Conversations About Spelling

Slice of Life2#SOL20

Conversations about spelling can become a natural part of writing workshop sessions, especially when they are included in the writerly conversations that we often have with our students. Students meet in whole group to share their thinking while the teacher records on an anchor chart.  These conversations can begin with a question or several questions the teacher poses. When students feel comfortable with open conversations, they can begin to ask questions as well. Here are some examples of questions that stimulate thinking and response:

  • What do you do when you’re trying to spell a tricky word?
  • What kinds of words do you find tricky?
  • How important do you feel spelling is?
  • Do you ever have a hard time remembering how to spell a word that you used to know?
  • When you are writing, how often do you substitute another word that you know how to spell for one you are not sure of (big instead of colossal)?
  • Did you ever choose a different topic to write about because the first topic had to many words you did not know how to spell?

Some Spelling Strategies

  • Encourage students to take a few seconds to figure out words they already know how to spell rather than write them any-which-way.
  • Spend a few minutes every Monday to introduce a concept. One day during the week, spend a few minutes engaged in activities to explore and practice that spelling strategy and end with a wrap-up on Friday.
  • Teach students to pause when they get to a tricky word during the writing process and think, “Do I know how to spell this word?” (sight words, words with familiar patterns, words the class has studied)
  • Use a strategy or the word wall or spell checker – make a good effort during the composing process.
  • Teach students to use “sp” above a word or circle it if they will need more help so they do not interrupt their process.
  • Diane Snowball & Faye Bolton (1999): Have-a-Go Strategy. Students write a word three different ways until they find one that looks right. This is a great strategy to use visual memory – make a choice – and move on with the writing of the piece. Use the margins of the writing piece to have-a-go rather than go elsewhere.
  • Other tools: Different colored pens or pencils, spell-checkers, a print-rich environment, spelling experts in our room.

The thing is — the teaching of spelling should be joyful and filled with inquiry and curiosity. Learning to spell is not about memorizing how to spell a list of words for a Friday’s spelling test.  In order to get kids curious about spelling, extend spelling knowledge by talking about the history behind each word and its possible meanings. Spelling becomes more palatable when instruction also occurs during a one-on-one writing conference and embedded when there is a natural fit across the entire day.  Encourage students to become word detectives, engaged in an ongoing attempt to make sense of word patterns and their relationships to one another. The teacher can become the model for this type of investigation.  Instead of requiring students to memorize spelling rules, let students discover spelling patterns and generalizations as they investigate words from their independent reading books and content area vocabulary. Teachers can differentiate word lists to match children’s development.

What about asking your students, “What questions or concerns do you have about spelling? Which of these ideas might you try?”  Students who develop a curiosity for spelling will have a better chance of becoming confident risk-takers who find perfect words to use in perfect places in their writing and do not let spelling concerns stop them from using them. Let’s help our students view spelling as joyful and interesting through rich conversations in our writing classrooms and across the day.