Making and breaking

During Reading Recovery there is a small, but important part of the lesson, when the student uses magnetic letters on the whiteboard to learn about letters, and making and breaking words.

This word work teaches the student how we can take words apart, and put them together as we are reading and writing. The bigger the chunk (piece) of a word that the student can use, the more efficient reading and writing will be, e.g. th-at is quicker to read than t-h-a-t and go-ing is easier to solve than g-o-i-n-g.

The student begins with learning to identify the magnetic letters. (See Letter Identification)

The student also learns:

  • words are made up of letters,
  • we look from left to right, e.g. like is not the same as ekil,
  • letter order is important, e.g. like is not the same as ikle or leik,
  • and letters cannot be upside down or back to front etc.

The student is asked to break one letter at a time from a word. He /she physically moves the letters across the whiteboard, e.g. c-a-t, to emphasize looking at each letter in order. (Letters can be broken out of words and put back together.)

The student also does a ‘slow check, from left to right, which emphasizes the direction that the
eyes need to look through words whilst reading. (The finger is swept from left to right under the word.)

The student always begins by making and breaking the words that he / she already knows.

Eventually he / she learns to break the word into chunks, e.g. b-ed (This is called onset and rime.)


The onset can change to make a different word, e.g. c-at, f-at, b-at, th-at.

The rime can change to make a different word, e.g. me, my / c-at, c-an,c-ap.


Gradually the words become a little trickier.

Common letters that go together are introduced, e.g. sh, ch, th, ow, er.


Word endings are introduced, e.g. going, played.

The middle letter is changed to make a new word, e.g. get, got.



The student also learns to use known words to solve new words, e.g. see will help to solve tree, and play will help to make stayed.




Over time the students learn to break up words in flexible ways (a skill that is needed when reading),call-ed, c-all-ed

Good readers do not look at one letter at a time as they are reading. Instead they group chunks of letters together to make words and read them quickly. As we become better readers, our eyes are always looking ahead and grouping words together. We only stop to look at each word carefully when we notice that something is not right (does not make sense / sound right) or if we see a word that we do not know. Making and breaking teaches the student to quickly look for parts of the word that go together. 

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