Monday, September 29, 2014

Words Their Way ~ Starting Out

Our school district has adopted Words Their Way for grades K-7. Teachers have been fabulously implementing this program.  It takes a load of work, so I am uploading the basics to get you started.

  1. Here are a few tips: Purchase the teacher's guide.  It is filled with oodles of correlation charts and activities to keep you on track.
  2. Purchase the individual sort books.  At the beginning of each section, the explanation of directions is written out so that you can teach each sort properly.  This is ESPECIALLY important as you get into roots and absorbed prefixes.  
  3. Place your sorting cycles into eight week differentiated groups.  This allows your students to internalize patterns before retesting and being regrouped.
  4. Make games.  We are ALL making Connect 4 games for our first eight week cycle, Bam! games our second cycle, Dominoes for the third  cycle and shaker jars for our fourth cycle.
  5. MAKE sure to use the concordance chart.  If your student's reading level is higher than the WTW level, start your student at the lower WTW level.  If the WTW level is higher than the student's reading level, go back to the WTW sort at the reading level.  If you do not use the concordance chart with students whose reading and spelling do not line up, you will miss teaching important skills.  This  document has a concordance chart that you could reference. 
  6. Do not administer weekly spelling tests. They are antiquated and do not allow students to internalize skills long-term.  Use the quick checks at the end of each word sort section and reteach accordingly.  
I have uploaded a few of the slides that I presented to teachers getting started with this program.  Allow students the FULL 8 weeks to internalize these patterns, please.  You will find success.  More importantly, your students will demonstrate transfer of skills.

The next few slides are a brief overview of Words Their Way and the stages of writing development.

Next is a quick overview of how to administer the lists and group your students.  Teachers tend to make this WAY harder than it is their first try. Here's my friend Michelle's trick.  Hilight where the student makes a mistake.  Start the student on the first group of sorts where two or more words are incorrect in the same column.  MUCH easier than the traditional way!

There are so many ways to sort.  I have listed the sorts and the pages you can find extended activities and description of these sorts.  Numbers 1-4 are crucial.  Stick with the same one or two extra sorts each week.  Follow the same cycle for the full eight week cycle.

Below is our fourth grade team's cycle of Words Their Way for the first eight weeks this year. Check our Michelle's Blog at A New Day of Learning!

Because my own kids get the same goodness at home...
My Gavin is starting with the understanding that short vowels and long vowels follow patterns.  This is a basic sort.  Short vowels and long vowels are marked with the appropriate cues.  Consonants and Vowels are also marked with C and V for visual patterning.

Games are super important to keep your students engaged.  More than one game per week will drive you crazy, though.  We started with Connect 4.  I made a simple connect 4 game board with the long and short a headers along with an oddball square.  I retyped the list of words (Yellow book sort 7) and then printed the list with two differently colored fonts.  Gavin and I mixed up our own piles, turned over our cards and tried to get four words in a row first.  We played this game four times and Gavin won every time.  Do you think he internalized this skill.  Absolutely!

I did not give Gavin a spelling test, but I did pick seven words for a quick check and you can tell that he was ready for the next sort.  No stress, no long drawn-out studying at night.  Yep~completely internalized this concept.

 I have made this game a Freebie to get you started.  I welcome your comments on starting with Words Their Way!  Send me any GREAT game ideas that you use.  


  1. Do you start a new sort every week but stay with the same WTW theme for 8 weeks? For example, do students do Common Long Vowel Patterns for 8 weeks, but each individual sort for only a week or 2? Also, the picture of the spelling inventory is 4th grade but it's the primary spelling inventory, right? If my school has many students reading below expectations, would it be more appropriate to start with the PSI vs. ESI?

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. How long you work on a sort depends on how many days are dedicated to WTW. We have 5 days per week for one sort and then move forward to the next sort the following week. There are assessments as the end of each chunk of sorts IE: Common long vowels. Our teachers choose the quick checks of 5-6 words each week to keep on top of kids who might be struggling.

    Our Middle School has WTW two days per week and take two weeks to cycle through one sort.

    Start with the earliest spelling inventory and work forward the first time you assess kids. Then you can adjust every 8 weeks as you regroup your students and administer the inventory again.

    Best Wished!