Primary Primary Literacy

Primary Literacy – Fresh Ideas for Spellings

Over the years we have been furnished with many different ideas for spelling schemes and also for ways to learn spellings. I believe that the problem some children encounter is being encouraged to use only a single method to learn and practise their spelling words. A girl in my class who had been doing really well in her tests began to tail off a bit and when the situation got to the point where I was sure she wasn’t learning them I asked her what the problem was.

Her reply was that she was bored of learning them in the same way week after week and so had given up. Mindful of her comments I looked at the available ways of learning and practising them and implemented a few changes following these activities:

Activity 1: Using Spellcheckers

In Microsoft Word, a red line appears under any incorrectly spelt word (as long as the dictionary language is set correctly)

The children in my class knew this meant they had spelt the word incorrectly but apart from asking me how to correct it, could go no further. We then looked at how, if you right click on the word, a list of possible spellings comes up. I asked them to look through this and see if they can recognise the correct spelling. I’ve found that in over 80% of cases, if the spelling is close enough, the child will be presented with the correct spelling and they are able to select it from amongst the other words that don’t match.

I extended this to producing a list of commonly miss-spelt words using the common problem seen in each one and again presented this to the children. Again, almost all could correct them by recognising the spelling from the right click supplied list.

Activity 2: Paired Spellings

In this activity I pair up children of roughly similar spelling ability and give the whole class a differentiated spelling test. Instead of having to remember the spellings by themselves, they are free to discuss the spelling with their partner and how it needs to be changed if seen as incorrect. This idea helps children’s confidence in spelling tests and once the confidence is there you can split pairs or rematch them.

Activity 3: Guess the Word

Hangman is always a great game for practising spellings and it shows if children are getting the correct rule if the first letters they suggest are the ones from it.

Another version of this is to start off with the first two letters of a word, not necessarily from a list given recently to learn and ask the class to suggest what words could begin with those letters. From this you can practise many words, e.g. if I gave them A and B as the first two letters I could expect above, able or aboard and I would give extra points for if they could continue the spelling correctly. If they got a letter wrong, I would then use the letters we had so far and ask another child to continue.

Activity 4: Words From Words

I used to love this activity as a child. It was often given as a filler and I sometimes use it for that reason. The child is given a word and asked to find, five, ten, fifteen or twenty words from it, depending on ability. This can help with looking at how words are formed form others e.g. the word another being an-other.

Activity 5: Spelling Bees

In the USA, spelling bee competitions are very popular. They have fallen out of favour here because of the public competitiveness of the idea. I like to use the idea occasionally but rather than make all the class do it, I ask the children to challenge each other. In this way they are opting to be in the spotlight and will usually only do it if they feel confident. To encourage the less confident to participate I say that they can take part in pairs.

Activity 6: Teacher Error

I began doing this activity to check if the children were paying attention to what I was saying but it soon got to be a way I could test their spellings. If the opportunity arose to use a word out of their spelling lists in any I was writing on the whiteboard I might spell the word incorrectly and wait to see if there was a reaction. To begin with I had to say that’s what I was going to do but now I can just do it and my eagle-eyed class are watching all the time. It gets embarrassing if I make an unintentional error though!!

Dave Lewis, Primary teacher

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