word building, Montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases

Word Building and Writing Phrases: 1 Important New Lesson

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Montessori word building: writing phrases with the moveable alphabet

At this point, your child has been practicing quite a bit with word building, such as writing word families with the Montessori moveable alphabet. 

You can move on to writing phrases when you have observed that she is solid with writing several words, which is really cool!

You can tell your child, “A phrase is a group of words that go together,” and give her examples, like: 

  • a pretty picture
  • a sunny day
  • a good book
  • hot sun

The fun part about writing phrases is that it’s an intro to writing sentences, and we start to learn how to form a string of words that go together visually. 

And children can practice this even though they are not writing with a pencil yet.

In this post, I’ll share one important new lesson we learn while writing phrases. I’ll also share how it went with my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Annie, at home! 

Word building phrases Pin 1

In This Post

How does word building prepare for reading?

According to Mikkaka Overstreet’s article in Book RiotWhat Is The Best Way To Teach Reading? A Literacy Professor Weighs In,

"The best phonics instruction includes hands-on practice building words, practicing skills with developmentally appropriate texts, and getting targeted guidance. There’s no need to drill kids to death and make them hate reading. Phonics can be phun!"

Building words with moveable letters strengthens your child’s familiarity with letter sounds, symbols, and phonics practice. 

We can expand this even further by exploring writing phrases. 

In my experience as a Montessori teacher, I have found that the children are empowered and motivated when they can express their thoughts and visually build their words with moveable letters. 

Also, the fact that they are not pressured to write their thoughts with a pencil if they’re not ready yet truly helps their excitement with writing.

Writing phrases is fun while deepening their imagination and confidence in writing and reading. 

word building, Montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases
building phrases with the moveable letters

How to do the writing phrases lesson

What you will need

You’ll need a moveable alphabet, a box with 26 partitions containing letters, and several in each section. The letters are blue (vowels) and red or pink (consonants), the same as the Sandpaper Letters

They are also shaped the same. You can use cursive or print, but be sure to be consistent with what you’ve been using previously with your child.

To read more about the moveable letters and how to make your own set or download my DIY printable, see my blog post, Simple Letter Recognition: 4 Engaging Moveable Alphabet Ideas

Note: at this point in the sequence, you could use a small moveable alphabet which has smaller letters and more letters. A DIY printable would be suitable because the letters are small, and you could print out several copies of each letter.

word building, Montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases
Learning to write phrases

Step-by-step: phrase writing with the moveable alphabet

Invite your child to write phrases with the moveable letters with you.

Sit on your child’s dominant side.

Bring the movable letters box to the rug or table, and place it in the upper left-hand corner.

Open the box and recall with your child that she has often used the movable alphabet to write words.

Say to your child that today we are going to write phrases. Explain that a phrase is a group of words about one thought.

Say, “Let’s write the phrase ‘hot pot’.”

word building, Montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases
let's write the phrase, hot pot

Repeat the phrase and encourage your child to write the first word.

After writing the first word, show your child that space is needed before writing the next word.

Invite your child to write the second word.

word building, Montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases
write the phrase, fat rat

Read the phrase to your child and continue to dictate phrases to write—for example, fat rat, big pig, tan mat, or sad dog.

At the end of the lesson, replace the letters in the box and return them to the shelf.

Building Phrases: Presentation 2

word building, Montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases
phrases with blends and phonograms

After you have explored building phrases with simple three-letter phonetic words, you can write phrases with longer words and consonant blends (such as: pl, sk, fr, lk)  and phonograms (such as: ee, sh, ai, ch).

Be sure to review the green double sandpaper letters to learn the phonograms.

The same procedure is followed as above. Some ideas for phrases could be:

blue book
loud boy
short trip

I created a phrase writing cheat sheet that contains 60 phrases that you can dictate to your child for writing with the moveable letters.

I also created the lesson plan that goes with this blog post. 

If you’d like to download the cheat sheet and the lesson plan, sign up for the resources library at the bottom of this post. If you’re already a subscriber, check my most recent email for the updated password for the resource library. 

word building, montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases, printable
Phrase Writing Cheat Sheet Printable
phrase writing lesson plan mock up
Phrase Writing Lesson Plan Printable

More ideas for building words

Once you have explored writing various phrases with your child, you could try different variations. For instance, you could use pictures or objects of phrases. 

