Research Review for Word Study

What does the research say about word study in upper elementary school?

( words) minutes to read 

A quick research review for word study can answer very important questions about literacy curriculum and instruction in our schools.

  1. What does the research say about the use of word study?
  2. What type of word study instruction is effective in upper elementary and middle school?
  3. What are the purposes and effects of teaching word knowledge to transitional readers?

In this article, you will find a quick research review for word study. The studies include these topics:

  • Phoneme awareness predicts reading comprehension.
  • Using phoneme-grapheme mapping in reading instruction.
  • What is the effectiveness of computer-assisted reading interventions?
  • Middle school word study that works, and doesn't.

Quick Research Review for Word Study

1. Phoneme Awareness and Reading Comprehension

An intervention in spelling, reading comprehension, reading speed, and phoneme awareness was administered to 112 nine-year-old students with reading challenges. The students previously showed a lack of response to intervention in the area of reading speed.

The reading intervention in this research article explicitly taught decoding skills and reading speed. It also included comprehension and spelling strategies, but it focused on phonics.

The results?

Immediately after the intervention, the students improved in measurements of spelling, reading comprehension, reading speed, and phoneme awareness.

More importantly, this intensive word study intervention produced long-term gains.

A year after the intervention, students were re-assessed. They continued to show strong improvements in spelling, reading comprehension, reading speed, and phoneme awareness.

Wolff, Ulrika (2011). Effects of a randomized reading interventions study: An application of structural equation modelling. Dyslexia 17(4), 295-311.

2. Using Phoneme-Grapheme Mapping

Graphemes are the letters, the spelling. Phonemes are the units of sound. For exmaple, ch is made of two graphemes - c and h. But it makes one phoneme - the /ch/ sound.

This article analyzed the phoneme-grapheme mappings that oocur in monosyllabic English words. 

The author suggests that reading instruction in phoneme-grapheme patterns can benefit students when the most useful phoneme patterns are taught. Students can use the patterns to decode many different texts.

Vousden, J.I. (2007). Units of English spelling-to-sound mapping: A rational approach to reading instruction. Applied Cognitive Psychology 22(2), 247-272.

3. Effects of Computer-Assisted Reading Instruction

Two distinct reading programs were evaluated against a control group for a period of 12 weeks with 5 sessions per week.

The computer programs used games that focuses on graphemes, phonemes, and rimes. Both computer assisted reading interventions produced gains in reading, spelling, and phonological skills compared the control (non-computer) group.

The student groups were re-assessed four months after the intervention ended. They continued to show gains over the control group.

Kyle, F., Kujala, J., Richardson, U., Lyytinen, H., & Goswami, U. (2013). Assessing the effectiveness of two theoretically motivated computer-assisted reading interventions in the United Kingdom: GG Rime and GG Phoneme. Reading Research Quarterly 48(1), 61-76.

This review of research for word study doesn't have the scope for including other studies, but I recommend also: Effects of Education Technology Applications for Struggling Readers.

4. Middle School Word Study that Works

This non-journal research article presents a school-level experimental study involving 24 schools over three years. It analyzed the impact of a research-based vocabulary program, Word Generation, in grades 4-8.

What does the program do?

It introduced five highly leveraged academic words per week. Students examined and discussed topics around these five words in all academic areas daily. There were also reading and writing tasks, but the program was based on the idea that discussion builds knowledge.

Each week, students also read an academic-style text with the five words in it. And they wrote one "taking a stand" paragraph at the end of each week using the five words.

The results?

The students at grades 4, 5, 6, and 7 demonstrated significant increase in vocabulary knowledge after one year of the intervention.

After two years of the intervention, students in the intervention schools demonstrated increases above the control groups in vocabulary and these areas:

  1. Taking different perspectives
  2. Use of academic language
  3. Deep reading comprehension

Jones, S.M., Kim, J., LaRusso, M., Kim, H.Y., et al. (2016). Experimental effects of word generation on vocabulary, academic language, and perspective taking in high poverty middle schools. Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness.

Research Review for Word Study Conclusions

The four research articles provide evidence that word study is an important component of elementary and middle school literacy and academic curricula.

There were a few common threads in this research review. Word study best practices include:

  • Intensive daily instruction in word recognition skills for struggling readers.
  • Phoneme-grapheme mapping.
  • Explicit instruction and practice in reading speed.
  • Academic conversations and writing around key words.
  • Use of high-utility academic words.

Looking for a Word Study Program?

TeamTom Education offers free Word Study Warm-Ups for grades 2-8.

Today, you can begin building stronger readers and writers at!

This free program aligns with the recommendations from this Research Review for Word Study.

About the Author

Matt is a learner, creator, and educator with k-12 teaching, administrative, and research experience. He tracks trends in education, travels the oceans, and fails at fishing.

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