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My November Top Ten List: Word Study in Action

By Beth Newingham on October 28, 2010
  • 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.)

Inventory Highlighting
Download high frequency word lists in sets of 100:

1–100   101–200   201–300   301–400   401–500   501–600   601–700


2. Creating a Yearlong Plan

F and P Word Study Lessons 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.

Week 4- long aTen 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.

PhonicsWordLessonCoversPhonicsWordLessonCovers Words Their Way   Within Word Sort   Letter Name Sort   Syllables and Affixes word sorts   First School Years Website

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.

Tic Tac Toe Picture sort

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.")

Final Test


6. Introducing New Patterns

P1130283 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. P1130281During 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.

P1130408 P1130322


Candyland amanda 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.)

Racetrack gameboard Word Race

     Download Long a Race Track Game Board     Download Long a Race Track Word Cards     Download Recording Sheet and Directions  

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.)

Long vowel domino chain Domino group

Download long vowel domino labels, game directions, and recording sheets (WinZip file).


Treasure blank "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.

Download long a "Trash or Treasure" recording sheet and long a word sort pictures.

Prefix Gameboard 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.)  

Download spin-a-word game board top &  spin-a-word game board bottom (The Print Shop files).  Download Prefix Spin a Word Recording Sheet (MS Word).


SB WOrd WOrk 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.

SMART Board Game
 Download spin-a-word SMART Notebook file and Candy Land SMART Notebook file.

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 LearningThis 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

Monday, October 18, 2010 (6) 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.

Test• 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).

  HF test

• 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.

HF to Notebook

• 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.

Test Words to Learn

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.

Unit 4 Parent Letter HF Notebook to Cover Letter
 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.

Long a Homework Long a Homework 1

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 Lesson 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.

Word Study Record Sheet Strategy Lesson Planning Sheet

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!

Comments (339)

Aurore (comment #37),

When I created the schedule strips you are asking about, I did not save each one separately. Instead I used the template (see link below) to create three at a time. I would then print out the 3 that I created and create 3 more using the same file. I used Print Shop to create the schedule strips, and I used the clipart inside that program. Here is a link to my webpage where you download the template: http://hill.troy.k12.mi.us/staff/bnewingham/myweb3/schedulestrips.htm

It's so exciting to hear that you have implemented both reading and writing workshops in your classroom using ideas from my blog!

Keep in touch!


Hi Beth... What a great resource you are have been since I switched grade levels this year. Will you be uploading your other Word Sort Smartboard Notebooks? Pretty please?? Thanks again!

Hi Beth !

Thank you for your answer ! It really helps me to know how all of this works since I can't come to the US to see it work ! (so the videos you make are really helpful !)

Sorry I should have been more precise but by "schedule templates" I meant all the labels you have in the classroom so that your students see what the schedule for the day will be ! I don't know where you've found the cliparts you have next to each one of them (like for "morning work", "reading workshop" and so on !). Maybe you have made those labels with Print Shop ? In that case, could you post the file so I could make my own labels if it's okay with you ?

Apart from that, you have really changed the way I teach ! I have now implemented a reading and a writing workshop in my class, which is a totally new approach in France ! So thank you again for all that you share !


Joanie (comment #33),

You asked about a section of my website called "archives." I got rid of that a while ago because the material there was becoming so outdated. Also, my website is housed on my school district's server, and it was taking up a great deal of storage space. Unfortunately, I had to delete many pages that I thought were less important, and the page you are referring to is one of those pages. I'm sorry for this. Are you referring to the "Back to School" graphs where students polled each other about things like "favorite subject," "favorite sport," "birthday months," etc.? Even though I can't find the webpage, I can probably answer any questions you may have about the activity. Let me know your specific questions, and I will try to help.


Aurore (comment #32),

It's great to hear from a teacher in France! How cool that you have found my blog and are finding it useful!!

You asked if I thought word study should still be a part of the curriculum in 5th grade. This is definitely not a "stupid" question as you suggested. Many 5th grade teachers believe that word study is something that only needs to be addressed in the primary grades, but this is far from the truth.

If you read about the stages of spelling development that I reference in my post, you will find that many students do not even make it to the later stages of spelling (prefixes and affixes & derivational relations) until they are in 4th or 5th grade. A great resource for learning more about the spelling stages and for finding resources to use with students at each stage of spelling development is the book Words Their Way. I referenced this book often in my post and include a link to the publisher's site where you can purchase a copy of the book.

