Looking at Spelling

Teaching of spelling is something that I am always asked about. It seems to make teachers anxious and often schools don’t have a specific policy.Phonics provision lower down the school seems to be very rigorous, with activities and interactivity ‘built in’ –  but then often as they get older children are merely given lists to learn… 

Ben Haiku Display

Why is Spelling important?

  • Children get anxious about spelling; worrying about getting spelling right often causes children to stick to ‘safe’ and therefore quite dull words.
  • Spelling is a feature of the national assessment criteria; as early as level 1 the children are expected to make a phonetically plausible attempt at words with digraphs and double letters whilst at level 4 they need to demonstrate that they are able to spell correctly common grammatical function words – such as adverbs.
  • Prospective employers, teachers and assessors all place importance on correct spelling and with a change in emphasis for the SATs at Year 6 there is no reason to think this will change.

How to fit it all in?
There is no suggestion that spelling should always be a standalone lesson in the week. Whilst there is something to be said about the odd investigative lesson where children are given resources to make words, define new words and to play with the physical feel of words; often rules can be introduced and then reinforced as part of regular AfL or plenary sessions in other lessons.
Many rules lend themselves to being introduced alongside other learning objectives – e.g. the investigating of verb tenses alongside narrative writing or the contraction apostrophe when looking at speech and characters.
School Wide

  • I always recommend that there is an agreed upon school policy for handwriting and spelling.
  • Ensure topic words are introduced and shared in the classroom.
  • Encourage word banks to be displayed and working walls for literacy allow the children to share and then correct mistakes.


Multi-Sensory Approach to Spelling
For children who struggle with the spellings there are a number of multi-sensory approaches that can be taken:

  • Invest in magnetic letters/building block letters- grouping the letters together physically like this will allow children to recognise the latter patterns quickly. They can ‘build’ words and this in turn may help them to remember.
  • Encourage tracing (whether on paper or in the air) of the cursive version of the word. Apps such as Explain Everything are great for creating short videos of the word being written.

The International Dyslexia Association have produced a factsheet helping teachers understand how to help children who struggle with dyslexia type symptoms. Their advice is useful for many teachers and the whole factsheet can be found here

Spelling instruction that explores word structure,word origin, and word meaning is the most effective, even though students with dyslexia may still struggle with word recall. Emphasizing memorization by asking students to close their eyes and imagine the words, or asking them to write words multiple times until they “stick” are only useful after students are helped to understand why a word is spelled the way it is. Students who have learned the connections between speech sounds and written symbols, who perceive the recurring letter patterns in English syllables, and who know about meaningful word parts are better at remembering whole words.

Making Use of ICT

It seems only natural that many children enjoy playing games and investigating spelling patterns using a medium that they are very familiar with. As they get older, asking children to revisit words and patterns that they find tricky can be hard unless there is an extra motivational aspect. But the teacher can also put ICT to good use; making use of the whiteboard to create spelling activities that are truly interactive or including quick rehearsal of skills within the day.

  • Use the software on the interactive whiteboard to create games – e.g. compound words which can be pushed together jigsaw style.
  • Make spelling mistakes and model the use of colour when writing to emphasize spellings. Or the clever use of colour to create ‘hidden’ words which are then revealed.
  • There are lots of tips of ways to use your whiteboard over on the The Whiteboard Blog.  (A great resource Danny Nicholson ~ @dannynic)
  • Sorting out lots of words into rules, meaning, prefixes and so on can also be done on the whiteboard – a great talking partner activity.
  • Web based games Many free resources can be found with a search. Try the BBC Website – which cover many aspects from phonics through to Key Stage 2 objectives and beyond. The ever growing Woodlands-Junior in Kent has an award winning website with many resources. SpellZeBub is a free Guardian Educators resource, which plays a short movie to aid the learning of commonly misspelt words.
  • Search online for wordsearch / crossword creators – some of them allow you to create whiteboard compatible images – the one at teachers-direct.co.uk will allow you to do this. Software can be purchased commercially too; such as Clicker and 2Spell.

iPad Apps

This great app is perfect for pretty much all primary aged children.
Squeebles Spelling Test: This great app is perfect for pretty much all primary aged children.
  • Skill Builder Spelling – a small, but functional free app that allows you to create individual lists for multiple users. Useful app for spelling set lists with phonic support
  • Word Bingo – sight words; very useful for KS1 – incredibly popular with teachers and pupils alike, although it is limited in scope.
  • Squeebles Spelling Test – a great looking app that allows you to create lists of words and then link them to children’s accounts. Around 4 pupils can have an account on each iPad, so it’s better for schools that have class based or pupil-based devices. However it is very polished, and allows you to record the words as well.
  • ABC Pocket Phonics – a useful app for the first rehearsal of phonics and early words. The lite version allows you to take a look first.
  • Montessori Letter and Sounds – a really nice app for early spellers, or indeed those that still haven’t got the foundation.
  • Simplex Spelling – perfect for older children who haven’t got the understanding of the link between words and sounds. Again, the free version means that you will be able to test it out first.

A quick search for Android apps here. 

Most important though is that children begin to work out for themselves what will help them – there are a few activities to get you started here:

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Feel free to comment if you have any great ideas for getting children to think more carefully about spelling!

Further Reading:

A Scottish Education Board look at Active Spelling – A great project aimed at involving parents. 

Spelling City (online paid for resource) 

The Spelling List from the National Strategy – remember this has been replaced (or will be!) by the New National Curriculum. Still great for ideas though…

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1 Comment on “Looking at Spelling

  1. Do you think that secondary schools would benefit from having more spelling tests?
    In primary schools there are spelling tests practically every other day but when they reach secondary schools the frequency drops quickly. Do you think that schools should have a more gradual drop? i.e. having spelling tests for up to students in say year 11?

    Show My Homework / @ShowMyHomework?

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