I developed this project by researching specifically what words beginning readers need to know, and the order in which they need to learn them. Too many times I have just gone along with the flow, teaching spelling words from the basal readers, or lists from my cohorts, simply because it was what was given to me. However, I did not try to re-invent the wheel here. I learned the majority of the answers to my literacy questions from the Early Childhood masters — Dolch, Frye, Fountas and Pinnell.
Every week’s list of words contains five each of two word family lists, and five Dolch words. The Dolch list encompasses the first 175 words that are most common in the English language, in the order of their frequency of use. As the unit weeks unfolded, I intentionally chose progressively more unusual words for the word family choices with the objective of expanding my students’ vocabulary.
Then I developed ways to assist students in learning the targeted words: not simply how to spell them, but also how to read them, what they mean (many times, more than one meaning), as well as how to use them in context. This unit is an entire literacy experience! Students will also become very familiar with capitalization at the beginning of sentences, the use of commas within sentences, how apostrophies work and the proper use of end punctuation. I include flashcards, sentence puzzles and shape box worksheets, as well as lots of ideas for centers. This comprehensive unit also gives explicit weekly instructions for parents/caregivers, who are essential stakeholders of their children’s academic success.
I developed this unit primarily for use in my own classroom; however, I hope that many of you will find it useful as well! More than spelling, students need exposure to unfamiliar words and word patterns to assist in the major work of first grade — reading and writing.