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Word Hunts

Word hunts are a fun and engaging word study activity that encourages students to apply their knowledge of spelling patterns, sight words, or vocabulary words in a real-world context.

Key Information



When To Use This Strategy

During reading

Appropriate Group Size

With small groups
Whole class setting

What are word hunts?

Word hunts are a fun and engaging word study activity that encourages students to apply their knowledge of spelling patterns, sight words, or vocabulary words using classroom texts. Word hunt activities help students make the connection between spelling words and reading words.

Why use word hunts?

  • They help students to focus on spelling patterns and root words.
  • They support students’ vocabulary growth.
  • They help students learn how words are used in different contexts.
  • They can be integrated into various content areas, allowing students to explore and identify key vocabulary and build background knowledge.

How to do word hunts

1. Select target words

Before the word hunt, choose specific target words that align with the focus of the lesson. These words may include sight words, words with specific spelling patterns, or vocabulary words related to a particular unit of study. Talk about their meanings, pronunciations, and any relevant spelling patterns. This step helps familiarize students with the words they will be searching for.

2. Provide materials

Distribute reading materials that contain the target words. This could be a story, a passage, or even content-related materials such as science or social studies texts. In one of the video examples below, the teacher uses the morning message as the text for her word study.

3. Model the activity

Model the word hunt process by demonstrating how to identify and locate the target words in the text. This may involve underlining, highlighting, or circling the words. It can be helpful to copy sample text onto chart paper or use an interactive whiteboard.

4. Explore and record

Students can engage in the word hunt activity independently, in pairs, or in small groups. They actively search for and identify the target words within the given text. This process encourages close reading and careful attention to words.

Students record the words they find that fit the target patterns on a worksheet or in their notebooks. 

5. Discuss and reflect

Next, lead a discussion about the word hunt, asking students to share the words they found and any patterns or observations they noticed. This step encourages reflection on the words and reinforces the learning objectives.

You can also incorporate extension activities based on the word hunt. This could include using the words in sentences, creating word banks, or generating related writing assignments.

Watch a lesson (whole class)

Students identify and record all the words that have the long /e/ sound and are spelled with the vowel pairs ‘e-e’ and ‘e-a’ from the classroom reading, Pete and Peach. (Balanced Literacy Diet: Putting Research into Practice in the Classroom)

Watch a lesson (whole class)

A teacher leads a class in an inquiry of a new prefix. They read the morning message, collect words with the prefix, and discuss the meaning of di/dis/dif. Watch Part 2 (Odd Word Out) (opens in a new window) and Part 3 (Divide and Conquer) (opens in a new window) of this word study lesson. (Fairfax County Public Schools)

Differentiate instruction

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners

  • Have students write down words they find that fit the desired patterns in journals or on charts.
  • Ask student to form small groups and read the words they find aloud.
  • Have students check to see what new words they can add to their journals or charts.
  • Ask students to find words that they can group together in categories.
  • Record the words on chart paper for a whole-class display.

Extend the learning


Have students hunt for number words within assigned word problems and write them down on a dry erase board.


Word hunts can be used as students study a topic such as animal habitats. Write out different habitats across the top of the board. Students can search the text to find the names of animals that correspond to each habitat. Ask students to work together to write them on the board.

Social Studies

Ask students to use the word hunt strategy to find target vocabulary words from their social studies reading and use them to write short sentences in a journal.

See the research that supports this strategy

Barger, J. (2006). Building word consciousness. The Reading Teacher. 60(3), 279-281.

Bear, D. R., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., Johnston, F. (2004). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction. (3rd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Topics this strategy is especially helpful for

Comprehension, Content Area Literacy, Spelling and Word Study, Vocabulary