If your school is working on implementing teaching practices that align with the science of reading, then chances are you are probably going to be giving a lot more instructional time to word study.
If you are a third, fourth, or fifth-grade teacher, then you have probably been told that you need to make word study a priority this year, but maybe you’re wondering what exactly word study is.
Simply put, word study is the study of words.
It is the part of our instructional day that teaches students how words work.
Word study is the process of learning everything about words: spelling, meaning, pronunciation, historical origin, and connection to other words.
When you think of word study instruction in upper elementary, you want to keep a big picture perspective. We want to make sure that we are giving students tools that will make them skilled readers.
Word study lessons can help our students make progress towards that goal.
Why is word study important in upper elementary?
- If we want our students to be skilled readers, they have to have a foundation that allows them to actually read and understand the words they see on a page, and your word study instruction will help with that.
- In upper elementary, students start to see more multisyllabic words. Many students who are fluent or proficient readers in the primary grades start to struggle when they see big words. It’s possible they were fine reading single syllable words, and they might have a strong phonics foundation, but with the introduction of multisyllabic words, they start to struggle. Word study instruction can help students read multisyllabic words.
- Word study lessons also support both reading and writing.
- Finally, it is estimated that over 60% of English words have meanings that can be predicted from their word parts. This means we definitely want to be giving enough focus on word study to give students the tools to help them understand the meaning of most words they encounter.
What does effective word study instruction look like in upper elementary?
There are three steps you can take to create an effective word study block in upper elementary.
- You need to provide systematic and explicit instruction.
- You need to provide students with opportunities to play with, manipulate, and explore words.
- You need to provide opportunities for students to transfer their word study understanding to the texts they read.
Let’s break each step down.
Step 1: Provide Explicit and Systematic Instruction:
When we are teaching word study concepts, we want our instruction to be both explicit and systematic.
Systematic refers to the order in which you teach the concepts.
You want to teach your words study lessons in an order that makes sense. You want to start with simple concepts and progress to more complex or challenging ones.
For example. If you are teaching your students about word parts and how each part of a word has a meaning that can help readers figure out the meaning of the whole word, then you might follow a progression like this:
- Start by introducing compound words.
- Move into prefixes.
- Introduce suffixes
- Explain that some suffixes are inflectional, and some are derivational.
- Show students examples of words that have both prefixes and suffixes.
- Then you might introduce common Latin roots.
- Then you probably move on to explain Greek roots and combining forms.
So rather than just jumping straight into your instruction about roots (which is a key standard in upper elementary), you start by teaching the more simple and basic concepts and build on the knowledge your students have as you progress to the more advanced concepts.
Explicit instruction refers to how you teach your lessons.
Whether you are teaching whole group or small group, you can provide explicit instruction. Explicit instruction means you are being specific and intentional with how you explain and model word study concepts.
- You want to introduce word study concepts one at a time (small bite-sized chunks).
- Define terms and use academic language.
- Model using concrete examples.
- Show students examples of words that are the exception to the rule.
For example, if you are teaching suffixes to your students, you wouldn’t just explain that adding a suffix can change the meaning of the word, but you would explain that suffixes can change the spelling, meaning, pronunciation, and even the part of speech.
When we introduce and teach a word study concept, we want our students to have a full understanding of that specific topic.
Step 2: Give Students Opportunities to Explore and Play With Words
Before students can fully master and apply their word study knowledge to their independent reading and writing, they need an opportunity to play with words in a hands-on way.
This is often the missing link in word study instruction. We don’t always give our students an opportunity to play with words but instead expect that after one whole group lesson, they have mastered the concept.
When students get to play with and explore words, not only do they develop a much deeper understanding of the concept, but they start to feel much more confident in their ability to notice word study generalizations. They also get a chance to apply what they are learning in a fun and engaging way.
Word of the week is a super simple word study routine that can be modified or adapted to address a variety of word study concepts like context clues, prefixes, suffixes, and roots.
Here are some other ideas for activities that you could incorporate into your word study lessons:
- Word Ladders
- Word Sorts
- Building Words
- Word Webs
Word play activities word great in literacy work stations or are part of any independent practice routine.
Step 3: Help students transfer their word study understanding to the texts they read.
The ultimate goal of our word study instruction is to help students become more fluent readers (automatically reading a text with comprehension) and strong writers. So we don’t want their word study knowledge to only be present during word study lessons.
This means we need to actively provide opportunities and reminders to help students transfer what you have taught them during word study lessons to their actual reading and writing.
Once you have explicitly taught a concept, you want to regularly review, discuss, and spiral it into your literacy instruction to support automaticity and fluency.
This can be done with any and all teaching experiences.
Anytime you are encountering words, take a minute to find a word that includes a word study concept and point it out to your students. Do a short little mini-lesson on that word and show students how the word study lessons you’ve been teaching are helping them read, spell, pronounce, or understand the words they read.
Consider bringing word study into the following parts of your instructional day:
- Read Alouds
- Other Content Areas
- Small Group Lessons
- Morning meetings
- Literacy Workstations
Basically, anytime you are reading or writing something, you have the opportunity to reinforce word study concepts.
One of the really cool things about word study is that your word study instruction doesn’t have to be long.
Your explicit and introduction lessons might take 5-10 minutes, but once you’ve introduced a word study concept, you’re giving your students permission to notice that word study concept in anything they are reading and writing.
Grab Your FREE Gift!
Context Clues Word Of The Day
Includes 5 word of the day cards that will help students become experts at using context clues. Also includes 2 student worksheets to work on word of the day or word of the week and a teacher guide.
Put it into practice…
If you are ready to take action and start to give more focus to your word study lessons, here are three things you can do.
- Grab my Word of the Week freebie and introduce that routine to your students.
- Listen to episode #94 of the podcast, where I share four word study concepts every upper elementary teacher should be teaching.
- Come join us inside The Stellar Teacher Reading Membership to get access to a ton of word study resources and support so you know how to incorporate them into your classroom.