Craving low-prep, playful, and inherently flexible ways to continue learning at home? Word exploring may be your answer! Investigating words leads to important discoveries. Beyond that, word learning is F-U-N. During this time of distance learning, we can continue nurturing vocabularies (meaning-based work), phonological & phonemic awareness (sound-based work), and phonics and spelling pattern understanding (sound-letter work). The more we know about words, the more successful we become across the day- both in and out of school.
Here are a few tips for getting started:
Gather some “stuff.” This was purposefully ambiguous. “Stuff” refers to any word building materials people can find at home (playdough, building blocks, Wiki Stix, cereal, chalk, shaving cream, letter tiles, junk mail, etc). Less is more— you don’t need a ton of different supplies. Keep it simple. Students can also print or make their own letter cards (or blend/digraph cards, affix cards, or word part cards). Various writing utensils and paper could also be used in infinite meaningful ways. Word exploring “stuff” - AKA materials - transcend age: upper elementary and middle-grade learners also enjoy more playful discovery practices!
Curate words. Teachers will likely choose to continue to use the same word sorts or lists they have always been using. These words can come from ANY resource used by ANY district: phonics, spelling, or vocabulary programs, “home-grown” lists, high-frequency word lists, and/or content-area topics. Caregivers (and learners!) can also curate their own lists by searching their minds for words. For instance… take a minute to list out a few words that rhyme with mat, words with a long i vowel sound, past tense verbs, words with endings like -ful and -less, or even a few words that are related to math concepts like addition and subtraction. You might also try an internet search, using keywords such as first-grade spelling lists, short vowel word families, long a words, words with diphthongs, or prefix word lists. Finding words is much easier than you may have ever expected!
Bring more word awareness into daily routines at home. There are plenty of playful ideas that do not involve caregivers becoming responsible for formal instruction. I have created sample caregiver-specific letters for students in primary, elementary, and middle grades. Click here to access letters in Spanish and here for letters in English. These printables are filled with easy-to-implement recommendations. Please note that some ideas may need to be slightly tweaked as we practice social distancing.
Enhance home learning with playful and flexible word study routines. Teachers around the world have been using different routines to help students learn about words for decades! Because of the challenges we are all currently experiencing, now is the time to utilize especially joyful and engaging word study routines. This may mean staying away from practices like 3X each and looking up definitions. Together, Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices, K-6 and The Word Study That Sticks Companion: Classroom-Ready Tools for Teachers and Students offer over 100 different power-packed, flexible routines- almost all of which can easily be done at home. If you are looking for ways of actively and playfully exploring sounds, letters, and meanings, here are some very informal videos that intend to support home word exploring:
Picture It (all grades)
Word Continuums (mid-elementary and up)
Sound Search with Letters (primary grades)
Word Webs (all grades)
Find & Fix (all grades)
Share with others! Are you already familiar with Word Study That Sticks? Do you know and love other word learning routines? Teachers could create similar video lessons of other previously taught routines or introduce a new routine. These videos could be shared with others (check copyright and district permissions before sharing publicly). As you can see from the videos linked above, virtual lessons do not need to be professional or polished. I very purposefully did not go back to edit or refine my videos. Simple and imperfect is a great goal! These lessons are reminders that even at home, learners can continue to choose the word-centric routines they find most engaging and fruitful. Students can also become even more actively involved by teaching and sharing themselves: once students learn and practice a routine, they can share it with someone else!
Now and forever: Here’s to getting nerdy and wordy- anytime and anyplace!