Making Words on a Budget

So one of my favorite things to do when teaching phonics is “making words” as a class. It’s so fun for both the students and me! For those of you who aren’t teachers or haven’t been lucky enough to try it yet, I’ll give you a quick run down.

The teacher instructs all students to get specific letters. This could look like letters on paper, letter tiles, magnetic letters, etc. The teacher then instructs the students to create words with different prompts, like “a three letter word that starts with ‘c’ and ends with ‘t.’ It has the ‘a’ sound in the middle.” Then the teacher checks that the students have spelled “cat.” Next the teacher might say “switch one letter to spell the word ‘mat.'” See! Fun! You create all sorts of words with the letters that have been brought out and even let the students make a mystery word that uses all the letters. There’s a great book (found HERE) with tons of lessons that are completely guided. Students LOVE them.

I’ve been racking my brain on how I could bring this into my classroom this year. I knew I couldn’t afford to buy letter tiles or even make them from tiles found at a hardware store. Paper was out of the question considering the extreme budgeting we are doing at our school. I gave the whole system up as lost until a teacher friend offhandedly suggested using foam.


Today I decided to head to Hobby Lobby with my 40% off coupon in search of foam and a way to store my letters once they had been cut. It was a huge success – I found a 50 pack of fun bright foam pieces for $6. Once I used my coupon, it was only $3.50! I was pumped. I looked around for storage and was not disappointed – Hobby Lobby had plastic jewelry storage for $2 – I got 2. The whole project cost me about $8!!! I call that success!

Once I got home and finished planning my week, I allowed myself to work on the project I was so excited for! I started by figuring out how exactly I wanted it to work. I decided that 1×1 inch squares would be perfect. I would cut one inch strips and then cut them again. Each piece will have a capital letter on one side that lowercase letter on the other.

I cut the strips while watching Pride and Prejudice so it felt not only enjoyable, but quite productive 🙂 I have 23 students in my class so I decided to put 25 letters in each slot compartment for the time being. I made 50 Os, As, and Es so accommodate words with several vowels. I’m also sure that I will need doubles of some letters so I cut extra squares in preparation.

The consonants are all yellow or green and the vowels are hot pink!

Tomorrow I will finish writing the letters and it will be ready for use in my classroom! I am also using the rest of my foam pieces to make large letters to put in my pocket chart. That way I can do a large example as my students work on their own at their desks. I’m really excited to do this activity with my kids because I know they have not been able to do it before and they LOVE hands on learning. I’m going to introduce it as a privilege at first so they understand that they need to treat the materials with respect or we won’t be able to do it anymore. Hopefully they’ll love it as much as I do and we’ll get to do lessons all year!

I also hope that you were able to find this useful and maybe even make your own set for your classroom on a budget! 🙂


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