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How to Teach Speling

Spelling errors always catch our attention. When my wife and I moved up to a small town in Northern California years ago, we used to drive by a burger joint with a revolving marquee. Every week its advertised special had a spelling error on that marquee. I shook my head for the first few weeks until I caught on… Brilliant marketing!

Many of us have placed spelling on the back-burner as teachers have rightly focused on reading and writing Standards. But, spelling instruction is still critically important.

A principal came into my high school class years ago to observe my student teacher. The student teacher had misspelled a vocabulary term on the board. The principal motioned for me to step outside of the classroom. He told me he would never hire that student teacher because he didn’t care enough about his lesson to proofread his work.

And don’t forget how Vice-President Dan Quayle developed his reputation. Upon entering a teacher’s class with media in tow, he walked to the front of the class, picked up chalk, and corrected the teacher’s “misspelling” of potato. You guessed it, the teacher was right; he was wrong.

The question is how to fit a spelling pre-test, practice, and post-test into precious few class minutes. Here’s how to get it done in 13-20 minutes of class time per week:

  1. Prepare. Develop or purchase weekly spelling tests based upon a focus spelling pattern, such as the i before e rule. Never use vocabulary words or silly theme lists, such as days of the week, colors, or holidays. Here’s a comprehensive instructional spelling scope and sequence of spelling patterns for grades 4˗8. Why reinvent the wheel?
  2. Pretest (7 minutes). Dictate the spelling test to all your students and have students self-correct from teacher dictation. Always record the dictation on your phone for other classes and make-ups. A lifesaver!
  3. Personalize (6 minutes). Have students create their own personal spelling list of words missed on the pretest, words missed in their own writing, and supplementary spelling lists, such as sight words, commonly confused words, and homonyms.
  4. Practice. (Students memorize their personal spelling lists and complete spelling sorts on the focus spelling pattern for homework).
  5. Posttest (7 minutes). Have students pair up, exchange personal spelling lists, and dictate to each other. Any words missed on the posttest go on next week’s personal spelling list. By the way, why not consider a bi-weekly spelling posttest based upon two spelling pretests?

Check out or purchase the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs. Enter discount code 3716 and get 10% off.

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How to Teach the Common Core Spelling Standards

What do the Common Core authors have to say about spelling instruction?

The spelling Standards for Grades 4‒8 are as follows:

“Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.” (L.4.2e, L.5.2e)

“Spell correctly.” (L.6.2b, L.7.2b, L.8.2b)

Although lacking specificity in the Language Strand, the Common Core approach to spelling instruction is detailed in the Orthography section of Appendix A. This section includes examples of the sound-spelling patterns, syllable rules, and derivational suffixes (20‒22). Additionally, the K‒5 Reading: Foundational Skills Standards all require direct instruction of the phoneme-grapheme (spelling) correspondences (Reading: Foundational Skills) In other words, phonics and spelling.

The focus on spelling patterns draws heavily from the research of Dr. Louis Cook Moats, such as in Moats, L. C. (2008). Spellography for teachers: How English spelling works. (LETRS Module 3). Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

How to Teach the Common Core Spelling Standards

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Each Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program includes a grade-level spelling patterns program with weekly spelling tests and spelling sorts. Students review previous grade-level spelling patterns and are introduced to new grade-level spelling patterns (including derivational and etymological influences) throughout the weekly lessons. Students create Personal Spelling Lists from those words missed on the weekly diagnostic spelling tests, from words misspelled in their own writing, and from the spelling resources provided in the program Appendix. The program also provides a complete syllabication program with syllable and derivatives worksheets.

Additionally, the program provides a comprehensive remedial spelling program tied to the TLS Diagnostic Spelling Assessment. Each grade-level diagnostic assessment varies in complexity to test all previous grade-level spelling patterns and takes about 20 minutes to administer.

