My Top Ten: Word Study

1. It is developmental.

It meets your child right where she is in her understanding of how words work and teaches her at that level.  This helps to prevent frustration, from a level that’s too hard, and boredom, from a level that’s too easy. (Words Their Way, 3rd ed, 8)  Let’s be honest: you can’t say that about workbooks.

2. It promotes active problem solving.

“The learner is encouraged to [analyze] spelling patterns, form hypotheses, predict outcomes, and test them. These activities require the child to continually ask herself, ‘What do I know about this new word, and how is it similar to words that I already know?” (

3. It is interactive and hands-on.

With Word Study, you can throw the word “boring” out the window when you think of teaching phonics.  I firmly believe that kids learn best by doing and word study promotes lots of doing.  An added bonus is that the doing is fun!

4. It fits many learning and teaching styles.

Learners are able to construct their own understanding of how words work based off of what they already know while having an adult (you, the mama) to help guide or direct this understanding.

5. It is designed for spellers of every age—Pre-K through high school/college.

Word Study lessons start with the basic ABC’s and continue all the way through learning Greek and Latin Word Elements (yes, these scare me…makes me think SAT).

6. It can compliment any reading or writing curriculum.

Word Study is only part of a balanced literacy program (which includes lots of real reading and writing).  It is simply a tool to help students read and write for authentic purposes.

7. It gives the learner purposeful, multiple exposures to a concept.

It’s no secret that in order to learn something, we need multiple exposures to it.  The word sorts and Word Study routines are designed to give students time each day to interact with the words in and out of context.  “Meaningful practice helps students internalize word features and become automatic in using what they have learned” (WTW, 27).

8. It is explicit.

Together you and your child read the words, sort the words, discuss the pattern within the words, find the word patterns in real texts, spell the words, and even reveal exceptions (or “oddballs”) to the pattern.  Students can clearly see how the pattern works and nothing is left to implication.

9.  It avoids spelling rules.

Children are not asked to memorize a bunch of spelling rules; which, by the way, have exceptions (and sometimes LOADS of them)!  Allow me to get on a soap box for a moment. 🙂  One of the rules I learned as a young girl was, “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking”.  Sound familiar?  The problem with it is that it seems to have almost as many rule-breakers as it does rule-followers.  Just glance at this list of words that turn up quite frequently in reading: look, said, been, head, choice, laugh, friend…I could go on and on for quite some time.  Contrast that with Word Study: “Today we’re going to look at a bunch of one-syllable words that have the pattern ai in the middle and we’re going to see what we can discover about the ai sound.”  Your search for exceptions will lead you to a very small list of three words: said, plaid, and aisle (WTW, 92).

10.  It can help a child be a successful reader (and writer).

Through my teaching of K and 1st grade, but especially as a reading tutor, I have seen first-hand how Word Study can give students the confidence and strategies to be a successful reader and writer; even if they are several grade levels behind. Reading=thinking.  And kids have a very difficult time being “comprehenders” of text when they are so focused on how to decode (or pronounce) the words in front of them.

I think this quote sums up my top 10 quite nicely.  “Rather than a hodgepodge of rote memorization activities designed only to ensure repeated exposure, our teaching tasks encourage active exploration and examination of word features that are within a child’s stage of literacy development.” (WTW, 27).


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