Weekly Spelling Study
Research supports the idea that when students are given consistent spans of writing time, spelling (particularly high frequency words) improves naturally. Traditional spelling lists have been a staple in many classrooms for decades, but there is little research backing the success of these lists. Essentially, weekly spelling lists and tests are a measure of a student's rote memorization, which is a skill some students have more strength in than others. I shy away from spelling lists because I've seen and read enough evidence to show me that they are not an effective use of a child (or teacher's time). Some students are able to easily memorize a spelling pattern with a quick glance and pass a test with 100% accuracy, while some students can study the same list with more depth, and still come away with a poor grade. This does not seem like a fair or effective assessment.
I came across some consistent findings:
- The brain does not remember rules as well as patterns; that's why onsets and rimes are critical understandings for learners.
- The more children write, the better they spell.
- The more children read, the better they spell.
- Temporary spelling allows children to put their phonemic awareness to use. Temporary spelling is the BEST indication that a child is developing an understanding of the phonemic system, linking letters and sounds.
- Teachers should appreciate and compliment all attempts at spelling; that is how it improves!
- A positive attitude encourages spelling.
- Most students will use more visual memory if encouraged to remember how words look in books and around the room.
- Strong readers generally are strong spellers.
- Spelling proficiency has no correlation with intelligence.
I made the decision to incorporate a Greek and Latin etymology study of five word stems a week. This has helped my students with understanding known and unknown words as well as spelling. Through these studies we developed mnemonic devices such as hand movements, drawings, slide shows, and a visual word wall to aid in really learning the words introduced.
Teaching Vocabulary - Why Study Greek and Latin Words (and Old English, too)?
In Essentials of Elementary Reading, Michael Graves, Susan Watts-Taffe, and Bonnie Graves estimate that students learn between 3,000 and 4,000 new words each year, with the typical student knowing some 25,000 words by the end of elementary school. If your students read for thirty minutes a day, they will be exposed to an average of one million words by the year's end. How many of those words will be new and how can we help them ? It is obvious that five pre-selected vocabulary words from a basal textbook doesn't make the grade. Even if a new word is taught each day, in addition to five pre-selected vocabulary words for the week, that is still fewer than 400 words a year. So, how can we maximize vocabulary acquisition? One Greek word stem can open up vocabulary acquisition for hundreds of other words found while reading.
Word stem studies work when you combine them with ample time to read. According to Richard Allington, the time spent reading in class is critical to vocabulary acquisition. Consider these numbers, tied to achievement:
Achievement Percentile Min. Read/Day Words/Year Exposure
90th 40.4 2,357,000
50th 12.9 601,000
10th 1.6 51,000
Adopted from Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding, 1988.
So, 2,357,000 words. How many of those words will be new to your students? Will those 2,357,000 words be the same for your lowest reader and highest reader? Reading naturally exposes students to an individualized vocabulary plan of action, and etymology studies are naturally leveled as well. From bicycle to binomial, word study can work for each of your students. Here's how...
With this in mind I've chosen to go with a method of teaching spelling that allows students to study parts of words (prefixes, roots, suffixes), helps them learn about word part meanings, and helps them apply new vocabulary in their writing without using repetitive worksheets that have long lists. I limit worksheets as much as possible in the classroom, particularly with spelling since they are time consuming to check, ineffective in teaching patterns, and don't help children understand word meaning. Below is a brief overview of how I teach weekly spelling patterns.
Above is an example of how we are using our word study to create a "word wall" for the upper grade spectrum. Picture clues are added for each word.
Methods for teaching:
1) We review a list of 5 latin/greek stems every three weeks in the Witty Work Packet
2) We create some kind of movement to remember each stem (e.g.-arms crossed in an "X" for anti)
3) Students draw a picture of the stem words (like the ones pictured above).
5) Students find as many words as they can that contain each of the word stems (they can use online dictionaries, hard bound in-class or home dictionaries, or can consult a parent) and write it in their packets.
6) They learn the meanings of the stems and then they must write a sentence using one of the stems.
7) We quiz at the end of each packet.
Additionally, each week as I go through writing journals I'm on the lookout for routinely misspelled words that aren't on our spelling lists. If I find any, I will circle (up to) 4 and have each student place them on their "words to study" sheets that they carry in their spelling folders. These words are practiced with their "spelling study buddy" throughout the week.
In addition to the Weekly Word Study packets that your child receives at home, we do our own individualized word studies in class, which is tailored more to practicing the spelling of high frequency words that are commonly found in the books we read and the stories we write. Below is a breakdown of what we do in class in case you are interested!
Some Spelling Strategies for Your Child
Here are some student approved spelling strategies for you:
1. Give It a Try Post-It Notes
Most master spellers are visual. And you can probably relate. Have you ever been asked to spell a difficult word and find yourself writing down a few versions until one looks correct? It works for students as well. When I ask students to circle all the words they believe they have misspelled in a piece, about 95% of the misspelled words are identified. When asked to try this method out for a few select words, students usually identify the correct spelling on their own. Easy to use. Takes no time at all to introduce!
2. Try Your Best, Circle It, and Move On
Spelling is important, but while they are writing, I don't want my students to raise their hands and ask, "How do you spell . . . " We can always go back and correct those words at a later time, and an easy way to identify them is by simply circling them. It has worked for me and my students and has made them more correct but also more daring spellers.
3. Break Up Your Syllables
This doesn't work every time, but some students prefer s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g out their words like a rubber band and checking to see if there is at least one vowel in each syllable. It can be paired up with the first tip pretty easily.
Below I've included the spelling lists that we will follow throughout the year, along with PowerPoints and examples that your child can review (we go through these in class each Monday). Some Links are broken but I will repair them soon. I will update the list with weeks 21-31 in the near future.
The following two links list the spelling words that we will cover each week. You may refer to this in case you misplace the week's list at home!
Word within the Word lists (weeks 1-20)
Word within the Word lists (weeks 21-31)