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Using Word Work to Teach Sounds and Spelling Patterns

Do you incorporate word work activities in your weekly lessons? If you’ve been here a while, you probably already know how much I love using word work to teach a variety of phonics-based skills. Word work is a great way to take a deep dive with your students and practice concepts like sounds and spelling patterns. Today, I’m sharing my favorite word work activities to help your students master new spelling patterns with ease.

What is Word Work?

Before we begin, let’s chat briefly about what I consider word work to be and how it’s used in the first-grade classroom. Word work refers to hands-on activities that are focused on letters, sounds, and words. Word work lessons are great for focused instruction time, like small groups.

In my classroom, we used word work activities on a daily basis to learn new concepts and practice them in depth.

There are many different skills you can target with word work such as letter sounds, blending sounds, segmenting, sound manipulation, and spelling patterns.

The biggest benefit to using word work is that it offers a chance for students to work with new words, sounds, and spelling patterns in a hands-on way. This helps to promote engagement among your learners and keep your phonics lessons feeling fun and fresh!

First-Grade Sounds and Spelling Patterns

When it comes to word work in the first-grade classroom, spelling patterns make up a big part of the curriculum. Spelling patterns refer to common groupings of letters that represent a sound. Some of the spelling patterns we focus on in first grade include:

  • letter sounds (fundamentals & review)
  • word families & rhymes
  • blends
  • CVC and CVCE words
  • vowel teams
  • digraphs
  • diphthongs

Since we focus on so many different spelling patterns throughout the year, word work time is an excellent opportunity to take a deep dive into each one. At the beginning of the year, we focused mostly on letter sounds and review, then we’d move on to word families, blends, and CVC words, gradually working through each one. We used a variety of activities for each of these skills until students seemed to have a firm grasp on them and then move on to the next level.

The great thing about word work is that since many of the activities are used across multiple spelling patterns and skills, students begin to become very familiar with them. After a while, they know what to expect and can work on many of the word work activities during centers or independently for continued practice.

Introducing New Spelling Patterns

As we moved through each of the key spelling patterns covered in first grade, I always liked to start with an in-depth introduction. In my classroom, I was a big fan of using a few things to help my students learn a new spelling pattern including:

  • a fun video introducing the spelling pattern
  • digital activities for whole group and small group instruction
  • colorful reference posters and picture sorts

Using these three tools in your lessons is a great way to help students truly grasp these new concepts. For example, let’s focus on digraphs. If you’re beginning to introduce digraphs to your group, try starting out with a fun video like this one. It uses a snappy song that will help students understand what digraphs are and how to spot them. First graders LOVE songs and music, so I’ve found this a great way to start out and really grab their attention.

Digital Introduction Slides

After the video, I Iiked to use digital Google Slides activities to further demonstrate new spelling patterns and sounds to kiddos. The Google Slides activities we used have an intro slide that allows students to listen and then practice saying the new sound we’re learning. This is a great activity to use all together. Simply display the slide on a Smart Board and have kiddos practice saying the sound together as a group.

Spelling Posters and Word Sorts

word sorts help students practice spelling sounds.

After this step, I liked to go over the new spelling rules that apply to this pattern with spelling rule posters and a picture sort.

The posters display common spelling rules and examples to help remind kiddos as they’re learning, while the picture sort helps them begin to practice.

To use the sorting activity, I passed around the picture cards for students to hold as we discussed each one. Children will work on identifying the sounds they hear for each card.

Next, I’ll ask how we can sort them out in a way that makes sense. The goal here is that students will identify the sounds and spelling patterns on their own and sort them into groups. If kiddos don’t arrive at this conclusion on their own, I help guide them by offering categories and then prompting them to try again.

Sorting Activities for Sounds and Spelling Patterns

After the introduction, it’s time to get to work! I’m a big fan of using word work activities in small groups. This offers a great way to work with kiddos based on their skill level and help each child get the most out of your lessons. When it comes to word work, hands-on activities are best for high engagement!

Digital activities help students practice spelling sounds.

We’d typically start out with a smaller version of the picture sort we used as a class as well as a word sorting activity. Personally, I think it’s fun to start with picture cards first and help build up student confidence. Since we did this activity once as a class, it’s a great way to start out! After children seem more comfortable with those, move on to sorting word cards for continued practice.

These sorting activities are also available in a digital format for Google Slides. After you’ve worked directly with your students in small groups, the digital activities are a great way to facilitate continued practice during technology centers. I also enjoyed using the digital lessons for whole class review and homework options as well!

Make Word Work Activities More Challenging

After kiddos have had a chance to work on both picture sorts and word sorts, I like to utilize word-building activities for continued practice. This is a great way to check in on student understanding as you work through each new pattern.

Letter cards help students practice spelling sounds.

In my classroom, we focused on one new pattern at a time. I recommend starting out with a known word for an example. Then, call out words from the word bank. Be sure to encourage students to practice building these words on their own using letter tiles. Encourage students to listen carefully to the sounds they hear as they build. Continue to practice this with a variety of words for each spelling pattern, focusing on only one pattern per day. Once you’ve covered them all, you can move on to mixed practice. Practice multiple spelling patterns in small groups and centers.

Beyond using letter tiles, you can also practice writing the words on dry-erase boards, with shaving cream, and stamps. The key to helping children fully grasp each new pattern is through continued practice, but don’t forget to mix things up to keep it fun and engaging for your students!

Work on Spelling Patterns and Sounds in Your Room

Ready to try some of these fun activities in your classroom? Make sure to grab my FREE Word Work Resource for Digraph “ng”. This resource comes with a whole week of activities! This will help your students master a new spelling pattern in a fun way. Test out the spelling rule posters, picture sorts, letter tiles, and more with your own students!

Looking for fun word work activities to use all year long? Be sure to check out my full bundles of both printable and digital word work activities! Once you’ve established a daily routine word work in your classroom, learning new sounds and spelling patterns will become a favored activity in your schedule!

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