The Word Collector, by Peter H. Reynolds, is a joyous introduction to the charms of discovering, savoring and sharing new words.

This simple picture book is an ideal mentor text to start your students collecting delicious new words to use in both their writing and their reading lives.

In this blog post, we'll focus on helping your students collect new words for their reading. Today, we'll hone in on the delights of decoding gigantic, multisyllabic words that are MARVELOUS to SAY.

We'll design our strategy specifically to help struggling older readers. 

For struggling and advanced readers alike, being able to
  • correctly pronounce and 
  • accurately understand the meaning of a new multisyllabic word 
are two separate, discreet skills.

Unlike early readers, who are learning to decode words they already know the meaning of ("cat" and "dog") - readers of multisyllabic words are faced with a double task.

~Readers learning multisyllabic words must often decode a new word and decipher its meaning at the same time.~

Readers learning multisyllabic words must often 1. decode the new word and 2. decipher its meaning - at the same time.

For readers who struggle, either task can be daunting. For these readers, trying to take on both tasks simultaneously can be overwhelming.

This is why I recommend helping your students focus on one of these tasks at a time.


Learning the meanings of new vocabulary words is a delightful and important skill.

But first I want to give my struggling decoders the keys they need to decipher new multisyllabic words, and later, discover their meanings.  To paraphrase the proverb, I want to teach them to fish:

Because if they know how to decode a multisyllabic word, they'll have the same opportunity their more skilled reading peers have - to read longer texts containing longer words, enjoying and discovering delightful new words on their own.

Later, we'll delve into interesting new vocabulary. But, meanwhile, they can set off on their own, soaring to whatever heights they may be able to achieve as independent readers.

Advanced readers often decode and correctly pronounce new words without knowing their meanings.

As they read the word they internalize the context in which they find it. They eventually come to understand its meaning, adding it to their collection of known words.

Struggling older decoders can also start by learning to decode large, multisyllabic words they may not yet know the meanings of.  They will encounter these words when they attempt to read the books their peers are reading - and which they secretly or not-so-secretly long to also read:


  • How to Train Your Dragon: transformation, inheritance, viciously, sniveling, misadventures    
  • Peter and the Starcatchers: dispassionate, riveting, tentative, hovering, swiveling, malignant    
  • Eragon: vigorous, tributary, uninhabited, involuntarily, numerous, myriad, dominance, brutish
  • Ranger's Apprentice: tactical, cascading, gingerly, enameled, concealment, luminous, valiant
  • Among the Hidden: squinted, welling, giddy, deranged, bereavement, unbidden, exempt
  • Once Upon a Marigold: exhilarated, dismissive, trousseau, mutiny, demented, tankards
  • The Goose Girl: silvery, betrothed, noticeably, vanquished, endeavors, coercive, negotiations
  • The Bad Beginning: puttanesca, obnoxious, explanatory, horrendous, testily

Once our readers successfully decode these multisyllabic words, they will sometimes recognize the words and their meanings.  Other times, they'll need to look to context to discover the meanings.  Occasionally, context will be no help - but our readers will be ready with the correct or near-correct pronunciation when the opportunity presents to learn the meaning.

Developmentally, older readers put great value on the length of the words they can decode.  Ask nearly any struggling older reader if they would like to be able to read GIGANTIC words, and they will enthusiastically reply, "yes!"

When I begin teaching my struggling older decoders to read multisyllabic words, I start with the "longest" word in the English language.  Then I scaffold and support them to decode and read it.  Their pride and increased confidence is immediate.  They are impressed with their words and impressed with themselves.

So, once I've taught them how to decode gigantic words (here):

it's time to read The Word Collector and share the fun of collecting words.

Jerome, in Peter Reynolds' The Word Collector, collects words large and small, reveling in their beauty.

He enjoys words whose meanings resonate, and words enchanting simply for their sounds - "multi-syllable words that sounded like little songs" - torrential, infinitesimal, vociferous, effervescent.


The Word Collector is a simple, easy read. Its illustrations are a bit young for older audiences, but its themes are universal.  With some groups, I might use the book as a jumping off spot for the ideas the book introduces, rather than spending a lot of time on the pages themselves. Other groups will enjoy the story as is.

TIMING: How much time we spend on this activity depends on how much time we have available and what else we need to cover.

I try to keep in mind that the purpose is celebrating and cherishing words. How much time I give an activity is also determined by how much the topic has captured the interest of a particular group. Each group is different. What enthralls one group can leave other students cold. 

If some of my readers don't enjoy the collecting activities, I differentiate by redirecting them to other activities designed to build their decoding, vocabulary or comprehension skills. I can come back to word appreciation another time in another format.  For struggling older readers, there's no time to waste!



