You know what is super-annoying? Conversations like this:
“Sarah got a perfect score on her spelling test, but then she spelled the exact same words wrong in her writing piece…what gives?”
Lots of spelling practice can be trivial. I know because I’m formerly “that kid.” I was just like Sarah. I could ace the test by memorizing it but wouldn’t spell the same word patterns correctly. We as teachers know that the transferring won’t just happen… but what can we do to help?
I think we have to be intentional about teaching our spellers what that looks like. They have to be reminded and taught to be mindful of spelling during writing workshop, homework, journaling, and…well, always. Here are some tips I’ve found helpful!
Undoubtedly, you study words in your class. How are students able to keep track of patterns that they’ve learned in the past? You could have them glue down weekly word pattern sorts in a notebook, keep a collection of spelling quizzes in a 3-pronged folder, or keep a collection of words in a baggie. However you do it, encourage your students to keep a record of patterns. This can be used over and over throughout the day and will encourage students to pay attention to spelling.
Model…as in, put on a skit where you are the student. Begin writing (while thinking out loud) and then quickly arrive at the need to spell a word with a word pattern. Model what it looks like to open your notebook (or whatever your class uses to collect words) to the page with like-sounds. Physically show them what this process looks like. This will increase the chance that they will do this independently because they are watching you think aloud!
Again, use the power of modeling! Model filling in a worksheet and thinking through the spelling of a word you KNOW is right, but you might be feeling a little lazy. Think aloud, “I’m just going to scribble down something close to the spelling.” Then, switch gears. SHOW your kids that you refuse to let poor spelling go unchecked. Think aloud again, “I’m a better speller than that. I can spell that word correctly or at least get really close!” Putting these skits on means putting thoughts into your students’ heads!
The goal is to get daily writing under control. Some kids (like twenty-years-ago-me) don’t like that strategy where they have to stop then and there. Consider teaching them that there can be a time and a place to focus on spelling. Teach them that they can get their ideas out, THEN go back ad think about your word patterns and spelling words correctly. Tell them to pick a system for words they KNOW are incorrect (maybe lightly circling them) but teach them that the MUST go back and give those words the attention they deserve!
Most of us have a word wall in our room. It is a great teaching tool! But what you want to discourage is letter-by-letter copying. Teach kids to activate their visual memories by studying the word that they need and take mental snap shot of it. We hold up an imaginary camera with our fingers and try to look at the word one time before we copy it down. The more they do this…the more the spelling will stick!
Before, I mentioned activating their visual memories. In developing the Word Study Workshop, I spent some time researching habits of great spellers. I interviewed people in my life and also looked up strategies and habits that professional spelling bee champions depend on. Across the board, the thing I heard over and over was that they visualized the word in their mind. I then asked myself why that never worked for me…and it is because visual memories aren’t created equal! I don’t have a great visual memory. I was pleased to find out that there are tons of things you can do to improve you visual memory.
As students activate their visual memory, it gives meaning to a lot of the spelling practice sheets and practice activities we do. Instead of just “rainbow writing” spelling words, students can do that activity with purpose.
If you want to hear more, I would love for you to check out the Word Study Workshop! There are mini-lessons tucked into spelling units of study that encourage spellers to become a lover of words.