Thanks for your great question. I know that many 4th and 5th grade teachers were probably wondering the same thing!

You also asked if I could share my "schedule template." I'm not quite sure what you mean by that. If you are asking about the lesson plan template I use when planning subjects for each week, you can download it from an earlier blog post. It's located at the bottom of this post: http://blogs.scholastic.com/top_teaching/2010/05/math-workshop.html


Angie (comment #31),

You asked if I have thought more about differentiating for my advanced spellers. You will find somewhat of an answer to your question if you read my earlier comments (specifically #18 and #28).

In addition to what I mention about differentiation in those comments, I will tell you that we originally tried to design our program with students working at all different spelling stages (teaching 3-4 different lessons at the beginning of each week and having students sort and explore words from different lists). However, we worried that we would be pulled in so many directions trying to manage 25+ students that we would not be able to effectively teach and attend to any one group. We did not want our struggling students to fall through the cracks because we did not provide them with enough direct instruction. On the other hand, we did not want to neglect our advanced students and assume they could work ahead on their own and still learn effectively. I think that, too often, advanced students (in a non-gifted classroom) are given a "challenge packet" and expected to do it on their own while the teacher works with the other students.

We designed our program so that we could provide direct instruction on a regular basis to all students on the patterns and spelling concepts they NEED to know in third grade. We choose to then address the needs of those students who may already be secure with these concepts by differentiating our word study centers, word lists (challenge words fall into later spelling stages) and our word study homework.

As I explained a little in comment #18, the whole class can be studying a within-word pattern like long vowels, but the words that the advanced students are studying during that unit are words that would fall into a later stage of spelling (even though they still have a long vowel pattern somewhere in the word.) For example, most students would study words like train, plane, and stay during our long a unit. Students in the syllables and affixes stage would still be studying long a like the rest of the class, but they would have words like explain, mistake, and crayon. Another example would be our homophones unit. Most students would study basic homophones like meat and meet. Students at the syllables and affixes stage, however, can study homophones that explore stress in words like re'cord (noun) and re cord' (verb) or conduct (noun) and conduct (verb). A final example would be the dipthong unit. Most students might study words like coin, clown, and mouth. Students in the syllables and affixes stage would study dipthongs in two syllable words like moisture, mountain, and powder.

This approach allows us to still teach a thorough, whole-class lesson at the beginning of each week, but our advanced students can be working during the week at their own stage of spelling. Of course this does take more preparation on the part of the teacher because it requires different versions of word study games and activities to be created for each unit.

I hope I have given you some ideas to bring back to the teachers you are supporting! I would love to hear any additional suggestions you may have in terms of "doable" word study differentiation.


Hello, Your children are beautiful. Great info on a new way to develop a new program. I will invest my time in it. I teach 3rd grade inclusion. Our special ed students stay in our classroom all day. We have gifted,high average,average,at risk and sp.ed students. A great approach you have offered for all levels. I have another question to ask. What happen to your archive page on your home page? I have been looking all day for your graphs. I wish I would of printed out your pictures and ideas on graphs. I have googles and went through all your pages on your site. I would love to get a copy of that site.Let me know. Thanks, Joanie

Hi Beth,

Thank you so much for everything you share ! You are so generous ! You have no idea how much the way you teach inspires me ! Anyway, I teach 5th grade and wanted to know if you would still have a word study program in 5th grade (sorry it probably sounds like a stupid question but I'm french and the curriculum is a bit different here !) Also I wanted to know if it would be possible for you to share your schedule templates if you have them somewhere !

Thanks again for everything !

Aurore (from France !!!)

Hi Beth, I can't begin to tell you how many ideas you have inspired in a my teaching and with the teachers I work with! You have put a LOT of thought and research into this spelling program. I know that at this point you and your partner have decided to stick primarily with the within word patterns for your students. I support teachers with gifted and advanced students in 3rd grade. Many of these students are working at the Affix and Suffix or Derivational Relations levels. Have you had any more conversations about differentiating for more advanced kids? Just curious and working through the same thoughts and how to support teachers with "doable" differentiation.

Pam (comment #29),

Thanks for your nice comments!