You could have a basket of objects like a flat pan, a pink pig, a blue pen, red book. Or you could have a collection of pictures, including a fast jet, hot sun, a fat cat, and a big dog.

It could be tricky to find objects, but pictures could work better if you’re searching for something specific. 

Another idea is to create phrase cards with phrases written on them. You can dictate the phrase to your child, flip the card over and have your child write the phrase. Then your child turns over the card to check her work. 

Also, try dictating to your child common phrases or words, like opposites, that go together, such as:

  • sink and float
  • in and out
  • red and black
  • wind and rain
  • hot and cold
  • up and down
word building, Montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases
fat rat

Come up with words that rhyme:

  • cat in the hat
  • a boy with a toy
  • a man with a pan
  • the blue glue

You could pick one word and then come up with different ways to describe it:

  • hot pan
  • red pan
  • big pan
  • deep pan

Additional ideas include writing items on a menu or writing longer phrases, sentences, and stories. I will go into further detail about writing sentences and stories in my upcoming blog posts. 

Older children can dictate phrases to each other to write. 

Also, children writing with a pencil can record their words on paper or with chalk and a chalkboard or a dry-erase board. 

Tips about word building and writing phrases

word building, Montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases
writing big pig

Tip # 1: Be sure only to use the phonetic elements your child has previously worked with. In other words, don’t get into more challenging words with the phonograms (ee, oy, ch) if she hasn’t learned them yet with the green double sandpaper letters.

My daughter Annie has not explored the green sandpaper letters too much, so we have not written words or phrases with the phonograms yet. She seems to enjoy exploring writing words with her inventive spelling, and that is encouraged. 

Tip #2: Don’t force your child to read the phrase. If you observe that she starts to read the words independently, that’s great! It means she’s ready for reading.

I’ve noticed that Annie tries to sound out some of the words independently, but I don’t force this and let her go at her own pace.

Tip #3: Don’t force your child to record her work with a pencil if she’s not ready yet. Some children writing may request doing so and recording phrases on a chalkboard, dry-erase board, or paper.

Annie loves to write her name. Sometimes, she will write other letters if she asks me how to spell something. She is more interested in drawing pictures and writing her name at this stage.

Tip # 4: Your child should be encouraged to write phrases independently. When working alone, she may not be using conventional spelling. She will learn correct spelling later on in the language sequence. 

Tip #5: Continue to guide your child from left to right in writing if needed.

Tip # 6: Using the Three Period Lesson, you may need to teach some of the most common sight words (a, the, and, an). My next blog post will cover sight words!

1 important new lesson with writing phrases

word building, Montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases
you need a space between the words

When doing the phrases lesson with the children, the big new lesson that comes to mind is learning about spaces between words

When we first started writing single words at a time, the children learned to place the letters beside each other without any space. But now, we need to explore leaving a space between words.

I also notice this space lesson with the children writing with a pencil. Usually, they feel comfortable with writing their names. But when they start to write their last names, they often string all the letters in one letter jumble. 


word building, Montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases
two finger space between words

This phrase-building lesson helps the children to begin practicing spacing between words. With the moveable alphabet, I usually tell the child to place a “two-finger space” between the words. 

When writing with a pencil, we usually say to leave “one finger space” between words. 

This practice will help prepare for when your child starts to write sentences and stories

word building, Montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases
I wrote the phrases!

Concluding Thoughts about writing phrases

Annie enjoyed writing phrases, and it was fun for her to learn about leaving a two-finger space in between the words. I thought this was a great point of interest to focus her attention on.

When you sit down with your child to write phrases, it’s important to remember to dictate phrases with the phonetic elements she already knows. 

Annie is still working on simple three-letter phonetic words and some consonant blends. We have not done too much with phonograms (ch, ee, ai, oy) yet. We will practice longer and more challenging words as she learns these phonetic sounds and symbols. 

Although she is interested in writing all kinds of words, I encourage her to explore inventive spelling. She ultimately got the concept of “phrases” and started coming up with her ideas, like “cute kitty” or “large puppy.” 

These phrases are not phonetic or at her level, but I thought it was very creative of her to develop them independently and try to write the sounds she hears with inventive spelling. 

I noticed that writing phrases was long, and she was getting tired. Four-year-olds should take it slow and write no more than three phrases in one sitting. 

Building words and phrases is challenging, but it should also be fun and exciting for your child! You’re setting her up for success; we want her to love writing and reading.

