How much does practicing spelling words matter? Let's take a quiz…
Question: If a student is allowed to misspell the word “two” during math, social studies and science, and only has to spell it correctly on her spelling test, which version is she most likely to remember?
Answer: The one that gets the most repetition.
That certainly is my experience. Humans learn a lot – right or wrong – by repetition.
And one more question: Would you allow a child to make a math error or misstate a scientific fact while writing? For example:
“John and I each put five eggs on the small raft and pushed it into the river. Upstream, Kari removed the dozen eggs and placed them carefully into an egg carton.”
Well, of course we would point out these errors. Why? Because these errors distract the reader from the meaning of the story and diminish the writing.
So why allow poor spelling in a written math explanation to detract from the logic and meaning of an otherwise insightful response?
Spelling matters. All the time.
Ultimately, people have to apply everything they learned in school in a cross-functional way; employers don't divide tasks into “writing” and “math”… they just expect the quarterly sales report to be accurate in all regards.
Holding students accountable for all subject areas at all times is just one more thing that will get them ready to be successful, employable adults. Spelling is communication. Our job is to teach students to communicate well.
Practicing spelling words: the process
Of course, we practice the words daily during our Monday through Thursday lesson plan and (we hope!) the students practice at home with fun newsletter activities, online spelling games or a spelling worksheet.
The process I describe here is in addition to all of that.
The teacher's role
As with any subject area, individualizing is the key to rapid student progress… this is where you come in. Tracking the challenges that each child is experiencing with spelling patterns allows you to give them the individual attention they need to succeed.
Every year, start each student off with a 3×5 spiral notebook. This is their personal speller and will be a resource for them every day. Into this notebook go the words they miss from the weekly spelling tests, as well as words they misspell from any subject area. This might include:
- math explanations
- science observations
- writing samples
- … and more: any written work
And how do words get into this little speller? First, they are tracked on a simple sheet like this:
I have these pre-printed and ready to go each week so it is easy to note missed words as I come across them on any student papers. Then they end up in the speller in one of two ways:
1. Usually, I ask all students to turn in their notebooks on Friday. I add the words to their spellers and hand them back.
2. Sometimes, if there are just a few words and I trust the student to add them correctly, I will write them on a sticky note and ask them to take care of it.
Another idea for teachers: If we are having a whole-class practice session to fill a few spare minutes, I'll grab a speller and give one or two children individual teacher quizzing to keep it interesting.
The student's role
Students love practicing spelling words and patterns if the process is approached correctly. That's why the kids keep their spellers in their own desks; not only is it a personal reference, they can add their own words any time they want.
Children like to “collect” interesting and challenging words, such as “variable” from science or “constitution” from social studies. I find my kids trading interesting words they find, as if they are sports cards!
And don't forget to give them opportunities to play with their words. Any time they are finished with work they should be allowed to find their student partner of the week and quiz each other. My students can choose between practicing spelling words or practicing math-fact flash cards.
Although the basics of your spelling program are covered in class if you are following the Monday though Thursday spelling lesson plans, providing spelling homework is important for three good reasons:
- Some kids need reinforcement at home, especially if spelling is a particular problem for them (for example, ELL kids).
- Some kids want to work extra at home to excel and they should be given the opportunity.
- Many parents want to help out with school in some way, and practicing spelling word lists with their children is an ideal method.
The following items will get you started on effective spelling homework ideas.
The words and the pattern or rule of the week are on the back of every weekly classroom newsletter I send home.
In addition to the spelling word lists, I provide interesting ways to practice at home. I also encourage daily involvement to build good homework habits.
Honestly, not all parents respond, but many do and it shows in the progress made by their children.
Here are two ideas for laying out your newsletter:
Examples of fun spelling homework tasks
1. Have your child read the words to you and spell them out loud.
2. Have your child sing the words to you and sing/spell them.
3. Read the words to your child and have them:
- Make up a sentence using the word
- Write the words in nice handwriting
- Spell the word out loud as they write the letters in the air with their toes
4. Have your student write their spelling words in the dirt/sand/snow
5. Go to SpellingCity.com and enter the spelling words. It includes games and practice activities.
Keep it fun!
I often end the spelling homework ideas in my newsletter with this:
“These are great ways to connect with with your child regarding school. Make it fun and the spelling will STICK!”
Worksheets are a great addition to the at-home activities and can reinforce spelling word lists. Select them carefully to be certain that they are grade-level appropriate and mirror the spelling patterns that you are teaching for the week.
Using online spelling games for reinforcement
Taking an online spelling test can provide a powerful reinforcement of spelling patterns. Also, like most forms of classroom technology, it is extremely engaging to children – and therein lies its power as an enhancement to your spelling program.
What an online spelling test is not
Spelling games online are not intended to replace your entire school curriculum, or even to form the bulk of your practice or homework. As effective as they can be, they lack some important factors:
One-on-one teacher time. You know, the reason kids come to school every day! Turning kids loose on computers without the eyes and ears of the teacher tuned in to their activities is a certain recipe for lack of progress.
Classroom community building. Sorting words with their partner of the week, doing flash cards, laughing about funny science words together… all of these activities reinforce your classroom community, which pays dividends in all content areas.
Students sitting in little silos at their computers with headphones on won't get the same benefit.
SpellingCity has options you can check out – but some activities require the paid version.