Word Study Small Groups: Letter Name-Alphabetic Stage Activities

What activities and strategies can you use during your small group lessons for the letter name-alphabetic stage of word study? In this 4-part series, I’m digging in to some suggested word study activities for each stage of Words Their Way! Get ready to grab some ideas to spice up your word study small group lessons for the letter name-alphabetic stage!

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A successful word study block incorporates both direct instruction, delivered in small, differentiated groups based on developmental assessments, and opportunities for students to independently practice and apply what they have learned. After making decisions about the activities you want your students to complete during their word study block, assessing them, and creating word study groups, many of us wonder what we are actually supposed to do with our students during their small group, meet with the teacher time?!?!. Let’s take a look at what makes the Letter Name-Alphabetic stage special first!

A Snapshot of Letter Name-Alphabetic Stage

Elementary students who fall into the Letter Name-Alphabetic Spellers stage of word study can already hear and spell single consonant sounds fairly well. They spell almost exclusively phonetically, representing most strong sounds and beginning consonants in words. At this stage of word study, learning word families, blends, and digraphs in order to increase students’ ability to correctly spell words, make new words, and read new words is essential. Students in this group must be guided to start recognizing patterns within words instead of solely relying on the sounds that they hear.

Students in your Letter-Name Alphabetic group should be studying same-vowel word families (using both pictures and words), digraphs and blends, short vowels, r- influences vowels, and simple contractions.

Word Study Small Group Lesson Ideas:

Share Word Search Findings!

My students complete “blind” word searches based on their word study lists. This means that they are NOT given a word list before trying to find their words in a word search. For students in the Letter Name-Alphabetic Stage group, I usually allow them to work with a partner while looking for words. This modification helps students build momentum and get used to word searching. Prior to meeting with me in a small group, students may have spent 1-2 days searching for words in their word searches. As they find words, they are expected to write them down and sorting them into categories that make sense to them.

When students gather their word study notebooks and meet at our small group table, they know to turn to their word searches and continue looking for possible words. When I am ready to start our meeting, I ask for volunteers to share the words they’ve found. As students share words, I create a word sort on chart paper asking students to help me sort each new word.

Note: You can find the 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition aligned word searches in my Tarheelstate Teacher store.

ACTIVITIES for Letter-Name Alphabetic STAGE Spellers


Introduce consonant blends (when two or more consonants are blended together). The most common initial consonant blends are bl, br, cl, cr, dr, fr, tr, fl, gl, gr, pl, pr, sl, sm, sp, and st. The most common final consonant blends are st, sk, ld, nd, nk. 

GENERATE WORDS: Ask students to help you generate words that can be made with the consonant blend you are focusing on. I recommend only introducing one or two at a time. Students can use magnetic letters to create these words, record the words on an individual white board or paper, and then you can add them to chart paper for the group. 

READ THE ROOM: Have students "read the room" to look for written text or objects that spark ideas for words that contain the consonant blend.

USE PICTURE BOOKS: Choose excerpts from a familiar picture book to read to the group.  Read a few pages of the book, taking care to separate the consonant blends as you read (i.e. saying "c-l-ock" instead of "cl-ock").  Students will begin to notice and comment on the way you are reading.

When you come to a good stopping place, ask students to turn and talk to each other about what they noticed.  Discuss what a consonant blend is and why it is important to learn about them as they continue to become more fluent readers. Have students take turns modeling how consonant blends should be read as well as how they sound when they are treated as separate sounds for the group.

CLOSED SORTS: A closed sort is a sort where you give students the categories or spelling features that they must use to sort a group of words. Provide closed sorts with various consonant clusters you have been focusing on for students to complete with a list of word cards. While students sort their words, observe and provide guidance.  Have students read aloud the words in a given category to share their sort with the group. Discuss why certain words were placed in their category.

If a student has misplaced a word, rather than tell them that they have made a mistake, I like to ask the student to read all of the words in a category and then ask, “Did all of the words you read here seem to fit this category (or ‘make this sound’)”? Usually, this question is not even necessary because students realize their mistake once the words have been read aloud.

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CONCEPT SORTS: A concept sort is a sort that focuses on word meaning. Have students do a concept sort with a group of words that have the same consonant blend.  Ask students to sort the words into categories that are meaningful to them and write the category on a sticky note or index card (i.e. “These are all words that describe modes of transportation.”).  A concept sort can be done individually or in pairs. Have students share out with the group how they sorted their words. Encourage students to make suggestions for additional words that could be added to the sorts or additional ways the words could be categorized as their classmates share.  

In the photo above, you can see that the words were sorted into meaning-based categories. When students create an “oddball” category, I would be sure to push them to consider how those words may be classified into more meaningful categories. I would also enlist the ideas and help of the group members! It’s so interesting to see all of the different meaning-based categories students come up with!


Introduce consonant digraphs (when two consonants blend together to represent one single sound, such as sh, th, ch, and wh).

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CLOSED SORTS: Have students do a closed sort, categorizing their word cards into the appropriate digraph column. Make sure to include words that have the digraphs at the front, in the middle, and at the end of words.  Words used for the closed sorts do not necessarily have to be ones that students should be responsible for spelling.

BLIND SORTS: Have students pair up and do a blind sort where one student calls out a word and the other student has to write the word without seeing it under the correct digraph category. I found this excellent YouTube video that models how to do a blind sort.

PLAY GAMES: Play games that help students identify consonant blends and digraphs within words.  For example, give each student a fly swatter or pointer of some sort and have them take turns trying to identify as many words with the "cl" consonant blend within a large group of words spread out on a table or recorded onto chart paper.  Add a timer component and introduce a little competition for fun. You could also use this strategy with a bingo board!

SHARED WRITING: Pull in pieces of shared writing or texts that students are already familiar with such as songs, poems, or anchor charts. You could also have students use their own writing drafts from writer’s workshop. Have students identify consonant digraphs by highlighting or underlining them. If the resource is something you don’t want students to permanently mark up, highlighter tape like this is your friend!

Short Vowels

Introduce short-vowel word families one at a time.  Show students how the words within those word families often follow a CVC or CVCC pattern.  Have students use magnetic letters to try to create new words within each word family using the CVC or CVCC pattern.  Record all of the words students make on a white board or chart paper to reference with other lessons. Students can also come back on a different day and sort these new words into two categories—ones that follow the CVC pattern and ones that follow the CVCC pattern. (This is a great extension activity to assign for their independent word study time.)

READ ALOUD: I am a fan of sneaking in a read aloud where ever I can. This Pennsylvania Library site is a great resource if you are looking for a read aloud to go along with teaching your students about specific vowels and vowel sounds. The website categorizes great picture books that contain a lot of examples of short and long a, short and long e, short and long o, short and long i, short and long u, and double o. Sometimes I can fit in an entire read aloud, pull words from the read aloud that relate to our focus and have students do a sort or even just practice working on the vowel pattern with words from the read aloud on their individual white boards. Other times, we only have time to read an excerpt from the book. Either way, it’s a win-win when you can directly relate your word study lessons to the act of reading, writing, or spelling!

I hope you’ve got some fresh, new ideas to add to your word study toolbox for the Letter Name-Alphabetic Stage spellers! To gather some ideas for other stages of Words Their Way, be sure to click the buttons below!