What is Word Mapping?
You’ve probably heard of word mapping, especially with all the talk about the Science of Reading research and explicit instruction. . But it’s actually been around for a long time.
Word mapping, also known as phoneme-grapheme mapping, is when teachers help students link the sounds they hear in words to the letters that make up those words.
These word maps help students store new words into their long term memory.
Word mapping is all about storing words in our brains in such a way that we can retrieve them later. It’s part of a reading strategy called orthographic mapping.
This word mapping strategy involves the mental process of taking the unknown or unfamiliar word (a new word we see in writing) and applying the same phoneme-grapheme mapping skills we have learned through a similar word.
For example: when we see a word like tip, and we have already mapped a word like pin, we see a word pattern that our brain already knows. With enough exposure, our brains will know that pattern without having to think about it. This is when orthographic mapping leads to orthographic learning. This mental process is a much more effective way to store new words in long-term memory than simply memorizing words. Think about a snowball effect.
This orthographic mapping allows our little learners an effective way to improve their word recognition because their brains store words in an organized way. I like to compare word mapping to a file cabinet. When students receive instruction in an organized and systematic way, their brains can find those files quickly. These high-frequency words become sight words!
We teach word mapping and irregular heart words during our whole group instruction, but we also revisit these lessons in small groups. We want students to have enough exposure so those high-frequency words become automatic, or in other words, we want high-frequency words to become sight words.
Find our whole group science of reading lesson plans:
Orthographic Word Mapping Vocabulary Words to Know
I will give you some examples of how we break down the process of orthographic mapping. But first, we need to build our vocabulary word bank when discussing word mapping:
What is a Phoneme?
What is a phoneme? It is a unit of sound. Phonemes are something you hear when you break a word up into its individual sounds. EXAMPLE: the word lad has 3 phonemes: /l/ /a/ /d/, the word shack has 3 phonemes /sh /a/ /k/.
What is a Grapheme?
What is a Grapheme? A grapheme is the written representation of a phoneme (sound). This is a fancy way of saying that they are individual letters that represent the letter sounds. EXAMPLE: the long i sound can be represented by numerous graphemes such as i_e (bike) igh (light), y (try), i, (pilot), ie (pie) y_e (type). R-controlled vowels are represented by such graphenes as: ar, or, ir, er, ur
What is Speech-to-Print?
What does speech-to-print mean? Speech-to-print skills are used when students encode or write a word. They hear a word or see a picture of an object and they want to write the graphemes (letters) to represent the word. Students practice speech-to-print every time they write. Struggling readers often have trouble connecting the speech sounds to the letters that represent those sounds.
What is Print-to-Speech?
What does print-to-speech mean? Print-to-speech skills are used when students are decoding words. When a student sees a series of letters and letter combinations (graphemes) and the student wants to read the word, they must blend these sounds to produce a word. Students practice print-to-speech every time they read a word.
This becomes an especially essential skill in student performance when students encounter an unfamiliar printed word. In kindergarten and first grade, students may be working on decoding simple single-sound words like CVC words or CVCe words. Explicitly teaching the rules of the English language is essential if we want students to transfer this word-mapping strategy to new words.
Over time, older students will again use this phoneme-grapheme mapping strategy when they encounter a multisyllabic word like habitat. Through they will first need to understand the rules of syllable division, then apply those rules to decode the word.
What is word mapping?
What exactly is word mapping? Well, every word has three parts:
- Phonemes: the individual sounds it makes
- Graphemes: the letters that represent those sounds
- Meaning: what the word actually means.
Word mapping is a teaching strategy that helps students connect the sounds to the letters of a word and attach meaning! It’s a pretty handy tool!
Word mapping is different than decoding because the student starts with a whole word (or picture card as shown below.) Then the student must break down that word into smaller sounds and letters. By breaking words apart and paying attention to each sound and letter, it helps students recognize words more easily and remember them for the long term.
What does word mapping look like?
Let’s look at these two examples of word mapping and using the heart word method.
from – the f, r, and m sounds are behaving themselves. These represent the sounds that we would expect. Nothing tricky with 75% of this word. However, the o is not representing the typical short o sound or long o sound. Therefore, students must know that part by heart.
she – the sh digraph is also behaving. The e is also representing the long e sound, just like it should. Once students recognize the difference between an open and closed syllable, they can read a whole list of words.
Closed Syllable Examples: can, is, him, just, much
Open Syllable Examples: me, my, so, hi
The Heart Word Method
What is the heart word method? The heart word method is a step-by-step teaching strategy that is used with students. Let’s take a look.
Step 1: Say the word aloud
Teacher: “The word is want. Students, repeat the word want.”
Teacher: “Want has 4 sounds.” The teacher will draw a line for each sound.
Teacher: “The first sound you hear in want is ________. What letter represents that sound?”
Teacher: “The last sound you hear in want is ____ What letter represents that sound?”
Teachers: “What other sounds do you hear in the word, want?”
Teacher: “Great job! You did a great job of hearing sounds. But let me show you something.
Want is actually spelled like this.”
Teacher: “The /o/ sound you hear in want, is actually spelled with an a. This is called a schwa. You will learn all about that in second grade. For now, you will need to remember this part of the word by heart. I will place a heart over the “a” to remind you.”
