How to Teach Spelling

When I was in college pursuing my education degree in curriculum, my elementary language arts professor (who is a popular children's author) shared with the class that spelling curriculum is not needed to teach children how to spell.

She said to closely analyze most spelling programs. Most teach handwriting, writing, and grammar skills. Why teach those skills during your spelling time if you are already covering those skills during other teaching times?

My professor also brought to my attention how different spelling programs have different lists to memorize. They are so inconsistent. Who knows which list is the best and why?

I am very thankful for all of her wisdom and insight and carried it with me to the classroom. When I began teaching in an elementary school, I used a hands-on approach and engaged my students in the learning process as much as possible (even though I still had to use the curriculum that was given to me). I saw how much faster my students learned with fun activities and games in place of the boring paper-pencil assignments.

What about the long-term effects using of spelling curriculum?

I think educators and parents would gasp at the end of a school year if they had impromptu Spelling Bees for their children with all the words they learned throughout the school year. Even children who have earned 100% on spelling tests throughout the school year may have forgotten up to 40% of the words by the end of the year!

What about teaching spelling rules?

Research has repeatedly shown less than ten spelling rules are actually worth learning in the English language. How does a child correctly spell a word in his writing? The word looks and feels right, not from applying spelling rules.

I encourage you to read Dr. Ruth Beechick's advice on getting back to the basics and not wasting so much valuable teaching time on separating subject areas. I believe Dr. Beechick is the most knowledgeable expert on teaching curriculum and I highly value her advice.

What makes spelling stick?

As with most learning activities, when students are actively engaged in the learning process and having fun, it increases long-term retention.

Does this mean my child will be a fantastic speller?

I am going to be honest and tell you something that most publishing companies would never consider telling you. Not every child will be a great speller. Some people tend to naturally be excellent spellers while others find it a challenge. The key for the educator is to engage the child as much as possible and make it enjoyable. If a child becomes frustrated, he will may give up trying and a downward spiral can begin. Motivate, encourage, and guide your child the best you can in this subject area.

I have a powerful example for you. "I was an extraordinarily bad speller and have remained so until this day,” said Agatha Christie, the great mystery writer who has sold over one billion books. She was a poor speller yet still excelled in writing.

Am I a rebel?

No, not really. :) There are some great spelling programs that parents can spend money on and that is completely fine. I respect their choices. I just wanted to share with you that I have learned spelling programs are not necessary. Therefore, I choose not to spend extra money and time on them.

I will be homeschooling five children. A curriculum for K-6th grade averages about $30.00 per school year. That means I saved my family over $1,000 by choosing to make spelling fun. Wowzers!

How do I teach spelling?

I like being in control over what words I am choosing to have my children focus on. For early readers, I use words from the basic sight words list. These are not only the most common words in reading but in writing as well. I would much rather teach my child the most common words in writing before a randomly chosen list of words from a publisher. I also make lists from the word families.

After my children have learned their word families and sight words, I create personalized lists. The most effective way of choosing vocabulary and spelling words is to select words from your child’s reading, science, and social studies books.

Would you still like to use a traditional list of spelling words based on grade levels as your guide? No problem. There are plenty you can find on-line and print for free. HERE is one example.

Spelling is the most fun subject to teach yet students often find it boring. This is why I have created 101 Ways to Make Spelling Fun, which is overflowing with effective and enjoyable teaching tips. I have used these activities in the classroom, as a tutor, and with my own children in homeschooling. Hop on over and check out some of these ideas.

Make spelling FUN and save money and time too!