The year that I taught 2nd grade before, my school was a Reading First school. I had to go to a ton of workshops about literacy to comply with the grant. The best thing I learned about was Words Their Way. I remember initially thinking how overwhelming it would be to fill out those huge assessment sheets for all of the students in my class....but I tried it the following year when I was teaching 4th grade. I literally gave them the spelling test the first day of school (along with a math screener and a writing screener -- those poor children probably thought I was the meanest person in the world!).
It did take a LOT of time to grade them...but I put my students into groups and we fumbled our way through the process. I say fumbled because like anything new it does have its bumps. But by January, you would never know that these children hadn't been doing these sorts forever. They were amazing at them. They got so good that most of them could practice the sort for only 3-5 minutes a day Monday - Thursday and still pass the skill set that week! I also had students do so well that they actually SKIPPED a pattern style.
As always, I am super ultra organized when it comes to keeping up with systems like this. YES, it is overwhelming and YES it will take you time. But it is worth it. I will shout to the rooftops that buying this set is the best $125 I have ever spent in my teaching career.
First you start with the Words Their Way book itself (which is essential for the background and to get you started -- plus the included CD has a lot of great stuff!). I also have a binder to house my word sort books.
I found this great spelling test tracker at Laura Candler's website and had the students use it to track their progress with their sorts. We pulled these out at Parent Conference and it was really nice to be able to really show the parents how their children were doing. I can tell you that children who did NOT use their word sorts at home did not score as well as those who did and it was really evident on these sheets!
Inside my binder, I have 4 levels of Word Sorts. This is the newest one that I just bought, for Letter Name-Alphabetic Spellers. This one was essential for teaching 2nd grade because many kiddos in 1st-3rd are in this stage. The nicest part about these individual books is that they are already 3-hole punched and perforated. It makes it very easy to put them together into the same binder.
This is the final book that I have, intended for 5th - 12th graders and has pretty challenging sorts in it. When I was teaching 4th, I actually had to buy this one because I had some students who from fall to winter jumped from Within Word to this level and I wanted to have the sorts on hand. Unlikely that I'll have any 2nd graders at this level but you never know! And now I have a whole range so regardless of what grades I teach in the future, I'll be set.
So how do you get started using Words Their Way?
There are 3 different spelling inventories included in the initial Words Their Way book: primary (for K-3), elementary (for 1st-5th -- lower end of the grades if they get a lot correct on the primary test) and upper-level (for 4th-high school). When I used this before, I used the elementary test and it worked out fine. This year for 2nd grade, I will use the primary test.
You give the test whenever you are ready to start this type of program. I liked giving it the first day even though it might seem overwhelming because then I had the rest of that week (as we were doing other beginning of the year assessments per the district and getting to know each other) to get them graded so we'd be ready to go by the 2nd week.
You need to read Words Their Way and follow the directions therein but basically you analyze each child's answers and learn what kind of speller they are. Which ever area has the most mistakes is what group that child ends up in. There are forms in the book that guide you through how to group the students. It's really easy once you read through and look at the examples.
Working with Groups
When I did this before, I had 4 different levels at the same time (5 actual groups because one level had so many students). I just gave them group numbers 1-5 and at the start of each week, we would meet together for up to 10 minutes to model the new sort and answer any questions the students might have. I ONLY met with my groups the first day -- the other days they did partner sorts or speed sorts. After awhile we literally never spent more than 10 minutes a day on the sorts (after Monday when each group met with me to get their new list).
I have also read about teachers who stagger their groups so that group 1 gets a new sort on Monday, group 2 on Tuesday, etc so that it's a bit easier to manage within the time constraints of the particular classroom. I am a big advocate of finding what works in YOUR class.
I didn't really use the games very much but it is something I want to do with my 2nd graders (which is one of the reasons I have pulled this out so early this summer -- I can make some of them!). I did use a couple of the games for a project for a reading class that I was taking to finish my masters and students LOVED them. You could have game day Thursday to practice the patterns or better yet, make them an Academic Friday choice activity.
People would never believe me when I told them that I gave 4 spelling tests at the same time. They thought I was crazy. I'm sure many subs that year thought that as well if I was out on test day! I really did give 4 tests at the same time. I doubt I would do that with 2nd graders but my 4th graders did well with it. Most of the sorts have about 20 words and I would choose about 8 to test them on each week. It was enough for me to really see if they were getting the pattern that we were studying (because the point isn't to memorize the word, it's to learn the pattern).
I bought these fun half sheets of paper online somewhere that were perfect for spelling tests. I would choose my words for each group and write them out on MY half slip and then we'd take our test. I would give the test like this: "Group 1, your first word is [word]" then I'd use it in a sentence and repeat and then go on "Group 2, your first word is [word]" and continue in that fashion. Again, it sounds bizarre and it was the first few times but I noticed two things.
a) very RARELY did the children ever get "lost"
b) it forced them to pay attention so they wrote down the words for their group and not someone else's!
c) they heard a TON of other words as we were testing which can only be a good thing!
I REALLY liked using WTW as my main spelling program. I am not a big fan of giving children the same list and letting them basically memorize it. Using the patterns really helped a lot of my students that year grow as readers as well because they were able to find words in their books in the same patterns they were working on or had worked on previously. There is a lot of connection made and the children internalize the patterns because they use them over and over (and the sorts are fun!).
I actually had students who ended up with dozens of the little word cards because they never wanted to recycle them after we finished that sort. I just copied them normal size from the book and the kids cut them out but you could easily enlarge them a little and print on cardstock and then laminate and cut so they could be reused from year to year. I am still debating if I want to do that. It'll take a LOT of organizing and prep to start with but they'd be more durable and would last a long time.
Have you used Words Their Way? Do you plan to? What are your thoughts?
**If you have questions that aren't fully answered in this post, please leave it in the comments. I will try my best to answer them all. If I get quite a few I'll do a follow up post about this to answer the questions.