Teaching young students to read is a complex process with many factors to consider. Emerging research on the Science of Reading has offered new insight into how we can optimally structure our lessons. With more knowledge on how children learn to read, we can create meaningful lessons in reading and other areas, that will support young readers best. Today let’s jump into the Science of Reading and word study.
What is the Science of Reading?
The Science of Reading refers to continued emerging research incorporating thousands of studies. The Science of Reading helps us gain valuable insight into how students learn to read. This is exciting news! As teachers, we want to support our students in the best way we can. The Science of Reading allows us to help our young students strengthen their reading abilities through intentional methods of teaching aligned with how students best learn.
Science of Reading based instruction starts with the idea that reading comprehension is the product of word recognition and language comprehension. While this might sound like a very simple and obvious piece of the reading puzzle, it’s important not to forget! This idea means that if we want to teach children to achieve reading comprehension, we must purposefully choose to focus on skills that deeply strengthen both decoding abilities and language comprehension in our classrooms.
Systematically choosing activities and lessons that help children grow in their abilities to decode and interpret language is key to overall reading fluency and comprehension.
What Does This Look Like in Practice?
It’s great to have information on the Science of Reading, but what does it actually look like in the classroom? When it comes to teaching reading skills with this approach in mind there are a few practical applications to take. As a teacher focused on the Science of Reading, it’s important to include lessons that address the following:
- Strengthen and grow vocabulary: Using a word wall, vocabulary cards, mini-readers, and word study activities helps children learn new words to add to their vocabulary.
- Word comprehension: Using read-aloud books and anchor charts to help children understand and retain information about words and word meanings is essential in word comprehension.
- Phonological awareness: Help students learn to recognize phonemes in isolation as well as segment and blend phonemes within words. This is a year-long undertaking in the first-grade classroom and a key component of word study activities.
- Phonics and word recognition: Teach letter sounds, spelling patterns, and word recognition systematically throughout the year, ideally building upon previously taught concepts.
- Fluency: Encourage opportunities for fluency through oral reading in small groups. This includes automatic word recognition with orthographic mapping.
Keeping these components in mind when planning your reading lessons will help ensure you’re touching on all the areas children need practice in to become strong readers. Over the years, I’ve found that one of the best ways to touch on all of these areas is through focused and consistent word study activities in the classroom.
Using Word Study to Support the Science of Reading
When it comes to giving students what they need to thrive in reading, there’s no better way to support them than through focused word study activities. Regular word work activities will present opportunities for children to grow in phonological awareness and enhance their vocabulary. Additionally, they will help your students become fluent readers. Not to mention, they are fun for students and offer opportunities for hands-on learning, which is an absolute MUST in first grade!
When it comes to choosing word study activities that align with the Science of Reading, remember to keep in mind what we discussed above. Ideally, word work activities should target vocabulary, word comprehension, phonological awareness, phonics, and word recognition, as well as fluency. If you can target all of these areas strategically throughout the year, your readers will be in good shape!
If you need ideas and examples of what that might look like, here are a few of the word work activities I used in my classroom week after week!
1. Letter Tiles for Learning to Segment Sounds
Letter tiles are one of my absolute favorite tools to help children learn to recognize and segment sounds. During small groups, I first provided students with a set of printable letter tiles. Then, I would either use picture cards to illustrate a word or say a word orally that we were going to target. Students then built the word with their letter tiles. To get started, you can guide children in segmenting the word into sounds orally and then building the word with the letter tiles.
The visual of using the letter tiles as they break the word down into segments is key. Doing so helps children see the phoneme-grapheme connection. This is also a great opportunity to incorporate phonics rules as you’re focusing on them in your classroom. For example, if you were to ask students to build the word “make”, they would likely pull the letters for sounds /m/, /a/, and /k/, or /c/.
At this point, you can bring in the “silent e” phonics rule and call out more words that illustrate it. Word work presents an opportunity here to target phonological awareness as well as phonics-specific rules in a hands-on way to help make it a bit more concrete! These essential components of the Science of Reading are made accessible and fun when hands-on learning is incorporated.
