Research-Based Word Study Warm-Ups - Questions about Word Study from Spiral WarmUps
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Research-Based Word Study

How to drastically increase reading levels with word study!

Did you know research-based word study is not just about spelling? Did you know word study is not just for primary grades?

Are you prepared to use word study to transform your students’ reading level growth and reading comprehension growth using daily spiral review?

Yes, word study can do that!

In fact, it only takes 3-6 minutes per day to do this.

In this post, I’m going to share with you the most current research-based word study word practices and strategies. You will see research evidence for:

  1. How word study impacts reading and writing.
  2. A simple 4-step process for teaching word knowledge.
  3. Word study is needed for older readers in middle school.
  4. How can simplify word study instruction for you.

You will discover that students who participate in daily spiraling word study increase their reading levels faster than students who are exposed only to comprehension instruction. And there’s research to support this…plenty of it. 

What word strategies create the largest gains in reading levels?

What is Research-Base Word Study?

The research on effective word study provides a solid basis for what to teach and how to teach it.

  • While instruction in basic phonics (consonants, vowels, silent e) is important in primary grades, advanced phonics (i.e. cluster, patterns in multi-syllabic words) can also create fluent readers in upper grades (Blevins, 2011)
  • Word study promotes stronger writers in elementary and middle school (Rabideau, 2016).
  • The recent focus on test scores has created a neglect in teaching foundational literacy skills such as word study, and the problem compounds for struggling readers in secondary schools (Harris, 2007).

Best Practices for Word Study

Can Small Group Instruction be Used for Word Study?

Of course it can. In a recent research article (2016, Ganske), small group word study allowed teachers “to engage students in thinking, talking, advancing vocabulary knowledge, and make connections to reading and writing while furthering students’ knowledge of orthographic features.”

Small group instruction is a great place for students to survey words, analyze, interpret, and link. These four research based strategies are easy to use:

  • Survey – let students explore words, attempt to read challenging words
  • Analyze – students discover patterns and sort words based on those patterns
  • Interpret – students compare & contrast words in the sorted categories
  • Link – students apply word meanings and spelling skills in new contexts

Can Word Study Help Middle School Students?

Bloodgood and Pacifici (2004) discovered middle school teachers hold fears and misconceptions about the impact and purpose of word study in upper elementary and middle school. They found the following best practices:

  • Word Sorts – students categorize words based on patters in spelling, letter sounds, or word meanings.
  • Root Words – Many advanced word meanings come from a surprisingly small amount of root words from other languages (i.e. Greek, Latin).
  • Academic Vocabulary – specifically teaching and allowing time for students to develop understanding of fundamental academic words that are used throughout different courses of study.

Integrating 3 Areas of Research-Based Word Study

Daily integration of word sorts, root words (i.e. Greek & Latin), and academic vocabulary is crucial for many reasons…at least according to research.

Two of these reasons are: background knowledge and language comprehension.

Background knowledge is one of the biggest factors in a student’s academic success. Word study is one simple way to boost prior knowledge of a range of concepts.

Language comprehension is essential in upper elementary and middle school. Many students struggle because of gaps in their listening and speaking comprehension skills. This is true for native English speakers as well as L2 English learners.

These three areas of word study hold an important place in the middle school literacy curriculum. And they are a solid foundation of research-based word study.

What does the research say for word study in upper elementary and middle school?

Summary of Research-Based Word Study

If you’ve read this far, it might be good for me to give you a recap of the research.

  • Word knowledge such as phonics is beneficial to readers in primary grades (Blevins, 2011).
  • Advanced word knowledge such as affixes, root words, and decoding multi-syllabic words builds fluency for older, transitional readers (Blevins, 2011).
  • Word knowledge should be taught directly and systematically (Park & Lombardino, 2013).
  • Spiral review of previously learned content builds vocabulary and fluency skills (Wasowicz, 2010).
  • Upper elementary and struggling middle school readers will benefit from explicit teaching of word parts and syllabication (Park & Lombardino, 2013).
  • Sorting is a valuable teaching activity that builds work knowledge and higher-level thinking skills (Radke, 2011).
  • Learning spelling patterns (as opposed to words) transfer into valuable writing and reading skills (Conniff, et al, 2006)
  • Bloodgood and Pacific (2004) revealed misconceptions about word study in the middle school. They showed transitional readers benefit from:
    • categorizing words based on spelling patterns
    • categorizing words based on advanced letter sounds
    • categorizing words based on word meanings
    • understanding Greek and Latin roots
    • explicit teaching of academic vocabulary
    • variety of practice with academic vocabulary
  • In Ganske’s (2016) recent article, word study positively impacts:
    • thinking skills
    • speaking skills
    • vocabulary knowledge
    • spelling knowledge
    • connections between reading and writing

Word Study Instruction is Simple to Do

With all the different pressures on your classroom and planning time, why not make it simple to teach word knowledge to your elementary and middle school students?

Here are 4 ways to make word study instruction simple to teach:

  1. Use flipped videos for homework and interactive practice in class.
  2. Use a spiraling sequence for explicitly teaching word study.
  3. Use direct instruction blended with auditory practice, oral language practice, and written practice.
  4. Make it memorable with visuals and rhythms.

I know that might seem like a lot of preparation to do all of these best practices. They are easy to do. But…

…it is a lot of work preparing for word study!

That’s why we have done the work for in our spiral warm-ups. You can view the details for a free membership here.

Word Knowledge can be Simple to Learn

Here are 4 ways to make research-based word study instruction simple for students to learn:

  1. Explicit instruction is precise and bite-sized, so it’s easy for students to understand.
  2. Systematic instruction allows lesson to build on the previous cumulative skills.
  3. Consistent, daily instruction maximizes student’s memory, so re-learning opportunities occur frequently.
  4. Spiraling review boosts student retention and recall of skills.

Without the right resources, it can be difficult to have the time to plan for great word study instruction. 

Transform Word Study with the Right Resources

Explicit. Systematic. Consistent. Spiraling.

If your teaching resources do these four things, you can focus on teaching and learning! 

If not, word study is difficult to plan and teach. Let’s make it easy.

I hope I’ve shared research based practices that can help your instruction.

I’d like to also share our word study warm-ups with you. You can learn more about it by signing up here or down below!

Here are a few features of our word study warm-ups that will help you teach word study and help students develop word knowledge with less stress and difficulty:

  • Short video each day
  • Oral practice with the video
  • Written practice including word sorts and timed fluency
  • Time reading and fluency practice for decoding
  • Explicit teaching of consonant blends, vowel sounds, multiple syllable words, academic vocabulary, and more.
  • A systematic sequence of instruction
  • Differentiated levels for early readers all the way through 8th grade advanced readers


  • Why not have a warm-up each day that follows these research-based strategies?
  • Why not use a sequence that’s already spiraled and systematic?
  • Why reinvent the wheel?

Thanks for reading!

I hope you found this information to be helpful in any way, please considering sharing with a friend or fellow teacher. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments below.






2 responses to “Research-Based Word Study”

  1. […] for word study to not "kill" comprehension. I've covered these principals in detail on this research-based post, so let me just recap […]

  2. Darryl Moss

    Hi, I have read the article and as an older person who still wants to improve his reading skill and knowledge can your program help me improve my writing and reading skills. It seems I still have problems with words as I read. I will be reading and get to words I can’t sound out or pronounce. I want to see an improvement fast and I will be so grateful for any guidance you could give me to practice on my own. Where do I start to practice I what to become a better speller and reader with fluency. Please help me it seem I am stuck and with all my practice I see no improvement. I am willing to any of your comments or opinions. Thank You, Darryl

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