Words Sorts

It is with great pleasure that we share another Activity Presentation. This time we explore Word Sorts.

Word Sorts is a simple way to encourage learners to develop an understanding of the predictable patterns when reading and spelling English words. In short, each word sort activity requires learners to examine a set of words, and to sort (or categorise) these words into common patterns whilst identifying exceptions to the rule. This brief activity is designed to be done daily (or regularly) as learners "study" different sets of pronunciation and spelling patterns. In doing so, learners explore how to blend and segment various consonant and vowel sounds in simple to more complex words.

By guiding learners from simple to complex structures, teachers can help learners make logical sense of word reading and writing in English. The Word Sorts (or Word Studies) can easily be organised in such a way that the resulting program is consistent with an evidence-based phonics sequence. Over time, students come to master the patterns of English phonology,  orthography, and morphology, so they are equipped with the skills to rapidly and accurately read both known and unfamiliar words.

Rather than prolong the introduction, it is best to allow the video to speak for itself. The following video presentation provides a demonstration of this activity along with some essential points and resources. Grab your popcorn, because it is a bit of a long one. (NB: The video can also be found on YouTube at https://youtu.be/HCvYgHk6ODc.)

Ultimately, we want children to decode with confidence and notice the patterns within printed words. As Mark Seidenberg observes, “for a beginning reader, every word is a unique pattern. Major statistical patterns emerge as the child encounters a larger sample of words, and later, finer-grained dependencies.” (Seidenberg, 2017, 92)  “Readers become orthographic experts by absorbing lots of data  … The path to orthographic expertise begins with practice practice practice but leads to more more more.” (Seidenberg, 2017, 108).

After you watch the video, we encourage you to download resources that are mentioned in the presentation:

You can also access the Word Sort - Activity Cards, which have been organised into key developmental stages.

We encourage you to check out the book Words Their Way by Donald Bear and colleagues. It's a highly regarded educational resource with a thorough discussion of activities, developmental expectation and assessment tools.

  • Bear, S., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2014). Words their way: word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (5th edition). Essex: Pearson.

Also, please visit our Mastering the Code presentation, including the presentation slides. This presentation and its associated slides provide background research that will help you better understand the purpose of the activity.

We hope the activity is a valuable addition to your practice. We welcome your feedback and ideas, so please stay in touch.

Thank you for your time. Please explore and enjoy!



Bear, S., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2014). Words their way: word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (5th edition). Essex: Pearson.

Seidenberg, M. (2017). Language at the speed of sight: how we read, why so many can’t, and what can be done about it. New York: Basic Books.

Mastering the Alphabetic Code

Today, we share "Mastering the Alphabetic Code" which is available below as well as on YouTube at https://youtu.be/dA4nt3rxTYM

This video is a presentation that outlines the key elements involved in learning to “master the alphabetic code”, such as phonemic awareness, phonemic knowledge, letter-sound correspondence, orthographic patterns, morphological patterns and automatic word recognition and construction skills.

It emphasises the need for teachers to develop scaffolded activities that provide learners with the skills to succeed.

The presentation slides can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/Mastering-the-Code. We highly recommend that you download the slides, since they contain many resources mentioned in the video. Please be patient during download. It's a large file, at least in PDF terms (20MB).

Please explore and enjoy! And send us a message if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

Teaching According to the Stages of Literacy Development

Today, we have added yet another new presentation to The Literacy Bug's YouTube channel. The presentation is entitled Teaching According to the Stages of Literacy Developmentand it can be found below or at the following link: https://youtu.be/D7vUhqVXLWg.

Like its predecessors,  Teaching According to the Stages of Literacy Development clocks in at just about one hour long. So grab your popcorn, sit back, watch/listen and enjoy. The presentation slides are available, so download them here.

This presentation explores the changing nature of literacy across the various stages of literacy development. In so doing, we discuss how instruction must change as learners consolidate core skills and prepare for new skills and expectations. Teaching routines for the various stages of literacy development are also discussed. Please explore and enjoy!. 

