Saturday / April 13

Operation Word Study Roll Out

In these first weeks of school, teaching — comprised of equal parts science, art, psychology, and honed wisdom — can feel like the “easy” part. It’s introducing and practicing new routines that can leave new and seasoned educators feeling exhausted. It may not come as a surprise that teachers often mention word study as a particular area of frustration. While words are the foundation of all we do all day long, this subject often receives the fewest number of dedicated minutes in our day. We need our word study block to be a well-oiled machine: filled with fluent transitions, power-packed and efficient word-exploring practices, and plenty of student independence. After years of experimenting, tinkering, and making mistakes, I developed a scaffolded plan that honors what both students AND teachers most need to roll out a year of active, productive word learning. If you’ve been frustrated trying to launch and maintain a student-centered, productive word study routine, the below roll out strategy may be the answer for you! 

Don’t wait — Roll Out Word Study Now 

For word study to be an integral part of your classroom routine, don’t wait until the “perfect time” to get started. Get going right away — even if you didn’t start in the first week of school. Administer the formal assessments required by your district. Kick off word study with a pep rally. Choose community-building activities that help students see the purpose and feel the joy of studying words. A few fun kick off ideas can be found here 

Kidwatching is invaluable for planning   

During the launch of word study and throughout the rollout, take the time to get to know students. While you teach into the framework, structure, and procedures of word study (described below), observe students’ learning habits, get to know their interests, and mine their work (informal daily tasks along with those formal district assessments). Use the time inherent in this roll out to figure out what makes sense for this group of students this year. These class-at-a-glance templates can help you find patterns and determine instructional priorities.  The phases of rollout below can serve as a baseline plan, too.   


Purpose: Introduce core word study routines 

Recommended Structure: Whole class 

Recommended words: “Review” words – Set 1 

Rundown: Each day of word study will look and sound like a short whole-class lesson. Each of these daily lessons introduces a routine. A word study routine is a method of studying words, AKA an engaging activity grounded in best practices. In phase one, time is also spent reviewing the why, what, when, and how of classroom expectations (like material management and partner talk). During this phase, there is a heavy emphasis on teacher modeling and guidance.  

Anticipated Timeline: 10-20 minutes per day; Primary Grades- 2-3 weeks, Upper Elementary- 2 weeks, Middle School-1 week 

Bonus Tip: Each time a new word exploring routine is introduced, you can provide students with a mini chart that summarizes the practice. Here are examples of minicharts for two meaning routines.  


Purpose: Practice the core word study routines taught in phase 1; students learn to use classroom resources and materials with greater independence. 

Recommended Structure: Whole class 

Recommended words: “Review” words – Set 2 

Rundown: Start each session by naming a previously taught routine and having students locate aligned resources (mini chart, etc) for the routine. Review this method of exploring words and invite students to try this practice independently, with a partner, or as part of a small group. Coach students and provide feedback as they work. 

Anticipated Timeline: 10-20 minutes per day; Primary Grades- 2 weeks, Upper Elementary- 1.5 weeks, Middle School-1 week 

Bonus Tip:  End each session by reflecting on what went well and what can still be improved.  


Purpose: Build independence in word exploring practices – even when class members are learning about different words and word parts. 

Recommended Structure: Small groups 

Recommended words: Personalized words – letters, sounds, patterns, and parts that match the current instructional priorities of classroom learners 

Rundown: Introduce the class word study cycle (a few “mentor text” examples can be found here). Begin to provide more personalized support to small groups of classroom learners as they now study words/word parts strategically aligned to their more personalized instructional goals.  

Anticipated Timeline: 10-20 minutes per day. Primary Grades- 1-2 weeks, Upper Elementary-1-2 weeks, Middle School-1 week 

Bonus Tip: Try to meet with each student (whether individually or within a small group structure) 2-3 times each word study cycle. It is important to balance inquiry and low stakes practice with expert instruction and personalized feedback.  

Adjust, personalize, keep introducing new routines  

Once word study is up and running in your classroom, continue to watch and learn from students. Make adjustments to small groups (which are always flexible) and instructional priorities as needed. Take advantage of the independence now in place: spend your word study time providing personalized instruction and feedback to classroom learners. Wondering how this looks in action? Check out this example of a “typical” 20-minute word study session.  

Finally, don’t forget to continue to S-L-O-W-L-Y introduce new, exciting word study routines at regular intervals throughout the year. This will keep engagement, interest, and success high from the first day of school day through the last. Operation Word Study Roll Out mission is without a doubt possible, no matter when you begin!  

Written by

Pam Koutrakos is an experienced and enthusiastic educator known for her positive outlook and energy. As an educational consultant with Gravity Goldberg, LLC, she is deeply committed to motivating and supporting students and teachers on their learning journeys. Pam authored Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices K-6 (Corwin, 2018) and The Word Study That Sticks Companion (Corwin, 2019). Both include numerous lessons, routines, resources, tools, and tips to start up and step up word study in K-6 classrooms. Connect with Pam on Twitter @PamKou and on LinkedIn 

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