Students complete remedial Spelling Pattern Worksheets for each unmastered spelling pattern as indicated by the test. Worksheets include the focus spelling pattern or spelling rule with examples, a spelling sort, word jumbles, and rhymes or book searches for the focus spelling pattern. Students self-correct and self-edit their answers from answer sheets to learn from their own mistakes. Finally, students complete a quick formative assessment labeled “Write” at the bottom of the worksheet to see if they can apply the focus spelling pattern within their own writing. Students mini-conference with the teacher and the teacher reviews the formative “Write” assessment. If mastered, the students record that mastery on the class recording matrix as detailed in the Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics section above. If not yet mastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches the spelling pattern and students try the formative assessment until mastery has been demonstrated.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) helps students learn the grade-level spelling patterns, the syllable rules, and the derivational spelling influences of our English orthography. The program also has the resources teachers need to individualize remedial spelling patterns‒exactly as described by the Common Core authors.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

As an MA Reading Specialist and author of quite a few spelling curricula (eight at last count), I’m often asked about spelling word lists by grade levels. Which words are right for which grade levels? Is blank (substitute any word) a third or fourth grade word? Which spelling words are the most important ones to practice?

We Americans are fixated with lists. From Letterman’s Late Show Top Ten to Blackwell’s Ten Worst Dressed List, we pay attention to them all. Lists influence big money. For example, universities invest millions of dollars to adjust staffing, course offerings, and campus improvements to better their annual U.S. News and World Report rankings.

We American are also fixated with grades. We sort and categorize anything of value by grade. From diamonds to education, we esteem these divisions even when the placement criteria overlap or have dubious or arbitrary merit. In education, we divide our new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into grade levels, although many standards are simply repeated in each grade level. See the CCSS spelling standards in the Language Strand as a prime example.

Of course, educational publishers promote and encourage our list and grade fixations. Lists and grade levels, such as with spelling instruction, sell more books. For example, no publishers in their right minds would offer a one-volume comprehensive spelling program, when separate grade level programs with separate spelling lists would sell more. Publishers of spelling curricula have been doing the latter for years. A brief history is illuminating:

American English Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

As early as 1783, Noah Webster published his first edition of what became widely known as The Blue-backed Speller. He began “with the alphabet and moving systematically through the different sounds of vowels and consonants, then syllables, then simple words, then more complex words, then sentences.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_Webster His grade level lists were used by teachers in multi-grade, one-room school houses and these divisions were further solidified with spelling bees. Webster’s 1806 dictionary sold poorly but served as the foundation for subsequent dictionaries bearing the Webster name.

By the 1840s, Webster had lost market share to the works of William Holmes McGuffey. McGuffey’s 1836 publication of his Eclectic Reader became wildly popular and McGuffey spun off his success with his 1846 Eclectic Spelling Book. McGuffey set out to standardize American spellings along the lines of Noah Webster’s 1806 dictionary and used Webster’s diacritical marks, as well as his “orthography, pronunciation, and syllabication (Preface).” Interestingly, McGuffey keyed his early spelling lists to the alphabet and not to the sound-spelling system. For example, his alphabet card for W has a picture of a wren and the spelling wren. Of course, the wr_ has the /r/, not the /w/. His lists are organized along the same lines.  Lesson 16 is titled “The Various Sounds of U” and has 44 words which include short /u/, long /u/, r-controlled /ur/, and others.

So, grade level spelling programs and word lists have been around for all of U.S. history. Educational movements to the contrary have proven to be short-lived. California removed grade level spelling books from its state adoption lists at the height of the whole-language movement in the 1980s. Principals were instructed by school district personnel to direct teachers not to use grade level spelling workbooks, and in some documented cases principals were even told to confiscate grade level spelling programs. More eclectic approaches such as Rebecca Sitton’s No Excuse Spelling Words program (more lists) replaced the grade level spelling programs. However, with the return to phonics-based instruction in the 1990s, grade level spelling programs and word lists returned.

