Just recently, I got an email from a friend asking about spelling techniques, and I thought that I would go ahead and write my response to her question as a blog post.
Here is her question:
. . . my terrific second grader, and I are seemingly hitting a slump with learning his spelling words. He copies them, he repeats them aloud, he makes up sentences with them, he writes sentences with them. We break them down by syllables.
Now that I write this, maybe we're just hitting the end-of-the-year burn out. But in case not, what do you do in order to help your children learn their spelling words?
First of all, I must admit up front that spelling has never been a subject that Earl or I or any of our kids have struggled with. Genetic? Nature? Nurture? Who really knows. I do know that all of us . . . and I mean ALL of us are avid readers. Our children have grown up watching us read. We read the newspaper, fiction books, biographies, books for study, our Bible (a given!). I firmly believe that good readers influence good writers, which influence good spellers.
We have used the same spelling curriculum since Emily was 5 (She will be 16 next month!). Our spelling instruction began with their reading curriculum. We used Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (Click HERE to see an updated version). Our copy is completely falling apart now, and it has been retired to the museum of relics! As the kids were learning to sound out words and memorize sight words, they were learning to spell. Spelling is just reading backwards. You knew that, right?
When they finished that book (around age 5), then we put them into a formal spelling curriculum. We used the Spelling Workout series by Modern Curriculum Press. (Click HERE to see the version we've used.) On Mondays they would read the lesson with me and do the exercises. On Tuesdays, they would write each word 5 times each (I also used this as their penmanship practice. It had to be neat or they re-did it.). On Wednesdays they would put each word in a sentence or alphabetize their list. Then on Thursdays, they would take their spelling test. My kids enjoyed their spelling time. Really. It was one of the easy things to do and they enjoyed the activities. This year, the tradition has continued of trying to put all of their spelling words into a fun story. Jonathan (7 yrs.) isn't at this point yet, but I can tell that he wants to be. Our children have done spelling as a course up through 8th grade. When they get to high school, they don't get to do a spelling book (notice my choice of words).
I think another thing that has helped our kids be good spellers is that they have loved to write and would ask us how to spell words all the time. "Mom? How do you spell 'alligator'?" I would respond, "What do you have down so far?" If they said, "Nothing", then I would have them say the word to me and ask them what sounds they heard. And we would write it together, sound by sound. But I didn't do this with every word they needed help with. That would have frustrated my little pre-writers! I loved that they liked to write notes and stories and I didn't want to hinder that. I remember one day our sweet Molly came up to me and handed me a note she had written and asked me what it said. I read, "Dear Mommy, I love you. You are the best mommy in the whole world! Love, Molly." (Of course, what was actually "written" on the page was illegible.) When I handed the paper back to Molly, her big eyes were the hugest ever! "I wrote THAT???!" She ran off just tickled and in awe of writing.
Another thing we've done is lots of puzzles and games involving spelling. And when they were really young and just learning and their attention span was short and their energy level high, I would scatter letter cards on the floor in another room and ask them to bring me the first letter for the word "cat". They then had to run into the next room, find the right letter (when they were young I would only have about 10 letters on the floor and would not have included a 'k' at this point which would have potentially caused some frustration and confusion. I wanted to help them be as successful as possible). When they came back with the right letter/sound, we would high five it and I'd send them back for the next letter. On and on it went until their energy ran out.
So, the bottom line is that spelling just wasn't using the "right" curriculum for us. It wasn't just a subject. It was a part of their whole school day. It was a part of their life. Reading became a joy for them (yes, after many days of tears and worrying that they would never love reading), and writing became something they wanted to pursue (those of you who know our family know of the entertaining stories our kids have written over the years), and so spelling was just something that they knew they needed if they wanted to get their message across to a waiting world. And we found ways to help them do that (some of which I mentioned above).
I was talking with a friend recently who is teaching up north in the public school system. The new catch phrase for working with kids on spelling is: teacher spelling. For instance, if I as a teacher was helping a student edit their writing, I would say, "That's good, Jimmy, and here is the teacher spelling for that word." (or something close to that). Why can't we say "here is the right way" to spell a word? I think it's because if we imply that we know the right way, it is to imply that the student is wrong, and we sure wouldn't want to hurt their feelings. Oh . . . don't even get me started on that one! Parents, please don't be afraid to tell your child they are wrong (gracefully). Whether it is in spelling a word, or working a math problem, or lying about their actions, or hitting a sibling. Let's help our children be strong and to take responsibility and to pursue greater heights of integrity. In their own strength? Just because? No . . . . schooling is just one area of many in a family's life where we as parents get to point our children to Christ and to remind them over and over again that Christ came and lived and died and rose again and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, so that we as sinful man might once again be able to stand before Him holy and just. And through that union with Him, we get to live our days trusting Him for all we need and desire . . .and yes, we teach our kids that that means school. (Just today I put my hands on Jonathan's head and prayed out loud that God would open his eyes to all he's learned so far and would remind him of all the rules for capitalization and would keep him from frustration. That is what it means to live out our faith before our children.)
So how do YOU teach spelling in your home? I know there are lots of different methods and techniques out there. Perhaps you could share a comment and help out my friend. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors!