Word Work Activities! Such a fun literacy component, even in the upper elementary grades!

I’ve got six great word work activities that I have seen transform elementary students into better spellers. I’m sure these word work activities will help your kiddos, too!

Keep Reading to Discover…

  • Six great word work activities you can start using now.
  • A couple of FREE download samples to get you started.
  • The KEY to getting students to be proficient spellers.

Remember, word work is best when interactive in some way, so the word work activities presented here will ensure that your students are “doing” word work and not just merely copying and spelling.

Let’s dig into it! 

Word Work Activity #1: Word Patterns

Students work with a partner to study word patterns.

Word Patterns Example 1:  You have a word, mouse.

A student will ask his/her partner…

How would you spell (to practice writing) or say (to practice reading) these words: 

blouse, house, douse, spouse? (add to this list, of course!)

Afterwards, students write a sentence with each word.

If they don’t know the word, they may use a dictionary or ask their partner for help.

Word Patterns Example 2: You have a word, drink.

The student asks his partner…

How would you spell (to practice writing) or say (to practice reading) these words:

wink, blink, sink, link, mink, pink, roller rink?

Again, students write a sentence with each word. If they don’t know the word, they may use a dictionary or ask a peer for help.

Word Patterns Example 3: You have a word, black.

How would you spell (to practice writing) or say (to practice reading) these words:

back, flack, backpack, lack, hack, sack, Jack, snack, pack, tack, Zack?

And once again they write sentences.

With the last example, students should notice that Jack and Zach are capitalized. Ask them if they know why. Great teachable moment!

As a side note, have the questions that students ask each other written on task cards.  

Students can manipulate the words using alphabet magnets, onset/blends/root word cards, or a white board.

There are many ways for them to demonstrate the new spellings.

The spelling patterns word work activities can be used with any words that have spelling patterns. (e.g., night, could, car, etc.).

Word Work Activity #2: Endings

For this activity, students work with a partner to practice writing endings for root words.

Here are some examples:

  • How would you write the word jump in the past tense? (jumped, add –ed)
  • How do you spell jumpingWhat is the plural of city? (cities, y-i change pattern).

  • How do you spell stop in the past tense? (stopped, double the consonant before adding –ed or -ing).
  • If you can spell beautiful, how would you spell beauty?
  • What is the plural of bug? (bugs, add –s when it is more than one).
  • How do you spell prettier and prettiest? (y to i change pattern).
  • If you can spell played, how would you spell player?
  • How do you spell crashes? (when a word ends in ch, sh, or x, add –es)

Again, have the questions that students ask each other written on task cards (note cards work just as well).  

Differentiate the “endings” word work activity by having several root words with various levels of difficulty. 

This word work activity is great for learning –ed, -er, and -ing endings and also for words that have irregular end changes such as city, pretty, and beauty.  

Of course, students can practice with lots of other words!

Word Work Activity # 3: Irregular Words

Spelling irregular words can be tricky. They don’t follow a pattern and can get quite confusing for struggling spellers.

As an accommodation, I make sure to have an anchor chart somewhere in the classroom with commonly misspelled irregular words, and I encourage students often to use those anchor charts as support.

Use this word work activity as long as students need it.

Make it part of a mini-lesson, literacy center, homework activity, etc.

The key is repetition!

Here are some examples:

  • What is the plural of child? (children)
  • What is the plural of person? (people)
  • What is the present tense of caught? (catch)
  • What is the past tense of drink? (drank, drunk)

Again, students work with a partner and read from task cards.  Have them practice as many irregular words as possible! 

Word Work Activity #4: Synonyms

This is a great activity for teaching students about strong verbs and colorful adjectives.

A thesaurus is a must for this word work activity.

Students choose (or you choose) five words.  Students then make a list of synonyms to accompany those words.

I like to call these synonyms “spicy” words since they add spice to one’s writing and are used less frequently by students.

NOTE: This activity can also be done with antonyms.

The next two word work l ideas work especially well with content word walls because they encourage students to analyze or illustrate words.

Word Work Activity #5: Vocabulary Sketch

This activity is perfect for use in the content areas which have lots of area-specific vocabulary that students aren’t exposed to daily.

Students sketch or draw a few of their spelling or vocabulary words.

Sweet and simple!

Word Work Activity #6: Frayer Model (Prefixes, Suffixes, Root Words)

The Frayer Model template pairs especially well with prefix, suffix, endings, and root words spelling practice.

Have students write a root word, prefix, or suffix in the center of the graphic organizer.

Make sure the word or word-part chosen is grade appropriate and somewhat familiar to students.

Students then write examples, non-examples, characteristics, and a definition associated with the word.

This word work activity really gets students thinking critically!

As an example, if the center word is “-less”, students will write examples of words with this suffix along with non-examples, characteristics, and a definition.

This graphic organizer is great for differentiated instruction because you can assign students a wide range (based on difficulty) of prefixes, suffixes, and root words.

Plus, one student could complete this graphic organizer for a few different words, each word having a different level of difficulty.

To spice things up a bit, may I suggest this easy foldable Frayer Model.

Awesome idea!

A Few Other Word Work Ideas for You!

Here are a few more simple, yet effective ways for students to practice spelling!

  • Homophones (to, too, two; knew, new; their, there, they’re, etc.)- Have students illustrate each one and use in a sentence.
  • Name words from the word wall that are verbs.
  • Which words from the Word Wall are nouns?
  • List the word wall words that are adjectives.
  • Compound words (How would you spell boyfriend or schoolhouse?)
  • Contractions (that’s, can’t, don’t, won’t, etc.). What do these words really mean? (that is, cannot, do not, will not).
  • Rhyming words (remember, some rhyming words don’t have the same spelling pattern!) (e.g., caught, bought; new, blue).

One more tip that I must let you know.

In addition to these word work activities, one of the biggest secrets to having students become great spellers is to hold them accountable for spelling in every subject area. 

This, my friends, is uber important.

They must know that spelling is not an isolated activity.

If your students are doing math, and you notice that little Johnny spells a spelling word wrong in an assignment, get on it!

With math, science, and social studies assignments, try to incorporate language arts standards and rubrics for writing and spelling whenever possible.

When students are held accountable for spelling in all subject areas, many will put forth the extra effort to be mindful of their spelling.

One of the best forms of assessment for spelling is to simply take a piece of student writing and assess it for whatever spelling objective you are looking for. 

It doesn’t get any more authentic than that, and you get a clear snapshot that will help you plan future word work activities based on your students’ needs.


Give some of these word work activities a try, and let me know how it goes! 

Until next time…