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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).

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

Free Instructional Spelling Resources

Despite having spelling instruction relegated to a mere editing skill tagged onto the end of the Writing Process by some writing “gurus,” good teachers continue to teach spelling through direct and differentiated instruction. Recent reading and writing research have reinforced the need to teach the structural components of words. Word analysis promotes spelling accuracy, correct pronunciation, and vocabulary development.

Spelling instruction is not solely the responsibility of primary elementary teachers. Intermediate, middle, and high school teachers need to both remediate spelling deficiencies and teach advanced spelling skills to their students. After learning the sound-spelling relationships, advanced spelling skills are acquired by learning and practicing the advanced spelling rules, syllabication and accent rules, and language derivations.

Following are articles, free resources (including reading assessments), and teaching tips regarding how to differentiate spelling instruction in the intermediate, middle, and high school from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Bookmark and visit us often. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Spelling

Spelling Scope and Sequence

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/spelling-scope-and-sequence/ 

Educators who once thought that spelling word check would solve students’ spelling and writing issues are squarely facing the fact that they do have a responsibility to teach spelling patterns. A spelling program with a comprehensive instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Common Core Language Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, and/or State Standards provides a well-defined instructional order. Check out the Common Core aligned grades 4-8 spelling scope and sequence of spelling patterns instruction.

Research-Based Spelling Worksheets

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/research-based-spelling-worksheets/

Of course spelling, grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary scores plummeted during the late 1980s and early 1990s, sparking yet another “Back to Basics” movement. Mom had warned her son about the cyclical nature of educational movements and philosophies. The educational research provides insight as to what makes a spelling worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

Spelling Diagnostic Assessment

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Diagnostic-Spelling-Assessment.pdf

This diagnostic assessment tests all of the important vowel sound-spellings that students should have mastered (but frequently have not) as foundations to conventional English spelling. Included is a convenient recording matrix for the teacher to plan differentiated instruction to remediate unmastered spelling patterns.

30 Spelling Questions, Answers and Resources

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/30-spelling-questions-answers-and-resources/

In the midst of the 1980s whole language movement, California State Superintendent of Schools Bill Honig strongly encouraged principals to confiscate spelling workbooks from their teachers. Even today, spelling instruction remains a contentious topic. No other literacy skill seems to run the complete gamut of instructional implementation from emphasis to de-emphasis. The article includes the 30 spelling questions, answers, and resources to help teachers get a handle on what does and what does not work in spelling instruction.

Spelling Assessment Questions and Answers

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/spelling-assessment-questions-and-answers/

That said, as an author of numerous spelling programs and an often-used Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, I get two questions quite frequently: 1. Does a diagnostic spelling assessment make sense? and 2. How can we use the weekly pretest as a diagnostic assessment? But I’ll let teachers ask those questions in their own words…

How to Evaluate Spelling Programs

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/how-to-evaluate-spelling-programs/

With increasing attention on following Response to Intervention (RTI) guidelines, it makes sense to follow the criteria that orthographic research has established for quality spelling programs.

Ten Components of a Successful Spelling Program

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/ten-components-of-a-successful-spelling-program/

Teachers truly want to differentiate spelling instruction, but the materials, testing, instruction, and management can prove overwhelming to even the most conscientious professional. Using this Spelling Program Checklist can help teachers re-focus  to improve their spelling instruction.

How to Differentiate Spelling and Vocabulary Instruction

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/how-to-differentiate-spelling-and-vocabulary-instruction/

It makes sense to teach spelling and vocabulary together. Simply put, one affects the other. However, not all of our students are at the same levels of spelling and vocabulary mastery. So, how can an informed teacher (that is you) differentiate spelling and vocabulary instruction in an efficient manner?

Common Core Spelling Standards

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/common-core-spelling-standards/

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts provide instructional challenges for all conscientious upper elementary and middle school teachers. In addition to the Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening Strands, teachers are expected to teach the grammar, mechanics, language application, spelling, and vocabulary Standards of the CCSS Language Strand (Standards L. 1-6). When establishing instructional priorities to address these Standards, many teachers have placed spelling (Standard L. 2) on the back-burner.

The  “able” Spelling Rule

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/2840/

The “able” suffix spelling is often misspelled, even by very accomplished spellers. Here are the applicable spelling rules for the “able” suffix.

The Vulgar “a” Spelling

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/the-vulgar-a-spelling/

This lesson on the vulgar “a” includes definitions, examples, writing hints, practice, a formative assessment, writing application, and related CCSS standards.

Visual Spelling Strategies

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/visual-spelling-strategies/

Spelling is primarily an auditory skill; however, when used as an appropriate instructional component of a comprehensive spelling program, visual spelling strategies, such as these “picture spellings” can make sense.

Why Spelling Is So Difficult

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/why-spelling-is-so-difficult/

This article explains why the English Spelling System is so difficult to master. Seven suggestions give hope to even the most challenged speller to improve his or her spelling.

Top Twelve Spelling Trends and Fads

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/spelling-instructional-trends-and-fads/

A dozen of the most popular instructional spelling trends and fads over the last thirty years are described and rated as “TRUE” or “FALSE,” in terms of recent spelling research. Get ready to be challenged, and perhaps redirected in how you teach spelling.

Diagnostic Spelling Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/wp-admin/post.php?post=885&action=edit

In this series on How to Teach Spelling, this first post discusses and provides teaching resources for diagnostic spelling tests.

English Sound-Spellings

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-spelling-part-ii/

In this series on How to Teach Spelling, this second post discusses and provides teaching resources for teaching the sound-spelling system. The sound-spelling system is the foundation of conventional spelling.