You had some questions about the units in my word study program that last for 2 weeks. Mainly, those are the long vowel units. We do give a test at the end of each week. However, we only pre-test the students the first week. After students take the first test (after studying the long vowel patterns for one week), we determine the students who receive the challenge list and the students who receive the regular list based on how well they were able to spell the new pattern words on the first week's test. We also look at the students' performance after week 1 of a 2-week unit to determine which students may need more individualized instruction during word study center time the following week.

In answer to your other question, students do have new high frequency words and new pattern words the second week of the unit. For that reason, we do create word lists for both weeks of a 2-week unit (minus pre-test words for week 2). Since there are so many words that have long vowel patterns, it is really not as difficult as it may seem to come up with so many words. During the other 2-week units (prefixes, suffixes, homophones, etc.), we study different words for each of the weeks. For example, during the first week of our prefix unit, students study mis, un, & re. During the second week of the prefix unit they study pre, de, & dis.

I hope I have answered your questions! Let me know if this makes sense.


Love, love, love the ideas you post Beth! Always an inspiration to work harder!

For units that last for 2 weeks, do you test each week or at the end of the two-week center rotations? (80 words would be a bit much to generate) Would you have students choose only 5 high frequency words for those 2 weeks

Shakwana (comment #24),

First of all, I feel honored that you call me your teacher mentor. I always post my ideas in the hopes that they will help another teacher, and I am always flattered to hear that fellow teachers are implementing some of my ideas in their own classrooms. I wish you luck with your classroom economy. I think your students will love it, and I hope you will find it to be a very effective way to teach economics.

Your main question, however, is how to implement some of my word study routines without totally doing away with the approach suggested in Words Their Way. You mentioned that you are going to talk to your principal about making a change. I think the main thing your principal needs to hear from you is that your current program is not effective. (I am assuming you feel this way based on your comments and on your desire to make changes to your program.)

When my teaching partner and I first began looking at different spelling programs, our goal was to create a completely differentiated program where students were studying different words and receiving individual or small group instruction at their exact stage of spelling (like you currently do in your classroom). However, as we began planning how that would look in our classroom and fit into our schedule, we felt like we would be unable to manage that many different groups and be sure that they were engaged in meaningful word work every day. Since we were able to carve out just 30 minutes of word study a day (1 hour on Mondays), we felt like we would not be able to truly provide direct, effective instruction to students at so many different levels in that period of time with just one teacher in the classroom. While it sounded great in theory, in reality we were concerned about our ability to successfully meet the needs of all students on a daily basis. (This is essentially what I said in comment #18. If you read that comment, I also explain how we differentiate our word study program even while all students are studying a common pattern.)

Words Their Way really emphasizes word sorts. Word sorts are such an important part of word study because they require students to sort by sight and sound, compare and contrast words, and even find exceptions to the pattern “rules.” In our program, almost all of our word study center activities and games are really just word sorts that we have “spiced up” to make more engaging for our students. Cutting out the words and just sorting them into categories becomes monotonous for students. We felt like our activities like the long vowel word race, long vowel trash or treasure sort, long vowel dominoes, etc. call for the same Words Their Way task of sorting words, but the daily games allow students to have more fun while doing it. As suggested in Words Their Way, we also make sure that our word sorts are varied (picture sorts, sound sorts, pattern sorts, meaning sorts, etc.)

I know that you would like some specific suggestions about how to implement our program and still follow the Words their Way approach. It is hard to provide you with a solution because my teaching partner and I tried to find an answer ourselves when creating our own program. We couldn’t figure how to effectively teach 4-5 different lessons on Monday and then create engaging activities for all 4-5 groups to be working on throughout the week. When trying it for a year, the generic word sorts, “write, say, cover, spell,” and word hunts became monotonous and less-meaningful with each week. While differentiation is so important, it becomes insignificant when you begin to feel like you are unable to provide effective instruction to each group. Teaching a single, whole-class lesson each week and then differentiating our word study center games and activities (see comment #18) is, for us, the solution that we have found to be both effective and manageable.

I hope my comments are somewhat helpful!


Nina (comment #25),

Thanks for posting your comments on the blog. It's always nice to hear from teachers who read my blog on a regular basis and continue to find my ideas useful!


