My November Top Ten List: Word Study in Action
- Grades: 3–5
I’ve had many teachers ask about the word study program in my classroom, but have been hesitant to share until now because it is still a work in progress. My teaching partner and I evaluated many different spelling programs and resources looking for the "perfect" model, but nothing provided us with a totally comprehensive word study curriculum. And so we decided to create our own word study program that would incorporate word recognition, vocabulary, and phonics, as well as spelling.
READ ON to find out how students are introduced to new spelling patterns each week, take part in literacy activities in which they gain more exposure to the patterns, and practice making and sorting words. You will find word study games and activities to download, resources and templates for creating your own word lists, and a video that provides a detailed look at our word study program in action. (Hint, the video appears as a tiny player so just click on the "expand screen" icon at the bottom of the screen, second from last icon.)
Parents were very used to the weekly spelling tests that our school favored, but research shows students often memorize words for a test and then promptly forget them. Assigned spelling lists often require students to study isolated words rather than the phonics, the sounds that letters make within the words.Therefore, we tried to create a program that does not completely abandon weekly lists, but emphasizes opportunities for students to investigate and understand the patterns in words and build word knowledge that can be applied to both reading and spelling. In this post, I share the two-year process we went through to create our program and give you an overview of what word study looks like in our classroom. (While I teach 3rd grade, this post is not specific to a particular grade level.)
Word Study in Action
The video above will give you an overview of what word study looks like in our classroom, but the top ten list that follows offers a more detailed look at each component of the program and includes sample word lists, game templates, and center activities.
1. Using Inventories to Determine Students’ Stage of Spelling Development
We find it important to assess our students before jumping into our word study at the beginning of the school year. In our classroom, we give two different types of spelling inventories to gain information about each student’s developmental spelling stage and also to determine where we will start with whole-class instruction.
Words Their Way Elementary Inventory: We administer the Words Their Way Spelling Inventory during the first week of school. I like this inventory because it provides the teacher with specific information about each student’s knowledge and application of specific orthographic features. For example, in the inventory below, I can tell the student has mastered short vowels and consonant blends, but needs more work on "within word patterns," etc. This student falls in the "within word pattern" developmental stage of spelling. We use the information from this assessment to plan strategy groups and also to determine where to begin with our whole class instruction/yearlong spelling program. (If we find that most students have already mastered initial consonant blends, we will skip that unit and address it in strategy groups with the few students who need more practice.)
High Frequency Word Inventories: While the Words Their Way assessment is great for obtaining knowledge about students’ ability to apply common spelling patterns, it does not provide information about their ability to spell words outside of common spelling patterns and words that they will likely use in their everyday writing. During the first two weeks of school, we divide students into two to three groups according to their estimated spelling stage (based on the Words Their Way Inventory and on recommendations from their teachers from the previous year) and administer high frequency word inventories using the list 1200 high utility words. (The words are listed in the order of their frequency of use in everyday writing.) Some of our 3rd graders are given the first 100, and others start at 200 or even 300.
When we correct their tests, we highlight only the words that they were able to spell correctly on a recording sheet in their word study folder. Students will use this list throughout the school year to create weekly individualized high frequency word lists containing the words they spelled incorrectly on the assessment. We try to give students at least 200 words during the first two weeks of school (broken up into short testing sessions) so that they have enough misspelled words for their weekly lists. (Many students will need additional testing later in the year when they run out of misspelled high frequency words.)
2. Creating a Yearlong Plan
We used a variety of resources to determine the spelling patterns that a typical student should master in 3rd grade. Fountas and Pinnell provide a plan in their book Word Study Lessons: Grade 3 that contains a word study continuum with a suggested order for teaching common spelling patterns. My teaching partner and I looked at this and then determined a specific plan for our 3rd grade class. Download 3rd Grade Word Study Overview
After a few weeks of administering inventories and learning about your students’ spelling stages, you may find that your students still need more practice with spelling patterns. Typically, some of our students are still in the late letter-name alphabetic stage, and others are already in the syllables and affixes stage. The majority, however, seem to start the year somewhere in the within word pattern stage. (Read more about the stages of spelling development.) Since it seemed overwhelming to start students at different units within our yearlong plan, we chose to differentiate our program by having a regular list and a challenge list for each unit. That way we can challenge the students who need more difficult words, but still focus on a common spelling pattern for our whole-class instruction.
