than once.

When I lived in Rwanda for a year my mum wrote weekly and dad clipped cartoons from the Coffee News and local paper. The anticipation I felt walking to the post office and waiting in the heat for a letter or parcel seemed unbearable at times. However the excitement built when the post master gave me something. I would sit on the beach with my dog Sammy and read and reread loving every word and knowing it would keep me going until the next letter arrived. Admittedly I did not have email back in 2000 but getting something in the post doesn’t come close to an email.

Anyone care to join us in the challenge for the last week?