Action Research: Literature Review

Effectiveness of Word Work Activities


            Word work is the basis of word study.  Word work can take on many different techniques including word box instruction, word sorts, and word hunts.  Word box instruction has grown from Elkonin boxes.  A word box is a rectangle divided into segments that represent the individual phonemes of a word.  Students start by placing tokens in each part of the box when they articulate that sound.  Students eventually place tile letters or write the letters when they say the sound.  This technique has been shown to help students develop phonemic awareness. 

Another technique common to word study is word sorts (Appendix C).  Word sorts require students to categorize words in isolation based on similarities in sound, pattern, or meaning.  The purpose is to help students make generalizations about the spelling in each category so that it can be applied to new words (Invernizzi & Hayes, 2004, p.224-225). 

In a study conducted by Laurice Joseph (2000), first grade students received traditional spelling instruction, word box instruction, or word sort instruction.  All groups received the same amount of instruction from the same instructor and had similar pre-test scores in letter-word identification.  At the end of the study, students were given post-assessments to measure their phonemic awareness, word identification, pseudoword naming (reading nonsense words), and spelling.  Students who received word box instruction performed significantly better than students who received traditional instruction in phonemic blending, phonemic segmentation, pseudoword naming, and word identification.  Students who received word sort instruction performed significantly better than students who received traditional instruction in phonemic segmentation, word identification, and spelling.  There was no statistically significant difference between students who received word sort instruction and those who received word box instruction.  This indicates that both of these techniques are effective strategies for word study instruction. 

An additional technique that is often utilized in word study is word hunts (Appendix B).  The purpose of these is to help students make the connection between spelling words and reading words.  During word hunts, students go through books, the classroom, and their own writing for words that are examples of the pattern being studied.  There is little research into how effective this activity is (Bear et al., 2008, p.58).

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