Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices K-6 — Review and Giveaway

In my third grade classroom, the refrain of “Mrs. Sokolowski, how do you spell…(enter various words)?” is common. When it comes to writing words, one issue is that students don’t know how to spell certain words or the strategies to attempt to spell the word correctly. Reading my students’ writing, another issue is that some students use interesting and precise words but spell them incorrectly with no awareness that the words are misspelled. Yet another concern I feel when reading my students’ writing is words are spelled correctly but lack creativity and specificity in word choice.

A weekly spelling test with the same words for all students will not solve any of these issues. I want my students to be curious about words, interested in learning new words and meanings. I want my students to incorporate the words they learn into their lives- their conversations and their writing pieces. I want the words they learn to make their reading more understandable and enjoyable. But how do I make that happen for my third grade learners?

Enter Pamela Koutrakos’ book, Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices K-6 (Corwin 2019), a book that aims to make word study joyful, personalized, relevant, and manageable. (YES, please!)

Koutrakos shared how teachers she talked with felt about current word study programs.

“…the teachers described how they are tired of having to cobble things together. They are adding in, taking out, modifying and tweaking what they have as a way to include what they feel is most important for their students. Many teachers feel there is not enough emphasis on phonemic awareness, phonics or vocabulary. Many see current word study programs as one-size-fits-all and/or difficult to manage. Many see it as rote, surface, and heavily reliant on short-term memorization. Almost all share concerns about lack of transfer- and even lack of knowledge- once the Friday test is over (4).”

Word Study That Sticks aims to be different from the spelling programs referenced above. According to Koutrakos, it includes the following:

  • Challenging, discovery based practices
  • Joyful, student-centered learning
  • Personalized and differentiated instruction
  • Developmentally appropriate routines
  • Instruction in all aspects of word study, with enough phonemic awareness and phonics in the primary grades and balanced emphasis on spelling and vocabulary in all grades
  • Practical ideas to include word study into different parts of the day so we see transfer of learning
  • Something that intertwines a myriad of established best practices to support all learners
  • An easy to implement approach that can be used to start up word study
  • Built-in professional development so you feel prepared in moving forward with a stepped-up approach to word study instruction
  • Access to words that precisely express ideas and viewpoints (4-5)

After reading Word Study That Sticks, I agree that this book includes all of these components! It is written in an approachable, fun, passionate voice. One of the marks of a high-quality professional resource, in my opinion, is that you feel more excited about teaching after reading it. This was absolutely true for me after reading Word Study That Sticks. I can’t wait to try out several of the lessons and incorporate the ideas Koutrakos shared with my current and future students.

Word Study That Sticks can be used if you have a current word study program your school follows or it can be the program you start if you do not have a consistent word study program in place. The book is broken into three parts. Part I: Curious, Creative Word Study, Part II: Fostering Engagement and Independence and Part III: Teaching for Transfer.  There are ten chapters and extensive and helpful resources in the Appendix. There are also online resources that can be accessed from Corwin.

One of the features in the book that I enjoyed the most was detailing “What, Why and When”. Each lesson shared includes a description of who would benefit most from the lesson and the best practices that make the lesson one we should teach.  I also liked how each chapter included “Workarounds”, which were ways you could troubleshoot some of the potential problems that might arise. It was like Koutrakos thought ahead to all the questions teachers would pose and then found a way to offer a solution that might work! “Starting Up and Stepping Up” was a feature where teachers who have been doing this work share their insights. Teachers brand new to word study would share the “Starting Up” tips and those who’ve been trying it for a while would offer “Stepping Up” advice. I always enjoy hearing from teachers who are putting this practice in place with real students in real classrooms!

This book is filled with practical, ready-to-implement ideas. It is brimming with passion and purpose. It made me think of word study in terms of how mathematics teaching has evolved. When I was a student, we learned math by memorizing equations and didn’t think much about how numbers worked. Word study today is much more than memorizing the spelling of words- like math has evolved, word study has also evolved to learning how the parts of words,  the patterns we can use to spell words, the meanings of words and how to transfer learning to new words.

Koutrakos writes, “Words express you. Yourself. Words clarify and deepen connections to others. Make no mistake about it too: Words are power. Knowing words opens doors. Vocabulary is thinking. So simple, but profound. The more words we know, the more nuanced our thinking. This is the kind of power we want for the children we teach” (11).

If you are a K-6 educator, instructional coach, or administrator, I highly recommend you read Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices K-6. Koutrakos has written an inspiring, practical, helpful, and smart book about the power of words and what educators can do to make word study both joyful and meaningful for our students.


  • This giveaway is for a copy of Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices K-6. Thanks to Corwin Literacy for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices K-6, please leave a comment by Monday, April 22nd at 11:59 pm EDT. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. The lucky recipient will be announced at the bottom of this blog post no later than Wednesday, April 24th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Corwin Literacy will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – WORD STUDY THAT STICKS.Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.