Montessori Education: Learning to Read Is Child's Play

Moveable Alphabet Idea

Randall Klein
Assistant Director of Training

Last night on our Webinar Learning to Read is Child’s Play Part 2, Mary Ellen and I gave great emphasis to the building or encoding of words with the moveable alphabet. I want to share with our worldwide Montessori friends a simple idea that may bring new life to the trusty Moveable Alphabet box beyond the initial three-letter work.

4 letter short vowel wordsI created a set of 28 cards, each containing a picture of a 4-letter short vowel word, like sled, tent, jump. The child simply chooses the cards with the pictures that interest him and then builds the word by first segmenting the word into phonemes and then choosing the letters necessary to write the word. (Phoneme segmentation is what allows the child to be independent in this work.)

It was always important to me that my students experienced the encoding of 4-letter words, which requires more advanced phoneme segmentation than 3-letter words. Remember, the encoding of words is the best preparation for decoding. And encoding or writing words is an application of the alphabetic principle that activates the left hemisphere and “connects the new visual experience to areas already devoted to speech and comprehension.” It is the left hemisphere that is highly activated in good readers. (Here is a  link to a great article below that explains why encoding is so important.)

Build a Word CardMy friend Jan in Denver introduced these cards to her students and got a wonderful response.  She sent me several photos and some great feedback on what the children like about this activity.

Let me know what you think. Would you like to try this activity in your classroom or home?

If so, email me at and I will email you a pdf file you can print out onto cardstock and introduce to your students. In return, I would be grateful for photos of happy children working with this or other encoding activities and some constructive feedback about making the activity a success.

Herron, Jeannine (2008). Why Phonics Teaching Must Change. The Positive Classroom, 66, 77-91.

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