Before I made the transition into my current role as an instructional coach, I was one of our school’s reading specialists.  I always knew that my career would be as an educator, but I also knew I needed it to have a literacy focus. As a reading specialist, I found myself drawn to the phonics interventions. I loved teaching our struggling readers the different spelling patterns and rules. Seeing them finally be able to decode a multisyllabic word was so exciting! I was really able to see just how important word study is for our students. Now that I’ve transitioned into my coaching role, I find myself doing a lot of reading and learning about the different aspects of word study. I want to make sure that I am supporting our teachers and students as best as I can with implementing a strong word study!

All students not only need to acquire these phonics and word understandings, but they also need to apply these understandings daily in authentic reading and writing. It is so essential that readers and writers have a wide-range of word-solving strategies that they can rely on, rapidly and flexibly, as they move their way through a piece of text. When readers can draw on their wide-range of strategies for solving words quickly, their attention is freed up for comprehension.

There are nine areas of learning that students will work through, from PreK-8th grade, as they work to develop and apply their word-solving strategies:

  • Early Literacy Concepts
  • Phonological Awareness
  • Letter Knowledge
  • Letter-Sound Relationships
  • Spelling Patterns
  • High-Frequency Words
  • Word Meaning and Vocabulary
  • Word Structure

It’s crucial for us to know that not all students at a certain grade level will all be in the same stage of learning. Word study is something that progresses individually with each student as they strengthen their phonics skills.  Assessing students’ word knowledge multiple times is crucial. We know that students all progress at their own pace and we want to be as intentional as we can with where in their learning journey we are instructing them.

In a school day that’s already jam-packed with writing, math, reading, science, and social studies curriculum, how are teachers fitting in time for word study? Ideally, word study would get a dedicated time every day of the week, but we know that just isn’t possible. I believe, that at minimum, word study should be an hour throughout the week. It could be three 20 minute lessons or four 15 minute sessions, that depends on your own personal school, district and schedule. Using a small-group approach works best; you are able to meet with one group while the rest of your students are working on differentiated word work activities, maximizing the short amount of time that you have.

A few of my favorite activities/strategies for word study include:

  • Sorting words based on certain spelling patterns (something we do with the Words Their Way program). Students are able to use the same words and re-sort them in a variety of columns based on what they notice in the words.
  • Embed word study instruction in a guided reading lesson or in the explicit instruction portion of your day. It’s so important for students to see the connection between their word study and how it relates when given an authentic piece of text.
  • Utilize a word wall! Nothing is more powerful than having a list of common words up year-round that you can use an interactive teaching tool.
  • Have students use their independent reading books to “hunt” for their patterns. Again, the more exposure and cross-over we can offer our students between word study and “authentic reading” will only deepen their understanding!

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Liz Janusz

Liz Janusz

ELA Instructional Coach

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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