Academics in Action

Youngers (K-1) Explore Word Study

Word Study lends itself well to differentiation. It is a content area where each child can be nudged along a well-defined continuum of spelling development. From learning letters and their corresponding sounds, to understanding how certain combinations of vowels produces different vowel sounds, every step lays the foundation for subsequent steps along this continuum. Our work begins when we assess each child’s stage of spelling development. This individualized assessment allows us to more clearly see each child’s next steps. Activities are planned for small groups of children who are working similarly on a specific skill. Because our literacy centers and word study groups meet during half-group class times, we are able to tailor activities closely to the needs of small groups that are based on where each child falls on the continuum.

Since Word Study encompasses many different aspects of literacy, the activities used to teach and reinforce learning in this area are quite varied. Some of these include: picture or word sorts, letter/sound songs, phonics games, making words with letter tiles, letter formation practice, building and writing sight words, and conventions work in journals.

Although Youngers students are frequently using an inquiry approach to discover the appearance of a particular spelling pattern on their own, we also understand that sometimes our Word Study work is best suited to direct instruction from a teacher. Whether through inquiry or direct instruction, our students are using their hands to interact with and manipulate letters and words as they explore the new concepts. By interacting with letters and sounds through a wide range of activities and through many different modalities, students gain a more concrete sense of symbolic letter representations.

One way we introduce a new spelling pattern to students is through word sorts.

In one group, students were given a variety of words and asked to find a way to sort them. At first, some sorted by the vowel in the middle while others began to look at the endings. When someone realized that all of the words ended with the /k/ sound, ideas about how to sort took off. In the end, the group ended up with three categories: words that ended in –k, -ck, and –ke.

We then challenged this small group to see if they could find any rules that might help someone know which category a word ending in /k/ would fall under. They began to look more closely at the words in each category. Slowly, and building off each others' ideas, they realized that words that end in just a “k,” have “oo” in the middle of the word; words that end in “ke,” have a long vowel sound; and words that end in “ck,” have short vowel sounds. The students practiced sorting their words into these categories, glued them into their word study notebooks, verbalized the rule to one another, and tried to apply it by writing words heard aloud with the correct /k/ ending.

While we could have simply told the students the rule (as we sometimes do) and had them practice it, we would miss out on the engagement and deeper connection to the concept that is developed when the students have the chance to come to the discovery on their own and construct their own knowledge.

In another group, students were given picture cards with images of several words that started with either the consonant sound /m/ or the consonant sound /r/. At first, the picture cards were presented in mixed order. As a group, we name each word out loud. Then, working independently, students cut each card out and are challenged to sort the images into groups by their beginning sound. For each picture card, the students say the word again to themselves and listen to see if it starts with /m/ or /r/ as they place it under the correct beginning consonant sound.

After all the cards have been correctly sorted, students glue them into their journals. At the conclusion of the sort, students are asked to rename the words in each group and restate what sound they all start with. The repetition of hearing and saying words that start with like sounds is intentionally integrated into this activity, as this helps students practice the skill of matching what they hear and say to the correct symbolic representation at several points throughout the lesson. As review, students may be challenged to think of additional words that starts with the same sound.

As students are mastering a particular letter/sound concept, it is important that they also have many opportunities to transfer this new knowledge into everyday reading and writing. Readers’ and Writers’ workshop allow time for each child to synthesize and practice applying the information learned during word study into their ongoing literacy work.

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