Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Puzzle Words / Sight Words - A Memory Exercise

Several of the children in my classroom start their stories with "Once upon a time..." The only thing is that they spell phonetically so generally they write it as follows: "Wnz pon tm." Part of what is needed for their correct spelling is enunciation and slowing down when stating a particular word so as to hear each specific sound. The other issue, of course, is that once is a puzzle word or sight word. It does not make phonetic sense.

In the Montessori classroom, a memory exercise is used to help children learn the most common of these words like: eye, you, piece, are. The material used is comprised of several envelopes in which six or more cards, each with one of the words written on them, are placed. The envelopes or other holders are kept together in a basket or a box. Some purchased sets of puzzle word cards are color coded or numbered to keep the individual packets of cards identifiable. I made mine. The cards are colored to match the Chinese silk, small zippered purses I use to keep them in. A separate index card is kept in each purse. On the index card is written the words/cards in that particular purse.

Prior to giving the presentation on puzzle/sight words a child has done a lot of work with the language materials and are reading. They have also done some creative writing. This is when the "Wnz pon tm" appears in their journals or such. When I first tell a child how "You" and "Are" are spelled they generally laugh. It is comical to them as it makes no sense. That there is both "I" and "Eye" and that they are spelled so differently usually draws blank looks. They are literally struggling to comprehend the English language. I tell them that they are right, that these words do not make sense, phonetic sense and that the only way that they can learn them is to memorize them - and that is what the lesson is - a memory lesson.

These children are familiar with memory lessons because they have had many. If they aren't doing a memory work themselves on any giving day in my classroom, another student/s is. They are done almost everyday by one student or another.

At first, they are done as pairing or "fetching" with another student (let me preface this by stating that this pairing or "fetching" work is done after the initial presentation by the teacher with an individual student and that the student has already repeated that work independently several times). Two children get out two working rugs and the materials. The rugs are placed a fair distance apart from each other. On the first rug one set of the materials are placed. An example of this is the color tablets from color tablet box 2. The matching tablets are placed on the second rug across the room. At the first rug, a child sits and, using a pointer stick, identifies the specific color tablet that the second child needs to retrieve from the other rug (always using a tray) and bring back. The second child must cross the room, which has many social distractions, and hold in her mind the color of that designated tablet. When she gets to the second rug (or table) she retrieves the correct tablet, puts it on her tray and crosses back across the room to show the first child (who always remains at her rug/table) the tablet she believes is a correct match. Generally, the second child is correct. However, if she has brought the wrong color tablet the first child sends her back with it on her tray to try again.

Pairing - "fetching" color tablets. Note the pointer stick.

This memory exercise is done in my classroom with many of the sensorial, language and math materials. It is done with the sound cylinders, the cylinder blocks, the geometry cabinet, the botany cabinet. It is done with the sandpaper letters and the letters from the moveable alphabet. It is done with the the number rods and the cards. It is also done with the continent map. It is later done with fetching for large numbers such as 4,652 with the number cards used with the bead materials. This last work is generally done with a teacher and a single student.

Sound cylinders

Botany tray

Continent map

The puzzle/sight words work is done in a similar way. Only here an individual child is shown the box containing the cards. One group of cards is laid out and the adult reads the words to the child. The child then reads the cards out loud so that the teacher may help him if he struggles reading them as he can not sound them out completely. This is immediately followed by a three period lesson:

Period 1
Period 2
Period 3

After repeating this initial work with the cards several times, the next step in the lesson is given. Now the same set of cards are turned over, placed face down on a table or rug. The child is instructed to place both a sheet of paper and a pencil on a chowki or table across the room from the table were the cards are. Next, he returns to the cards and turns over only one. He stares at the card making a mental record of the word and how it is spelled. He turns the card back over and walks across the room to his paper and writes down the word. If he can not remember how to spell it or doubts himself, he returns to the card for another look and tries to record it again. After he has written all of the words in the specific set of cards, he takes his paper over to the cards, turns all the cards over and self-checks his work.

The cards from one purse are placed on the rug/table face up. Initially a three period lesson is done and then the memory lesson.

With the memory lesson, all of the cards are turned face down. Then one card is briefly turned over, looked at by the student and then turned back down.

After looking at one of the words, the student crosses the room and records the word on a sheet of paper.

The child then returns for another word. This is repeated until all of the words have been spelled. The child then independently returns and checks his work against the cards making any needed corrections.

This work needs to be repeated many times over several months so that the child may memorize twenty or so words. After a couple of months of this work, the teacher may dictate the words to a child (or a few at time) and have him write the words on a chalk board. I have done this and the children seem to enjoy it. The true evidence that the child has acquired the correct spelling is in their own writing. When "Wnz pon tm" is written "Once upon a time" a few months after using the puzzle/sight words material you know they have master it. I have to say that is a huge accomplishment because the English language truly is puzzling.

One more note: Make sure that the children are aware that the cards may be used when ever needed simply to spell a single word. Often if one of my students is writing a story or a poem and realizes that they are struggling to spell a word that they remember is a puzzle word but they don't remember how to spell it, they will get up and go to the puzzle/sight word material and find the word so as to correctly spell it. Bravo!


Jennie said...

Thank you for this wonderful post (and your wonderful blog)! Both are so, so helpful!

kimberly said...
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Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great idea ! !!!!! i was just getting so stuck with my sight words letters =))))

Anonymous said...

I teach in a Montessori house in India. I was wondering what activities to do after introducing sight words list. came across this and this is a wonderful exercise. I am sure my children will enjoy this .Thanks for sharing this