Meaningful Ways to Teach Spelling

Spelling.  If I’m being honest…I’m not a fan.  No, actually, I LOATHE it.

At least the way it’s been for the last 234 years.  We all have those children who memorize words for the test and then can’t spell worth squat during writers’ workshop.

Yet…they have to learn to spell somehow.

So how do we teach what we know is an important skill {nothing more annoying than an adult who can’t spell basic words!} in a meaningful way that helps kids remember spelling patterns long term?  Let’s chat today about giving kids meaningful ways to learn to spell and in the next post we will talk about how to assess their learning in a way that’s best for kids.

The more we focus on memorizing a list of words, the more that’s exactly what kids will do…memorize a list of words.  And I don’t want my first graders memorizing words.  I want them to spell words fluently, but with understanding…and past Friday’s test!
The first thing we work on is setting routines for spelling a new word–whether it’s a word on our spelling test or any other word.  I want kids to know what I am thinking about when I’m spelling new words and to train their brain to think about specific, purposeful things when spelling new words too.  So, from day one we train our brains to spell.  

At the beginning of the year, I start with step one…

We sound out our words with our ears.  We spend a lot of time breaking down words into each sound that we hear.  {I blogged earlier this year about the engaging songs and chants we use to break words apart into sounds.}  And I emphasize writing at least one letter for every sound they hear by writing lines for each sound they hear {more in that previous blog.}

Once we move into vowel digraphs in phonics and sounds that have more than one spelling pattern for them {like ai and ay}, we talk about how using our ears is not enough to spell.  We have to use our ears first, then our eyes.

We break down the word the same way…let’s use rain as an example: /r/ /ai/ /n/.  We count 3 sounds we hear across our fingers and we write 4 lines during our guided spelling time because rain has 3 sounds but 4 letters.

We add the “scoop” below the two middle letters to show they are two letters but have one sound.

The rest goes like this:
What’s the first sound in rain?
What letter makes that sound?

What’s the next sound in rain?
What letters can make that sound?
/ai/ or /ay/
There are two ways to make the sound so we can’t just use our ears…we have to use our eyes to see which one sounds look right.  Let’s come back to this sound once we finish the other sounds.

What’s the last sound in rain?
What letter makes that sound?

Let’s try spelling that middle sound with both patterns we know, ai and ay.

Which spelling looks right?

We vote on the spelling just to make it a little more fun and then I have them drumroll and I reveal the correct spelling.  They absolutely LOVE this simple addition to our spelling routines!

Once our phonics program moves into more advanced phonics patterns where homonyms and homophones come into play, it’s no longer enough to use our ears and our eyes.  We have to use our mind to help us determine which meaning describes the word we are trying to spell.

So, at this stage of the year, we go through a similar routine as before: breaking down our word into sounds we hear with our ears, writing lines for each sound we hear, and writing all of our spelling options down so we can “see” which ones look right.  Like with the word blue.  Our options that all sound correct are…


But only 2 look right.


But only 1 is the correct meaning.  We talk about how one is a color and one is a past tense for blowing.  We talk about which one is which and then which one describes the word we were trying to spell.

Yes, it seems like a lot to go through with each word.  But once you get in a groove, it’s really not. And it’s totally worth it because we are training our little to think before they spell.  And to think purposefully…with 3 easy steps!
Still not convinced it’s really that simple?  Well, I convinced myself to do a video for you to help you understand the routines a little bit better.

In the meantime, grab these spelling anchor charts I use to help my kids remember what they should be actively thinking about when spelling a new word.  They come in full color or a black and white option that can be printed on pretty bright colors! Yay! #clappinghands  Each color scheme also comes with my bullet points already typed in or blank space like the pic below for you to fill in as you learn with the kids!

Catch all of these in my spelling anchor charts packet! 

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