To be exact, the presentation sets out to meet the following objectives:

  • to emphasise the developmental nature of literacy;

  • to emphasise how literacy instruction and learning changes across the lifespan, particularly as certain skills are consolidated and new skills and expectations arise;

  • to outline literacy as both a cognitive and social achievement that involves both the mastery of skills and the exploration of content; and

  • to outline the various texts and routines that are applicable to Chall’s Stages of Literacy Development.

(If you are new to The Literacy Bug, feel free to visit our popular page on the Stages of Literacy Development.)

Let us know what you think. It's another longer presentation. We hope to produce some shorter ones in the future.

Below is the audio from the presentation. Whilst it includes references to the visuals, the audio may well make sense on its own. If you would prefer to listen, feel free to play online or download for offline use. Also, it might help to download the slides, and you can follow along as you listen.

We hope the presentation is useful and thought-provoking. Please explore and enjoy!

Scaffolding deep reading: a personal recollection

I have an entrenched memory of something I experienced in the eighth or ninth grade. One of my friends was taking part in a weekly book club in the library at our school. This weekly book club (or story club, to be more accurate) was being organised by one of our favourite teachers. She was relaxed and casual but asked her students to think deeply about social and civic issues. It’s important to note that my friend was not the best reader, and I was what you would probably call a reluctant reader. I liked the concept of reading, but I often found it an endurance sport. However, since I knew everyone in the group, I thought it was a good way to spend one lunch per week. Have I forgotten to mention that it was a group of five boys discussing stories and none of us were what you would classify as a “strong reader”?

Now, bear in mind, we were all able to read the short stories (i.e. decode and accurately comprehend what we were reading). And the short stories were written in such a manner that we were presented with a controlled amount of challenging vocabulary and other language features. Therefore, we were able to problem solve and discuss new meanings and expressions without becoming frustrated or bogged down. It also helped that these stories were not overly long, and each one clearly probed a moral, social or civic issue, particularly through the confrontation of often adolescent characters. I distinctly remember counting the numbers of pages of each story, though, such was my aversion to reading material that was too long and tedious

I distinctly remember “THE BOOK”. It was a brown paperback book that was divided up into stories of 10 to 15 pages in length (perhaps classics). It may have had the logo “GREAT BOOKS” on the front. Initially, I thought that I was mistaken about the title of the series until a Google search supported my memory. The Great Books foundation (http://www.greatbooks.org) provides books that are meant “to advance social and civic engagement and help people of all ages think critically about their own lives and the world we share.” The book club may or may not have used the Great Books material, but it definitely was designed to provoke deep discussions about justice, fairness, and individuality, whilst providing a platform for weaker readers to practice deep reading and discussion skills.

In the end, it meant that there were five adolescent boys sitting around a table once a week at lunch who all had a shared understanding of the situation that was presented in the story. We all came prepared. We read the weekly story in advance, because it was embarrassing to let the group down. We didn’t debate what occurred in the story. Instead, we debated our interpretations of the situation(s). And that meant that we interpreted macro features, such as how a character acted and whether such actions were fair. It also meant that we interpreted micro features, such as the choice of words and other details which provided information - occasionally ambiguous - on how a character might have been feeling or how the character might have been motivated to act in a certain way. 

These weekly discussions - at times heated - inducted me into deep reading, perspective taking, and evidence-based argumentation. I often had to disagree with a friend, and still respect him as a friend outside of the weekly meetings, even though we were discussing significant issues of moral, social and civic behaviour. I also needed to be in a position to listen and alter my viewpoint of a character or event if someone in the group presented evidence that I initially overlooked and had not appreciated.

Sourced from Olson, C. B., & Land, R. (2007). A cognitive strategies approach to reading and writing instruction for English language learners in secondary school. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(3), 269–303. 

