Making Word Work Work

Like many teachers I have taken inspiration for my student centered ELA classroom set up from The Daily Five by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  Their premise is quite simple; students are given 5 elements of their learning that they must complete (mostly in self-selected order) each day.  My classroom obviously differs somewhat from their model but the underlying dynamic of a truly student centered classroom remains at the core. One of the ‘sessions’ as my students refer to them, is Word Work.

Each week I provide my students (in ability differentiated groups) with a set of ten words.  They must learn to spell each word (recognising any appropriate spelling patterns plays a big part of that for many of my students) but also be able to use the words effectively in writing too. This integration of spelling and meaning, whole language and phonics, helps my students to really know the words and boost their vocabulary not just their spelling.  All this sounds great, but in reality my students need very different levels of practice for this task with some needing only an hour to master 10 words and others needing 3-4 or even more over a week.  So how do you ensure that those who need help and practice get it, without the other students finding it too easy and becoming disengaged and not challenged enough?

For me the key to this lies in having both flexibility in my scheduling (not all of my groups do Word Work everyday) and a broad range of activities too.

Starting Out – Recognising Patterns

Coloured Write Out: Students write out their spelling words using one colour for the pattern (e.g. vowel digraphs, consonant blends) and another for the rest of the word.  This highlights the targeted phonetic pattern and helps students to make a connection between the words on their list.

Link n Spell: Students begin with a flash card (or tile if you have a pre-made resource) with the targeted pattern on it and then use other letter cards on either side to build a whole world around the pattern.  This works particularly well for my students who need some physical reinforcement to build their learning.

Learning the Spelling

Spell it Backward: Have your students spell each word out loud, backwards. This sounds silly, but it works really well.  Try it yourself, chances are you have to run through the word in your head a few times to get the letters in the correct order.  This means your students are having to spell and respell the word multiple times.  If your students are anything like mine they also think this is much more fun!

Rainbow Write: A classic, write each letter in a different colour.  This slows them down to think about each letter and helps to add an additional dimension to their understanding of the word.

Tactile/Sensory Write: My class love writing in rice or sand on a tray, in hair gel or paint in a ziplock bag and to air spell their words.

Buddy Spelling: Spell out loud with a partner either taking turns or chorally.

White Boards: Break out the white boards to practice (always a winner with my students)

Letter Tile/Stamp Spell: Spell out the word using letter tiles or stamps

Boggle: I have a giant boggle board with velcro letters on my door, set the time and see what words they can find

Embed and apply the knowledge

This for me is the most important part of word work: without grounding their phonetic knowledge into whole language and applying it students risk not developing a true understanding of the world.  As a teacher my goal is get my students beyond knowledge to understanding and application.

Vocab Rock and Roll: The idea for this is simple; students take a dice and there are 6 activities to do with each word based on the number rolled. For example: 1 = Give a definition, 2 = Make a sentence, 3 = Say a synonym, etc. I came across this idea a couple of years ago and unfortunately cannot remember where (if you know, please send me a message so I can credit the person with the original idea!). Click here for my version (2 levels) on TPT. 

Word Shaker: Put each spelling word on a laminated card (different colours if you want to really add to the challenge) and put them in a jar of coloured rice or other sensory item.  Students shake the jar to find the word, then either make their own sentence or match them up on a worksheet.

Story Challenge: Can you get all 10 words into a story?

Word Bingo: Students write their words into a bingo grid and someone (teacher, assistant, volunteer, or student) gives a definition: students match their words to the definition and see who can get the first line, all the corners, etc.

Crossword Puzzles: Use a simple crossword builder (there a lots available online) for a challenging puzzle

Sentence Clozes: This works better for my struggling students who find it hard to construct their own sentences (or varied ones at least)

I’m always open to new ideas for word work and would love to know if you have any other activities or ideas that I could try out!


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