Intermediate Word Study

This resource includes “mini-lessons” for teaching intermediate alphabetics skills: compounds, syllable types and rules, common suffixes, prefixes, and roots.

Marn Frank
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
ABE Teaching and Learning Advancement System (ATLAS), Hamline University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

Intermediate Word Study is an evidence-based and explicit resource for teaching intermediate alphabetics. It includes:

  1. A word recognition test to assess readiness and need
  2. A mini-lesson model for daily or weekly instruction
  3. Scripts for explanation of: a.) compound words; b.) the six syllable types; c.) the five syllabication rules; d.) common suffixes and prefixes; e.) common and less common roots; and f.) the schwa sound
  4. Twenty-five pages of multi-syllable word patterns (selected from a variety of resources) for modeling and guided practice
  5. Ideas for student independent use of multi-syllable words and application to text or life

Intermediate Word Study was developed for ABE teachers and tutors who sincerely want to help adult students become better word (and text) readers, but often lack training in how to teach intermediate alphabetics sequentially and systematically. 

What the experts say

Lessons are short and easy to follow. Each lesson has a list of words relevant to the skill being taught. The introduction provides an easy-to-read explanation of explicit instruction for alphabetics.

“To the Teacher or Tutor” is an excellent brief and concise explanation of alphabetics. It includes descriptions of the alphabetic and other skills of the reading process along with a breakdown of what skills are associated with which levels of reading ability. The information is appropriately described in relation to adult readers. There is only limited discussion of why readers may be limited in their alphabetic skills, however the information that is presented provides useful direction to those seeking more information.

There is reference to English language learners in the introductory section, however explicit recommendations on teaching in response to their needs are missing from the remainder of the manual.

There are twenty-five separate lessons for teaching individual alphabetic skills. The manual does not help the adult educator to determine which of the skills to teach, nor recommend how to prioritize teaching of the skills. There is a description of the purpose of teaching each skill and an explanation of each skill but this may not be enough information for adult educators with limited knowledge for reading instruction. Other resources on basic reading instruction would be useful supplements to this manual.

Some recommended practices will strike the user as logical but it is not clear why they have been recommended. In the “Teaching Closed Syllable and the VC/CV Rule” section, for example, adult educators are told to gesture to illustrate each word presented (e.g., “pretend to bite an apple” when introducing the short a word ‘apple’). Why is this? With the answer to that question adult educators would be empowered to make individually appropriate instructional decisions.

On page 7, there is a “mini-lesson model” that is recommended as a procedure to follow for teaching each of the skills of alphabetics featured in the manual (each skill has its own “chapter”). The reader might not recognize that the mini-lesson format is recommended as how to teach each of the skills, because there is no clear explanation of its purpose and the layout of the manual does not distinguish it in any way from the skill lessons.

The four day mini-lesson model is consistent with explicit instruction principles and reflects sound practice in adult basic education. It provides an appropriate balance between giving adult educators a specific set of evidence-based steps to follow and leaving latitude for those professionals to make important instructional decisions on their own (for example, what words to feature in a lesson, how to review).

The introduction to the Mini-Lesson Model recommends frequent lessons within the same week. Frequent and intensive instruction is an important principle of explicit instruction for learners such as adult basic readers. More explanation of the importance of frequent and intensive practice, including guidelines on how to achieve both, could be provided.

Similarly, the instructional steps of the mini-lessons call for teacher “models” and “explanations.” Both of these explicit instruction skills could be defined for the adult educator.

Each lesson includes helpful word lists that illustrate the alphabetic being emphasized and can be used in teaching. It would be further useful if the lists were organized by suggested reading grade levels (the author wisely suggests adult educators refrain from referring to grade levels with their adult students).

Each lesson concludes with recommended steps for “Independent Practice.” It would be helpful if these practices were explained in greater detail, including references to the evidence-bases behind them.

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