You see — here you have a group of students who had all learned to read proficiently (i.e. decode and understand), but who had yet to learn how to read meaningfully and critically. The teacher provided us with a space where we could learn to read more insightfully, discriminatingly and deliberately, which reminds me now of a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein, “seeing an aspect and imagining are subject to the will” (PI, Part II, xi). We had to learn to work hard as we read. In other words, one doesn’t comprehend merely because he or she can read. One must put effort into navigating the details of a text to find one’s way about. One has to *deliberate*, and the routines of deliberation are based on experience, practice and guidance in how to engage deeply. One has to ask questions, “where do I begin?”, “what does this mean?”, “am I right?”, “do I agree?”, “do I have the right picture?”, “is anything unclear?”, “do I need to read this again?”, “what am I thinking and feeling?” (See accompanying figure from Olson & Land [2007] for other common ‘mental moves’) This can all be exhausting if one hasn’t had the chance to take a breath and find the time to practice, interpret and discuss increasingly complex information. 

Whilst this next bit may be off topic, I am often struck when I have failed to properly read a bank form or government form. I might only pick up my errors either on a second/third reading or with the help of another person. Imagine the person who struggles to read and who struggles to hold attention on key details. It can be mentally exhausting and stressful to navigate complex material if one is struggling and concurrently lacks confidence and guidance. Everyday documents can be technical jungles if one lacks confidence/experience in navigating multifaceted material. 

The following passage from Wittgenstein illustrates why it is important that all teaching includes explicit guidance in how we regulate our thinking. This includes teaching that fosters the types of dialogue that govern our activities. As Vygotsky (1978) observed, "every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside people... All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals." (p.57) In my case, the group discussion with my peers came to shape my internal deliberations as I learned to read deeply on my own.

Let us imagine someone doing work that involves comparison, trial, choice. Say he is constructing an appliance out of various bits of stuff with a given set of tools. Every now and then there is the problem “Should I use this bit?” -- The bit is rejected, another is tried. Bits are tentatively put together, then dismantled; he looks for one that fits etc, etc.. I can now imagine that this while procedure is filmed. The worker perhaps also produces sound-effects like “hm” or “ha!” As it were sounds of hesitation, sudden finding, decision, satisfaction, dissatisfaction. But does not utter a single word. Those sound-effects may be included in the film. I have the film shewn me, and now I invent a soliloquy for the worker, things that fit his manner of work, its rhythm, his play of expression, his gestures and spontaneous noises; they correspond to all this. So I sometimes make him say “No, that bit is too long, perhaps another’s fit better.” -- Or “What am I to do now?” -- “Got it!” -- Or “That’s not bad” etc. (Zettel, #100)

The lunchtime book club was an important part of my growth as a reader. I would still count the pages of the next chapter of my book. I would still often consider reading an endurance sport. However, I became aware of the times when I was “just going through the motions” of reading and when I was reading with my full attention. I also grew to appreciate how important it is to discuss what we read and also discuss what we write. This would became apparent in my later years of high school when I joined a weekly poetry circle at a local bookshop. That - though - is a story for another time.



The Great Books Foundation - http://www.greatbooks.org

Olson, C. B., & Land, R. (2007). A cognitive strategies approach to reading and writing instruction for English language learners in secondary school. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(3), 269–303. 

Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman (Eds.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (2001). Philosophical Investigations. 3rd Edition. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

_____________  (1967) Zettel. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fostering Reading Comprehension ... and Dispelling a Few Myths at the Same Time

How can one explain the expression, transmit one’s comprehension? Ask yourself: How does one lead anyone to the comprehension of a poem or of a theme? The answer to this tells us how meaning is explained here. Let’s simplify language to the declarative statement that has the capacity to convey unambiguously. (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, #533)

Reading is not reading if it does not lead to comprehension. Otherwise, it would be known as “word calling”. With that premise, I launch into a brief entry about reading comprehension. It is not comprehensive. Nor is it very technical. Instead, it is a few, common ideas that have been hanging around my head for some time. To help organise my thoughts, I have set out to dispel a few myths that I have heard expressed from time to time:


  • Myth #1: Once one solves issues of decoding and the reader is fluent, then comprehension should take care of itself.
  • Answer #1: Whilst automaticity and fluency does facilitate meaningful comprehension,  learners need ample practice and instruction in order to process, interpret, and respond to the information presented in a texts.  Developing readers also need to build a diverse portfolio of knowledge, interests, reading experiences and vocabulary to make sense of what is read.


