How to Use a Word Study Approach and Why It Matters

Word study gives students the opportunity to deeply observe and apply their knowledge of spelling patterns. It utilizes the techniques of sorting, grouping, making, and manipulating words. Word study requires kids to manually work with their word cards, so kids are actively engaged in the learning process. This post explains this approach as well as how to get started.

How you teach spelling matters. If you follow a traditional list memorization method, your students won’t gain the valuable skills needed for decoding. The purpose of teaching spelling is to grow decoding and vocabulary skills. In this post, I share information on a word study approach.

Word Study Overview

Word study gives students the opportunity to deeply observe and apply their knowledge of spelling patterns. It utilizes the techniques of sorting, grouping, making, and manipulating words. Word study requires kids to manually work with their word cards, so kids are actively engaged in the learning process. This is the reason word study makes sense. It supports students use of spelling patterns in decoding. It is true that some learners prefer using context to figure out unfamiliar words. However, by studying spelling patterns, we give our students a deeper toolbox. Besides that, word study is just more fun.

How to Get Started?

Begin with Assessment

The first step with word study is assessment. You can use several different assessments to gauge what your students knoware using, but confusing, and are not using yet. I personally prefer using the developmental spelling analysis from Kathy Ganske’s Word Journeys. In my opinion, it is straight forward and provides me with a roadmap of where to begin with groups. You can also use Words Their Way which has two screening assessments and in Virginia, most schools administer the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) which also provides the teacher with the child’s spelling stage.

Word study gives students the opportunity to deeply observe and apply their knowledge of spelling patterns. It utilizes the techniques of sorting, grouping, making, and manipulating words. Word study requires kids to manually work with their word cards, so kids are actively engaged in the learning process. This post explains this approach as well as how to get started.

Use Your Screening to Find the Stage

For the example I’m sharing, I used the DSA. I gave the child the Letter Name Stage and the Within Word Stage since I had prior information. For an unfamiliar student, the teacher should begin with the Screening Inventory that includes five words per stage. Once an approximate stage is determined (The directions are included in Word Journeys.), the feature inventory is given to pinpoint exactly which features have been mastered, which are needed to be firmed up, and which the student is not ready for. A stage score of 22 or higher indicates the child is ready for the next stage, so you can see this child has mastered Letter Name features.

Word study gives students the opportunity to deeply observe and apply their knowledge of spelling patterns. It utilizes the techniques of sorting, grouping, making, and manipulating words. Word study requires kids to manually work with their word cards, so kids are actively engaged in the learning process. This post explains this approach as well as how to get started.

When I gave the child the Within Word  Inventory, I found my starting point. The point where the student scores less than four is the starting point. I have had students master upper level features, but not lower level. If this is the case, you’d drop back and address the features the child lacks.

For this child, we will begin with the CVCe pattern and compare to what is know (nasal endings such as amp and unk). The next step would be to add in CVVC patterns, then r controlled vowels, consonant blends, and ambiguous vowels.

Keep Word Study Planning and Prep Manageable

It’s important to look at each individual student to determine what to teach and the next step, but it’s also important to make your word study instruction manageable. To group your students, you will put their papers in order from the top stage score to the lowest stage score and form no more than three word study groups if possible. This means that your lists may not be a perfect match to every student, but it’s important to remember, “a step back is a step forward“. This phrase was used quite often during the word study course, and it means that we want firm understanding. We want to see that students are applying the knowledge in their writing as well as in their reading.

Word study gives students the opportunity to deeply observe and apply their knowledge of spelling patterns. It utilizes the techniques of sorting, grouping, making, and manipulating words. Word study requires kids to manually work with their word cards, so kids are actively engaged in the learning process. This post explains this approach as well as how to get started.

Forming Your Word Study Groups

As you can see in this class, the teacher put them in order from highest score to lowest. The top student has not met the criteria for Derivational Relations with a stage score of 7, but he has demonstrated mastery of Syllable Juncture. I would group William with Natalie and work on feature O of Syllable Juncture moving into DR shortly after. Drew, Traci, and Jessie have fairly similar results, and need a review of long vowel patterns before moving on to features M and N. Finally, Lindsay and Spencer’s scores are close together with both at the Late WW/Early SJ stage. For these two, you’d drop back to feature J and proceed from there.

Now, It’s Your Turn…

The first step is to give your students the screening. Remember, you give the stage inventory first followed by the feature inventories that are indicated. Once you’ve scored your inventories, rank them from high to low and record the results on the DSA Class Record Form found in Word Journeys. Sometimes I find it helpful to use a highlighter to mark mastered blocks. It helps you clearly see where the starting point should be.

In my next post, I’ll talk about each of the stages as well as a typical routine, how to manage the groups, what to do for progress monitoring, and activities you might use for each stage. If you have specific questions, please feel free to comment. I will do what I can to address the questions in my future posts or revise here.

Word study gives students the opportunity to deeply observe and apply their knowledge of spelling patterns. It utilizes the techniques of sorting, grouping, making, and manipulating words. Word study requires kids to manually work with their word cards, so kids are actively engaged in the learning process. This post explains this approach as well as how to get started.
  • Getting Started with Word Study: Explains how to get started with assessment and grouping.
  • Emergent Reader: Shares how kindergarten teachers can use the sorting process with concept sorts, font sort, and picture sorts to build understanding.
  • Letter Name Speller: This post includes the letter name features, teaching ideas, and look fors.
  • Within Word Speller: Students at this stage are working on long vowel words, r contolled words, and words with complex consonants. The post includes the features included, activity ideas, and other relevant points.
  • Syllable Juncture Speller: The students at this stage are building fluency and are writing extended amounts. Check out this post if your students are confused with the spelling of multi syllabic words.
  • Derivational Relations Teaching Ideas: At this level, students are working to grow vocabulary. Students at this stage are typically in fifth grade and up.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Tracie

    Hi, Carla! Do you think this would work for 3rd graders? Spelling is one of those areas where I see such a huge gap between my students. What do you do for those gifted spellers? Vocabulary? Prefix/Suffix? Looking forward to these posts. Thanks!

  2. I've typically had 3 spelling groups somewhat tied to my reading groups (but sometimes they don't mesh, so you may have one or two that have to be pulled with a reading group just for the spelling part). WS is meant to be quick…5-10 minutes of a 30 min small group time. I do a staggered introduction day since that lesson takes longer. I will be walking through routines, homework, and management in my posts, but definitely, the answer is yes. Vocabulary and prefixes/suffixes is part of word study. You move from sound to pattern to meaning, and for instructional readers, the focus is on meaning with Greek and Latin roots, etc. So…stay tuned. I am working on post #2.

  3. Cathy

    I LOVE Word Study…you know that. What a great post!

  4. Elizabeth Wilburn

    I also use Word Journeys and love it! I can't imagine using anything other than a developmental spelling framework. I love looking at the progress my students are making throughout the year and sharing it with parents. It's amazing! Thanks for sharing!Teaching Tips and Treasures

  5. It really does make a difference especially for struggling readers. Working on my next post now. Thanks for commenting, Elizabeth!

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