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No More Tests! This is How to Teach Spelling

Spelling drills are an excellent way to measure a student’s progress, and achievement. Many kids in grade school associate spelling practice with one word: boring.

But sending students home with a spelling list to memorize for an end-of-the-week quiz isn’t the only way to teach spelling. In fact, there are many alternative approaches that go beyond memorization to aid other areas such as vocabulary, word recognition and phonics. Spice up your spelling lessons with some of these helpful tips to better engage your students and develop their world knowledge.

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Word Study

Reading Rocket, the international literacy initiative from WETA, the public television station in Washington D.C., encourages teachers to incorporate word study in their lessons. This method moves beyond rote memorization of unconnected words to teaching word patterns.

A teacher trying to teach students about spelling patterns with the letter c may start with lists containing the letter “c” in different capacities. One list may use words with a “hard c,” like cat, and a “soft c,” like cell. After collecting these words students will discover that “c” is usually hard when it is followed by a consonant, as in clue and crayon, and the vowels “a, o and u.” The letter “c” is usually soft, however, when followed by “i, e, and y,” as in circus, celery and cycle.

There are several teaching strategies that researchers recommend teachers incorporate into word study lessons. Activities such as sorting words into similar piles will help students begin to see the patterns. A word wall is another fun way to help students visualize the patterns by displaying words according to similar patterns. There are many other great ideas here.

Multi-Sensory Approach

With every student bringing his or her own unique learning style to the classroom, one of the most successful approaches it to try and accommodate those differences. While some students may be great auditory listeners, others struggle without visual aids. A multi-sensory approach to spelling attempts to address every child’s strength by providing multiple pathways for the information to reach the brain, according to the advocacy group DARE.

Multi-sensory encourages students to use sound-symbol knowledge, oral and written language as well as handwriting in an integrated model to promote learning and understanding.

One such model is called Ferdinand’s Approach, which was promoted by researchers from the University of Minnesota. This visual-auditory-kinesthetic-tactile (VAKT) method attempts to give students as many tools as possible to remember the words and spelling.

  1. Teacher writes/says word while student watches/listens
  2. Student traces with finger while reciting word
  3. Word is written from memory. If correct, it is place in file box. If incorrect, the second step is repeated.
  4. Student’s may draw pictures to go with the words as visual reminders.

By keying into subtle clues, such as the way a teacher’s mouth moves, or the sound of each syllable, the student has more options to improve their understanding. A teacher can work with the students to make a tapping noise to count each syllable or write individual letters on a rough surface, in the sky or with a crayon to help discriminate different sounds and shapes.

Visual Mnemonics

Mastering a word like “ceiling” is easy for any student who can remember the saying, “i before e, except after c.” A simple way to help students make sense of some tricky words are to include visual mnemonic systems in spelling lists or flash cards. Sometimes organized as a phrase these devices can help students nail a word they are struggling with.

This list from the Bright Hub Education has some excellent mnemonic phrases including a trick for remembering the difference between principal (a principal is your pal),  and principle (a principle is a rule) depending on the end of the word and its definition. Students may remember how to spell desserts if you tell them that desserts are the opposite of being stressed (spell it backwards).

Digital Devices

If you can, get students away from their desks, and on a computer for a new way to practice spelling. There are some great websites, such as Spelling City and EdHelper, with free and fun games for students to play.

If students associate spelling with playing, and fun they may be more apt to practice and get less frustrated when they make mistakes. Switch up your homework assignments with playing a spelling game on a computer at home, or rotate computer time in the classroom as students practice their spelling lists.

The subjects of spelling and vocabulary shouldn’t be immune to the improvements and revisions sweeping across many in the field of education. Help meet the unique needs of students by adapting lesson plans and engaging students on the level that works for the individual.

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