How to make a thumb-indexed word book

Make a thumb indexed Word Book….

……and help create independent spellers and independent writers


A thumb indexed word book, made from an everyday exercise book, encourages fewer spelling mistakes and encourages independent spelling and writing. It encourages pupils to broaden their vocabulary, as they are not so tempted to confine their written work with only easy to spell words. If used properly, it also saves teacher marking time!


The thumb index style feels grown up for primary school pupils and business like for secondary pupils. It also helps children to have a better visual image of the order of the letter patterns within a word as well as the order of the alphabet. With each page labelled with the appropriate letter in both its upper case and lower case form, it also reminds children of the difference.


Words in the word books are private to the owner, so no embarrassing lists of easy words on the word wall for the older pupil of below average literacy attainment. Put subject based words up on the wall, even choose ones that will impress his peers, but everyday ones that he has still not grasped can go privately in his own thumb indexed Word Book


The word books take a little time for the teacher to set up, but they save endless hours of red marking and spelling testing. They certainly encourage pupils to broaden their written vocabulary and in so doing greatly improve the quality of their written work.


This is what you do

Lots of teachers like the idea of these books and ask how to make them. Like lots of practical things, it is easier to show and demonstrate than to describe in written words, but I shall try my best. 


1) Open the exercise book so you have the first lined page in front of you.


2) In top right corner, write the two letters aA. Cut about a 1 inch horizontal line directly under these two letters, until you meet the margin line,  then cut down the margin. (You will have removed a thin strip of paper about one inch by eight inches if it is a normal size exercise book. Save the strips for poetry writing!


Click here for page on Poetry Writing


3) Now you can see where to write bB at the top of the next double page and below the aA, so write bB. Then make a horizontal, one inch cut directly under the letters bB, until you reach the margin line and then cut down the margin line. You will thus remove a second thin strip of paper. By now you can see the stepping of the cuts that make the thumb indexing.


4) Continue like this until you have completed the alphabet. (You may have to put xX, yY and zZ. on the same page.) Now all the cutting is finished.


5) To sub divide the consonant pages, use the left hand side page and, in you mind’s eye, divide it into 5 vertical columns. Don’t draw these lines as you will find some words the children want are too wide to fit in the column. Label these columns as follows. On the bB page, on left hand side page, head up the blends


       ba                  be                  bi                  bo                  bu 


Similarly, on the cC page write the blend headings


       ca                  ce                  ci                  co                  cu


and so on. The empty right hand side page is for other blend or digraph word starters.   

How the word book works. The child should always have easy access to the word book. I made bags to hang on the backs of chairs in order to ensure this. The child thinks of the word and realises he cannot spell it. He opens the word book at the appropriate page, checking that the word he wants is not already there, and then he asks the teacher for it.The teacher, with the child watching, writes the word, with near perfect balance of letter sizes and maybe does a small sketch beside the word to help the visual memory,(the brain at this stage, remembers pictures easier than words). The teacher points out any particular letter string pattern, or words in the word to help the child remember, like “put the tea in teacher”, or your friend can come round on Fri at the end of the week, so put those two things in the word “friend”.

Once the word is in the book, there is no reason for the child to mis spell it in future, and the more he refers to or uses the word, the sooner he absorbs it into his visual memory and, after a while, he will not need to look it up.


  Hurrah for word books!

 Different thumb indexed word book users have said: 

 “Word books are fun!”

  “When you have a word book you don’t feel you have to use easy words to get your spelling right in your story writing.”

 “I like to use my word book to help me spell more interesting and harder words in my writing compositions”.

  I feel like a journalist when I use my word book, sort of grown up! I love the thumb indexed bit about it”.

“I found J’s word book with no cover on it. I opened it and knew it was J’s. It had all his favourite big words in for his dinosaur project. J loves dinosaurs and now he likes to write about them! The words were too hard for him to spell before he had a word book. He tried to spell them, but the teacher put a red line through the bad spelling and J felt fed up!”



2 thoughts on “How to make a thumb-indexed word book

  1. Thank you SO much Chris, what a brilliant idea with the thumb index book – I’m off to buy the appropriate book this morning and get it all ready when next I help my granddaughter with her spelling.
    You are a true gem and I wish you lots more success with your website. Brilliant!! thank you!

    • I am glad you like the idea Hilda. It encourages spellers to gain a clear visual image of the shape and letter string pattern of words and the thumb index style makes it not only quicker for them to find the word, but also makes them feel quite grown up. Happy spelling! It can be fun and doesn’t have to be painful!

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