Teaching Spelling, A How To Guide

I never learned all the spelling rules.  I’m a natural speller and I kinda hoped my kids would be too.  I just look at a word, even one I’ve never seen before, and use my innate instinct to tell if it’s right or not.  Sometimes I have to look words up, but it’s a gut feeling that I know something doesn’t look right that sends me to the dictionary.  My kids got none of this instinct.  The spelling gene just kind of skipped over them.

I’ve long maintained that the hardest subjects to teach are often the ones you are best at.  When something just comes easy to you it can be hard to break it down into easy chunks for someone who struggles with it.  It took me a long time to figure out the best way to teach spelling to my kids, but we’re finally making really good progress and I wanted to share with you what we do.

My Combination Approach

I started out by just giving my kids a pre-test, working on their weekly spelling words, and then giving them a test on Fridays.  After all, this was what I had done in PS, so it was all I knew.  It wasn’t working though.  My kids passed all their spelling tests, but they were making just as many mistakes in their writing.  Now we use a combination approach, and it’s working!

We teach spelling three different ways using a combined approach.  First, we use a daily sequential spelling practice list.  Each day we practice writing words together from specific word families.  This helps us to recognize spelling patterns.  Second, we practice writing words we have misspelled in our school work.  Finally, we have a challenge list of 10-20 words each week that we practice using games and activities.

Part One: Sequential Spelling

The idea of any sequential lists is to teach spelling patterns and rules.  This part of our lesson is done all together.  We sit around the table with white boards or notebook paper and I read the words out loud.  All of my kids (except the preschooler) write the word down.  We correct it together and talk about the spelling patterns we see.  We use the lists from the Sequential Spelling program, but there’s nothing magical about the lists.  The key is to spell in patterns and use lots of repetition.  For example, if you learn to spell shame, you can also practice shames, shaming, and shamed.  You might also work on other related words, like blame, name, or game, which all have the same pattern.  You might also work on other sh- words, like short, show, ship, and shave.


Part Two: Learning From Mistakes

I have my kids correct their spelling mistakes on their writing assignments.  If I notice repeated mistakes from any of them, I add the word to our weekly practice list.  Correcting mistakes is my kids’ least favorite part of this process, but I’ve watched how they are starting to make connections in their minds between the spelling words they practice and the words they write during Writer’s Workshop.  They are becoming more motivated to think about the words before they just scrawl them out because they know they will have to go back and make corrections.  I’ve always made them correct things, but I’ve become more diligent about requiring correct spelling.  And I’m seeing a difference.

Take a look at the writing process

Part Three: Spelling Games and Activities

Our very favorite part of spelling is the fun portion — the games and activities we play.  Any trouble words we’re having become the word bank for activities.  I also throw in challenge words for them and holiday or seasonal words.  Go here to see the activities we do.  The kids have a list of them and they choose anything they want from the list and do one activity each day.  Every so often I give them a specific assignment, like “Create a Halloween picture that includes all the Halloween words from your list hidden somewhere in the picture.”  Usually though, they just choose their own from the list.

Spelling Follow The Leader
Magic Spelling
Magic Spelling
Spelling Ball Game

This may seem like a lot, but like I said, my kids aren’t naturals.  This is one of the subjects they really have to work at.  This combination of things really seems to be helping the words stick.  Hope this gives you some ideas that will help you.

More From Layers of Learning

Click here to check out all our Writer’s Workshop ideas, or just take a peek at a few ideas here and see how it goes at our house:

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