Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Using Word Study to Teach Developmental Reading Skills: Components of Word Study (Part 2 of 4)

Understanding Three Components of Word Study

There are three layers of English orthography: alphabet, pattern and meaning. As students move through the stages of spelling development, they usually move from using but confusing elements of sound. Word study helps learners move through stages of development, helping them to master each spelling feature as their understanding becomes more concrete.

Our spelling system is aphabetuc because it represents the relationship between letters and sounds. This relationship moves in a left to right sequence. In the alphabetic stage, each sound is represented by a single letter and are blended to create a word (i.e. bat  is represented by /b/ /a/ /t/).  It is in this layer where students learn not only consonant sounds; they are also introduced to short vowel sounds and diagraphs. This is where phonemic awareness is strengthened; students learn how to segment sound in simple words using the initial middle and ending sound.

As orthographic knowledge develops we teach students how to extend their word knowledge by presenting then with word patterns. This guides their grouping and provides them with some form of consistency. This is especially important when introducing vowel sounds and spelling patterns (CVCe, VCCV, etc)

This component of word study focuses on vocabulary development as well as spelling. As students move on to more sophisticated words, they learn about how groups of letters can represent meaning directly (i.e. prefixes, suffixes, greek/latin roots). Word study in this sense starts to look different, it is more advanced and can go on up through the middle grades ( 6th grade and up).

Understanding the components of word study makes it easier to differentiate instruction throughout the developmental stages of spelling:
Stage 1: Emergent
Stage 2: Letter Name
Stage 3: Within Word Pattern
Stage 4: Syllables and affixes
Stage 5: Derivational Relations

In order to teach word study, it is important to understand what each stage of development looks. It is also important to understand what instruction in this stage looks like. My next scheduled post, Part 3: Using Word Study to Teach Developmental Reading Skills: Stages of Spelling/ Reading, will focus on explaining the the five developmental stages of spelling. In addition, I will highlight resources that you can use to identify what stage of spelling each of your students are in using informal spelling inventories. This post is scheduled to go live on Sunday September 2, 2012. Check back to read all about it.

Read Part 1: Using Word Study to Teach Developmental Reading Skills: Introduction to Word Study


Bear, D., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2004). Words Their Way. (third ed.). Upper Sadle River: Pearson.


  1. I just started using Words Their Way as part of my spelling program. I really appreciate the useful information you posted.

    The REAL Teachers of Orange County

  2. That is great! Using the word study strategies for teaching reading makes the process so much easier for students! Be sure to stop by Sunday : )