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What is Word Study?

“Words mean more than is set down on paper.

It takes human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”

-Maya Angelou

Word study is a hot topic in professional development. As teachers, we often wonder what word study learning looks like in our classrooms, when in our day we will fit in word study, how much time we “should” spend on word study, what kind of experiences students might participate in, and. . . if there is a program or kit that truly addresses all of our wants and needs. The simplest (and most complicated) answer is that no, like most of teaching, there is no one-fits-all easy answer. However, engaging in conversation, looking to our students, and taking the risk to try out new ideas is sure to result in more meaningful, playful, and productive learning than we might have first imagined.

So. . .what IS word study?

Quite simply- the study of words. . . in all kinds of ways. When we study words, we think about spelling patterns, but we also think about the meaning, connections, connotation, usage, and impact of these words.

A well-rounded approach to word study incorporates phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, and vocabulary. The ultimate goal of word study is for students to develop knowledge of spelling in general AND also increase their specific knowledge of words, including the meaning of individual words.

We strive to be analytic in our word study instruction. To this end, we might facilitate experiences where whole words are studied, phonemes are studied in real words, and we dig deep to study the “why” behind words. Inquiry-based word study experiences allow students to discover patterns, connections, and meaning themselves. The bottom line is that word study can be an engaging, individualized, meaningful, and FUN part of our classrooms!

Over the coming weeks, we will start a conversation about word study. In this blog series, I hope to share ideas about practical structures and routines including setting up notebooks, scheduling, differentiation, and assessment. We will also consider choice as we emphasize student-centered learning. Moreover, we will discuss making word study meaningful so that ultimately, students feel empowered and capable of transferring all they learn in word study to the other parts of their days.

NOTE: My district highlighted “Words Their Way” (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston) in their word study work. Many of the practices and routines mentioned reflect this style of learning.