Understanding Words consists of 75 Lesson plans that teach the essentials of reading and spelling. Each Lesson typically contains the following:

  • Tasks that target phonemic awareness
  • Letter-Sound Rules – explicit teaching of a new phonics rule (some Lessons teach two rules) or a high-frequency morpheme (e.g., -s, -es, -ed, -ion)
  • Whiteboard Sounds – students practise producing the new phonics rule amongst a selection of other known “letter-sounds” that serve as distractors
  • Sound Spelling – students identify the initial, middle or end phoneme (speech sound) in spoken words and then write the grapheme (letter or letter-group) that represents that sound.
  • 3-Step spelling – spoken words are separated into speech sounds (e.g., CHIP = /ch/i/p/). The students then write the word. The task targets phonemic awareness (phoneme segmentation), sound-to-letter conversion rules, sequential spelling skills and letter formation.
  • Whiteboard Spelling – starting with a target word, students create new words by swapping letters in and out (e.g., change SIP into SLIP). The task targets phonemic awareness (phoneme segmentation, phoneme elision and the addition of phonemes to words), sound-to-letter conversion rules, sequential spelling skills and letter formation.
  • Nonword Spelling – The same task as 3-Step Spelling but using nonwords. Only used for older students who can spell most of the words in the 3-Step Spelling and Whiteboard Spelling tasks “by sight”.
  • Whiteboard Words – A word-reading task. The teacher writes a word on the whiteboard for the student to read aloud (e.g., SHOT). Letters are added or deleted to form a new word for the student to read (e.g., SHOUT). Approximately 30% of the words contain the new phonics rule taught in that Lesson. The task targets phonemic awareness (blending), letter-to-sound conversion rules, decoding skills and reading fluency.
  • Word List Reading – Another word-reading task. The students read words from a list in their Student Booklet. Approximately 30% of the words contain the new phonics rule taught in that Lesson. The task targets phonemic awareness (blending), letter-to-sound conversion rules, decoding skills and reading fluency.
  • Nonword Reading – The same task as Word List Reading but using nonwords. Only used for older students who can read most of the words in the Whiteboard Words and Word List Reading tasks “by sight”.
  • Irregular Words – Irregular-words are words that can’t be read via normal letter-to-sound conversion rules (e.g., COME). Knowing a relatively small number of these irregular-words helps students to access text more quickly and avoids confusing young students by introducing exceptions before they have truly mastered the rules.
  • Sentence Reading – students read sentences that have been constructed from the phonics rules and irregular-words taught to that point in the program. Targets word identification skills, application of decoding skills while reading text and fluency.
  • Comprehension – students read sentences or short stories in which most of the words have been constructed from the phonics rules and irregular-words taught to that point in the program. The students read the sentences and answer comprehension questions. The questions target knowledge of parts of speech (e.g., implicitly identifying subject, verb, adverbs, adjectives) through to drawing inferences. These activities target word identification skills, application of decoding skills while reading text, fluency, linguistic knowledge and comprehension strategies.
  • Story Reading – students read stories in which most of the words have been constructed from the phonics rules and irregular-words taught to that point in the program. These activities are all about the application of basic skills to a task that resembles book reading. These activities target word identification skills, application of decoding skills while reading text and fluency.

Detailed scripts ensure that Lessons are taught in the same way each time so students understand exactly what is expected. The scripts also mean that skilled teachers are not required. Understanding Words can be taught by teacher assistants and parents.

Understanding Words can be taught to individual students or in small groups of 3-4. Research has shown that small groups produce similar outcomes to individual instruction and that teacher assistants and parent helpers can produce significant and meaningful reading gains.