3. Making Word Lists
There are many different opinions when it comes to weekly spelling tests. We know that students do not master spelling patterns or become good spellers by memorizing words each week, but many parents like having weekly lists to study at home because they want to feel that they play a role in helping their children become better spellers. We tried to strike a balance when creating our program. We do give students a weekly list of ten words that follow the pattern we are studying. They can use the list to compare and contrast spelling patterns, and we can use it in vocabulary activities. However, our word study activities in class do not require students to simply focus on these assigned words, but contain a wide variety of words that follow the pattern we are studying for the week. Also, the final test includes ten additional words that students are not assigned. This helps us assess how well students can apply the spelling pattern to new words.
Once we determined our yearlong plan, my teaching partner and I began creating word lists for each week. This was a time-consuming task because we needed to come up with 40 words for each week.
Below is a description of how we create a word list for a single unit.
Ten Pretest Words: We first choose ten words that follow the pattern we will be introducing for the week. Students who are able to spell at least nine out of ten words correctly on the practice test receive the assigned challenge words for the week and the others receive the regular list.
Twenty Assigned Pattern Words: All students are given ten words to study for the week that follows the weekly patterns. However, we create both a challenge list and a regular list. The regular list contains ten words that follow the patterns in a basic way. The challenge list contains words that follow the patterns, but are more complex. For example, when studying long a words, the regular list might have the word brake, and the challenge list might have the word hesitate. Both words have the "magic e" pattern, but they fall into different stages of spelling development.
Ten New Pattern Words: We also choose ten pattern words that the students are not given ahead of time to study. These words are unknown to the students until the day of the test, but they have been exposed to them during the lesson and during word study center activities. This part of the test shows whether or not students are truly able to apply the weekly spelling pattern to new words that they were not just able to memorize. We tend to choose words similar in difficulty to the regular pattern word list.
Additional Words for Center Activities: We use all of the words from the 40 described above when creating games and other word study center activities, but we also include many other words that follow the weekly pattern that may not be on the list. The goal is not for students to just learn how to spell specific words, but to expose them to as many words as possible that follow the patterns. In doing so, students can compare and contrast the words and begin to internalize the way certain letters work together to make specific sounds in words that share a common pattern.
Where Do We Get the Words? We use a variety of resources to help us create our word lists including Words Their Way, the Words Their Way: Word Sorts series (with different books for each stage of spelling), Fountas & Pinnell's Word Study Lessons, and the First School Years Web site, which provides words lists for a variety of common patterns.
As this is a work in progress, I am just sharing the process we used to create the lists, not the actual lists themselves. Also, I believe that creating your own lists is the best way to most thoroughly “own” your word study program and create activities that are specific to the patterns you are teaching.
4. Word Study Folder
It is important for students to have a place to organize all of their word study materials. We use a duo-tang folder to hold the following resources:
Word Study Notebook: Students keep a small notebook in the front pocket of their folder. They use this notebook to write the five high frequency words they will be studying each week.
High Frequency Word Lists: In the middle of the folder, students have their highlighted high frequency word lists. When their corrected tests are returned to them, they highlight the high frequency words that they spelled correctly. When they make their new list for the week, they choose the next five words that are not highlighted. (Remember, words that are not highlighted are words that they spelled incorrectly on the high frequency word inventory at the beginning of the year.)
Words to Learn List: Students rewrite any pattern word that is spelled incorrectly on their test on this page. This ensures that misspelled words are not ignored. Every so often, students will have a week in which their entire spelling list is made up of these misspelled pattern words from their “Words to Learn” list.
Word Study Center Recording Sheets: Students keep all of their word study center recording sheets in the back pocket of their folder. Every couple of weeks, students staple these sheets together and turn them in to be corrected.
5. Week at a Glance
Once your yearlong plan is in place, your weekly lists are created, and you have completed your individual inventories, it’s time to implement your word study program. We usually do not begin our first unit until the third week of school. Each week follows the same routine as described below.
Monday: Every Monday a new spelling pattern is introduced during a 30 minute lesson. Before the pattern is introduced, students take a pretest to assess their ability to apply the pattern to ten teacher-selected words. All students are then given ten pattern words to study at home. Students who score a 90% or better on the pretest are given more challenging words (that follow the same pattern) for their study list. On Monday they get a word study homework packet that explains the new spelling pattern to parents and describes the related word work activities. Students have all week to work on the packet at home and are asked to return it to school on the following Friday, the day of the weekly test.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday: In school, students rotate though a variety of word study centers, spending 25–30 minutes in each one. The centers help them practice both the pattern-based spelling words and their assigned high frequency words.
Friday: This is the day of the weekly spelling test and when the weekly word study homework packet is to be returned. The tests are corrected and returned to students so that they can record any misspelled words on their "Words to Learn" list and highlight any high frequency words that they spelled correctly. (Read more about this in #8: "The Weekly Test.")
