Many students find word study to be one of the most enjoyable components of balanced literacy instruction. Teachers find it to be one of the most powerful. That’s because reading ability dramatically improves as students use meaningful games and activities to discover:
- Letters and the sounds they make
- How to pick out root words, and how suffixes and prefixes can change the meaning
- Spelling involves finding patterns
- How to get clues to word meaning and pronunciation by examining the parts of a word.
But word study isn’t all fun and games. It actually involves problem solving in the form of developing hypotheses, searching for patterns, predicting outcomes, and experimenting to find out if they’re right. Using word study activities, students compare new words to words they already know and look for similarities.
Why is Word Study Important?
In order to become fully literate, students must have the ability to accurately recognize words. They also have to adequately use written words to convey meaning. Because word study is based on phonics spelling and vocabulary, it’s a way for students to manipulate and fully examine words.
At once they do, students realize that words are powerful things. When they learn how words work they’re on their way to becoming fully literate individuals. Learning phonics, sight words, decoding, spelling patterns, and word meanings, means understanding the basics of written words. From there they can communicate and construct meaning. After all, that’s what language is all about.
Fortunately, educators have come to realize that rote drill and practice isn’t the most efficient way to master a reading or writing skill. Students need the opportunity to think critically and manipulate words and their concepts. That way they can generalize words based on spelling or other commonalities. Grasping spelling, word recognition, and vocabulary goes beyond memorizing a few rules. The best way to become proficient in words and their features is to have plenty of opportunities to examine them in different contexts.
The Purpose of Word Study
As a component of balanced literacy, word study achieves two goals; first to help students become fluent readers with a strong vocabulary, and secondly, to give students the opportunity to fully explore and manipulate words.
- Word study isn’t about memorizing spelling words but about understanding spelling patterns.
- It isn’t about manipulating a random group of words but can compare words that are phonetically similar.
- It isn’t just another fun activity but is a purposeful look at word analysis.
Word Study Activities
When planning word study lessons, teachers can choose from a variety of activities to improve spelling, word recognition and vocabulary. Students tend to enjoy working with words and are eager to get word “games.” Here a just a few of them…
Word Study Activity 1: Word Searches
In word searches students take a group of word categories and “search” for examples of words in those categories by combing through magazines, newspapers, books, or textbooks. They write down the words they find.
Word Study Activity 2: Pattern Sorting
Pattern sorting is an activity that teaches students to categorize words. The categories can be based on the way particular sounds are expressed in a word. Pattern sorting is great for looking at vowel patterns, contractions, and silent letters.
Word Study Activity 3: Proofreading
Proofreading is one of those “must have” skills in order to be optimally successful in school. Word study lessons involving proofreading help students learn to develop an eye for how a written word should look. They learn to know if a word “looks right” when spelled out.
Using word study lessons to round out a balanced literacy program promises a much greater chance of retaining word meanings and making sense of spelling rules.
Thank goodness, literacy has moved beyond writing a list of words five times each to learn to spell. Or decoding words by simply “sounding them out.” Now word study makes exploring the various aspects of the English language much more meaningful and enjoyable.