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels: What Makes Sense

Ideally, spelling instruction would be tailored to individual student needs. However, our “factory system” of American education, which divides students into grade level instruction by age with accompanying grade-level standards is not likely to change.

Accepting this reality, it does make sense to establish a scope and sequence based upon research-based spelling patterns. Although there are no “set in stone” fourth grade words or fourth grade spelling patterns, there are spelling patterns that build upon previously mastered spelling patterns. The developmental nature of spelling has been well-established in orthographic research. Additionally, there is simply no doubt that good spelling instruction dovetails with good vocabulary instruction. As the reading-spelling connection is well-established for the primary grades, so is the vocabulary-spelling connection thereafter.

Of course, most grade level spelling programs and word lists are predicated upon the specious notion that spelling instruction equals spelling learning. Teach it and move on. Or add on a simplistic review before moving on. No attention is paid to whether the spelling patterns have actually been mastered or not. However, a spelling-vocabulary program for intermediate and upper elementary, as well as middle school students based upon diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments is certainly possible. A spelling-vocabulary program of “grade-level” spelling patterns and word lists organized in a meaningful instructional scope and sequence combined with individualized remediation of previous foundational spelling patterns is certainly possible.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. The lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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Spelling Rules

Teachers should teach the sound-spelling system as part of a balanced spelling program. To determine the individual needs of your students, teachers need the comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment to diagnose students and plan effective instruction.

As I previously mentioned, each of the six posts will begin with a brief reflection about the instructional spelling component, follow with a rationale for teaching that component, and finish with some free instructional spelling resources. The components of each of the six posts are as follows:
1. Diagnostic Assessment 2. Sound-Spellings 3. Spelling Rules
4. Spelling Lists and Tests 5. Spelling Practice 6. Integrated Spelling and Vocabulary.

This week we explore how to teach the spelling rules.

Reflection

□ I know the key eight conventional spelling rules that work most all of the times.

□ I have an instructional plan in place to teach these spelling rules.

□ I have formative assessments in place to analyze their progress.

Rationale

Just because the English sound-spelling system works in only about 50% of spellings does not mean that there are not predictable spelling patterns to increase that percentage of spelling predictability and accuracy. Although the sound-spelling patterns are the first line of defense, the conventional spelling rules that work most all of the time are a necessary back-up.

Spelling Resources

Here are the Eight Great Spelling Rules with links to memorable MP3 songs and raps to help your students (and you) remember them.

1. The i before e Rule

Usually spell i before e (believe), but spell e before i after a c (receive) and when the letters are pronounced as a long /a/ sound (neighbor).

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/the-i-before-e-spelling-rule/

2. The Final y Rule

Keep the y when adding an ending if the word ends in a vowel, then a y (delay-delayed), or if the ending begins with an i (copy-copying). Change the y to i when adding an ending if the word ends in a consonant, then a y (pretty-prettiest).

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/the-final-y-spelling-rule/“>

3. The Silent e Rule

Drop the e (have-having) at the end of a syllable if the ending begins with a vowel. Keep the e (close-closely) when the ending begins with a consonant, has a soft /c/ or /g/ sound, then an “ous” or “able” (peaceable, gorgeous), or if it ends in “ee”, “oe”, or “ye” (freedom, shoeing, eyeing).

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/the-silent-e-spelling-rule/

4. The Double the Consonant Rule

Double the last consonant, when adding on an ending (permitted), if all three of these conditions are met: 1. the last syllable has the accent (per / mit)  2. the last syllable ends in a vowel, then a consonant (permit). 3. the ending you add begins with a vowel (ed).

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/the-double-the-consonant-spelling-rule/

5. The Ending “an” or “en” Rule

End a word with “ance”, “ancy”, or “ant”  if the root before has a hard /c/ or /g/ sound (vacancy, arrogance) or if the root ends with “ear” or “ure” (clearance, insurance). End a word with “ence”, “ency”, or “ent” if the root before has a soft /c/ or /g/ sound (magnificent, emergency), after “id” (residence), or if the root ends with “ere” (reverence).