  • Myth #2: You cannot teach comprehension, because you cannot teach thinking. Someone either understands something or he doesn’t.
  • Answer #2: Cannot teach someone to think? You have got to be kidding! We teach people to think all the time. We direct people’s attention to significant details. We encourage individuals to imagine. We ask people to draw connections between observations and concepts being learned. We present pictures to people so that we can persuade and inform. Of course we can teach comprehension. 


  • Myth #3: Comprehension is a singular skill that one completes by oneself.
  • Answer #3: To comprehend requires the orchestration of a wide range of skills, whether this involves visualisation, summation, interpretation, comparison, application, etc. Over time, learners are taught to deploy a range of techniques in order to focus on what they read and to make sense of what they read. All of these techniques may not have been made explicit, but this does not mean that they do not exist, that they should not be taught and that they do not become more complex over time.
  • Myth #4: Reading comprehension is a general skill. If one is a good reader, then one can read and understand just about everything.
  • Answer #4: No! It may appear that a good reader can read anything (as long as the reader can control his or her reading diet). Most of us can’t necessarily choose our reading diet. The ability to read a novel is different than the ability to read legislation or philosophy or a science textbook or a government policy or an electricity bill. Furthermore, our ability to comprehend a given text will be impacted by our background knowledge, our experiences, our context, our educational experiences, our language and our motivation. A physicist might devour Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman. For the novice, is it so easy? Perhaps not.

We become better readers by reading, discussing, re-reading and thinking reflectively and critically. In the context of books, we explore new words, new knowledge, new ideas, new perspectives and more. What we read and how we read are things that change across the lifespan. Please enjoy what you read and explore!

Traversing the Topical Landscape of Reading and Writing

In Philosophical Investigations (1958), Wittgenstein characterized the philosophical remarks that comprise his book as journeyings across a landscape. McGinley and Tierney (1989, p. 250) adopted that representation in depicting reading and writing as ways of traversing a topical landscape: 

“After Wittgenstein (1953), we also take the theoretical position that a topic of study is analogous to a landscape about which knowledge is best acquired by ‘traversing’ it from a variety of perspectives. However, in our system, different forms of reading and writing represent the ‘traversal routes’ or cases through which an individual can explore a given content domain. As the combined assemblages of several cases provide multiple routes for acquiring knowledge, we argue that more complex or diverse combinations of different forms of reading and writing provide a learner with the means to conduct a more critical examination of a topic by way of the multiple perspectives or ways of ‘seeing’ and thinking that these reading and writing exchanges permit.”

I am quite confident that I will be using the above quote in the near future to characterise my approach to literacy since it shares the sentiment of A Teacher for All Seasons.

McGinley, W., & Tierney, R. J. (1989). Traversing the topical landscape: reading and writing as ways of knowing. Written Communication, 6(3), 243–269.

A Framework for Considering Literacy Instruction

Across the six stages of reading development (Chall, 1996), I have identified three skill domains and six developmental areas to take into consideration. For the purposes of this outline, I present the three "frames" in the current journal entry.

It is essential that experienced adults “keep the finger on the pulse” to ensure that younger learners are developing the skills, practices, knowledge, habits and attitudes that are required presently and which will be required in subsequent stages.

Learners should have the opportunity to consolidate current skills (that they are expected to complete independently at the current stage) whilst experiencing more advanced skills (that they can complete through the assistance/scaffolding/modelling of an experienced adult).

Read More

Practical Advice for Assisting Children With Reading

Reading is a practice. Every occasion takes the child one step forward in the imaginative and critical journey. We should embrace every chance we have to make those encounters engaging, satisfying, and vivid.

For today's entry I would like to share two recent and two not-so-recent blog entries from Dr Trevor Cairney.

Dr Cariney's blog - http://trevorcairney.blogspot.com.au - is an excellent and practical resources for parent, teachers and the community.

