How I do differentiated spelling-Word Journey's anyone?

How do you do spelling in your classroom?
Do you use a basal?
Do you use word families or patterns?
Does everyone get the same words?

What I have done for years has always worked for me and my students. Parents love it, administration loves, it, and I love it!

I use Kathy Ganske's Word Journeys for differentiated spelling groups.

I was introduced to this my very first year of teaching back in the 2005/2006 school year. 

Each student takes a placement test of 25 words. The test is broken into 5 different phonics skills. I will show you some pictures from a few years back. 

This is an example test from a a student of mine. If they get the word right, they get a 2 (which is really 1 point). If they get the feature phonics part right but spell the word wrong, they get a 1 (which is really 0 points in their overall score, but 1 point under the correct phonics skill-which is the ABCDE)

Confused yet???
So number 1 the word was jet. They got the word right for a point in their overall score, and a point under A, because D is looking for affricates (dr, j, ch, tr...)

Number 2 the word was supposed to be ship. They didn't spell the word right so they didn't get a point for their overall score, but they got the SH phonics skill this word was looking for which was letter B for blends. 

I grade the test by counting all the 2's as 1 point. That is the 16 in the circle. Then I write ABCDE and under it right now many they got right of the phonics skill. I can clearly see that this student needs to work on phonics skill E which is final consonants and blends. 

I take each student and place them on one recording chart.
I can now look at this class chart and make my differentiated spelling groups.

So fast forward to this year. I have some pretty different levels of spellers this year so this program works out SO well! I had to go to the second and third placement test for some kids!

I did everything above and made my groups. I always make a chart so I know who is in what group and how many copies of words to make each week. 
My class is in 3 different spelling groups, all working on different skills. I color code them to make it easier for the kids. I use the blank spots to write down each week what I am going to teach that group. I only do about 3 to 4 weeks at a time so I can see if they are improving or needing to stay with this skill for awhile longer.

I made an area in the room for them to get their words and see what group they are in.
 Once I meet with each group the first day, their words will go under their color. I copied their words on colored paper to match their color group!

So where do I get their words??? 
I get this question ALL the time! In the back of the Word Journeys book, there are tons of lists of words to match the phonics skills students are tested on. 

My very first school started to put words together as word sorts for us to use. The sorts focused on two sounds at once and students would cut and sort words according to the phonics sounds they were hearing. 

Here is an example of one of the word sorts that they made. So for this week, students are focusing on the CH and TR sounds. 

I am thinking about taking on the task of making all sorts of word sorts for this program. It really could be used with any kind of spelling. Would this be something you would be interested in?

Another question I get is...
Do the kids have all of these words for spelling? 
My answer is yes. The kids are practicing the phonics skill on top of spelling the word right. Students should practice each word and not memorize a set of 10 words to take a test on Friday. My students never know what words they will get for their spelling test. This way, I know if they have practiced their phonics skill.

I grade their test almost like the placement test. I give 2 points for the whole word right and one point for the skill if the word is spelled wrong. If the skill and the word is wrong, they get 0 points. 

I know this was a lot, and I feel like I am missing something. If you all have any questions abut this book, how I run spelling, or the words, just ask!

Enjoy your Sunday friends!


  1. I love that you do this too! This was what I did for my Master's thesis and I got to interview Kathy Ganske since she's here in Nashville at Vanderbilt. I am doing the first half of the assessment tomorrow and then the rest of the words on Tuesday. Isn't it amazing to see their growth in reading and writing because of it?
    Have a great week!

  2. I used to use Word Journeys and loved it! Now I teach in Texas and it's all about they have a weekly spelling list and everyone has the same words...I hate it. Do you students get numerical grades? How do you address that? For example, if a student is still working in the letter naming stage and is way behind but does well on the test...the child can't get an A in spelling because he is way behind. I loved using it because it met them right where they were at and it was so easy to see their improvement.


    Literacy Spark

  3. oh my! This is exactly what I've been looking for. Please create word sorts!! I would definitely be interested in purchasing it!!