Word Work for Emergent Readers (Levels A, B, and C)

Word Work for Emergent Readers (Levels A, B, and C)

Are you confused about the type of word work to do with emergent readers during guided reading? I’m going to share with you three simple word work activities I do with emergent readers during my guided reading instruction.

I’m going to focus specifically on emergent readers in this post. Those are your readers who are reading on levels A through C. My typical lesson plan is a three-day lesson plan for guided reading groups. So, I typically used the activities I’m sharing below during Day 1 for my emerging readers.

Word work activities to use with emergent reader groups

Let’s say you’re dealing with an emergent reading group reading on levels A, B, and C. For the examples today, I’m going to focus on level A, and I will go into levels B and C a little. 

In this example, we’re focusing on initial consonant sounds in words. We will also work with short vowels, but our main concentration will be on initial consonant sounds with this particular group. With that in mind, the following three activities are ones I would use in my classroom.

Activity #1 Picture Sort

One of the first activities I will do with an emergent readers group is a picture sort activity. 

Before starting, each student would get a recording sheet with the paper divided into two halves. I like keeping them in sheet protectors because they’re easy and cheap. In addition to the recording sheet, students will get a bag with the pictures inside that we’ll sort. 

You will teach and practice two different consonant sounds with the students. For this example, we will focus on the letters M and N. So, the students recording sheets will have the letter M on one side at the top and the letter N on the other.

Here is how I would do this activity with the group:

  • Teacher: Today, we’re going to think about two different sounds. We’re going to think about the sound the letter M makes and the sound the letter N makes. What sound does the letter M make?
  • Group: Mmmmm
  • Teacher: Now we’re going to focus on the letter N sound. What sound does the letter N make?
  • Group: Nnnnn
  • Teacher: Good. Today we’re going to look at different pictures and sort them on our chart based on the first sound the picture makes. So let’s do the first one together. What do you think is happening in this picture? [Show them a picture of a child napping.] What is this little boy doing?
  • [Some students might say sleep.]
  • Teacher: Yes, it does look like sleep. Can you think of another word that can tell us what he’s doing that has the mmm or nnn sound?
  • Group: Taking a nap. [If they don’t say “nap,” you can tell them.]
  • Teacher: What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word “nap”? Let’s all say it together. Nnnn. What letter makes the nnn sound?
  • Group: N
  • Teacher: So, we lay our picture under the letter “n.”

It’s very simple because we are sorting pictures based on their initial consonant sound. We will do a second example with students, then have them complete the rest of the pictures independently. I will tell them that I want to hear them stretching the words out and making the sounds. While they complete the activity, you can observe what they are doing and write your anecdotal notes. 

You can use three or four initial consonant sounds when doing this activity with level C readers. Adding these extra letters allows you to differentiate the instruction and make it more difficult for them.

Activity #2 Making Words

I talk about this making words activity a lot because it’s an activity I do with my students all the time. It’s an extremely important skill they need to work on.

I will focus on changing the initial consonant sounds only for my level A group. I will focus on changing the initial and final consonant sounds for level B readers. And, for level C readers, I will focus on changing the initial and final consonants along with the medial short vowel sound.

So, for example, let’s imagine we’re working with a level A group. We are using “an” and working on a short vowel sound along with onset and rhyme because we’ll change the initial consonant sound. 

Each student will have a recording sheet with six lines to write words.

Here is how I would lead this activity:

  • Teacher: Okay, boys and girls, I want you to make the word “can.” Can. Let’s stretch out that word. [Stretch out the sounds as you say the word.] What’s the first sound you hear in “can”?
  • Group: [Makes the sound.]
  • Teacher: Good. So, what letter do we have in front of us that makes that sound? 
  • Group: C
  • Teacher: We have a C. Good. What’s that middle sound we hear? [Sound out the ah sound.] It’s an A, good. What’s the last sound we hear in the word “can”? We hear “nnn.” So we will put an ‘n’ at the end. Very good boys and girls, you just made the word “can.” Let’s do that together. [Stretch out the phonemes.] Point to each letter and make the sound. C. A. N. Can.
  • Teacher: We’re going to write the word “can” on our recording sheet.
  • Group: [Writes down the word.]
  • Teacher: Boys and girls, I want you to change the word “can” to the word “fan.” Let’s change the word “can” to the word “fan.” [Really accentuate the f sound at the beginning.] What sound do you hear at the beginning of that word? What do you hear?
  • Group: [Will make the f sound.]
  • Teacher: Good. What letter do we have in front of us that makes that sound? The letter is F. Let’s take out the C and put the F there. Now, let’s point to each of our letters, make the sound, and figure out the words.
  • Group: [Makes the sounds.]
  • Teacher: Good job, boys and girls. What word did it make? We made “fan.” So, let’s write it down on our chart.

Then we will change the initial sound again and repeat the process. I would keep doing this until we made six different words changing out the sounds.

How to differentiate for other level readers

So that is how we do the making words activity for level A. For Level B, I change the initial and ending consonant sound. For level C, I would change it up with the initial and vowel or the final and vowel. 

This making words activity is one that I do with all of my groups, including my fluent readers. Manipulating letters and sounds in words will help students when we get to fluent readers, and they’re dealing with multisyllabic words. 

Activity #3 Sound Box-Its

The last activity I want to share for emergent reader word work is Sound Box-Its. 

These are the boxes we use to stretch out sounds and phonemes in words. We really want to focus on phonemes in words, so students understand that letters make sounds and sounds make words. That’s our goal.

When working with a level A group, each student will have a sheet in a page protector with two or three Sound Box-Its, a dry-erase marker, and an eraser. 

Here is how I lead students through the activity:

  • Teacher: Okay, boys and girls, we’re going to make some words today. I want you to write the word “me” in these two boxes. Watch me first. [Slowly stretch out the word as you say it.] What did I hear at the beginning of “me”? Mmm. And I know that M makes that sound, so I’m going to write an M in the first box.
  • Teacher: Now let me think about what’s at the end. [This is like a think-aloud I do in front of the group. I always have them watch me, and I model it first.] Mmm – eee. Oh, I hear an E. I’m going to write an E in the second box. I made the word “me.” Let’s say it.
  • Group: Me.
  • Teacher: Let’s do it again. M
  • Group: Mmm-eeee.
  • Teacher: Now you’re going to try one. I want you to make the word “no.” No. No, you can’t have extra recess today. [It can help to put it into the context of a sentence.] Let me see you write that on your sound boxes. Let’s make the word “no.”

They are getting a hint from the start because only two Sound Box-Its are on the paper. Once they are doing well with this, you can move on to three Box-Its. 

And again, you can focus on changing that initial consonant sound, stretching out words, and focusing on short vowels as the medial sound. So you can work on that with level A too.

For level B, you will work on initial and final consonant sounds. And for level C, you will work on changing those medial vowel sounds s well. You will focus on CVC words when using Sound Box-Its for word work.


So, I do these three different activities during guided reading groups with my groups of emerging readers. You can download this freebie for the making words activity to try it with students in your classroom.

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