6. Introducing New Patterns
A 30 minute lesson introduces students to a new pattern at the beginning of every week. This lesson is similar in format to a Reading Workshop mini-lesson. I first introduce the pattern and give examples of words that follow the pattern. Students then take part in a guided exploration that is similar to the "active engagement" component of a Reading Workshop mini-lesson. During this time, words are often sorted by pattern, and the different patterns are compared and contrasted. I often use my SMART Board to teach the lesson since it allows me to easily manipulate words while studying word parts and using word parts to make new words. All students bring a dry-erase lapboard and marker to the carpet so that they can be directly involved in making words and sorting words by pattern during the lesson. Download a sample long e lesson I created on the SMART Board this year.
7. Word Study Centers
Three days a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday), students go to word study centers in groups of four to six. Our word study center rotation chart shows students which center they will visit each day, and features a picture of the location in the classroom where the activity or game will be played. The corresponding materials for the games are kept in a large pocket chart next to the rotation chart. The labels on the pocket chart match the labels for the games/activities on the rotation chart so that students can easily find the materials they need each day.
We have personally created almost all of the games and activities that are directly related to the patterns for each week. Each game or activity also has a recording sheet so that students are writing words that follow the different patterns as often as possible. It takes some time, but creating your own activities allows you to have them match the exact patterns you are teaching and to differentiate them to accommodate students who may need to be challenged. We have also purchased games, templates, and word sorts from professional books. Following are some resources, including sample game boards, that can be used and altered to match the patterns you're practicing with your students.
Long Vowel Word Race: We use this game for all of the long vowel units. We just change the words on the game board each week to correspond to the different vowel patterns for long a, e, i, o and u. This game is great because it is a creative way to sort words that share a common long vowel pattern. It gives students exposure to many words and helps them begin to recognize general "rules" for applying certain patterns to words. (For example, students learn that ay tends to be used most often when the long a sound is at the end of a word.)
Long Vowel Dominoes: This game helps students compare and contrast the different patterns that can be used to make the long vowel sounds. The recording sheet requires students to record the word matches they make so that they are matching up words that share a common pattern. To create, I simply purchased dominoes and attached address labels to them. (You may need to trim the labels to fit the dominoes.)
Download long vowel domino labels, game directions, and recording sheets (WinZip file).
"Trash or Treasure?" (Long Vowel Word Sort): This activity can be used to sort words for a variety of patterns, but we choose to use it for our long vowel units. It is basically a picture sort. Inside a mini treasure chest is a collection of pictures that all have common long vowel sounds. In the photo of the activity shown here, all of the pictures are long a words that fall into one of the long a patterns: a_e, ai, ay, eigh. The words are actually written on the back of the pictures, but students are asked to look at the word AFTER they make a spelling prediction for the object shown on the picture. The word is then added to the correct column on the recording sheet. The game is called "Trash or Treasure?" because students will also find five words that are not long a words that must be recorded in the "trash" column.
Spin-a-Word (Prefix Word Building Game): This game is created by attaching both of the game board files (see links below) to create a 2x2 game board. In this game, students build new words using prefixes and root words. The recording sheet also emphasizes vocabulary development as students must use the words they make in a sentence to show that they understand how a prefix changes the meaning of a word. You will need to create a prefix spinner with the prefixes mis-, pre-, re-, un-, dis-, and de- to play the game. This game can be altered and used for suffixes as well. (You would just need to change the root words and create a suffix spinner.)
SMART Board Games: There are already tons of online games and activities for so many common spelling patterns, especially on the SMART Exchange. However, you can also create your own! I learned that any board game I have created using The Print Shop can be exported as a JPEG and then inserted into a SMART Board notebook. Below you can see how I took my spin-a-word prefix game and turned it into a SMART Board interactive game board. I just had to add an interactive spinner. I also converted a Candy Land center game (used for practicing initial consonant blends) to a SMART Board game.
Resources for Word Study Center Games, Activities, & Word Sorts:
Words Their Way: This book includes game board templates and tons of word sort activities. It also comes with a CD that allows you to easily print word cards and to alter games to make them fit the skills you are teaching.
Words Their Way: Sort Books: This series features words sorts for every developmental stage of spelling. The sorts can be easily copied onto card stock, cut into separate word tiles, and laminated, so they can be reused.
Scholastic Teacher Store: Here you will find many teacher resource books that contain "ready to use" word study center activities and games.
ReallyGoodStuff: If you have money to spend and no time to make your own games, this Web site has some great phonics games!
Lakeshore Learning: This Web site has a variety of interactive games and materials that can be used for your word study centers.
Online Games: Megan Power, my fellow Top Teaching blogger, put together this list of awesome online activities that students can play on individual computers or on an interactive whiteboard during word study center time.
8. The Weekly Test
Administering the Test: On Friday, students take the final test to assess their knowledge and application of the patterns they studied during the week. Since they have different words, students either write a #1 on the top of their test, if they are receiving the regular words, or a #2 on their test for the challenge words. The test is given in the following order:
• Assigned Pattern Words: The teacher first gives the assigned pattern words, going back and forth between the regular list and the challenge list (e.g., "Group #1, your first word is snow. Group #2, your first word is burrow").
• New Pattern Words: Next, all students are given ten words that follow the weekly pattern that they were not able to study. These ten words help us determine how effectively each student is able to apply the spelling pattern to new words.
• High Frequency Words: For the last section of the test, students give their word study notebook to their assigned spelling buddy. Their notebook should have a sticky note marking the page where the student wrote his or her five high frequency words for the week. The buddy reads the words to his or her partner, and the students must use the words in a sentence. This ensures that they are not only able to spell the word, but they also know the meaning of the word and can use it in context. (This is important because there are so many homophones in the high frequency word lists.) Download final test template.
Post-Test Spelling Work: The corrected tests are on the students' desks when they arrive at school on Monday morning, and they complete the following tasks for their morning work:
• High Frequency Word Highlighting: Any of the high frequency words that are spelled correctly on their test are highlighted in the students’ word study folder. If they misspell a high frequency word, they do not get to highlight the word (and it will be on their high frequency word list the following week).
• Make New High Frequency Word List for Following Week: Students then take the next “unhighlighted” high frequency words from their individualized HF word list and create a new list of five words in their Word Study Notebook inside their folder.
• Record Misspelled Pattern Words: Students add any pattern words that they missed on the test to their “Words to Learn” list in their word study folder. During short weeks, we have students create spelling lists made up entirely of words they have missed earlier in the year that are on this list. This ensures that misspelled words are not ignored.
9. Word Study Homework
I am not a teacher who uses many worksheets or assigns busy work in my classroom. That is why the phrase "word study packet" initially made me cringe. However, I do feel that what we do in class needs to be reinforced at home. Parents often find spelling to be one thing with which they can confidently provide assistance, so this homework packet is a direct link between our teaching and parent involvement at home. The packet goes home on Monday and is returned to class on Friday, the day of the weekly test. Our word study packet contains three parts:
Cover Letter: The cover letter explains the new patterns to the parents and often gives them specific examples of words that follow (and do not follow) the patterns. The cover letter also lists the ten assigned words they will study at home (regular or challenge list). Students also copy down the five high frequency words that they are studying for the week from their word study notebook so that they can also study them at home.
Download sample parent letter
Pattern Work: The first section of the homework packet is not specific to the assigned words that the student is studying for the week. Instead, this section often features an exploratory word-building activity or a word sort using words that follow the patterns we are studying in class for the week. Download the long a homework sample you see below.
Tic-Tac-Toe: This section allows students to practice their assigned pattern words and their individualized high frequency words. We create many activities that encourage students to focus on the meaning of words so that we also promote vocabulary development. When creating our word study tic-tac-toe activity sheets, students are asked to do any three activities in a row. We try to have rows that include a wide variety of activities that require students to use multiple intelligences and to also use their assigned words in the context of writing.
Download sample tic-tac-toe homework.
10. Strategy Groups & Differentiation
While having a regular list and challenge list allow us to differentiate one small component of our word study program, it is important to make sure that we meet the needs of students on a daily basis. When creating word study center activities, we often make two versions so that students who are assigned the challenge list for the week are challenged when playing the games and doing the word sort activities.
Strategy Groups: These small groups are also a way for us to meet the needs of those students who are falling through the cracks. No matter how thorough my lessons and how purposeful and engaging the games and activities, there will always be some students who need direct instruction and additional guided practice with the teacher. We work with these students both individually and in small groups during center time to ensure that they are able to apply what they are learning to their everyday spelling. Of course this word work is often directly related to reading, so Reading Workshop is another time when we may teach strategy group lessons that are related to the word study concepts we are studying in class.
Record Keeping: We also keep careful track of students’ scores on the “new pattern words” section of the test each week. As you can see in the chart below, we highlight students who spell fewer than 70% of the pattern words correctly. This allows us to quickly create strategy groups of students who struggle with common patterns and prevents us from allowing students to just "move on" when they are obviously not secure with patterns taught in a specific unit. This sheet is great to use for writing detailed report card comments and for sharing with parents at parent-teacher conferences.
These sample sheets do not contain information about our actual students.
I know we haven't created a "perfect" word study program, but it is one that my teaching partner and I have found to be effective with our students over the past two years. With that said, we are constantly looking for ways to improve upon and add to our word study program. I welcome all feedback and questions you may have!