Forty-something multi-sensory teacher with a class of all-singing, all-dancing Year 4s would like to meet a tried-and-tested, fast-paced reading and spelling resource. Must be motivating, fun and memorable. No time wasters.’
Finding the one isn’t easy, and I’ve had my heart broken by a couple of resources that have promised everything, but in the end have let me and my class down. While there is no shortage of spelling and reading resources, I think I’ve found one I’m prepared to enter into a long-term teaching relationship with. Let me introduce you to WordBlaze.
WordBlaze caught my eye because it is a bit different. In fact, it’s a lot different from other resources devoted to spelling and reading. This is a resource created around a global challenge theme where children row the Atlantic, paddle the Amazon, cycle Africa, ski the South Pole, run Australia and conquer Everest. It’s a sort of sporting spelling and reading expedition bucket list, but without the expense of actual travel.
Firstly, considerable effort has gone into weaving a practical range of creative ideas into a truly fine resource. This is a resource born in the classroom and speaks of the hard slog as well as joy helping children to spell, read and write. It is language-based, multi-sensory, structured, cognitive and flexible.
WordBlaze is, in essence, a two-year programme, as there are six pupil booklets, each one written with enough material for one term. You could start it in Year 3 to consolidate Key Stage 1 phonics learning, or use it later in Key Stage 2 as a teaching resource or intervention programme. To be honest, it looks entirely flexible, so you could dip in and out of it for particular letter patterns. I’d opt for a term-by-term approach because it teaches children to read, spell and write hundreds of words fluently and automatically using ‘Powerful Tools’ of phonic rules and syllabification which help with decoding and encoding words successfully.
Opening up the Challenge books takes children to a double-paged map showing the route they will take and the steps they need to complete their journey. This makes multitasking easy because you get to cash in on learning some geography at the same time. The maps are bright, colourful and in your face with information boxes children could feasibly learn more about in downtime or independent research time. This ties in nicely with a back page of facts and figures.
Beyond the map, children explore words using a number of steps that have been designed to help inspire learning. They start off by colouring letters to show sounds, read memory hook phrases, observe different ways to write a sound, read a story and underline words containing pattern letters, then draw a picture. From here they read sets of words by identifying the pattern, decoding, looking for blends, scooping and counting syllables, practising scanning and extending vocabulary. There is a ‘One Minute Wonder’ challenge where children attempt to read as many words as they can from the sets given, and earn a reading certificate. Beyond this, there are opportunities for practising writing, building word power and reading a challenge log containing letter pattern words. Children learn to spell 20 words each week which can be tested in a weekly dictation or as a simple list.
Words are grouped into 66 letter patterns in the challenge book, and children can personalise these with their own drawings to make them even more memorable. There is certainly plenty to practise with children having access to an extensive bank of over 5,500 words, which includes all the words from the National Curriculum statutory spelling lists for Years 3-6 and 1,000 high-frequency words.
Each book also has three practice pages of Sizzling Syllables, a very engaging Fiery Phrases revision page of pattern words, White Hot Wonders containing a mixture of words from every patter covered, and Blazing Extras which include further patterns. The books are cleverly crafted throughout and provide you with plenty to go at. I love the way letter patterns and words are linked using hooks, colour, humour and stories, all within the creative context of a challenge. Children will feel part of it more if you really plug the adventure and journey and link this to the geography of each challenge. Completing each step gives a sense of achievement but you need to make the most of the cross-curricular opportunities to make it even more special.
The inventive and dynamic Teacher’s Handbook contains the WordBlaze approach and content coverage with advice about using the programme, including a step-by-step guide to the Challenge books. There is a great section on ‘The Powerful Tools’, five successful ways for teaching reading and spelling that is a must-read for new and experienced practitioners alike. It is full of resources, ideas, tips and adaptable activities that are ideal for enriching your lessons. There are weekly planning templates and a sample lesson plan for you to follow if you wish. These provide valuable structure and direction and help to familiarise you with a what to do, but the resource is flexible enough for you to follow your own script and graft your own teaching behaviours onto should you wish. The talented authors recommend that the WordBlaze cycle is taught from midweek to midweek, which makes sense because children get some of the weekend to practise with folks at home. The Handbook goes the extra mile and offers plenty to dip into and use for making lessons exciting, motivating and active.
The Teacher’s Handbook also comes with a CD-ROM which contains editable weekly spelling lists, flashcards for each phonic sound, three-in-a-row game boards for each letter pattern, record keeping forms, and PDFs of all teacher and pupil materials. Primary pupils thrive on rewards and certificates form a key part of this programme; these can be found on the CD too. Children can be awarded Hot Reader, Red Hot Reading Team, Sizzling Speller, Perfect Punctuator and Amazing Artist for their efforts.
Spelling, reading and writing are all joined at the hip and teaching them is real brain science. It’s a complicated business, but immensely rewarding when you see what can be achieved combining different learning approaches and styles. WordBlaze is a highly structured resource, a rigorous programme that promises to deliver and does. It teaches spelling and reading in an explicit, systematic and sequential way that works. It’s well worth making children aware though that a real expedition challenges participants both mentally and physically so they have to be prepared to put in the effort and push themselves to the limit. To be a Rising Star you have to overcome the force of gravity and this resource might just help your children achieve lift off. A WordBlaze class pack will cost you £675, and for that you get 30 copies of the six pupil books along with a Teacher’s Book and CD-ROM. Top-up books can be bought separately.