Build-a-Word Magnetic Tray

This Build-A-Word Magnetic Tray is perfect for your beginning reader!  Teach your child to both spell and decode using this easy-to-make tool!  

Build-A-Word Magnetic Tray


Making your own Magnetic Build-a-Word Tray is a great way to promote pre-reading skills with your preschooler or early-elementary student. The best part about this DIY tray is that it can grow with your child–adding new skills as your child progresses through the early literacy process. I’m sharing the tutorial for assembling the tray today. In the next week or so, I’ll be sharing several ways to use this tray to help with letter recognition, phonemic awareness, and decoding.


Materials for the Build-A-Word Magnetic Tray:

-A Cookie Sheet
-21 1-inch tiles,
-5 GemStones
-hot glue gun
-magnetic buttons
-a permanent marker
Mod Podge (optional).


 1. Write all lower-case consonants on your 1-inch tiles. If you want to ensure that the marker doesn’t eventually fade, you can paint over them with Mod Podge.

Edited to Add:  I highly recommend adding Mod Podge!  We have had ours for over 7 years now and none of the tiles have faded!


2. Next, write all the lower-case vowels on the alternate tiles/GemStones. If you choose, paint over with Mod Podge.


 3. Attach a magnetic button on the back of each of the tiles/GemStones using a glue gun.




 4. Write each capital letter at the top of the cookie sheet using your Sharpie and draw 5 equally-spaced stars at the bottom (I’ll explain why in a future post).




Big Brother in action with his Build-a-Word Tray!


There are so many ways to use this Build-A-Word Magnetic Tray!  Your child can match capital and lowercase letters, sound out individual sounds in words, decode words, change the beginning or ending sounds, and more!


Go ahead and make your trays and then get ready for some great pre-reading activities!

Other Activities that Use the Build-a-Word Tray:


  1. Its not magnetic, but my kids use the letters from the game Banagrams (could also use Scrabble, Scrabble Jr, etc). We ripped of the idea from the game What’s Gnu and made cards for three letter words with one or two letters missing. We have fun with it! Had my three year old spelling God and Jesus yesterday with the letters. Note: three year isn’t super gifted – we just happen to know two songs where JESUS and GOD are spelled out:)

  2. I love it so far! I am working on mine with letter tiles I used to you while teaching that have been sitting in the garage for a few years. I am using highlighter tape over the vowels. Loving using items on hand to make this new board and can’t wait to see what fun activities you have for us to use with it! Thanks!!!

  3. I don’t want to take the time to make these tiles for myself right now. Do you know where I could buy some with the vowels looking different so that I could do the activities you’re showing us? Thanks so much!

  4. What a fantastic and simple idea! Thanks so much for sharing, I am def pinning this for making myself :)

  5. This is a great adaptation to letter tiles. Cute idea. The activity itself is interesting. I posted a similar one on my site back in Nov 2011. It’s amazing how much commonality there is, but great way to teach letters to children. Any time my children can get their hands on a manipulative to learn a new concept they love it. I really like the use of the tiles-I have been finding them at Lowe’s in the discount area for another household project, so they’re really inexpensive. I am not sure about the kids using them since they are glass. We use milk caps for our letter tiles.

    1. Yes, I agree. There really is “nothing new under the sun” (or at least it doesn’t seem like it sometimes). :) As I mentioned in this post, this idea was based on the “Pathways to Reading” curriculum I used in my first grade classroom.

      The glass tiles have worked out fine for us so far. We’ve used it for several months with no problems. :)

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