How to Teach Spelling So Kids Will Remember
A common complaint by parents and teachers alike is that even when the children score perfectly on their spelling tests, they are not carrying that knowledge over into their reading and writing. In other words, they memorize and regurgitate their spelling words and that is where it all stops. Their new-found knowledge is not carrying over into their practice. Then there are other children who find it nearly impossible to memorize spelling words, consequently they do poorly on spelling tests.
Why Teach Spelling?
- So children can write accurately. Of course we want our kids to know how to spell words! If they can’t spell, they won’t be able to write successfully.
- So children’s reading will improve. One happy by product of successfully teaching children to spell is that their reading levels soar as well.
Why Teaching Spelling Hasn’t Worked Historically
Many children cannot memorize and retain facts that involve symbols. They might be able to retain the letters and sequence of a word for a few minutes, but 30 minutes later, the information will have disappeared from their brains.
- Memorizing for a test is different from applying spelling to reading or writing. For those children who can memorize a list of words for a test but who cannot apply that knowledge, the problem lies in the memorization for a test. If they can remember the spellings for a test, often they have “crammed” for the test, but the information was not meaningful and wasn’t stored in long term memory. The goal of studying was passing a test – not learning to use the words in writing.
- Spelling lessons require children to learn a sequence of letter names. We’ve all heard children repeating word spellings to prepare for a test. Sometimes they are asked to copy the word list five or ten. Children also are asked to clap and snap for consonants and vowels. But no matter what the tactile component or the chanting component, the children are still just repeating a sequence of letter names! But words are made of sounds, not letter names. One you can hear and write, the other you have to memorize.
How to Teach Spelling so They Will Remember
1. Focus on the SOUNDS in words rather than letter names. I promise that if we taught spelling this way, our efforts would be better spent. No memorization required!
2. Group words with similar spelling patterns together in a list. For example, instead of picking a theme for a word list, such as months of the year, choose a list of words that share a sound spelling such as Long I spelled IGH.
3. Capitalize on the child’s amazing visual memory. If you group the words you have chosen in a column, visually this will help the child see what the words have in common. The brain of a child LOVES patterns!
4. Use color! Once your words are in a nice column, have the child use a crayon or highlighter to color only the letters the words have in common.
5. Point out that the highlighted letters all say (long) i. For instance, in the word HIGH, there are only 2 sounds: h – i. Easy to sound out, so no memorization needed!
6. To take spelling into reading and writing, have the children make up sentences that use the words on their list. NOT a sentence for each word, but rather they should cram as many IGH words into one sentence as possible! See the example above.
7. Finally, ask the child to illustrate his/her sentences. The fact that the child wrote a sentence using several related words and then illustrated them will take the learning into writing and into long-term memory!