Prep for An Entire Trimester of Word Work in 30 Minutes or Less

When Words Their Way is first introduced to you, it can feel a bit overwhelming. Wrapping your head around how to best organize and prep all the differentiated word sorts students will be working on from week to week takes a bit of trial and error. 

Differentiated word work groups written on group organizer printable laying on top of word sorts printed on different colors depending on group.

In hopes of saving you a bit of time, here is a breakdown of exactly how I organize and prep word work. Using this system has made word study one of the easiest things to differentiate each day in my classroom. 

Creating Differentiated Groups Based on Assessment Data

After giving the Johnston’s spelling assessment to my students, I use the Words Their Way Spelling Inventory Feature Guide to record any errors they’ve made on the assessment. You can find these feature guides in Appendix A of the Words Their Way overview book. 

I use the same feature guide for each student the whole school year. Each trimester, I use a different color highlighter to mark their errors so it is visually easy to spot which features they need support with and how they’ve grown over the course of the year. 

Johnston's spelling inventory feature guides organized to show differentiated word work groups.

As suggested in the Words Their Way book, if a student makes more than two errors in a column, assign them sorts that develop their understanding of that feature. Place students who are working on the same/similar features in the same group to create differentiated groups. You can regroup them as needed at the start of each trimester. 

Johnston's spelling inventory feature guides organized to show differentiated word work groups.

Keep in mind – your grouping won’t be broken down perfectly unless you have plans for many many many groups. I usually try to aim for making between 4-6 groups each trimester depending on the data shown on these feature guides. 

If you want to see a video about the exact process I use to create these differentiated groups, click here to watch my instagram highlight. 

Prepping for An Entire Trimester of Word Work in 30 Minutes or Less

After grouping my students, I record the names of the students in each group on my “Word Work Groups” tracking sheet and “Word Sort Assignments” tracking sheet. I use both as quick reference tools each week. 

I also make sure the number of columns on my “Word Sort Assignments” tracking sheet matches the number of weeks I’ll be assigning word study that trimester. If there is state testing, an end-of-week field trip, or a short week, I do not assign word work.

Core Inspiration Differentiated word work sort assignments printable laying on top of paper calendar.

Then I hop into the Words Their Way sort books and identify the exact sorts each group will work through that trimester. The markings I’ve made on the feature guides help determine which sort each group will start with that trimester. 

For example, the majority of the group shown in the picture below has made errors in the column marked “long vowels,” which falls under the Within Word Patterns section on the feature guide. This tells me, I need to open the Within Word Patterns book and search for the section on long vowels.  

Words Their Way table of contents next to word their way feature guide being used to determine which Differentiated word work sort each group should be assigned.

As you can see in the picture of the Within Word Patterns table of contents, there are multiple sections that focus on long vowels. To decide which sort to assign this group, I look more specifically at the exact long vowel patterns my students are struggling with.

In this case “oa” and “igh” are commonly missed. I find the section in the Within Word Patterns book that addresses those patterns and assign those sorts. 

Up close shot of Words Their Way table on contents.

The initial for the sort book and the number of the sort each group will be assigned is recorded in numerical order on the “Word Sort Assignments” tracking sheet. I use this sheet when I am making all the copies as I prep for the trimester, mark off the sorts groups have completed each week, and refer to the sheet to determine which sort lesson I need to reference when I teach my mini lesson on Mondays. I repeat that process for each of my groups. 

Copying and Storing Sorts

Next it’s time to make two copies of each sort for each student. The first copy is cut apart by students on Monday, and used each day in the classroom for our daily word work activities. The second copy is taken home and used for homework each night. 

Core Inspiration Word Word binder and Differentiated word work sort assignments printable on display next to Words Their Way sorts copied on different colored papers.

I copy each group’s sorts on a different color paper because it makes it easy for me to check that the students I call back for a small group are actually assigned to the group I’m teaching.

The colors also make it easier for students to keep track of their words if they accidentally drop one on the floor during the week – they write their initials on the back of each word card at the beginning of each week as part of our “Cut, Label, Pocket” routine as well. 

Metal file bin with group 1, 2, 3, and 4 files containing differentiated word word sorts copied on different colors of paper.

The copied sorts are paper clipped along the long edge so they’re easier to pull from the hanging file folder where they’re stored in numerical order for the trimester. Before school each Monday morning, I pull out my “Word Work Groups” tracking sheet and quickly pull the next sort out of each hanging file to distribute to students’ desks so they have the copies they need to participate in our daily word work activities. 

Are You Ready to Organize and Prep Your Word Work Materials?

I hope reading this process is helpful as you organize differentiated word study materials for your own students. With this process in place, I can say with confidence that word work is one of the easiest things to differentiate in my classroom. 

If you have any follow-up questions or ideas related to work work prep and organization, reach out in the comments below.

Core Inspiration differentiated word work assignments printable laying on top of Word Their Way sorts copied on different colored papers to show differentiated group assignments.

Want to Read More About My Approach to Differentiated Word Study? 

Check out my other posts about word work/word study/spelling instruction:


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I’m Laura Santos

I’ve been an elementary teacher for ten years, and love sharing tips and resources that make differentiated learning more manageable for you. Thank you for visiting.

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