Spelling lists – to send home or not?

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The short answer is yes in my opinion.

Why yes? It appeases many parents, plus could do some good if spellings are correctly differentiated and children / parents are provided with well thought out activities to engage with the lists. Plus, it makes an easy homework task for a teacher to set.

However, will the children retain their learning the week after the test? My experience says probably not unless certain approaches are taken.

For example, a previous colleague once advised me that the only way to learn lists was to start small and build up weekly, relearning past words. E.g. Week 1 set 3 words to learn, repeat the same words in week 2 but add one or two more. The idea was to continue in that vein for the whole term. I never was brave enough to implement that (Ofsted loomed and I was Literacy co-ordinator at the time). However, it probably would work. Yet, it doesn’t sit well with our new (well not so new) 2014 curriculum complete with copious word lists for our children to learn. There just aren’t enough weeks in the year!

What I find does work is what I have called syllable spelling and finger spelling.

Firstly, I teach the children to break words into syllables – either clapping them out, counting on fingers or the chin drop method – place your hand under your chin, say the word slowly and count how many times your chin drops:

e.g. “remember” = re…mem…ber = 3 chin drops – 3 syllables. I normally use a combination of syllable teaching strategies, just to mix it up a bit to stop me (and the kids!) from getting bored.

Next when teaching the approach I demonstrate how to draw syllable lines – in the case of “remember” draw 3 lines. Then, sound out the first syllable using your fingers. It’s a good idea to map out each sound onto each finger by touching it – see photo for what I mean! Say each sound as you map the sound. “r…e”

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After that write the sounds onto the first syllable line. Repeat with the next syllable “m..e..m” making sure you touch each finger and say the sound out loud. Then write it onto syllable line two.

Finally repeat the above for “ber” and hey presto, you have spelled your word.

Okay, when the children are using this approach independently, they may not be completely accurate, but when combined with good phonics teaching and classroom resources such as word books to try out spellings and table top resources such as phoneme mats, children, in my experience, significantly improve their spelling ability.

Cross curricular – it’s important to keep the syllable approach plate spinning across the curriculum. I use it for example in maths when teaching new content e.g. “numerator” getting children to syllable count and try on their whiteboards to spell it.

So, send spelling lists home? Yes! But teach children (and parents) this approach and provide ideas for games to play and everyone will be happy!

These ideas are not my own I must say, they are collected and adapted from the truly excellent training I had on Sounds Write, plus advice from specialist teachers!

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