Research Basis

Research Basis for Word Warm-ups

Word Warm-ups is a supplemental program intended for students who need additional instruction and practice in phonics and support in fluency. Research-based findings in reading instruction and instructional design components provide the foundation for Word Warm-ups.

Reading Instruction Research

The Word Warm-ups program is designed to align with reading research on the effectiveness of explicit, systematic phonics instruction; the need for explicit instruction in decoding multisyllabic words; and the importance of building automatic decoding skills.

What the Research Indicates How the Research Is Applied in Word Warm-ups
Systematic and Explicit Phonics Instruction
  • Systematic phonics instruction makes a bigger contribution to children's growth in reading than programs providing unsystematic or no phonics instruction (National Reading Panel, 2000)
  • Systematic phonics programs "delineate a planned, sequential set of phonic elements, and they teach these elements, explicitly and systematically"(National Reading Panel, 2000, p. 2-99)
Word Warm-ups is a systematic program that explicitly teaches and applies phonics skills based on a combination of usefulness and difficulty. Word Warm-ups 1 reviews letter/sound correspondences and explicitly teaches the blending of sounds to form one-syllable words. Word Warm-ups 2 provides more instruction and practice in applying phonics skills to decode two-syllable words. Word Warm-ups 3 provides instruction and practice in applying phonics skills to read syllables in longer words.
Decoding Multisyllabic Words
The ability to decode single-syllable words does not necessarily transfer to reading multisyllabic words (Just & Carpenter, 1987). Yet students in grades 5 and above encounter thousands of unknown words each year (Nagy & Anderson, 1984), and a large number of those words are multisyllabic (Cunningham, 1998). Awareness of syllable patterns and the ability to break words into decodable parts (including prefixes and suffixes) have been shown to help students read unfamiliar multisyllabic words more easily (Bhattacharya & Ehri, 2004; Shefelbine, 1990).
The lessons in Word Warm-ups 2 introduce the most common syllable patterns, prefixes, and suffixes in the English language. The lessons in Word Warm-ups 3 teach the pronunciation of 30 prefixes, 40 suffixes, and a strategy for decoding open and closed syllables and the ə sound in multisyllabic words. Students apply phonics skills to decode each syllable. Students learn how to recognize or decode each part of a word and then how the whole word is correctly pronounced when the parts are blended.
Automatic Decoding
In order to read text fluently, a student must be able to decode words accurately and automatically. Most phonics programs teach students to decode accurately, but learning phonics does not guarantee that students are able to decode words automatically. Often students who can decode words accurately sound them out slowly. This slow decoding prevents them from reading fluently.
In Word Warm-ups, students practice decoding words with the featured phonics or syllable patterns until they are able to recognize the patterns easily and read the words rapidly. Then, to apply their automatic decoding skills, the students read a list of challenge words that contain the featured patterns, as well as a story that uses several words with the featured patterns.

Instructional Design Research

To determine which strategies increase the achievement of students with diverse learning needs, researchers have studied the power of goals and motivation. Researchers have also studied intervention methods and the effectiveness of their various instructional components.

Goals and Motivation

What the Research Indicates How the Research Is Applied in Word Warm-ups
By communicating goals and expectations, an instructor can increase students' academic achievement (Althoff et al., 2007). In addition, providing students with feedback on their progress toward short- and long-term goals has been shown to increase students' performance (Conte & Hintze, 2000). When students are given specific goals, they demonstrate significantly higher self-efficacy (Schunk & Rice, 1988). In Word Warm-ups, students know their goals and expectations. They must decode words or read stories with the featured phonics or syllable pattern. The students must perform these tasks accurately and rapidly enough to meet a goal rate. While working in the program, the students graph progress on each exercise and track personal improvement.

Instructional Components

Swanson and his colleagues (1999) conducted an extensive meta-analysis of 180 intervention studies and identified a number of instructional components that demonstrated effectiveness with students. The lessons in Word Warm-ups include many of these instructional components.