2. Using Word Sorts to Learn New Spelling Patterns
Spelling patterns are a huge piece of the reading puzzle in the first-grade classroom. When focusing on word study with the Science of Reading in mind, we want to explicitly teach spelling patterns and phonics rules strategically throughout the year. This means we’ll start with lots of guidance and modeling. Then, we will slowly taper off our level of support allowing children to grow in their own abilities and understanding.
Word work time offers another great opportunity to focus on teaching new spelling patterns with the use of word-sorting games and worksheets. To start out, I loved to use picture cards as word-sort games in my small groups. The children and I worked together to sort words into categories based on a couple of different spelling patterns or phonics rules.
Starting with pictures is step one. Once you’ve got that down, you can do the same activity with words. You can have students work carefully to separate them into the correct category, taking note of the differences that are seen in the words. Using direct support and guidance in small groups is essential in the Science of Reading classroom, and word study activities like these are a great way to foster that support!
To help children learn independence in this skill, they are later asked to complete this activity in worksheet form on their own. They will sort pictures into correct categories and glue them into each column. This activity is repeated at another time with words as well. Doing this activity multiple times in both formats is a great way to ensure that all of the students in your classroom have a solid understanding of the specific spelling patterns that are being taught.
3. Stamping Words to Support Orthographic Mapping
Finally, another activity we use in our word work activities focuses on targeting orthographic mapping in a fun, hands-on way. If you’re new to this concept, be sure to read through this post that details what orthographic mapping is and why it’s so important when teaching children how to read.
Essentially, orthographic mapping is the process that our brain uses to quickly remember and retrieve words from our memory. This process explains how children can recall sight words. It also explains how, as an adult, you can merely glance at a word and read it instantly. While this isn’t necessarily a skill that can be taught, it’s important to note that we can encourage this function by helping children strengthen their phonological awareness skills over time.
We can support this important brain function by using activities like this stamping words worksheet. Children will identify the picture and say it aloud. Then, they will sound the word out and stamp each letter on their paper as they go. You can also encourage students to pull the letter stamps out and lay them in order first. Then, they can check the sounds before actually stamping the letters on the paper. Afterward, we say the word again and count the sounds to be sure we got them all.
This process helps prepare their brains for orthographic mapping. It helps students become familiar with words and spelling patterns we use often throughout the year. This activity is great when initially used in small groups and then again as a practice activity during center time.
Using the Science of Reading and Word Study All Year
If you teach using Science of Reading principles then make sure you connect your word study lessons to your reading instruction. It’s really an easy connection and one that will help your students grow as both readers and spellers.
In my classroom, we did word work weekly, in small groups, to offer plenty of opportunities to target these skills. The activities become familiar to children over time also, making them a great center activity to use for practice after a specific skill has been taught.
Since word study was a huge part of my teaching, I made a whole year’s worth of word work activities. Each set includes:
- Lessons & Teaching Tips
- Standards Overview
- Teacher Notebook
- Word Study Lessons
- Picture Sorts
- Stamp It! Printables
- Word Sort Printables
- Word Hunt Printables
- Word Banks and MORE!
My bundle of word work activities for the whole year will make keeping the fundamentals of the Science of Reading in your lessons simple and effective through ongoing word study activities. Plus, these low-prep resources help to simplify planning too!
Try Word Work for FREE
If you want to test out a lesson, I’ve got a FREEBIE for you – Word Work Set for Digraph “ng”. This set for Digraph “ng” is a great way to see how these activities align with the Science of Reading. Included you’ll find a variety of materials that will help you target reading skills. These skills will be targeted with picture cards, letter tiles, stamping pages, and MORE! Download the resource to test out these activities in your classroom!
And. . . if you are ready to have a full year of Science of Reading word study activities right at your fingertips – then make sure to grab this full year Word Work Bundle. You will have everything you need to guide your students into strong reading and spelling skills.
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