Understanding how to spell is vitally important, especially for our young readers and writers. Taking the time to study spelling words provides an amazing support for learning to read. But often times, spelling is taught as a list of rules to learn (with a long list of exceptions) or as haphazard words to memorize. Instead of focusing on how different our English words are, why not group them together according to how similar they are?
Word Study is spelling approach in which words are grouped and studied according to their similarities. Similar words are analyzed in a hands-on, developmentally appropriate fashion, helping kids to make sense of how words are constructed in the English language (our language is more regular than you might expect).
Learn How to Spell with Word Sorts
At the heart of the word study approach are word sorts. Words are studied that share a common feature. In this example with my 3rd grader, we studied words with the endings of -ed and -ing. In this particular case, I chose the words directly from his reading and wrote them on the blank word sort template in the back of Words Their Way. He cut them out and we sorted the words together, based on what was done to the base word before adding the endings -ed and -ing.
Once the words were sorted into their columns, I posed this problem to him: Why do you think we double the last letter in some base words before we add -ing and -ed and then do nothing to other base words? We analyzed the base words in each column together. We talked about what was similar about all the base words under the “nothing” category and again in the “double” column.
Together, we created a generalization (or rule) of why the last letters of base words should or shouldn’t be doubled. I stated, “If our generalization is true, then it should work for other base words, too.” We took a word walk through the book and found even more words that fit under each column (looking for common features).
Word Sorts for All Ages
Word sorts are a hands-on way to teach kids how to spell, starting with preschoolers all the way through high school. These sorts are adapted as picture sorts (for the very young) or word meaning sorts (with Greek and Latin word parts for older students). Words Their Way has several word sorting books, which you can read about here, that fit any stage of spelling development.
I’m also SUPER EXCITED to have the opportunity to launch a series of spelling apps, based on the word study approach. Our first app is called Short Vowel Word Study and features word sorts among other spelling activities for word families and longer short vowel words. Our next project is already in the making, with a Long Vowel Word Study app, so stay tuned!
Learning how to spell takes time and diligence. But I believe that it is a worthy investment for all our learners, from preschool to high school!
Becky Spence is a blogger, author, speaker, and coffee drinker. She homeschools four little blessings who keep her on her feet (and knees). She is the author of This Reading Mama, where she shares lots of reading and writing activities as well as free literacy curricula and printables. Her two favorite places to hang out are Facebook and Instagram.
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