Spelling Rules

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/how-to-teach-spelling-part-iii/

In this series on How to Teach Spelling, this third post discusses and provides teaching resources for teaching the eight conventional spelling rules. These eight rules go beyond the sound-spelling system to lead students to conventional spelling mastery.

The Plurals Spelling Rule

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

The Plurals Spelling Rule Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The Ending “ion” Spelling Rule

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

The Ending “ion” Spelling Rule Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The “able” or “ible” Spelling Rule

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

The “able” or “ible” Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules. Find other spelling rules, tests, and songs or raps in Pennington Publishing’s Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary.

The Ending “an” or “en” Spelling Rule

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

The Ending “an” or “en” Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The Double the Consonant Spelling Rule

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

The Double the Consonant Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The Silent e Spelling Rule

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

The Silent Final e Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The Final y Spelling Rule

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

The Final y Spelling Rule is one of the most consistent and useful spelling rules.

The i before e Spelling Rule

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

Although only 50% of English spellings conform to a predictable sound-spelling relationship, applying The i before e Spelling Rule will significantly increase spelling accuracy.

Spelling Lists and Tests

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/how-to-teach-spelling-part-iv/

Teachers who are serious about effective spelling instruction use the spelling pre-test as a diagnostic assessment to differentiate instruction. In this article, teachers will learn how to supplement the spelling pre-test with useful free hyperlinked resources.

Effective Spelling Practice

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/how-to-teach-spelling-part-v/

Effective spelling practice is not exclusively memorization. Good spelling practice connects to language development, vocabulary, structural analysis, auditory processing, and writing. Learn how to practice spelling effectively.

Vowel Team Spelling Games

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/spelling_vocabulary/vowel-team-spelling-games/

Spellers often struggle in the “Within Word” stage of spelling development. The key challenge for spellers within this spelling stage involves the vowel sound-spellings. These three spelling games will help your remedial spellers both recognize and practice these vowel team spellings.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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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

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Spelling Lists and Tests

My last post, “Spelling Rules,” discussed why teachers should teach the eight conventional spelling rules as part of a balanced spelling program. I provided links for each of the eight free downloadable spelling rules with accompanying MP3 files of raps and songs to help your students memorize each of these rules. I also offered an essential resource: the comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment.

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 use spelling lists and tests as part of a balanced spelling program.

Reflection

□ I use developmentally appropriate word lists as my spelling pre-tests.

□ I use the spelling pre-test as a diagnostic tool and adjust student practice according to the results of the assessment.

□ I have supplemental spelling word lists that are developmentally appropriate and I use these to differentiate spelling instruction.

□ I don’t use the exact same spelling test for my pre and post-tests because the spelling post-tests vary from student to student.

Rationale

Developing a weekly spelling-vocabulary plan that differentiates instruction for all of your students is a challenging task for even the best veteran teacher. Teachers truly want to individualize spelling instruction, but the materials, testing, instruction, and management can prove overwhelming to even the most conscientious professional. After years of experimentation and teacher trial and error, this plan has earned a track record of proven success in combining spelling individualization and vocabulary word study with sensible amounts of teacher preparation and class time.

Spelling Resources

Five Steps to Differentiating Spelling-Vocabulary Instruction: The Five Ps

1. Prepare

Select twenty spelling pattern words from your grade-level spelling workbook. If you don’t have a spelling workbook, check out Grade Level Spelling Lists.

2. Pretest

Dictate the twenty words grade-level spelling pattern words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students. After the dictations, have students self-correct from teacher dictation of the letters in syllable chunks. Tell students to mark dots below the correct letters, but mark an “X” through the numbers of any spelling errors. Of course, double check the corrections of any students who have difficulty following directions or listening.

3. Personalize

To effectively differentiate instruction, students personalize their own spelling word lists for study and for their post-tests. Assign 15-20 words for practice and testing per week. Students complete their own Personal Spelling Lists with the 15-20 words in this priority order:

  • Pretest Errors: Have the students copy up to ten of their pretest spelling errors onto their Personal Spelling-Vocabulary List. Students will need to refer to the spelling workbook or your own spelling list to correctly spell these words. Ten words are certainly enough to practice the grade-level spelling pattern. Tell students to pick spelling errors from both the top and the bottom of their pretest to ensure that all spelling patterns are practiced because many workbooks teach two patterns per week.
  • Posttest Errors: Have students add on up to five spelling errors from last week’s spelling posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on up to five teacher-corrected spelling errors found in student writing. Oops…this commits you to mark strategic spelling errors in your students’ writing-an essential component of improving student spelling.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students select and use words from the following resources  to complete their list:

Vowel Sound-Spelling Patterns (for primary or remedial spellers), Outlaw Words (non-phonetic words), Dolch High Frequency Words, Commonly Confused Words, and the Eight Conventional Spelling Rules.

But, how do the students select the right words from the supplemental lists?

Parents can be integral partners in helping their children select appropriate words for the Personal Spelling List. After completing the weekly Personal Spelling List, the student must secure a parent signature on the list to verify that each of the selected words is an unknown spelling for the student. This is to prevent students from writing down words already part of the student’s conventional spelling word bank.

Early in the school year, send home a parent letter explaining the role of the parent in individualizing spelling instruction. Parents can pretest their son or daughter on the words from the appendices a little at a time to determine which words are un-mastered and need to be included as part of the weekly Personal Spelling List. For those parents who will not complete the pre-assessments, the teacher can have a parent, instructional aide, or another student complete the pretests.

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

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , ,