How To Differentiate Your Word Study Instruction

How To Differentiate Your Word Study Instruction by A Word On Third

If you have wildly different spellers in your classroom, you are not alone. Every year, I have some students below, on, and above grade level. Each year, the number of students in those groups changes, but I can pretty much always depend on the fact that I will have wildly different spellers. Here are some tips for teaching word study that I've learned over the past few years that have really helped me to improve my instruction!

1. Start with real, balanced data.

DO NOT just rely on a developmental spelling assessment!!! That is the biggest mistake I used to make. I felt so liberated when I stopped doing this. Definitely administer a DSA, but make sure that you are using a child's writing samples as data as well. If a student spells really well on a spelling assessment but it doesn't transfer over to their writing work, they haven't truly mastered those spelling patterns you are testing them for. Check out this writing sample I just found with a quick Google search...

I'm sure you can learn a lot about the above writer just from this tiny sample here! This writer has got some great knowledge of consonants, consonant blends, and vowel blends. They can probably benefit from some long vowel work and suffix work. Look at how the writer spelled "craziest," and "board." What if that writer was able to do that on the test? What if that was because the words on the test were more familiar for that writer?

So, the moral of the story is... check a writing sample AND developmental spelling test. That gives you a clear picture of what is going on for that speller.

2. Create a word cycle for groups of students with similar needs.

Once you've assessed your kids, try to break them into no more than 3 groups. (That's my preference, anyway--I find 3 to be seriously manageable.) If you're worried that this won't work for you--let me share another completely new idea to me that helped me feel comfortable with this.

Research suggests you will not damage kids by having them work slightly under their spelling level.
Studies actually proved that kids who learned in a truly balanced literacy classroom slightly under their level still outperformed students who were instructed at their level. What does this mean? We have some wiggle room! If you can teach a kid at their level... do it. But if you find yourself wanting to break your kids up into 6 groups, stop giving yourself pointless headaches.

Once you've broken your kids into groups, figure out what activities you want kids to do each day to learn their words. Now stagger this so you can be with one group each day. I recommend starting your cycle off first with your highest group since they will be able to be more independent without you. That will give you time to introduce new spelling principles to the other groups.

Here's what a sample of my typical cycle looks like. I have 3 days of word study each week, so each cycle lasts 2 weeks.

How To Differentiate Your Word Study Instruction by A Word On Third

3. Teach the routines and activities as a whole class first.

Nothing is worse than a chaotic class with a bunch of different stations. Check out my tips on interactive modeling by clicking below.

4. Connect word study to reading and writing.

There are a few things that allow me to do this really well. I have students work on word hunts and participate in interactive writing with their group.

Word Hunts are great because the kids look for words that follow the spelling principle we are working on. Let's pretend we're working on long a (with a, consonant, and silent e) and short a (with just an a). They will read a part of a text while making meaning, stop reading, go back through that part and search for words that follow those principles. They don't have to be a part of their word sort. A few things to note--if you don't emphasize the importance of reading for meaning, this will not be as powerful at all. The kids will just start searching for words instead of connecting this to their reading work. Also, I work with kids the day after they do this and we discuss their results. Then we clarify any errors and participate in something else. Usually it's interactive writing, but sometimes it's shared reading.

Interactive writing is great because everyone involved is active, it can strengthen other content areas, and it's FUN! And lucky for you... it's no prep! Click the below picture to be taken to a short post I wrote specifically about how to use interactive writing in your word study period.

Here is a little sample of a REALISTIC finished product! It's quick... it takes 10 minutes!

Editing writing is perfect for getting kids to transfer skills from spelling work to writing work. All you're doing is having kids look through their writing samples (which might also be in their reading notebooks as well as their writing notebooks if you have your kids write about their reading) to edit for the spelling principle they are working on. You're teaching the long vowel, consonant, e pattern? Great. They can now edit with this pattern in their work! It doesn't even matter if it's always being used at the correct time 100% of the time--they are trying it. They might use that pattern instead of a different long vowel pattern, and that's OK. They'll get to that skill when they are ready.

You can read more about how I do this and even grab a freebie for my word hunts by clicking the picture below.

And, another freebie I've found for teaching sight words can be found below. 

My kids really like Rollin' Rollin' Rollin' and stamping letters. We don't do all of these when we work on our high frequency words, but some are classroom favorites. Tip Top Type even helps to solidify typing skills, which I know stresses teachers out in third grade now that standardized testing is a thing.

I also have my advanced spellers work on their vocabulary. Since some are so far above grade level, I find it more meaningful for them to think about nuances in word meanings and starting to use some new words in their speech and writing. BUT... that's another post for another day!

What do you do for your spellers? And are you ready for the holiday season? Are you counting the days down until break? Are you trying to squish as much in as you can before your kids are gone?

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