I'm envisioning the giant wall of diversity my fifth grade class participated in one year. Every student cut pictures from magazines to represent diversity - of ages, genders, races, religions, abilities, sizes, shapes and looks. Each student created a page of pictures. Each student's page was connected to the other pages in the class. Each class's pages were displayed on the walls outside their classroom. The entire school was one giant collage of the celebration of life. It was beautiful to see.

You can go big - like our school's giant school-wide wall of diversity - and create one giant schoolwide wall of word-wonder. Or assemble a single multisyllabic word collage together as a class or small group. Alternatively, each student or family can collect their own page of multisyllabic words.


  • Give each student three or four of the hardest, longest chapter books you can find (the more difficult the text, the easier the task of finding multisyllabic words will be.) Students open the books to any page and skim for interesting words.  They can search for the longest words, the weirdest-looking words, mysterious words with unknown meanings, words with cool sounds or the prettiest-looking words. Any multisyllabic words will do.  The hunt is on!  
  • The biggest challenge for struggling writers will be copying fatigue and copying the spelling correctly. (If I know a particular group may have trouble copying legibly enough, I ask them to jot page numbers down as they go.  We can go back and verify together if needed.)
  • Cut out multisyllabic words you find in print - from mailer advertisements and magazines, etc. 
  • The appeal of this activity is students have the kinesthetic opportunity of cutting and gluing without having to worry about handwriting and spelling challenges. Print can be harder to find these days, though.
  • Give students notepads or sticky notes to write down interesting multisyllabic words they encounter as they read. This gives them a chance to connect the activity with their real-life reading.  
  • Possible challenges: interrupts reading and can slow readers down, can interfere with comprehension and bog down struggling readers.  Some of the same issues with copying correctly and legibly enough as discussed above.
  • Offer the activity as a home study challenge to families to do together.  Lots of multisyllabic words can be found on signs around town, particularly for families that live in suburban areas with lots of strip malls, etc. TV commercials, ads in movie theaters, and website articles all have multisyllabic words.  Families can carry notebooks, sticky notes or note cards with them to jot down cool words they find.  Or they can gather a bunch of challenging chapter books or coffee table books and open them up to see what delicious multisyllabic words they contain.
  • This can be done as a digital activity, with students typing, then dragging and dropping their words into a collage.  You can find collage-maker apps for your students' iPads, tablets, etc. Or, your students can simply type - or even better, cut and paste - then drag and drop using whatever word processor they normally use.


  • Write words using glitter gel pens, or all in crazy styles, or all in crayon, etc.
  • Struggling readers can keep a small collage page in their journal or interactive notebook or reading folder. Each time the student masters a challenging, multisyllabic word, they add it to their Wonder Word Collage.  Readers can periodically read all the words on the collage as a review activity to keep mastery fresh.  At the end of each quarter, the teacher photocopies the collage and places it in the student's assessment portfolio. The student takes the original home to show to their family.
  • You can make the collages into shapes to match the seasons - Fill Valentine Heart shaped paper, or Fall Leaves shaped paper, etc. Write the words on colored paper to match the season.
  • If your language arts class maintains an interactive notebook, you can devote a few pages to the collection of cool words.

After students collect the printed or written words, they can glue them together to make a collage.


  • Overlap words when possible
  • Make sure that all or most of the word is visible and readable. 
  • Try to leave no "white space."  Fill up all the gaps, when possible.
  • One differentiation strategy is to allow struggling readers/writers who find it difficult to collect a large number of words to use words more than once.


  • Making a collage, while fun for many, can also be frustrating, hard, messy work.  Many struggling decoders also face fine motor challenges. Cutting and arranging and gluing - without accidentally covering up words, getting covered in glue, having te words get smunched and ruined - can drive some students to tears.
    • Offer options, such as working in a group and being the "cutter" or the "finder" while a teammate does the gluing.
    • Allow students to "hire out" the cutting and gluing part.  They can barter small jobs in exchange for friends, classmates or family members' help.  It's OK to get help on this - the goal is practice and having fun with words.
  • Make the collage from written words, rather than cutting and gluing.




You and your students might like to organize the multisyllabic words you collect.

Here's how Jerome organized his words:

  • Words We Enjoy Hearing
  • Words We Enjoy Seeing
  • "Short and Sweet" Words
  • "Two-Syllable Treats"
  • Multisyllable Words "That Sound Like Little Songs"
  • Words We Don't Yet Know The Meaning Of, But Are "MARVELOUS To Say"
  • Words Whose "Sounds Are Perfectly Suited To Their Meaning"
  • Words Organized by Topic: "Science" "Sad" "Poetic" etc.

