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Team Members: Ashley Bryan, Liza McAdam, & Heather Wyskiel
Authors: Donald Bear, Marcia Invernizzi, Shane Templeton, & Francine Johnston
Manufacturer/Producer: Pearson Education, Inc.
Copyright: Fourth edition, 2005
Cost: Resource Book for Teachers at $40; Classroom and Library Packages starting at $260

"I like the Words Their Way process of instruction which involves assessment-guided, direct instruction utilizing
sound and word sorts. The lessons are multilevel and multisensory...Yes, one will have to invest some time
setting up the program, but the efforts are well worth it because instruction is effective."
- Mrs. Q* on Words Their Way
The Words Their Way program is one of analytic word study in which students examine words that they already know in order to gain insight into how the spelling system of our language works. Teaching skills in phonics through letter and spelling patterns, WTW is based on the philosophy that students should be active learners and receive instruction based on their current developmental level as learners. Thus, the framework of WTW promotes orthographic development along a continuum of five developmental spelling stages: emergent, letter name-alphabetic, within word pattern, syllables and affixes, and derivational relations.

This program publishes resources that make its use applicable for a large population of learners. Though most resources are designed for instruction with the general population and/or students with mild/moderate disabilities in elementary school, WTW can also be used for Spanish-speaking English language learners and in the middle and secondary grades. Primarily, instruction is provided directly, via demonstration and explicit teaching techniques that utilize scaffolding. However, student-centered instruction can also be used, and students can be given the responsibility to explore and analyze spelling features on their own. With flexible options for the pacing of instruction, this program is well-suited for many types of learners.

Basic Program
Words Their Way is a research based program of spelling activities. In this program the literacy and spelling skills are all taught in isolation. The program can be used to assist with instruction. Also, by analyzing spelling patterns students will also increase their familiarity and exposure to new words and vocabulary for spelling instruction. The instruction in this program is a scaffolding process. The student’s begin with working on known words to unknown words. This program is developed to help teachers address the needs of all readers and spellers. This process involves assessment guided, direct instruction utilizing sound and word sorts. It also provides the teacher with steps for a lesson that is completely teacher directed instruction. Although there are teacher-directed word sorts, there are also two other kinds: student centered sorts and guess my category sorts. The lessons, word sorts and activities are all multisensory and multilevel, thus making them available and appropriate for various learner needs, levels of instruction and grade.

Getting Started
To begin the Words Their Way program in the classroom, teachers can administer the spelling inventory to their class (Click to see sample). There are three spelling inventories available: Primary (PSI), Elementary (ESI), and Upper (USI). These inventories are comprised of 26, 25, and 31 words, respectively, which are orally dictated to students and presented in a sentence; students then must spell out the words on paper. Based on students’ mastery of various spelling features, their developmental spelling level is identified.

Word Sorts
Once a students’ developmental spelling level is identified, the teacher can begin instruction using the appropriate WTW word sorts. Each spelling level has a corresponding book of word sorts that are sequenced according to difficulty. Each word sort contains a list of word_sorts.jpgwords that illustrate different spelling features, such as consonant-vowel-consonant patterns within words, vowel patterns for the long /a/ sound, or prefixes. After a word sort has been introduced, teachers typically spend about a week following routines that encourage students to practice for mastery. These routines include a variety of practice opportunities, including using the words in a sentence, performing student-centered or guess my category sorts, or timed sorts. Each activity serves to reinforce students’ understanding of the specific spelling feature being addressed. Through practice and by drawing attention to patterns of spelling, students are building important word knowledge and spelling strategies that can be used later on when encountering unknown words in connected text.
A child completing a Words Their Way word sort
A child completing a Words Their Way word sort

Great For Use in General Education, Inclusion, and Special Education Classrooms!
"Dr. Bear and his co-authors describe the stages most children go through as they learn to read, and they provide specific teaching methods that help students move from where they are to the next level of accomplishment." - Dr. Z*
This program could most certainly be used in any type of classroom; from specifically special education rooms to general education classes. Though the WTW curriculum does not relate to any specific general education literacy curriculum, its use in the classroom also applies to the general education population. Each chapter corresponds to a different stage of reading and writing skills, from emergent to advanced, and is done in a scaffolding manner with a set, yet flexible, pace of instruction. In each of these sections, teachers are able to use instructional and assessment tools with their students no matter what their stage of literacy may be. All of the activities are adaptable for students who may have special needs in an inclusive classroom. Furthermore, WTW does correspond with a number of other programs, including WordSort word study software, which can be used to enrich instruction in the program.

No Training Necessary, But Still Available! Words Their Way is a program which teachers can model their everyday curriculum after, or simply use specific pieces on the program to help students in particular areas of their literacy instruction. Online courses and workshop opportunities such as Lesson Lab are available for teachers who use Words Their Way to further develop their skills and effective teaching strategies. Learn more at: Lesson Lab Workshops And Online Workshops

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • This program sets up instruction in a methodical and easy to follow manner. It allows students to begin by examining words that they may already know in order to gain insight as to how the spelling system works. Thus, when they reach words they do not know in their future reading and writing endeavors, they have been given the skills needed for success.
  • This program is also set up in a scaffolding manner so that instruction begins at the emergent stage of literacy and continues all the way through advanced reading and writing.
  • The pace is set for the teachers to follow to ensure students receive enough time to learn the skill and practice for mastery. It is designed for average growth among students, but can be adjusted to meet the needs of individual learners.
  • Extensions are also provided in each of the sorts to provide even further learning for those students who might be struggling or need extra practice in certain areas.
  • CDs and DVDs are included in the Words Their Way Programs with useful activities and print-outs for teachers and students alike to use in the classroom.
  • No real weaknesses could be found!


Final ReflectionAlthough the Words Their Way literacy program requires a lot of involvement, heavy reading, time, and effort, we feel that it is a well-organized, effective program that can be used to develop students' literacy skills, particularly in the area of spelling. Students with special needs would greatly benefit from this program because of the multi-sensory approach that is taken to spelling instruction. In addition, the scaffolding used in instruction and the flexible pacing of lessons allows teachers to easily adapt their lessons to fit the needs of each and every student. The program is easily integrated into other literacy lessons and activities, and the skills that are taught are invaluable to students with and without disabilities.
"This is the first year that I have been using this program and I love it! Although it takes a good amount of time to do this program, it is worth the time. I have seen a big improvement in my students' spelling. They are even able to spell words that are not on their list because they know the patterns to follow." - Mr. P*

"This was a lot of work to do spelling this way, just make sure you're up for giving yourself more work... it is worth it for the kids. I saw some amazing progress in their everyday spelling/writing due to WTW." - Ms. R*

Words Their Way Companion Website
Pearson Education, Inc.
Words Their Way Online Workshop (for Teachers)
Study of Sort Stories: Leveled Reading Supplement to Words Their Way: Word Sorts for