There's been a lot of kerfuffle about spelling since the new curriculum came in. This often follows change and we have certainly seen that in abundance when it comes to spelling. We now have, in addition to the spelling patterns and rules, a Statutory Words List to contend with. Since this came in, I have heard numerous reports of insane amounts of stress for children and their families. Liz Dashwood explains this perfectly here. I would hate to think that I had a hand in inflicting this kind of negativity. Ultimately, that will never help children to learn - how can we hope to foster a love of English if they are filled with dread weekly? So, here's how I have been working with the children since the new list came in. I have been developing these methods for the past two years and am thrilled with the results. I begin the year by teaching the statutory word list, as this gives you a good basis from which to draw (e.g. "If you know how to spell ......., then how might you spell............?")
1. I don't test them
Testing has its place. This isn't it. Testing is just that. Testing. Not learning. I begin by chatting to the children about the word list and explaining that these are words that a lot of adults get wrong and it makes them feel less confident. I explain that we are trying to avoid that and to give children this confidence in their writing. Each child is given a copy of the list to stick into their books. They then need to figure out which to learn. To do this, they pair up and test each other until they find just five that they need to learn. Their partner highlights those they get right and leaves the others.
There are a couple of things to note here:
2. Children learn them in school
We don't expect parents to teach children how to identify a modal verb, find prime factors or explain the phrases of the moon, so why would we ask parents to teach them to spell? Extra practice at home - great! We all know that not all children have this luxury for a myriad of possible reasons. It is a vital part of English education, so should be taught in school. So, we have daily practice of spellings. I have several 10-15 minute slots on my timetable, but if you don't, you could start or end each day with it or take the first ten minutes of the English lesson. Trust me, it's worth it. The children then practise their spellings in various ways. I don't follow a completely strict timetable of practice, but I generally have Wednesday as a test day. I like the mid-week placement. On the other 4 days, they usually have practice of just their five spellings. Here are some of my faves:
I've also made a couple of games to print. One is Scrabble Spelling, where children work out the scrabble value of their words. The other is my version of Roll-a-Word.
Download these here:
As part of our English lessons, I include regular practice of words the children should know, common error words and words I am particularly keen for them to know. I use a lot of Kagan collaborative learning structures for this, most often:
Check out my Freebies page for cards to use for these.
Other faves include:
4. Give them the tools to learn at home if they can / wish
I've sent home a list of all of these methods. The children know them and use them in school, but it's a little reminder and a help to parents. If they wish to / can spend time on them at home, this makes that time effective and purposeful.
5. NO EXCUSES!
Accept NO excuses for mistakes with words they are copying, know the rule for or have learnt. We say this at least three times every day. Usually, I just say "It's copied, so..." and they finish "NO EXCUSES"! Tell them to check that their partner has copied carefully, tell them to show someone else how carefully they've copied, ask them to wave if they've copied carefully. Drum it in. It's vital.
6. Give them chance to try
Don't keep giving them spellings. I rarely give a spelling to a child, unless it's a really challenging word that I'm pleased they're trying to use. Tell them to use their phonics, have a good go, think about words that sound similar that they can compare it to. I also hardly ever write the date and WALT / Learning Objective on the board unless there is a particular spelling I'd like them to see. Usually, I dictate it to them. It also means they all have to keep up, so you aren't left waiting for that one who's sharpening their pencil down to a nub before starting!
The Statutory Word Lists don't have to ruin your week, or that of the children and their families. My class love practising their spellings and it's very easy to teach with little resourcing or preparation needed. Of course, you need to make sure the children begin with a spelling list that is at the right level for them and you need to keep an eye on their progress. I do sometimes spot-quiz them on words they say they know, but have not yet found them cheating as there is no reason for them to do this. As with all learning, keep it fun, keep it purposeful and put the learning in their hands.
Hi! I'm Mrs P: passionate primary school teacher!