Jodi (comment #23),

You asked if I just do conferring during reading time. While I do confer on some days, I also do guided reading groups and strategy groups. In the hour each day that I conduct my reading workshop, I teach a 10-15 minute mini-lesson which is followed by 40-45 minutes of independent reading time. During the independent reading time, I am meeting the needs of my students in as many ways as possible. There is no exact recipe for how often I meet with guided reading groups. I don't like to set a number of times I need to meet with each guided reading group each week because I know that there are other ways I also need to work with readers in addition to just guided reading. My responsibilities during IDR time are a mixed bag of guided reading, strategy lessons, and conferring.

While each week looks different based on the needs of my readers, here is what a typical week might look like. (Remember, IDR time lasts for about 40 minutes each day. It is during that time that I meet with guided reading groups, strategy groups, or confer with students individually.)

Monday: -2 guided reading groups (12-15 minutes each) -Confer with 3 students

Tuesday: -2 guided reading groups (12-15 minutes each) -1 strategy lesson (10 minutes)

Wednesday: 1 guided reading group (12-15 minutes) 1 strategy lesson (10 minutes) -Confer with 3 students

Thursday -2 guided reading groups (12-15 minutes each) -1 strategy lesson (10 minutes)

Friday -1 guided reading group (12-15 minutes) -Confer with 5-6 students

If you haven't already, I think reading my post, "Reading Workshop: What it Looks Like in My Classroom," will help you better understand how I conduct my workshop and how I fit all of the necessary components into this block of time. Here is a link to that blog post: http://blogs.scholastic.com/top_teaching/2009/10/reading-workshop.html#comments

You also mentioned that your students were unable to sustain their reading and needed seat work to keep them occupied. I truly believe that students should be reading independently during the individualized daily reading portion of reading workshop. Perhaps reading my "Reader's Notebook" post will give you some ideas for making the "work" that students do during reading time directly related to their self-selected books. Here is a link to my reader's notebook post: http://blogs.scholastic.com/top_teaching/2009/11/readers-notebook.html

I hope I have been able to help you!


Thank you so much for sharing all of these fantastic ideas! I check your blog fairly frequently because I always know there will be something interesting! I am attempting this approach in my classroom at the moment and all your ideas and information are incredibly useful! Thank you!!!

Hello Beth, I just want to say thank you for just being a teacher mentor to me over the years and not even knowing it! I have incorporated many of your ideas in my own classroom which have worked wonders for my students including the "Book Recommendation" board and I am in the process of beginning our Classroom Economy this November! I have a question about the word study activities and schedule. My school has already adopted Donald Bear's Words Their Way program for spelling instruction, therefore we are expected to follow the program as much as possible. I am preparing a "talk" with my administrators about how you and your teaching partner implement word study in your classroom and how effective it seems compared to what we are doing. I am interested in adopting many of your ideas as far as revamping word study in my classroom, but can you share with me how I can do this without totally throwing away what Words Their Way suggests? (ex. meeting with 4 groups a week, 4 sets of words, etc.) I have a schedule the students follow every week which includes activities they do in their own groups. How could I keep the activities (Write, Say, Cover, Spell, Check, Word hunts in books etc.) and implement your format? Thanks for the help. It is greatly appreciated! You are truly awesome!

So, the majority of your reading workshop time you are doing individual conferencing? We are a Reading First school where I am required to have daily guided reading groups. I have five groups and I meet with three of these groups five days a week. Each group takes about 15 minutes. I also do RTI interventions on eight of my students (which is done during this time) and this takes about 15 minutes as well. I also have a low group this year (most are at a first-second grade level) in which the majority are ADD/ADHD. It is so difficult to hold their attention to independent read during my whole 50-60 minute reading workshop time, so I still have to incorporate some independent seat work..which I am not a huge fan of (but we have to get grades somehow). This keeps them in their seats and busy when they finish reading, or to give them something to do besides read for that amount of time. Any suggestions on what else I could do? I am still amazed at how much you are able to accomplish and obviously doing a great job! I sit at my computer with my jaw dropped at all the things you do and how great and organized your classroom is. I would LOVe to visit your classroom and see all these things in action. For some reason, I am not able to view the video links on your website.


