What Words Do They Already Know

Never assume that your child either does or doesn’t know any words. The first step is to ask them what they know. There is a very good chance that they will know how to write a few words even if its only Wii or Xbox. You can use those tiny logos to your advantage!

How Do You Find Out What Words They Know?

I suggest giving them a Word Writing Assessment. You can either use a plain piece of copy paper or a copy of my Word Writing Assessment sheet that you can download at the bottom of this post. If you use the Assessment sheet, don’t forget to fold under the top part that has text written on it. There is no value in them copying off of the header. You will also want to be able to document what you observe on another sheet of paper, lined or unlined, your preference. 

What You Will Need:

  • Word Vocabulary Sheet (plain paper) + Your Observations Sheet
  • Pen (so they don’t waste time erasing!)
  • Timer

Give Specific Directions

Give the child both the paper and pen and say: “We are going to play a little word game! I’m going to set the timer for 10 minutes and in that time, I want to see how many words you can write. Don’t worry! If you can’t write very many today, we will practice and you can play again at another time.” Then you’re going to give them their first word prompt. “Can you write your name?” At this time, start the 10 minute timer. If they say ‘Yes’ say: “Write your name for me.” If they can write their first name, I ask about middle and last names. When they finish, say: “Good! Now I would like you to write all the words you know.”

If they can’t write their name, ask them if they know any 1 or 2 letter words. Say: “Can you write the word ‘in’?” Give them time to think and write between each word prompt. Here are some additional words they may know: their name, I, a, is, in, am, to, come, like, see, the, my, we, and, at, here, on, up, look, go, this, it, me. 

Each time you can say, “Do you know how to write ____ ?” Make sure you are not talking while they’re thinking and processing. If it looks like they are working it out, wait patiently. If they know a lot of words, they will usually need very little prompting, but sometimes it helps if you suggest categories. Here are some great examples: other children’s names, family or pet names, things you can do, things in your house, things you can ride on or in, things you can eat, colors, animals, etc. You get the idea. 

You may offer as many prompts in the 10 minutes as necessary. Continue for 10 minutes or until they have exhausted all writing words they know. Also note that it is not necessary for them to be able to read the words they have just written later. 

What Things To Record On Your Sheet

Part of your job as teacher is to watch what they are doing as clues into their understanding and abilities. Below you will find a list of some of the things that I would note during a Word Writing Assessment. 

Things To Make Note Of For Scoring

  • Correct Spelling – each word that is spelled correctly scores 1 point. If they say ‘on’ and write ‘am’ it is not counted. 
  • Reversals – You do not count reversals against them unless the reversal could be a different word that they don’t know (bog for dog). If they write a reversed ‘s’ in the word ‘bus’ you would count it correct since a backwards ‘s’ is not a different letter. 
  • Directionality – If they write their words from Right to Left in the correct sequence you would count it as a correct word. If they write them reversed from Left to Right you would not. This is something that I note by putting numbers either above or below the individual letters on my record sheet indicating 1, 2, 3, etc. I may not remember later. 
  • Similar Words – If they write ‘look, looks, looking’ you would count each one as a separate word. The same is true to rhyming words ‘cat, fat, hat’ or other similar spelling patterns. 
  • Capital Letters – You do not penalize them for using both Capital letters and lowercase letters. You would make note of which letters that they usually substitute a Capital letter for. That usually means that the lowercase version is not mastered. This is called using Mixed Letters. Sometimes the capitals might be in the middle of the word. 
  • Lists – How they put their words on the page is also something to make note of. The most common method of writing words on this assessment for young children is to write their words in a hap hazard pattern all over the page (top, bottom, left, right, just filling in empty spaces). If your child is starting at the top of the page and making lists of words and using the word before to help them come up with the next word (such as rhymes or spelling patterns) they are much more organized in their thinking. They should be able to create a much more complex list. (But don’t prompt for this!)  

Now What?

It’s very common for some children to have 0 writing words. Its also very common for some children to have 40+ words in 10 minutes. Each of those examples would have completely different needs, which is why this assessment is important. If your child is not 5 or 6 yet, they may not know any words. That’s OK too!

Now its time to make a Known Word List, so you have something to refer back to when you are working together. Take each of the known words that are spelled correctly and write them into the correct alpha box on the form. (This will be part of your download!) You will use these words as anchors for new words, choosing books, and in writing sentences and stories. For beginning readers, a picture and a sentence is a story! More about this in another post! 

Thanks for making it all the way to the bottom of the post! You rock! See you next time!

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