Thinking about Word Study

I think there is a time and place for word sorts. When kids are sorting printed words, they look for differences in words. One issue with word sorts is that kiddos often sort without reading the words. Make sure to require kids to read the words as they sort them and after sorting.

When using word sorts, we often use them to teach a pattern or rime. However, we can also use them to help students recognize more words by sight. I will be doing more research on these two objectives for word sorts soon.

When completing Word Study activities, you need to understand your objective and know your students and how they learn. An alternative to word sorts is analogy charts. Here is a video showing how they work.

The objectives for analogy charts are to identify the vowel sound in a given word and use a word they already know to help them spell the word. This required encoding. Words sorts require decoding. Furthermore, Jan Richardson, the teacher in the video, has added a step to the analogy chart routine. At the end, the teacher, without saying the word, writes a challenging word (or two) that includes the targeted vowel concept on a dry-erase board. Students break the word up into chunks and read. For example, if you were doing an analogy chart for ow/ai from the video. A challenge word might be belowground, brainteaser, or arrowhead. There is value in doing word sorts and value in doing Analogy charts. Which one will have more of an impact on your objectives? Which one impacts a student’s ability to read (decode) and write (encode) words more?

One thing I am trying out is Word Mapping. The technical term would be Grapheme Phoneme Mapping. You can use a form similar to this.

I ask students to repeat the target word after I say it. Then I ask them to tap it out on their fingers. They tap out words with 3-4 sounds on one hand by tapping a finger to their thumb for each sound heard in a word.

I ask how many sounds the word has, and then they write it. This is very similar to using Elkonon Boxes, often called Sound Boxes. When two or three letters represent one sound, they go in one box together. The word “see” above is an example of this.

When mapping words, you do not need to include words that follow a single pattern. Know your focus for the activity. Mapping words is an excellent way to review words or several patterns already taught.

Sunday Cummins and Jan Richardson have created a Mapping activity for high-frequency words. It has been added to the steps Richardson wrote about in her Next Step books. Click this link to find those books. This additional step is not in these books. Find it below. It was placed as step one, replacing What’s Missing as step one and moving it down to step two. The routine now has 5 steps.

Burkins & Yates (2021)

As you consider words with patterns for mapping, analogy charts, sorts, or other activities, keep in mind the students’ level of alphabetic knowledge. They are just not ready for some words, even when using analogies.

Also, understand that the sequence does matter when studying words. Do not overlook this. When building words, it is essential. You must make sure students attend to the feature you are working on. Understand that when it comes to working with words, the part of the word that we change or move when building words is the part students focus on. Therefore sequence matters! If working with vowel sounds, many teachers start with a list of short vowels and then move to long vowels. For example, they may ask them to read, write, or build this list of words: kit, bit, sit, kite, bit, site. This will cause the students to focus on what is changed, the initial consonant. Not the vowels. Sequence the words this way instead: kit, kite, bit, bite, sit, site. This focuses the student’s attention on how the e changes the vowel sound. You can do similar sequences for digraphs. Order matters.


Words to build: kite, kit, bit, bite,hit, dim, dime, him

Words to read: dim, dime, time, tide, hid, hide

Words to write or map or use in an Analogy Chart: kite, kit, side, sit, site, dime, spit, spite

Children’s analysis of words is often very different than we realize. Don’t assume they notice, and note the same details in the words you expect them to. How they focus on words and what they see and hear depends on their current knowledge. We must observe and listen to them. When considering an activity, we must weigh its benefits against concerns. We cannot embrace an activity and assume it will work because it worked in a different setting with different students with their current level of knowledge. You can make those minor adjustments.

More to come on word sorts and analogy charts



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