Note: check out the handwriting sequence next, in my blog post, 5 Handwriting Practice Activities That Are Engaging and Fun

Have you worked on any word building with moveable letters? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below! 


More Montessori Resources

Word building phrases Pin 2

I created a phrase writing cheat sheet that contains 60 phrases that you can dictate to your child for writing with the moveable letters.

I also created the lesson plan that goes with this blog post. 

If you’d like to download the cheat sheet and the lesson plan, sign up for the resources library at the bottom of this post. If you’re already a subscriber, check my most recent email for the updated password for the resource library. 

Word building and writing phrases with the Montessori moveable alphabet

word building, montessori, moveable alphabet, writing phrases, printable
Phrase Writing Cheat Sheet Printable
phrase writing lesson plan mock up
Phrase Writing Lesson Plan Printable

36 thoughts on “Word Building and Writing Phrases: 1 Important New Lesson”

  1. Ah yes, this is fun! We didn’t have those materials when my kids were young, but we did have Junior Scrabble, where the child first follows the spelling on a card using the tiles. That’s how my kids learned. Montessori way is very effective.

  2. This is a great way for kids to start learning to read. Understand the alphabet sounds and be able to make words or even sentences.

  3. I love this idea! Such a great way to teach spelling and reading in a fun way that will keep them engaged.

  4. I have not seen a method like this for educating children in words, spelling and preparation for reading. Something like this would be nice to have in my home for those after dinner ‘down time’ hours.

  5. You never fail to wow me with the depth and detail in your posts.. I recall teaching my own kids to read (now they are 20 and 17) with similar techniques and it makes learning reading and writing so much more fun..

    1. Hi Vidya,

      Thank you so much for your kind words and I’m so happy that you enjoy reading my posts about Montessori reading!

  6. You really offer a great summary of Montessori word building. The pictures and step-by-step instructions on writing phrases with the moveable alphabet is perfect for parents. Thank you for sharing!

  7. I appreciate this sharing because I was a secondary school teacher but now need ideas for my 3.5 year old! 🙂

  8. Lisa, Casey, Barrett Dog

    What a great way to do word building and writing phrases. Thank you for sharing.

  9. This Montessori word building activity sounds like such a great way to help children develop their language skills. It’s wonderful to hear that children can start to learn how to form phrases and sentences visually before they even start writing with a pencil. I love how this approach encourages children to be creative with language and gives them the opportunity to practice writing in a fun and engaging way. Thank you for sharing this idea!

    1. Hi Sangeetha,
      I agree that it’s wonderful that children can start word building and begin to write their thoughts even before they’re ready to pick up a pencil!

  10. These are such great tips to help your child learn! Can’t wait to try some of these tips when I have a kid one day!

  11. I love this so much! It’s so thorough, and I love the tips and step-by-step instructions. Thank you for sharing it!

  12. Barbie Ritzman

    Love this idea to help kids understand words. I like the fun old school way of adding this into the learning cycle.

  13. Your article on word building is an insightful read.
    The way you’ve explained word roots and affixes is quite impressive.
    I appreciate the effort you’ve put into creating this resource.

  14. What a great way to learn spelling, this is so much fun. I like the two colours combined together as well, that just makes it all more interesting. Just excellent.

    1. Hi Ivana,

      Yes, I agree! Having blue for vowels and pink/red for consonants is helpful for word building with the moveable alphabet!

  15. The Montessori method utilizes the instructional strategy of word building with a moveable alphabet of some sort as an inherent tool for literacy instruction. I need this for my young kids.

  16. briannemanzb

    Word building is a great tool for reading instructions. As young children become familiar with the letter names and the sounds of the alphabet, they begin to read.

  17. Hhhmmm….this is such a cool learning idea for the family. Word-building helps a young brain recall words as well as create some, “from scratch”, if need be.

  18. Rose Ann Sales

    This is a really great and it seems very effective! I’m surely going to try this for my son

  19. As a high school English teacher, I love seeing lessons like this as it was never in my teacher prep program! Now with kids of my own, I want to teach them as much as possible, but have no clue to start – this is awesome and even gives me lesson ideas at the high school level!

  20. This is such a cool way to help kids understand words, sentences and how they intertwine. I often wonder how we ever learn to talk and write and create sentences! It all seems so simple now, but I’m sure there was a time when it was incredibly difficult to comprehend.

    1. Hi Nyxie,
      That is a great point! I’m happy that you enjoyed reading about word building.

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