First, have your students gather fascinating new words, then together you can brainstorm categories into which they might be sorted. There are many topics the words might fall under: sports, pets, warfare, courage, kindness, friendship, learning, change, etc.

  • There aren't specific right or wrong answers for what category a word can go under. Keep in mind, the purpose of this activity is simply the enjoyment of words. For example, "vanquished" might go under the category "warfare" or "strong" or "eliminated" etc. It could be under "words we love to say," "these words have a cool sound," or "scary words." 
  • I recommend collecting the words first, then sorting them into relevant categories. It's much more difficult to pick a category, then try to find enticing new words to fit into that category. It's much less stressful and more successful to sort the words you've already found.
As a group activity, you can put the collected words on the white board, then brainstorm the categories and sort them.  Another way to approach this is for individuals to create categories in a notebook or an interactive notebook, or on simple lined paper.
  • Individual readers will tackle this project in a variety of ways, consistent with their own styles.  Some readers will absolutely become obsessed with collecting and meticulously organizing their words. (I totally love watching that one student who is completely immersed in the challenge or thrilled by the opportunity to organize. I love to step back and watch the amazing things some students can do with an activity!) Other readers may not want to collect words at all.



Another way to organize collected words is to list them in an alphabetical mini-dictionary. Your students can keep their own A-Z booklets, or you can keep one for the group altogether.

Keeping a multisyllabic word collection can be a year-long or shorter-term project.

You can make these simple dictionary-like journals using spiral notebooks, composition books, 3-hole prong notebooks, lined paper, etc.

Just label one or two pages with each of the letters of the alphabet, in alphabetical order.

Students will record their found words on the page corresponding to the first letter of the word - just like in a dictionary.

This mini-dictionary is formatted much like a traditional Spelling Dictionary - which lists words alphabetically, but omits definitions.




Inspire curiosity and wonder - spread the words!

Jerome "smiled as he emptied his collection of words into the wind."

You and your students can share your collected words.

  • Consider collecting and writing, then literally tossing your biodegradable words into the wind.
  • Find a nature walk and place words under leaves, in tree branches and on rocks.
  • For a "non-littering" version, students can carefully scatter their collected words around the classroom, school and home.
  • Place words in nooks and crannies for others to find and enjoy. Tuck them into bookshelves, slide under chairs, hide under baskets, place behind pencil sharpeners, deposit onto coffee tables, site on shelves.



"Jerome began stringing words together. Words he had not imagined being side by side."

Rearrange your found words.  Let your students have fun putting words together in new, unique pairings.

Match words for their pleasing sounds or strange or powerful meanings.

Put together
"Thundering artist"
"Fastening Resources"
"Tropical Philanthropy"
"Roasting Research"


For many struggling and reluctant older readers, words are painful reminders of their struggles and their failures.  Even now, some striving readers will have difficulty decoding and recognizing or making sense of gigantic, multisyllabic words.

Go softly with these activities.  Be aware of how your readers are receiving them. Are they helping your readers love words? Or are your struggling readers perceiving these activities as just more hard work and additional opportunities to show their failures to their peers?

These activities are meant to be about celebrating the joys of trying on new words.  The activities are here to help you provide structure. Remember to keep the focus on the celebration and enjoyment - in ways specific to your readers' needs.

One way to differentiate is to allow readers to work in pairs or small groups to create their collages, keep their mini-dictionaries, or plot and plan their "words into the wind" activities. Some readers work better in pairs, some work better as individuals, some in focused groups. Differentiate by allowing your readers to work in their best style.

For struggling readers, stick to the modeling stage with these activities. Even guided practice may be at frustration level for some readers. 

However, it's never too early to "Go Big" if you do the work. You CAN use big, gigantic words with your struggling decoders, if you focus on scaffolding and support.  Being able to work with gigantic words is a breath of fresh, life-giving air to readers who have been failing at this task for years, and for whom rational "just-right instructional-level reading" keeps them reading "baby words" year after year.

YOU collect new words you find, and publicly post them or gush about them - whatever is your style.  You start and keep a collage of the words you collect. Or a mini-dictionary, or a google document.

Don't discourage your readers from joining in and helping you add to your stash. Some readers will begin to help. Others won't. That's OK.

Maybe next year they'll have stronger decoding skills and the activity won't feel so much like failure. Maybe they'll have internalized the pleasure of hearing interesting multisyllabic words.

Maybe they'll have fallen in love with words.


For more ideas TO INSPIRE WONDER and CURIOSITY in your upper-grade classroom, check out these blog posts:

Ideas to Inspire Wonder & Curiosity

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