Teaching Spelling (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014

Making Words

Teachers choose a five- to eight-letter word (or longer words for older students) and prepare sets of letter cards for a making words activity (Cunningham & Cunningham, 1992). Then students use the cards to practice spelling words and to review spelling patterns and rules. They arrange and rearrange the cards to spell one-letter words, two-letter words, three-letter words, and so forth, until they use all the letters to spell the original word. Second graders, for example, can create these words using the letters in weather: a, at, we, he, the, are, art, ear, eat, hat, her, hear, here, hate, heart, wheat, there, and where.

Word Sorts

Students use word sorts to explore, compare, and contrast word features as they sort a pack of word cards. Teachers prepare word cards for students to sort into two or more categories according to their spelling patterns or other criteria (Bear et al., 2008). Sometimes teachers tell students what categories to use, which makes the sort a closed sort; when students determine the categories themselves, the sort is an open sort. Students can sort word cards and then return them to an envelope for future use, or they can glue the cards onto a sheet of paper.

Interactive Writing

Teachers use interactive writing to teach spelling concepts as well as other concepts about written language. Because correct spelling and legible handwriting are courtesies for readers, they emphasize correct spelling as students take turns to collaboratively write a message. It is likely that students will misspell a few words as they write, so teachers take advantage of these “teachable moments” to clarify students’ misunderstandings. Through interactive writing, students learn to use a variety of resources to correct misspelled words, including classroom word walls, books, classmates, and the dictionary.


Proofreading is a special kind of reading that students use to locate misspelled words and other mechanical errors in rough drafts. As students learn about the writing process, they are introduced to proofreading in the editing stage. More in-depth instruction about how to use proofreading to locate spelling errors and then correct these misspelled words is part of spelling instruction (Cramer, 1998). Through a series of minilessons, students can learn to proofread sample student papers and mark misspelled words. Then, working in pairs, students can correct the misspelled words.

Proofreading should be introduced in the primary grades. Young children and their teachers proofread collaborative books and dictated stories together, and students can be encouraged to read over their own compositions and make necessary corrections soon after they begin writing. This way, students accept proofreading as a natural part of writing. Proofreading activities are more valuable for teaching spelling than are dictation activities, in which teachers dictate sentences for students to write and correctly capitalize and punctuate. Few people use dictation in their daily lives, but we use proofreading skills every time we polish a piece of writing.

Dictionary Use

Students need to learn to locate the spelling of unfamiliar words in the dictionary. Although it is relatively easy to find a “known” word in the dictionary, it is hard to locate unfamiliar words, and students need to learn what to do when they don’t know how to spell a word. One approach is to predict possible spellings for unknown words, then check the most probable spellings in a dictionary.

Students should be encouraged to check the spelling of words in a dictionary as well as to use a dictionary to check multiple meanings or etymology. Too often, students view consulting a dictionary as punishment; teachers must work to change this view. One way to do this is to appoint several students as dictionary checkers: These students keep dictionaries on their desks, and they’re consulted whenever questions about spelling, a word’s meaning, or word usage arise.

Spelling Options

In English, alternate spellings occur for many sounds because so many words borrowed from other languages retain their native spellings. There are many more options for vowel sounds than for consonants. Spelling options sometimes vary according to the letter’s position in the word. For example, ff is found in the middle and at the end of words but not at the beginning (e.g., muffin, cuff), and gh represents /f/ only at the end of a syllable or word (e.g., cough, laughter).

Teachers point out spelling options as they write words on word walls and when students ask about the spelling of a word. They also can teach upper-grade students about these options in a series of minilessons. During each lesson, students can focus on one phoneme, such as /k/, and as a class or small group they can develop a list of the various ways the sound is spelled, giving examples of each spelling.

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