What the Research Indicates How the Research Is Applied in Word Warm-ups
Attention to Sequencing
Instruction that includes breaking down tasks and sequencing short activities affects student outcomes (Swanson et al., 1999). We must teach students how to read words beginning with the sounds of the letters; then, we must teach them to blend these letters into words (Kame'enui et al., 2002).
In Word Warm-ups, skills are taught in a series of short, carefully sequenced activities. The process of decoding words is broken down into specific tasks:
  1. Students are told to look at the word and listen for the sounds of the letters and letter combinations that form the featured phonics or syllable pattern. This task promotes phonemic awareness and raises the students' awareness of the pattern
  2. Using explanation and modeling, students are taught how to use the phonics or syllable patterns to blend words.
  3. Students read the words independently until they are able to read them well.
Segmentation of skills improves student achievement (Swanson et al., 1999). Segmentation is breaking the targeted skill into small units and then synthesizing the units back into the targeted skill. One example of segmentation in the teaching of reading is breaking the code into its phonological and alphabetic parts and then connecting these parts to reading words and text (Kame'enui et al., 2002).
In Word Warm-ups, students learn to read words that feature the letters, sounds, and syllables that are taught. Then, students apply their newly acquired prerequisite skills to the act of reading word lists with increasing automaticity. Finally, they read stories containing words with the featured patterns.
Control of Task Difficulty
Controlling the difficulty of tasks—beginning with simple and then moving to more demanding ones—supports students during initial learning phases and promotes independence as students become more capable (Kame'enui et al., 2002; Swanson et al., 1999). The use of cues and prompts in diminishing frequency provides the support students need as they acquire difficult skills.
Word Warm-ups is designed with great attention to controlling difficulty. Word Warm-ups 1 and 2, for example, provide picture cues when concepts are introduced, but the pictures are absent for later tasks when the students are more proficient. In addition, students first practice reading the word lists down the columns because the columns consist of words with similar sounds and/or syllable patterns to help students decode more easily. Then students practice reading the words across the rows, decoding the words without the support of patterns. Also, in Word Warm-ups 2, the syllables are divided by spaces in the exercises that teach the patterns, but the spaces are eliminated in the subsequent exercises.
Modeling and carefully explaining the steps required to do a task helps students correctly perform the task. It also increases the likelihood that students will perform the task independently later (Swanson et al., 1999). When teaching students to read, the steps for reading words must be made conspicuous by modeling the strategy before students practice (Kame'enui et al., 2002).
In Word Warm-ups, the audio for each lesson exercise carefully explains the featured pattern for the exercise. Then the audio slowly models the sounds of the pattern and then demonstrates how to blend the sounds or syllables to read example words. Later, the audio models the blending of each word in the lesson to ensure that students read and practice the words correctly.
Practice and Repetition
Intuitively, we know that practice helps us become better at many things we do. Research indicates that repeated practice is an effective and efficient way of achieving word reading skills in and out of connected text reading (Swanson et al., 1999).
In Word Warm-ups, students practice decoding words with the featured phonics or syllable patterns until they are able to recognize the patterns easily and read the words rapidly. The students then practice reading a story that contains several words with the featured patterns to build reading fluency. In both the word list exercises and story exercises, students practice repeatedly until they reach their goal rate. This process increases their efficiency at the new skill.
Regularly reviewing skills is an effective instructional tool (Swanson et al., 1999). However, review should be more than just rote rehearsal. Designing reviews that combine newly acquired skills with skills taught less recently extends the reader's understanding (Kame'enui et al., 2002).
Word Warm-ups includes regular reviews of new skills after each section of new skills is introduced and practiced. In addition, challenge exercises at the end of each section require students to apply their newly acquired skills while reviewing skills previously mastered: the student must read unfamiliar words that contain both new and mastered phonics or syllable patterns.

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