Book Tip: Becoming a Reader: The Experience of Fiction from Childhood to Adulthood

by J.A. Appleyard

For the first time, I have selected a book that makes no mention of Wittgenstein. So, you may ask, "why feature it on a site titled Wittgenstein on Learning?" Well, the official subtitle of the site is a Wittgensteinian View of Language, Literacy and Learning. Something that is Wittgensteinian does not need to be by or about Wittgenstein and his writing. It just needs to be in the spirit of Wittgenstein. In this case, Appleyard writes a fascinating book that posits the argument that an individual's reading behaviours, interests and needs change as one grows from childhood to adulthood.

Read More

Elements of the Reading Process: A Schematic Diagram

The following image presents the elements of the reading process as a flow chart that roughly identifies levels of reading processing. I ask you to imagine a reader holding a text within the hands. Whether or not any comprehension occurs begins at the fundamental first steps: is adequate attention being paid to the text? Does the reader have the language and the knowledge to adequately draw meaning from the text? It is a process of both top down and bottom up processing, in which the top down process brings background knowledge and prior experience to bear on the reading and the bottom up process involves decoding, defining new terminology, and making sense of sentences through a knowledge of a syntax. 

Elements of the reading process

The following diagram further represents how both top down and bottom up processes interplay in an interactive approach to reading instruction. 

Courtesy of Dr Neil Anderson, Brigham Young University

Wittgenstein and the Elements of Reading

It is not particularly novel to say that reading is a process that involves decoding, meaning making and interpretation (or assessment). It is also quite straightforward to say that this sequence occurs within a context in which factors such as the immediate purpose, expectations and other participants affect how and why one reads. The sequence is represented in the following diagram (with further commentary to follow).

In Wittgensteinian terms, the reader progresses from aspect seeing (decoding) to meaning making (picture theory) to assessing (language games). The reader sees the text, gathers some sense from the text and extracts some meaning from the text as part of overarching conversations and conventions.

Let us imagine that I have a newspaper article in front of me. In order for me to have any hope of understanding the text, I need to take the following into account:

  • I need to be able to decode the language if I am going to have any hope of extracting any meaning from this text;
  • Even if I can decode the text, I will need to be able to extract some sense from the sentences in text, which would involve construing the states of affairs being represented (or referred to) in the text;
  • I will need to be struck by the content of the article, which means I will need to know the significance of what I am reading, of what particular details mean, of why the article was written in the first place, and of the tradition of long  information reporting; and 
  • I will need to be part of the greater conversation ( of the language-game ) of which the text is part.

What if it was not a newspaper article but an economic text? I would be at a loss even though I may have sophisticated decoding skills and robust general comprehension practices. My exclusion from general conversations of economics demonstrates that the above process works just was well in the reverse. That is, if I am aware of the "conversation" to which the text belongs and I understand the intention of the reader-writing exchange, then I am in a better position to know what may and may not be significant in the text, even I may need some help. I may be able to read more strategically and I am also in a better position to clarify ambiguities in the text because I have prior experience and knowledge to call upon when I am stuck by particularly dense or awkward phrasings.

In a teaching sense, certain texts may be more or less within a learning zone of proximal development . We want to be able to facilitate contexts in which students have the time to practice development in each of the four areas:

  • decoding --> moving toward fluency
  • meaning making --> process information to interpret, visualise, draw connections, compare, represent, clarify, etc
  • assessing --> extract significance, apply ideas, understand intentions, respond and react, summarise and synthesise, etc. 
  • participating --> being part of knowledge communities and practices in which it may be necessary to consult a text in order to take part. 

Last but not least ... whenever I see the following quote, I think of the satisfaction when someone has thoroughly comprehended a text:

"Often, when I have had a picture well framed or have hung it in the right surroundings, I have caught myself feeling as proud as if I had painted the picture myself. That is not quite right: not “as proud as if I painted it, but as proud as if I had helped to paint it, as if I had, so to speak, painted a little bit of it. It is as though an exceptionally gifted arranger of grasses should eventually come to think that he had produced at least a tiny blade of grass himself." (Wittgenstein, Culture & Value)