On a daily basis, we review these words because we want students to store these words for effortless retrieval.
After a week of teaching the word, want, you will add the word to your sound wall.
You can read more about sound walls in this blog post:
IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: Students need words to be revisited and practiced for 6-8 weeks in order for the word to be stored in their long term memory.
Every child’s brain is different. Some students will need 30-40 exposures to reach automaticity with a word.
Can we agree that weekly spelling tests are the least effective way for young readers to learn words? Spelling “tests” should be used to tell the teacher what you need to revisit. They should not be “graded.”
Your teacher brain might be yelling at me! “WHAT!?!? You would spell it incorrectly at first? Why?”
Let’s think of what we ask students to do when they want help spelling a word. We ask them to put the sounds they hear. We need to validate that these emergent writers heard those sounds correctly.
I model this word during my teaching phase the same way each time. Then as students start to write the word, want, with an o, we hope to trigger their orthographic mapping system and they will remember the heart word.
Once that word is on the sound wall and I write the word, I may think out loud, “I remember that want is a heart word.”
ADDITIONAL WORD MAPPING ACTIVITIES
One reason decodable texts are so essential to a structure literacy approach to instruction is the fact we can control the text.
This means, I’m not going to ask a student to orthgraphically map a word unless:
- the word is decodable based on the phonics instruction that the student has mastered so far.
- the heart word has not already been explicitly taught (as discussed above.)
By using controlled texts, we set students up for success! With repeated expose word recognition skills strengthen! When students feel (and are) successful their engagement with the text is compounded! YES!
EXAMPLE: If you teach first grade and you have taught digraphs, but you have a student who has not mastered digraphs, you would not expect them to decode it on their own. Your lesson would be centered around teaching the digraph and practicing blending words that have that phonics skill.
Digraphs, blends, vowel teams, oh my!
DIGRAPHS, BLENDS, VOWEL TEAMS, OH MY!
Since releasing my Science of Reading Curriculum, the most common question I’ve been asked during the professional development I provide is, which parts of a word stay together and which are split into separate phonemes/graphemes. Many teachers are used to splitting words into word families, phonograms or onset and rimes. For example:
- CVC words – Short vowels are where we usually start and would be broken into m/an or b/ig.
- Digraphs: th/em
- Blends: fl/at
- Long vowels or vowel teams might look like c/oat.
It is true that phonograms do offer a boost in early reading, however phonograms should never be the sole focus of early reading. Researchers have discovered that beginning readers are less skilled at word identification when they rely on phonograms to decode. The word of caution is that memorizing phonograms are akin to memorizing sight words. This requires fewer phonemic awareness and phonics demands on the reader.
You will not see a significant difference in the phoneme grapheme mapping approach, but there is a subtle difference. Students split letters into individual phonemes or sounds. This requires students to fully analyize words while focusing on the sound-spelling correlation. This is how it would look, using the same word examples above:
- CVC: m/a/n or b/i/g
- Digraphs: th/e/m
- Blends: f/l/a/t
- Long vowels: c/oa/t
These images are part of our decodable texts. Each lesson includes a dictation practice where student write individual sounds of the target skill. In this case, the short e sounds in CVC words.
This images are part of our decodable texts. Each lesson includes a dictation practice.
Additionally, we include sentence dictation.
Students work on using the phonics skills in context within a sentence. This is a great opportunity to practice sight words and writing conventions.
Here is a link to decodable texts that are affordable for teachers.
Word Mapping Centers
Once students have had individual practice with word mapping, you can add these skills to your center practice.
These cards are from our Science of Reading Writing Center, but they can be used in so many ways.
These plastic trays are from Wal-Mart (CHEAP) and a great way to make this activity hands-on. I added colored pom-poms and a dry erase marker! This provides a physical way for students to segment the word. Simple!
In this center activity, students match the picture to the sentence, then write the sentence.
We want to keep these activities hands-on so adding the magnetic want and chips for segmenting and blending words is a winner.
Sliding the elkonin mapping worksheets into plastic sleeves is an easy way to add writing practice as they write the entire word. This great word mapping tool is one you can use again and again.
Word Mapping Worksheets
Here are a few low prep word mapping worksheets that are great for morning work, inependent practice, or as a review activity.
CVC words are decodable. Therefore they are not considered heart words.
In kindergarten, a word like keep would be considered a heart word. Students who have not been explicitly taught a phonics skill, such as the vowel team ee, will need to remember that portion of the word. They will mark it as a heart word.
However, a second grade student would have this phonics skill, so this word becomes decodable.
Science of Reading
You can read more about the science of reading and a few free resources the following blog posts:
- Are Guided Reading Lesson Plans Wrong? 5 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into Your Classroom
- What Does a Science of Reading Lesson Plan Look Like? Free File Too
- Phonics Blending Best Practices & Blending Practices that Yield Better Results
- Phonological & Phonemic Awareness Program for Reading & Writing Success
- Tips on How to Teach a Kindergarten Interactive Read Aloud Lesson
- Sound Walls – Turning Kindergarten High Frequency Words Into Sight Words (FREE FILE)