I apologize for originally posting a draft version of my 3rd Grade Word Study Overview. I accidentally uploaded the incomplete version of our yearlong plan when this post originally went live on October 28th. I have now fixed my mistake and have uploaded our final 3rd Grade Word Study Overview, a yearlong plan of the sequential patterns we teach our students. You can check it out in section #2 of this post: Creating a Yearlong Plan.

Let me know if you have additional questions about my word study program!



You asked a great question about where we fit in the teaching of grammar skills like nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. As much as we can, we try to teach these types of skills in the context of our writing workshop. However, most teachers know that many students need additional, direct instruction as well. For that reason, our morning work (usually the first 15-25 minutes of the school day) focuses on grammar concepts. It combines DOL (daily oral language), interactive SMART Board grammar activities, and even (when necessary) some worksheets that we use to assess students' learning. You can find our daily schedule here: http://hill.troy.k12.mi.us/staff/bnewingham/myweb3/indexschedule.htm

Like you mentioned, there are also skills like plural nouns, contractions, comparatives, etc. that are the direct focus of our word study units during the year.

Thanks for reading my blog and posting your comments!



I do a very similar spelling program in my classroom, but am excited to add some of the components that you mentioned in your post (like the word study centers).

I am curious about one thing though. Although you can cover some of the word study concepts in the your spelling program like contractions and suffix/prefix, I find it difficult to cover other word study activities like nouns and adjectives because they don't directly relate to spelling concepts. I have a time period in my schedule called "skill block" that I teach other word study concepts like the nouns and adj, (etc...) but I just am finding that I don't have enough time in my day to spend 30 mins on spelling lessons to introduce spelling patterns and then another 30 mins on other word study skills (nouns, adj., verb. etc...) When do you fit in these kinds of skills into your schedule? Thanks!

Kim (comment #15).

I'm back! I forgot to also answer your question about vocabulary. Many of our word study center activities and our homework packet activities require students to also look at the meaning of the words they are studying. The 10 words that we choose to assign each week that follow the weekly pattern are often words that we think students may not know the meaning of. We do this so that students are not only learning to spell these pattern words, but they are also learning what they mean and how to use them in context.

In my December Top Ten post, I will share how we use a vocabulary word wall to enhance vocabulary development as well. Check back in a month!


Tomeika (comment #16),

It sounds like you have your hands full with 5 different groups of students, all at different stages of spelling.

When my teaching partner and I first began looking at different spelling programs, our goal was to create a completely differentiated program where all students were studying words and receiving individual or small group instruction at their exact stage of spelling (like you currently have in your classroom). However, as we began planning how that would look in our classroom and fit into our schedule, we felt like we would be unable to manage that many different groups. Your concern of not having enough time to teach 5 different mini-lessons was also our biggest concern. Since we were able to carve out just 30 minutes of word study a day (1 hour on Mondays), we felt like we would not be able to truly provide effective instruction to students at so many different levels in that period of time with just one teacher in the classroom. While it sounded great in theory, in reality we were concerned about our ability to truly meet the needs of our students on a daily basis.

With that being said, we still attempt to differentiate our program as much as possible. Of course all students have individualized high frequency word lists each week, and we do have regular and challenge study lists. However, we have just started to create advanced versions of the word study centers and activities students are doing during the week. You mentioned your students all do different word sorts at their assigned spelling stage. While we do teach a whole class pattern each week, we try to have the words that are sorted or used in the activities and games be more reflective of the words students would find in their stage of spelling. For example, students doing the long a spelling sort in the "within word pattern" stage might sort long a words like train, plane, eight, & play. Students in a later stage of spelling development would also be doing a long a word sort, but they might be sorting words like available, entertain, display, portray, & neighbor.

Unfortunately I do not have a good answer for your question of how to teach a whole class mini-lesson each week and still be able to introduce 5 different patterns. I hope my suggestions are somewhat helpful and give you one possible solution to your problem.

Thanks for your comments. I wish I had a "perfect" solution for you!


Kim (comment #15),

You asked about my advanced students and if I ever feel like the whole class activities do not really benefit those students. My answer, in short, is yes! One way to combat this problem is to make different versions of your word study center activities and games. Last year my teaching partner and I began creating a second version of many of our games that targeted students in spelling stages beyond the patterns we were studying as a whole class. For example, the long a patterns are necessary for most third grade students (ai, ay, eigh, a_e), so most words in the games we create are consonant blends attached to those patterns. However, for students in the syllables & affixes or derivational relations spelling stage, we began creating a second version that included words that would still follow the long a pattern but would fall into a later stage of spelling. (For example, words like available, entertain, display, portray, neighbor, etc.)

See my comment #18 for more information about differentiation in word study.


I love your web site, and I am so very grateful that you have decided to share your knowledge and happenings in your classroom. I am former pre-k teacher who for the first time is teaching 3rd grade. My district is using the Words Your Way Program. It is new this year. I have students at various developmental stages of spelling. I have 5 different groups. So, that means 5 different sorts, and 5 different lists of spelling words. YIKES! I am having a diffcult time managing the groups. Ideally, I would like to meet with each group and work with them on the current week's spelling pattern. I have been trying to do a to do a rotation, but not having much luck. I usually spend a great deal of time with my lowest two groups praticing their sorts. Any suggestions or ideas on how I can do a minilesson to meet needs of all my students, and introduce 5 new spelling patterns per week. I hope that made sense. There has got to be a better way. Thanks

I love your word study program. It seems well thought out and the activities look fun and benefical to students. What about your advanced students? Do you ever feel that the activities don't really benefit those students that are at the syllables and affixes stage or derivational relations stage? How do you make sure you are meeting those needs with the activities and words you have created? In addition, do you incorporate any vocabulary activities into your daily schedule?

Debbie (comment #13),

You asked how I manage giving 30+ kids high frequency words on their weekly spelling test. In section #8: "The Weekly Test," you will find specific information about this.

In short, students give their word study notebook to their assigned spelling buddy for the high frequency word section of their test. (Students write their 5 high frequency words in this notebook every Monday, and the notebook stays at school.) Their notebook should have a sticky note marking the page where the student wrote his or her five high frequency words for the week. Once students swap their notebooks with their spelling buddy, one buddy reads the words to his or her partner, and the partner must use the words in a sentence.

Since students also write their high frequency words on their homework packet that is turned in every Friday, I then have a copy of their HF words so that I can accurately correct that section of their weekly test.

Hopefully this makes sense. You may also want to reread the "Post-Test Spelling Work" paragraph in Section 8 to understand how students pretty much manage themselves when it comes to their weekly high frequency word lists.

Let me know if you have any more questions!


Great info, thanks for sharing! How do you manage giving 30+ kids different high frequency words on their tests?

Shannon (comment #9),

You asked about Scattergories, a word study center game that students in our classroom play to help them practice spelling patterns.

This game is best played when students are studying word families or consonant blends. The materials you need are a spinner, a sand timer, and a recording sheet. The spinner needs to match the patterns your students are studying. For example, when learning about initial consonant blends, the spinner might have st, sp, sk, sc, sw, sn, & sm. If you are studying final consonant blends, the spinner might have word families like -ilt, -olf, -and, -ing, -old, -int,& amp.

To play the game, one student spins the spinner. When it stops, all students write down the word family (or consonant blend) it lands on. Then the sand timer is turned over, and the game begins. During the minute it takes for the sand timer to empty, all students write down as many words as they can that follow the pattern on the spinner. For example, if the spinner lands on -amp, a student might write the words camp, ramp, cramp, lamp, stamp, & damp.

Once the time is up, students take turns reading the words they came up with. While one student reads his or her words, other players chime in if they also wrote the same word. If more than one player writes the same word, all players who wrote the word must cross it off their list. Any word that a player makes that no other player has on his list gets 1 point. Technically the player with the most points (unique words) wins, but we never use the word "winner" or "loser" when playing word study center games in our classroom.

I hope these directions make sense. Let me know if you have any additional questions!


Leah (comment #9)

It's fun to know that a sixth grade teacher found this post useful! I would love to hear more about your index card system. Do you have one index card holder for the entire class with alphabetical dividers? Do students add their new list to the box each week and remove their old list, or do they keep all of their lists for the school year in their section of the index card holder?

Thanks for adding your comments! I hope to hear back from you!


Jodi (comment #7),

Thanks for your nice comments! It's great to know that a first year teacher is using the resources on my website!

You asked how I find time to do it all. Lately, to be honest, the answer is sleep deprivation. I have found myself staying up way too late to get school work done, but that is also because my 2 busy boys provide me with little down time:) However, I've noticed that I get things done much quicker with each year of teaching. Using Print Shop to create the resources you referred to in your comment takes much less time than it did years ago. It has also been nice to continue teaching the same grade for multiple years so that I can reuse things I have created in previous years.

You also asked about my weekly schedule and how I fit in word study 5 days a week. When you described your schedule, I noticed that you mentioned 1 hour of reading and then also 30 minutes of independent reading. Is that two separate times in your day? In my reading workshop that lasts for one hour, I teach a mini-lesson which is followed by independent reading. During independent reading time, I am conferring with readers or leading strategy groups or guided reading groups, but the students' independent reading time is not separate from reading workshop in my classroom. They are practicing the skills that I teach in the mini-lesson while they read each day. Perhaps this difference in our schedules is why I am able to fit in time for word study every day.

Here is a link to my weekly/daily schedule so that you can see exactly what a typical week/day looks like in my classroom: http://hill.troy.k12.mi.us/staff/bnewingham/myweb3/indexschedule.htm

I hope this helps!


Love the ideas! Can you tell me more about the scattergories game? Thanks!:)

Great ideas! We run a very similar program in our school. As a sixth grade teacher, I find it more manageable to have the students keep their words on individual index cards (in index card boxes with the alphabet dividers.) It's just another way to keep their words organized!

All I can say is, "Wow!" I am amazed at what all you are able to do in your classroom. I am also a third grade teacher. I have only taught for one full year and visit your website and articles on a regular basis. How do you find the time to do all of these activities and make all these very professional-looking materials? I would be interested to find out your weekly schedule. I teach both third and fourth grade and it is difficult for me to get 45 minutes of writing, 45 minutes-1 hour of reading, 30 minutes independent reading and 15-20 minutes of word study each day in each group.

Lisa (comment #5),

We first started by developing our yearlong plan (the order in which we wanted to teach certain spelling patterns). You can find the resources we used to help us with that task in my post in section #2. This can be a general plan, and it may change based on your students during any given year. Our original plan has worked well for us, but we did find that our 3rd graders did not need much short vowel/initial consonant blend review. We skipped that first unit altogether this year. (You can download our yearlong plan in section #2 to see as an example.)

Once we determined our units of study, we began creating word lists. (See section #3 in the post.) This helped us better understand each pattern and allowed us to tailor our lessons and word study activities to meet our instructional goals. We wanted to make sure that students would be exposed to the new pattern words (on the test) while playing games and during the Monday word study lesson.

Once we created our word lists, we began the somewhat laborious task of creating multiple activities and games for the weekly word study centers. The great thing, however, is that once you create these activities during the first year you implement your program, you can just pull them out in the following years during the necessary weeks. We did spend a great deal of time creating games the first year, but our hard work paid off as our students are still playing the same games and doing the same activities we created 2 years ago. (Be sure to laminate all materials and organize them in a way that will make them easy to access in following years.)

I hope my answers have given you some direction!

Good luck!


Beth, Could you suggest some beginning steps for me get started? I see the validity to teaching spelling in a word study fashion with my third graders but I don't know where to begin. I know you spent years creating your program and I very much appreciate you sharing your work. Lisa


I'm so glad that you found my word study post to be useful! I was worried that it may be too much information for a single post, so it's nice to know that it was helpful to you. I was hoping that my resources would be useful for fellow teachers who are also looking to create an effective word study program in their classrooms.

I look forward to hearing from you again during the school year!



You asked how much time my students spend on spelling/word study each week. Below is our word study schedule: Monday: 1 hour (This includes monday morning spelling work and the word study lesson/practice) Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday: 30 minutes each day (word study centers) Friday: 30 minutes (assessment/ buddy spelling)

On some weeks, we add an additional lesson on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday if we feel it is necessary. We also use strategy groups during word study centers and/or reading workshop on some days to meet the needs of individual students.

I'm glad you liked my post!


Beth~ THANK YOU for your recent post and the numerous attachments you shared with us. I can't even begin to tell you how much time and effort you saved me as I still try to wrap my head around the spelling word battle. You are amazing and inspiring. So glad you are on Scholastic's Staff. Thanks again, I look forward to your next post!

I like this idea nad have struggled with good Spelling Program for a couple of years. I feel that it is an area that gets left out but is important. How much time do your students spend on this weekly?

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