Word work, or word study, is an important part of the balanced literacy approach to teaching reading. This is the time for the teacher to provide explicit, direct, and systematic teaching instruction on the foundation of the English language. This is not a big chunk of our day, but it’s a part of our day that is truly a pillar of reading as students work toward becoming better readers and writers.
Getting started with a word work time in your classroom can be intimidating–when will you carve out time for this? How will you structure that time? What will it look like in your classroom with all of the different ability levels?
How It Works
In our classroom, I did most word work lessons whole group. For example, if am ready to introduce the long /a/ sound, I will gather the kids on the carpet near the easel and we will do a short lesson together, 5-8 minutes total. I then might pass out dry erase boards and students will practice with me close by so that I can easily see what everyone is doing. During this time I am teaching the English phonics skill explicitly, directly, and with a systematic approach.
You might be thinking, “But what if all of my students are ready for long vowels?” You’re right. They might not be ready for it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t expose it and introduce them to it. For my students who aren’t ready for this, or who are ready for more than this, I tackle that during guided reading time. I also might differentiate during our word work literacy station. My high students might work on /ai/ and /ay/, while my lowest students might need more practice with short /a/.
I have done this time first thing in the morning and right after shared reading, but before we do guided reading/literacy stations. It only takes a small amount of time and the gain is worth EVERY minute!
You can create your own lessons, or use lessons provided, but remember, not all lessons that you purchase have a direct approach to teaching. We can never assume that our students “get it” or “just know” when we haven’t explicitly said, “short /a/ makes the sound /a/”.
Large Magnetic Letters– I loved that these letters were large and were the perfect size for my teaching easel.
Alphabet Cards to Sort– I would create a different colored set of alphabet cards for each student, which they kept in a ziplock baggie at the desk. They would take them out and sort them into ABC order when we would do a making words lesson (see book below). Grab them FREE HERE.
Words Their Way Books– If you need some help setting up a system and differentiating for your students, these books were favorites of mine! I used them for several years as a guide.
Making Words Books– This was my favorite resource to use with my kindergarten class. We did all of the lessons who group for several months before I allowed the students to do them with their own alphabet cards.
Dry Erase Boards and Markers-These were perfect for more than 1 subject, of course, but we used them during our whole group lessons when I waned the students to show me that they knew how to write with the new phonics skill we just learned.
The deeper our understanding of sounds, the better readers and writers we will become.