Multiple Word Lists At Once? Here's How...

The beautiful thing about switching grades is that it forces you to rethink and switch up some of your old routines. However, for me, word work has always been switching up and changing because it rarely ever felt successful for me. Last year, I started to make some key changes. They were possible though due to the fact that I had 2 other adults in the room at that time to help. Nevertheless, the way we did it last year did help me find a way to make 3 different word lists happen this year, even if I was alone now. Curious what it looked like last year? Click here. This time around though, I'll share some tips and routines that help word work happen this year, even with 3 different word lists.

The General Routine

First day of the new word list, I take about 30-40 total minutes and teach each group their sort. Normally, we do word work and then read aloud before our recess begins. When we are ready for a new list, we skip read aloud for that day and I use that extra time to teach each group.

On day one, I meet with my yellow group first and teach them the sort. I just use a white board and have them join me on the carpet as we talk about the pattern, look for oddballs, and define any words. I use the Word Their Way books to help guide my instruction for the sorts. While I meet with my yellow group, my green group (also a WtW sort) is scribbling on the back of their sort, cutting out the words, and trying to sort it on their own. My blue group (the morphology group) is doing the written sort based on the meaning of the roots and is using a code to reflect on if this word is brand new, a word they've heard before, or a word that they are confident with the meaning. They also will use dictionaries at this time to try to figure out words while they wait for me to call them.

I take about 10 minutes with each group. By the time I am done with my yellow group instruction, I send them back to scribble, cut, and sort their words. I then call up green group and we discuss what they noticed about their sort as they practiced, define any words, and explicit state the spelling pattern.

Green group goes back and sorts one more time. If they finish, they may move onto the written sort (more on this later). Yellow group is also sorting their words and if they finish, they may start on the written sort too. I call up blue group and we discuss the meaning of their roots, the meaning of the words, where we've heard the words before etc.
This ends day one. From here on out, students participate for about 10-15 each day with their words in a variety of activities. But first, you may be wondering who get's what and how it came to be that way. Here's a short explanation.

Who Get's What and Why

Our district uses Words Their Way. I don't always have access to all the books as we share them as a team. I give all students the Spelling Inventory that comes with the Words Their Way book before we start our word study routines. I then put kids into 3 groups based on how they did on the inventory. That means, some students may need to go to a slightly easier group at first. That's ok. It's impossible to give each student a list from this curriculum at their exact spelling level if you have spelling ranging from kindergarten to high school level. So I combine and hit the largest needs. Previous years, I would have some spellers who needed basic sight words, so I created my own word lists that just go over sight words (I talked about this in my older post). This year, I have students who nailed the inventory and so I decided to incorporate some morphology for them. Ladybug Teacher Files has the greatest resource and so I use her word lists for my morphology group. So this year I have one group who is starting in the yellow book around common long vowel spelling patterns, one group starting at the beginning of the green book, and my last group starting with 2-3 root words each cycle. You can give the inventory again and shuffle kids around or change where you are in the book if you see enough growth.

Below are 5 tips that have helped me be successful with implementing 3 different lists all on my own.

Don't Limit Yourself To Weekly Plans

I would originally try to do a weekly routine with words: Get a new list on Monday, practice T-Th, test on Friday. The problem with this... we miss random days all the time! Holidays, assemblies, testing... they can easily throw off our schedule. Instead, I start a list when I want to! I also no longer try to finish a list in 1 school week. I typically have students practice their words in class anywhere from 6-9 days. So if I give them a new list on a Tuesday, we will test on that list perhaps the NEXT Friday. Since we only have 10-15 minutes a day, this has worked out really well. I communicate to families when to expect a new list and when we test on it in our weekly newsletter so that they can keep up.

Give Yourself Time To Model And Practice Routines And Activities

When we rolled this out, it was s.l.o.w. I had to teach them the activities, what I expected of them with these activities, where to find materials needed, etc. It's easy to rush it, but we just took our first list and went slow and steady. They had that list for a much longer time than typical, but that was ok. When I introduced the new activity, I made it into a chart with what it was called, what materials they needed, where they would complete it, and then the steps of the activity. I of course forgot a picture, so I will add that after my spring break. I kept them in a poster format and put them on metal rings since sometimes, different students are on different activities. They can easily flip to the page if they forgot what they need for that activity. It's at their fingertips to reference.

Post An Agenda With Completion Expectations

I started to dabble into this in the previous tip. Our activities expectations were left on posters that I leave for students to flip through. For example, one activity for my blue group is to write cloze sentences. I put expectations that they had to have at least 7 sentences to be considered "done" and each sentence had to have at least 7 words in it. This made sure that they were actually putting effort into their work. I also have an agenda posted on the Smartboard. I made the simple template in Google Slides, took a screenshot of it, and put it in Smart Notebook. They know what they need to do first, by the #1 finger pointer pointing to the activity. #2 is the activity to do if they finish. Most of them don't get through the 2nd one. That will become #1 tomorrow. I just move the hands around based on what I want them to work on. I do have two agendas: one for the green/yellow spelling groups and one for the blue vocabulary group, as the activities are different.

It's OK To Use Low-Tech Options

We don't have a lot of technology at our finger tips in our classroom, and that can at times work to our advantage. Our word work activities can be applied to any list they have. Since we have about 9, they don't get bored with the activities so we don't need a bunch of fancy tools (although sometimes they would be nice). Don't let not having technology or other materials stop you. Students can be engaged with other low-prep, low-tech options. Our word work practice time practically runs itself because of this so I can check in with students.

Don't Test All The Words... in fact.. Add Some That Aren't Even On The List

This is a newer revelation I found. The blue group has 15 words a week, the green and yellow group has around 24. That's a lot. Instead, I pick 8-10 for blue group and 12 for the yellow and green group. They don't know which ones I'll pick, so they practice them all. My blue group will get to pick 2 words that I didn't pick to spell on their test. For the yellow and green group, I add 2 words that were not on their list to see if they could apply the spelling pattern. This is really what I want my kiddos to be able to do- learn a pattern and use it to help them spell. Words Their Way gives additional words in the sort description space in their books so I pull from there.

To help testing go fast, I pick the words ahead of time and put them on a color-coordinated post it (the word lists are on the same color too-yellow book = yellow sort = yellow post it with words for test). Students come up and get their spelling test page (they look different based on if they are a yellow/green or a blue list). I then begin:
"1 yellow ___________. Sentence using the word. 1 yellow is __________."
"1 green ____________. Sentence using the word. 1 green is ___________."
"1 blue _____________. Sentence using the word. 1 blue is ____________."
And then I repeat. It usually takes us 10 minutes to go through all the words for all the groups. Yes, they have to pay attention, but they do pretty well and they have enough time to write their word as I am reading 2 other words before I get back to their next word. On average, I have to go back and repeat 2-3 words total. Not too bad.

They turn in their spelling pages and we are done with that cycle! When we meet again, they will record the words they missed in their notebooks and we'll learn a new list and begin again.

You won't be able to implement this exactly I'm sure in your room, but I hope you find these tips useful to help you schedule a way to make multiple word lists seem a bit more manageable and not as time consuming to plan.



  1. Kelli, I am so grateful that you posted this as I have been thinking of switching up my spelling routine! I was wondering if you could email me a brief explanation of all the different activities. I think I know most of them, but I would love to know more. If you wouldn't mind emailing me about them, I would greatly appreciate it. My email is! If you are too busy, I completely understand! Thanks for being such an inspiration!

    1. Hi Alley! I'm glad you found some help hopefully here! I just emailed you :)


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