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/the-ending-“an”-or-“en”-spelling-rule/

6. The “able” or “ible” Rule

End a word with “able” if the root before has a hard /c/ or /g/ sound (despicable, navigable), after a complete root word (teachable), or after a silent e (likeable). End a word with “ible” if the root has a soft /c/ or /g/ sound (reducible, legible), after an “ss” (admissible), or after an incomplete root word (audible).

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/the-“able”-or-“ible”-spelling-rule/

7. The Ending “ion” Rule

Spell “sion” for the final zyun sound (illusion) or the final shun sound (expulsion, compassion) if after an l or s. Spell “cian” (musician) for a person and “tion” (condition) in most all other cases.

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/the-ending-“ion”-spelling-rule/

8. The Plurals Rule

Spell plural nouns with an s (dog-dogs), even those that end in y (day-days) or those that end in a vowel, then an o (stereo-stereos). Spell “es” after the sounds of /s/, /x/, /z/, /ch/, or /sh/ (box-boxes) or after a consonant, then an o (potato-potatoes). Change the y to i and add “es” when the word ends in a consonant, then a y (ferry-ferries). Change the “fe” or “lf” ending to “ves” (knife-knives, shelf-shelves).

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/the-plurals-spelling-rule/

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

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Why Spelling Is So Difficult

President Andrew Jackson once remarked, “It’s a d____ poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word!” Many Americans would readily agree. In fact, the English language is notorious for its spelling irregularities. Looking at the glass as being half-empty, it is true that only about half of our spellings exactly match their sounds.

What a crazy system, in which the word fish could be spelled as “ghoti.” That’s /f/ spelled “gh” as in rough, /i/ spelled “o” as in women, and /sh/ spelled /ti/ as in nation. Or how about the fact that the “ur” sound /ur/ can be spelled differently five times in one sentence? Her nurse first works early. Or how about the fact that the “sh” sound /sh/ can be spelled in 14 different ways? shine, sugar, ocean, tissue, ration, fuchsia, shist, pshaw, spacious, nauseous, anxious, conscious, chaperone, mansion.

However, looking at the glass as being half-full, the fact that 50% of the spellings exactly match their sounds certainly provides a helpful foundation upon which to build good spelling. We don’t have to memorize every word individually. Upon this 50% foundation, an additional 30% of spellings which conform to about eight of the most useful spelling rules can be added. This leaves about 20% of the words that must be memorized. We call these “Outlaw Words” for good reason. Jessie James couldn’t even spell his own name!

Additionally, our vocabulary is an amalgam of linguistic and historical influences. Over 50% of our academic words are built on ancient Greek and Latin word parts. French and Spanish add to our spelling lexicon as well. So, by studying languages we also improve our English spelling. If fact, spelling and vocabulary have a reciprocal relationship-spelling influences vocabulary and, conversely, vocabulary influences spelling.

So, given that our English spelling system is not simplistic, what should we do?

1.      Master the 50% foundation. The common sound spellings are very consistent. A wonderful multiple choice assessment of these patterns can be downloaded free at .

2.      Learn the eight conventional spelling rules that will add on another 30% of the spelling words that would be otherwise irregular.

3.      Memorize the common Outlaw Words. Many of these are our most frequently used words.  Make up memory tricks such as “you would rather have more dessert than a desert” or the “principal is my pal” for difficult words that do not follow the spelling patterns or conventional spelling rules.

4.      Memorize the most frequently misspelled words and commonly confused words.

5.      Memorize homophones: words that sound the same, but are spelled differently.

6.      Study the etymological (how the word was formed in its historical context) connections from Old and Middle English.

7.      Study the derivational spellings from other languages. Example: colonel from the French

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , ,