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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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