Word books... can you ever have too many?

Word books... can you ever have too many?


When I took Orton-Gillingham training we received several word books—all classics, all invaluable tools for an OG practitioner. Why do we need so many books? Why isn't just one enough?

As I mentioned earlier,  I received the following books during my OG training:

Working at the center, we had access to:

So why do we need so many books? Each author brings their own experience and expertise to deciding what to include, and we choose what is appropriate for each student. The beauty of Orton-Gillingham is that it is tailored to each student—what works for one may not work for another. The word books are our tools. So yes, we do need all these books! All of these books are fabulous and fit different needs.

Even with all the available books, I started seeing a need for lists that weren't available anywhere, or at least I couldn’t find them. So what do you do when you can't find what you want? You make your own! How many of you have painstakingly created personal word lists for a student? I know I have made hundreds of lists. My book writing journey started years ago. I hung an array of colorful paper labeled with sounds I was unable to find in books, and I asked the other women in the center to add words to the list (my OG friends and I ventured to northern Minnesota in the thick of winter and had a glorious time laughing as we discovered all the words that probably should not go into my wordbook). I divided the lists into two categories, mostly one syllable and mostly multisyllabic, and put them in an order that made sense to me. They eventually became Words and More Words.

Words contains lists covering all the trouble areas that I find myself spending time on. We can't ask a student to read the same list over and over. That would be memorizing. We need them to decode the word, blend the sounds, and bring the word to automaticity. So yes, every word book has a short a list! I have one too; I also have one without b and d, because I know that they slow so many students down and often cause frustration. I want the early learner to find joy in reading. Words was designed for a lower-level learner. It contains CVC words through VCe and some vowel pairs.  A peek of my table of contents will give you an idea of what you will find.

My new book More Words is geared toward a higher-level learner. I feel that it isn't enough to just teach a concept or sound, I believe we need to see a student demonstrate proficiency in higher-level words. I like lists to be layered. I have begun the book with these types of layered lists, with the first column being CVC (tin); the second column short vowels with consonant blends (switch); and the last being multi-syllable words that often illustrate the frequently heard schwa sound (distilling).  For another example of layering, it isn't enough that the higher-level student know that c is soft when followed by e, i, or y  in words such as mice, cinch, and lacy, they need to decode this pattern in multisyllabic words such as egocentric, while learning that the root centr  implies "middle point."  Check out the table of contents to discover the other types of lists!

Let's talk for a minute about list reading. How many of you have found yourself having to explain why learning to read a list of words is so important? For many non-OG folks, it seems unnecessary, not a good use of time. However, we are not teaching words, we are teaching how to decode words. As our students get older, they will find their texts getting exponentially harder. They need the skills to isolate sounds through phonology or morphology. Reading words in isolation such as in word books teaches them to see patterns. This pattern knowledge becomes part of their personal toolbox.

How long should you spend on reading words in isolation? Do you gear your lists to match your dictated sounds and the words on your dictation list? I was taught to spend about 10 minutes per session reading words. If the student has trouble tracking words on lists, flash cards are fine too. The training centers in the Minneapolis area teach the teachers to have their students to read in columns. It is so important to mix the lists up from lesson to lesson. They need to see the different fonts and layouts too. This became apparent to me when working with a student who was taught cursive early on. We were reading a book that formed the a with the curve on top. I heard her pronouncing it as a g, she was sounding out Mac as /mgc/. For little ones, they have no way of knowing that letters take on many forms unless we walk them through the process. For me, it was a lesson learned! I am humbled daily by the lessons my students teach me. So keep a variety of word books and lists on hand, you never know what you could discover with your next student!

Happy word lists

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Donna - September 20, 2020

Great article and resources! Thank you!

Pamela Mehlin - June 26, 2019

@Karen Sonday Thank you so much for the rave review! I am thrilled you are using it in teacher training!

Karen Sonday - June 25, 2019

That was supposed to say “words with s saying /z/” and “words with ve on the end” but this machine rejected the way I wrote the s and ve.

Karen Sonday - June 25, 2019

Holy mackerel. More Words is my new go-to book. (I’m not being paid or bribed to say that, either!!) The layered lists are fabulous. Every short vowel page has one column that’s CVC, one with beginning and ending blends and one with multi-syllable words, all with that particular short vowel! It’s been invaluable this week for training teachers since we’ve got students at varied levels that we haven’t worked with before. No more shuffling from one book to another. It also fills in the gaps that other books don’t seem to address like words with the saying /z/ and words with on the end. I can fine tune my lesson plans like never before.

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