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Words Their Way

Compiled By: ColoradoTeach

The following is information about the spelling program Words Their Way. This is an excellent spelling program that allows teachers to group students in different spelling groups based on their developmental levels. The program then gives various ways to teach students how to learn spelling patterns.

Words Their Way
Posted by: kp

I have been using Words Their Way for my spelling program for 2-3 years now. I love it. I do the spelling inventory at the beginning of the year to decide where to start them. This year I only have 2 spelling lists (in years previous I have had 3 lists). On Monday, I have my class write their spelling words on index cards (they have anywhere from 12-15 words). After they do that, they sort their words (if they are really low, their words will usually be sorted by beginning or ending sounds). Mine are now only sorting by vowel sounds in the middle. For example: if they have the words feet, feel, meat, seal, pet, mend - they would be sorted by long e - ea, and long e - ee, then short e - they could sort them by putting ea and ee together because they both have long e, that's ok too, but you would encourage them to sort it even further. This takes a long time (on Monday) because I go around to each child and have them explain how they sorted their words and why, and I also make sure they know what each word is. Each day I have them do something different with their cards (either for homework or at school). I like this much better than writing their words 3 times, etc. I may have them do the typical homework for spelling this last nine weeks of school because this is what they do in 3rd grade, just to prepare them, but I highly recommend this program.

Using Words Their Way
Posted by: Amie

I've used Words Their Way off and on for the last five years. (Sometimes I like to put all the kids back together for a change, usually working on commonly misspelled words for a few weeks.)
Yes, I do still give weekly spelling tests.
Generally, I assign spelling homework for the week. On Monday, I introduce the word sorts and give a list of practice activities, sorted by difficulty. (These include everything from typing the words three times each to hiding the words in a picture.) By Friday, the students have to turn in one activity from each category. This allows them three nights for activities and one night for specific studying.
As for the single student who is too far below the other students, that can be a problem. First of all , check his/her daily writing. Is there any chance that he/she is not as far behind as the inventory showed? It's really difficult to run a group with only one member! Perhaps you could group this student with a couple of members of your lower group who would benefit from some review lessons.
Remember, the groups need not remain the same all year long. Students can be moved for a single lesson or for a series of lessons. I often find that some of my higher students need to review a specific spelling rule, even though they generally spell accurately.
I generally spend one week on each set of words, but if the students just don't "get" a certain pattern, I just create a second week's list to reinforce the lesson.
Good luck! It's definitely worth the effort.

Weekly Spelling Tests
Posted by: baileystavern

Wow...I SO agree with maryteach and the merits of incorporating word study and word sorts. I have been teaching for almost ten years but am now at a new school (second year). I am VERY frustrated with what I see going on in the primary grades with spelling instruction. I teach kindergarten (utilizing Kindergarten Building Blocks) and feel like I am wasting my time when I see "my" kids (from the previous year) going into a classroom and being given these "one size fits all" lists of developmentally inappropriate spelling words...week after week...test on Friday. *SNORE* I like the "Words Their Way" process of instruction which involves assessment guided, direct instruction utilizing sound and word sorts (depending on the level of the child). The lessons are multilevel and multisensory and very appropriate for primary grades. (There are also books for upper grades, but I particularly like how the children are touching, seeing, saying, and then can/will transfer their knowledge to writing.) Yes, one will have to invest some time setting up the program, but the efforts are well worth it because instruction is EFFECTIVE. Why waste a school year with practices that you KNOW don't work well and do not feel good about implementing?

I also agree with the comment about doing the weekly lists because that's what they've always done, but I also think it's because a lot of teachers just DON'T KNOW what ELSE to do! I think that the administration is partly to blame for this if they are not providing professional development opportunities for the staff to enlighten teachers of the best, research based, and most effective practices.

(I've also taught 4th grade using the "Nifty Thrifty Fifty" from Patricia Cunnigham's Big Blocks and thought it was very effective AND, more importantly, the kids enjoyed the lessons...and RETAINED and UTILIZED what they had learned! )

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word sorts
Posted by: Kathy

I am new at this too but I'll give you a few ideas. First, be sure to read "Words Their Way" and there's another book by Kathy Ganske that's really helpful but I can't remember the title. Those two books will tell you how to do it all. Here's what I do: Monday each group gets their words. I try to stick to 2-3 groups. I work with them to see what the pattern is (long vowel, blend, ending, etc). They draw a grid in their spelling notebook and then they do their first sort by rewriting the words into the grid according to the rule that applies. For example, if they were doing "sh,th,wh" the grid would have 3 columns. I give them the words in a big table so another sort is to cut the words apart and then regroup them correctly. They keep their cut-up words in a baggie and then during the week they sort them with me, with a buddy, and in a race against the stopwatch. With the stopwatch, I call out the time every 10 seconds. When they are done they write the time and then later we do it again and they try to better their own time. At the end of the week they glue their cut-up words into the spelling folder into a new grid. Sometimes I have them write sentences using the words or write the definitions or illustrate them or use them in a story. It depends on the words and what seems to be the best way to use them. I know I am leaving out important stuff but hopefully this gives you a few ideas.

Posted by: Kristen_6th

I don't have an answer to any of the questions but I'm glad I'm not alone in thinking about it.

I used to use Words Their Way. I had separate groups for the introductions but they had independent sorts each day. The others in their group checked to see they agreed with the sorting and the spelling. I only did it one year so I'm not too sure about results but at least the kids seemed more aware of WHY certain words were spelled a certain way. Of course, English is so irregular, it sometimes created problems.

Now we have required spelling books. They are by the authors of WTW but still, they are mandated word lists each week. I have been differentiating by adding challenge words, etc. I like the fact that they can sort their words online and get automatic feedback.

This coming year, I think I am going to incorporte parts of Month-by-Month Phonics (from the 4 blocks people). One of my goals this summer is to figure out the parts of Month-by-Month that correlate with our spelling pattern. I like their philosophy on spelling-

some words are ones that you just need to learn and know automatically
some words have predictable rime patterns
some words have two possible rime patterns and it is more of "What Looks Right"
some words have word parts (prefix/suffix) and learning these word parts can help you become a better reader and speller
These ideas of spelling should be applied to reading and writing or else they are worthless

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Word Study
Posted by: Kristin

Hi Ann. The workbooks are published by Pearson Education. I know that they're available at Amazon. They are called "Words Their Way: Word Sorts for __________" (fill the line in with the correct spelling stage for your students). I teach 2nd grade and I have used 3 of the workbooks. There are 5 spelling stages (Emergent, Letter Name, Within Word, Syllables & Affixes, and Derivational Relations). I used Letter Name at the beginning of the year but now I only use the Within Word and Syllables & Affixes workbooks. If you need to know specifics of which books you may need, let me know. I'll try to help as best I can.

I learned how to do the program from another teacher at my school. When I first started it, I didn't do it the way the book says because I wasn't sure of what I was doing. If you can learn from someone else at your school, I would suggest that. My professor was not very effective so I actually learned more from the other teacher. She took the class with another professor and said that she learned a lot. I'd just try to check with others in your area for their suggestions.

The Words Their Way book is a little overwhelming to read when you have no experience with the program. Once I understood it a little, the book became a lot easier to understand. It's a really great program. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions.

Individualized Spelling
Posted by: fiona1

I use Words Their Way. It has a diagnostic test to do grouping on the specific patterns and language concepts the children need to work on. This program is researched based and very thorough. I make three groups. To properly teach the concepts each week takes time and I couldn't do all three myself in an efficient manner so one group is taught on Mondays by the Sp.Ed or Title 1 teacher. This program has students sorting words by types, focuses on word study and analysis. On Fridays, I have partners from groups test each other. This takes about twenty minutes, the same amount of time as a teacher-led test. Students are tested again in December/January, new groups made. They are tested again in June to again show progress. Great data and information to drive instruction. I used the main text book as my guide and for words along with the accompanying CD, creating a binder divided into sections by the groups. However, this summer, I purchased th individual books by type to make life a little easier for me and the Sp.Ed teacher. My binder will be for addtional or enrichment lessons.Pearson is the publisher.:s)

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words their way
Posted by: Tatum

I also used Words Thier Way. I liked this but as the previous poster stated it was a lot of time consuming work and it was very hard to reach all groups in a timely manner. I had a parent volunteer come in on Mondays to take a group and introduce words and give them the practice lesson I planned and made (usually a word sort or game from the accompanying Cd). I took the other two groups and introduced thier words and gave them a word sort to do. There are generic center activities they can do during literacy time as well.

To place them into groups I used the diagnostic test from the manual and retested them halfway thru the year and then the groups changed a little. I did let the kids do the buddy tests. At first this takes forever,but train them and they will learn.

This was a lot of work to do spelling this way, just make sure you're up for giving yourself more is worth it for the kids. I saw some amazing progress in their everyday spelling/writing due to WTW.

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Words Their Way
Posted by: Mary

I teach sixth grade lang. arts in a middle school. I use WWW with my low kids. I give the sort on Monday (I have all the sorts on a floppy, so I can just print out the ones I need). They cut it out and sort it. Then they copy it into their word study notebooks. On Wednesday, they look at what they've written, and sort the words again, if they need to. Working with a partner, they (hopefully) discover the generalization (some of them are easier to discover than others). They write that below the sort, in their notebook. On Friday, if they've completed all that, I let them spend 15 or 20 minutes playing the games (I made many of the games for the Within Word group and the Syllables and Affixes group. What a pain in the side, but I have them forever).

Word sorts should not take more than 20 minutes out of every week, I don't think.

You probably won't even see this. I don't usually come to this board.

Words Their Way
Posted by: ConnieWI

I highly recommend Words Their Way. My district bought each teacher Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction by Donald Bear (and others) and our staff development began with this book. They also purchased the student word study notebooks (Celebration Press) for each child. This program comes with computer CDs that include the weekly word lists, teacher materials for teaching each sort, and the games for each sort.

This first year has been busy...continued grade level staff development, making the games for each sort and cards to play the games, and materials the teacher needs to introduce each sort. However, I love the program. My students are much better spellers. I also like the fact that students are pretested and then placed at their spelling level. In my room, I have seven students at Level B, twelve students at level C, and seven students at level D.

Next year will be so much easier because everything is now made and I have kept everything organized in binders with plastic sleeves.

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Words Their Way
Posted by: Kristin

This is the first year that I have been using this program and I love it. I also just completed a Univ. of VA course on the program (some of the writers in the program were professors there). Although it takes a good amount of time to do this program (I have 3 reading groups), it is worth the time. I have seen a big improvement in my students' spelling. They are even able to spell words that are not on their list because they know the pattern to follow. Our county provided us with workbooks for each spelling stage in the program. These books already have word sorts created so you don't need to make them yourself. On Fridays when I quiz my students, they have to write their words under the correct features (example long e versus short e). They earn one point for putting it in the correct column and one for spelling it correctly. If you have any specific questions about the program, let me know.

Posted by: rita

I was just at a wonderful workshop that focused on this exact topic. We looked at the materials from a source called Words Their Way (prentis hall publisher) author name is Bear. there is a great assessment that can be given to your entire class in less than 15 minutes and then when you score it you get a good look at where each student breaks down in using phonics, roots, syllables, etc. It was a real eye opener for me. there are great ideas to do with small groups (word sorts by rules) once I teach my kids how to do the sorts, they will be working with their own words to sort each week. this makes it incredibly easy!

Valuable Resource
Posted by: Kat's Mom

Hi, LaVerne,

During my master's, the only resource book that I actually have used beyond the grad class and in the classroom is Words Their Way. I do not know if you're already familiar with it, but it helps you guage what level your readers are at phonetically and also then provides a plethora of games/strategies/activities (color coded for each stage in the book) for each level. I think this book is a must have for the elem. teacher and will help you lots. Maybe a Title I teacher or someone in your building may already have it for you to borrow? It also has great spelling inventories, word lists, etc. in it.

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Word Study/Words Their Way Question
Posted by: kreeves

I have a question about something with Word Study and am hoping that someone can help clear up my confusion. I am confused about how it works when kids move from one group to another.

If a student moves from his/her group to the next group, then they have missed out on the early sorts that that group has participated in. Isn't this a problem for them as they work on developing within the next stage?

Perhaps I am seeing the sorts incorrectly in thinking there is some sort of linear progression with the sorts such that the students need to work through systematically week by week. Could someone help me out with this confusion?

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You test the kids
Posted by: Me too

and place them on the continuum, which shows you where to start them with their sorts. You should not need to worry about them not doing the sorts previous to their level, as their placement test showed you that they have a pretty reasonable mastery of the easier sorts. We don't want children continuing to practice what they already know. Go ahead and start them where they land on the continuum. Consider having them do all the sorts in say, Letter Name/Alphabetic before moving them up to the next level.

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Re: Word Study/Words Their Way Question
Posted by: kreeves

How do you make sure that you only have, say, 3-4 groups at any given time? So that it doesn't get completely out of hand management-wise for the teacher, it seems that you need 3-4 groups in which the kids are completing the same sorts. If this is the case, how do you just place them on the continuum? I think maybe I'm being a little dense any clarification anyone offers is helpful, whether it seems so or not!!! :)

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Re: Word Study/Words Their Way Question
Posted by: Me too

Don't place them early, middle, late. Just place them in Syllables and Affixes, or whatever. Put everyone in S and A in that group, whether they're low, middle or high. Then the whole group gets the same sort. Same with the other levels. I keep it to four groups. I have 130 kids; I teach in a middle school, but I think this works anywhere:

I model a couple of sorts for the class first. I actually take a whole class period to model cutting it out, sorting it, writing it in my word study notebook, and writing the generalization I discover. Then we do it as a class, with each group working together. I do that a couple of times. Then I tell them the word sorts are now their responsibility. Every Monday, there will be a new sort on the wall, in their groups' folder, and they have until Friday to get it done. It's only a ten minute deal, usually, once they get the hang of it. It's a good thing that they can do when they finish an assignment, instead of asking for something to do.

I think also that by keeping everyone in one level doing all the sorts for that level, from beginning to end, you are solving your dilemma of kids missing what they need. I think that where they place on the continuum shows that they don't need the lower levels, but it never hurts to give them all the sorts for the level they're on.

Oh yeah, test the whole class at once. You'll get them tested in ten minutes, and you can burn through them really fast when you get a minute. Have a good kid be your "test-giver" to new kids.

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Word Study
Posted by: Anna R.

Word Study is the examination of words through sound, pattern or meaning, depending which level of understanding a student is at. Basically, researchers have identified different levels of understanding of words and then formulated levels of instruction for students based on that knowledge.

Just like teachers understand that there are different levels of reading, soon, everyone will understand that there are different levels of spelling. And that would make sense, wouldn't it? Isn't reading and spelling naturally linked? The level of your understanding how to decode a word would be linked to how you spell a word, right?

Identifying a student's spelling level through looking at their errors, will give you a window into their mind. Looking at a student's results of a word study assessment I find to be very exciting, as it can tell me how a student approaches words. If I know how they are thinking about words, I can create lessons that are designed to carry them to the next level.

The first level is letter name. In letter name, students learn letters correspond to sounds. The instruction is focused on students listening for and feeling the sounds of letters in their mouth. Instruction centers around consonants, short vowels, blends, and digraphs.

The second level is within word. In this level, students focus on learning long vowel patterns and other patterns found in single syllable words.

The third level is syllable affixes. In this level, students learn how words change when endings are added. They also learn spelling patterns found within syllables. When students are able to identify syllable breaks and patterns, they can use them to quickly read and spell. I have found this level to be particularly useful in helping students become more fluent readers and advance into the intermediate reading phase.

The fourth level is derivational relations. This is when the students are able to understand relationships between a word's meaning and the spelling of that word, as well as words that are similar to it. A quick example would be the word "pleasure." Although it sounds like a short e is in the middle of the word, a student in derivational relations would be able to see that it is related to the word "please" and use that knowledge as a clue to spell the word.

This is a very "down and dirty" explanation. I use two main resources, Words Their Way by Bear, Templeton, et al., and Word Journeys by Kathy Ganske. I also use the small word sort books that are linked to Words their way. Each level has it's own word sorting book.

Management can be intimidating to teachers who are used to teaching whole group, but once you get past that, you will never go back. It is so nice really knowing how each students processes words.

I have also started a Facebook group (I am currently the only member) called "Teachers using Word Study" if anyone is interested in discussing Word Study further. :)

If anyone is reading this from Reno, I miss you guys!

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