Word Work Activities for ELLs

Word Work Activities for ELLs

word work

Word study looks at spelling and phonics patterns of individual words. Word Work activities give students practice working with words. This helps them learn how to both read and spell words. For ELLs, it is helpful to include pictures when possible for word work activities. This allows students to better understand the meaning of the words that they are learning how to read and spell.

Word Sorts

Word sorts are a simple word work activity to give students practice with both phonemic awareness and phonics. For phonemic awareness have students sort pictures based on a target sound.  Add in phonics practice by having students read and match a word. They can also sort just the word or the word and picture. The language level, vocabulary knowledge, decoding skills, and age of your students will determine what combination you use.

long short a sorts

Digital word sorts are a quick way to set up word sorts without the extra time it takes for cutting and gluing.

Reading Words

When students are beginning readers they need many opportunities to read new words. The majority of the time it is best for students to read in words in context. It is also helpful to give short opportunities to read words in isolation as well. This gives students additional practice reading words with the phonics patterns they are learning or to review previously learned patterns.


One strategy to help students decode new words is continuous blending. Blend sounds together as you go. For the word flag, a student would blend it as fl fla flag.

Blending Lines

Blending lines are lists of words that have similar phonics patterns for a student to read. They are simple at first and progressively get more complex. They give students the opportunity to practice a new phonics skill and review previously taught ones. In A Fresh Look at Phonics, Blevens explains in more detail how to create blending lines for students.


For a quick game give students a board with pictures of words that have a target sound. Show them a word and have them read the word then cover the picture of the word on the board.

For another game, cut apart words. Have students read a word and then move on a game board. Use dice to make it more fun. You can also use pictures and have students spell the word. A whiteboard works great for this.

Connected text

Reading connected text gives students the opportunity to practice new phonics skills in a way that will help them build new vocabulary and reading skills. This can be done through sentences or using decodable books that target the phonics skills that the students are practicing. For some students, they are able to read books at a higher level than they can spell words. Decodable texts can still be helpful as a targeted way to give students additional exposure to the word patterns that they are learning.

Word Hunts- Have students use decodable books to search for words that follow the phonics pattern they are practicing. Students can then write down the words, use highlighter tape, or write directly on printed books.

Decodable Phonics Books Print and Digital Bundle– This set of one page print or digital phonics books have simple stories that include pictures for vocabulary support. Each book focuses on a particular phonics skill and are controlled to follow a sequence of phonics skills.

decodable books

Decodable Books for MLs– This is a list of recommended decodable books to use with multilingual learners.

TN Foundational Skills Curriculum Supplement– This is a free open source collection of phonics lessons with decodable texts designed for grades K-2.



Have students practice spelling and phonics skills as they write both words and sentences. You can add in vocabulary practice by using pictures. Dictation practice is a time when students think carefully about how words are spelled.

If students need more assistance you can give them the letters of a word mixed up. Students think about the sounds that they hear in the word and unscramble the letters. For even more support add in magnetic letters that students can arrange.

Here is an example of taking a spelling worksheet and cutting it apart to add to an interactive notebook. I typically print the worksheet at 2 per page so that they fit inside.

short long a vowel spelling

Word Chains

This activity helps students to focus on one phonics skill at a time. Start with having students write or use letter tiles to build a word. Then give them a new word to spell that only has one difference from the previous word. For additional support give students only the letters that they will need to complete the word chain. Add in pictures as a way to support vocabulary development as students practice their phonics skills.

mule mute mutt hut hug huge (m u l e t h g )

word chain

Professional Resources

A Fresh Look at Phonics, Grades K-2: Common Causes of Failure and 7 Ingredients for Success

Words Their Way for ELLs– An overview of using word sorts with ELLs along with specific strategies to support ELLs.

Word Sorts with ELLs– Read more about setting up and using word sorts with ELLs.

Teaching Materials

Picture Word Sorts– Ready to go word sorts organized by spelling patterns with pictures and practice activities.

long o sorts

Phonics Mega Bundle– This is a HUGE collection of word sorts (print and digital), phonics color by code, and additional word study materials.

word work ml

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