How to…write a word chain

In our ‘how to…’ series we are going to delve into all things phonics instruction and give you our expert advice on developing confident readers.


First, what is a word chain? A word chain is a list of words used to develop phonemic awareness skills: blending, segmenting and phoneme manipulation. These are the underlying skills needed for reading. Word-chain activities are the most effective way to develop these skills. 

In a word-chain activity, the teacher will ask the pupil to build a word (with letter cards or letters) and read it. The pupil is then asked to make a change to the word; for example, “Change the word ‘pot’ to ‘pit’.” The pupil will need to identify where the change in the word has occurred and then change, remove or add the letter needed to read the new word.

What does a word chain look like?

This is an example of a word chain:

Letters: s, a, t, i, m, n, o, p

Word chain: nip – nap – tap – top – mop – map – sap – sip – tip

Many programmes include word-chain activities, but it is useful to know how to write one. This skill allows the teacher to design a word-chain activity that can address a specific difficulty a pupil may have. For example, the pupil may confuse the sound and spelling of /ch/ and /sh/. A word chain to address this difficulty would look like this:

Letters: m, u, sh, ch, n, b, f, i, p, a, r, c

Word chain: mush – much – munch – bunch – bun – shun – shin – fin – finch – inch – pinch – pin – bin – ban – bash – brash – brush – crush – crash

The two examples above use real words, and this is suitable for young pupils. For older pupils, you can also use nonsense word chains. A typical example would look like this:

Letters: b, l, i, n, a, o, t, u

Word chain: blin – blan – lan – lon – lont – lunt – lut – blut

Here are some guidelines for creating a word chain:

  1. Use one syllable words.
  2. Use spellings from the simple code. It can get very confusing if vowel digraphs are included as many of them can be pronounced in different ways.
  3. The word chain can include changing sounds, removing sounds and adding sounds.
  4. Make only one change at a time.

Check out our free word chain lists now!

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