I found an old stack of word cards during an office sort a week or so back. These come from back in the day when I had a core group of four very low-level literacy learners.
The content of the cards was driven by the interests of the learners. They didn't cover the most common or necessary words, but rather the words my learners wanted to use in their in-class writing.
As you can see, we sometimes had a bit of an automobile theme going on. In fact, I remember using these cards along with Linda Kita-Bradley's excellent booklet, How To Find A Good Used Car.
A Good Used Car is a reading level one book that follows Al in his search for a reliable second-hand automobile. As with similar Grass Roots Press titles, the book uses black and white photos and limited text per page.
This was one of the books we would read as a group, each reader taking a page as we worked around a circle. We would read it several times - having an odd number of readers meant no one read the same page twice - and then cut out pictures from car and truck magazines. The learners and I would write captions for our pictures, and we'd put our favourites up on the classroom wall (taking them down from time to time for extra reading material). When they weren't sure of a spelling, my learners would either look it up in the book, look for an existing word card, or ask me to write it out on a new card. Sometimes the cards went into a common pile in the middle of the table. Sometimes learners kept them with their other writing tools.
The drawback to the cards lay in their number. If we compiled cards too quickly - faster than the need for them disappeared - they became impossible to sort through in any reasonable way. In the end, I abandoned them for homemade dictionaries - a typed, alphabetized word-list of all our carded words, with spaces left for words to be added. We also picked up a copy of the Oxford Picture Dictionary and, between them, these two tools sufficed to promote a great deal of independent writing.
I would use word cards again, I think. In fact, I'm thinking about using them with my Friday evening gal. But I don't think I would use these cards. I'm learning that these kind of co-created tools, for reasons that I don't quite understand, lose their effectiveness unless they are created anew with each new learner or learner group.
Still, I'm not ready to throw the cards out. Maybe I'll put them on my fridge as a reminder. Or maybe just because I'm inordinately pleased with myself.