In my first years as a teacher I felt that the way I taught spelling and word study was disconnected. I could design fun activities, however I was not sure these word searches and blends worksheets actually helped students to move on. I wished that my spelling and word study programme was more connected with reading and writing.
I approached the Daily Five WORD WORK activity centre with a critical view. It had to help students progress, and it had to be strongly connected with reading and writing.
A quick explanation of Word Work: students work with kinaesthetic materials to practise words they are challenged with reading or spelling. Students independently select their words and materials, and there are no worksheets for the teacher to mark.
Which materials have I provided?
- play-dough. A fresh batch is made by parent helpers each term. Students roll out lines of playdough to form the letters, or flatten out pieces and carve the words into the shape with a plastic knife. Plastic placemats are provided.
- Wikki Stix. I purchased my set from http://www.visionaustralia.org.au/ I found them difficult to get in Australia, and quite expensive, however, availability here has improved dramatically in the last few months. The students enjoy placing these on vertical surfaces, such as windows and whiteboards.
- cube letters. I found these at a two-dollar shop. Excellent fine-motor practice as they are very small.
- individual word cards. These are of the most common 100 and 200 words, prepared and laminated by our school resources officer.
- student thesaurus and dictionary
- magnetic letters. These sets include single letters and also blends, digraphs and common endings.
- mini white boards
- large laminated handwriting ‘dotted thirds’ charts
- plastic counters
- a large ‘final eight’ poster
- digital camera
- I do not make all the materials available for every session, otherwise there is too much to clean up.
Which words can students practise?
- Each student has a word card, on which I record words from their writing that they need to practise. Lists of eight words from these cards are tested each week in individual partner spelling tests.
- Students are encouraged to find challenging vocabulary words in books from their ‘good fit’ boxes.
- Students may use the dictionary and thesaurus to locate words.
- Most common 100 and 200 words posters
- Topic word charts
The Word Work component of the Daily Five has been a success. Most students choose Word Work in their daily routine (we usually complete three rounds of daily Five activities each day.) All children have shown independence and only two children need guidance about selecting appropriate words and staying on task.
Why has Word Work been a success? Students are challenging themselves and moving themselves on. A component of self-monitoring ans self-evaluation has grown into the routine. Students have chosen to record their work using the class digital camera and also to present their own mini–lessons or demonstrations to the whole class. This component can only happen if a teacher makes resources, such as digital cameras, available, and allocates time for the students to present their own mini-lessons.
The link between the students’ improvement in reading and writing is strong. The individual student word cards containing words misspelt in students’ writing pieces are always used. This means that students are practising the words they understand and need to practise. They often choose to work with a partner, and this has enabled less experienced students to call upon a partner to help with decoding a more difficult word. I have made more of an effort to teach incidentally about ‘vocabulary words’ as they arise in our class novel time and shared texts.
The open-ended nature and the element of student choice have much to do with the success of Word Work. I have recognised when students themselves have made their own changes to the routine, for example working with a partner or placing the Wikki Stix on a vertical surface. I have let Word Work grown into a useful and enjoyable activity. Sure, it’s not a silent sit-in-your-desk time, however engagement is high and students are motivated to improve.
This week one of my students needed help with independence during Word Work. She had moved next to a very capable student – good sign – but had not yet produced anything with the playdough. I gave both students the challenge of looking over their word cards, finding words with one, two, three and four syllables to make with playdough and then record with the digital camera. All good – back on track.
How do you manage Word Work?
How does Word Work compare to your previous strategies of teaching spelling and word study?