Promote Smart Spelling With Partner Quizzes
By J. Richard Gentry

Many aspects of an individualized spelling program are daunting. What teacher, for example, has time to give each student a separate weekly test? Getting kids to quiz one another is one solution. This idea not only saves you time, but it also strengthens skills because students work together on words they care about.

To prepare for partner quizzes, students need to collect and study six to ten words that they have not yet mastered, but would find useful. These "need to know" words should come from weekly whole-class quizzes that you conduct and from students' own writing.


Grades: 2-6
Purpose: To establish a weekly routine for bringing spelling partners together.
Materials: a set of student name cards, students' "need to know" word lists
Time Needed: 5 minutes at the end of each week

  1. To prepare, create cards with individual student names on them.

  2. Ask students to get out their "need to know" lists for the week and gather in the classroom meeting area. Be sure their lists are neat and readable. If a list contains homophones, such as our and hour, the student should draw a picture clue, such as a clock, next to one of the words to help the test giver distinguish them.

  3. Shuffle the cards and draw pairs randomly to determine who will work together.

  4. Have students find their partners and select a spot in the classroom.


Grades: 2-6
Purpose: To clarify procedures for administering partner quizzes.
Time Needed: 10 minutes

Once students have agreed on a place to work, explain that the purpose of partner quizzes is to help them help each other become better spellers. Then ask them to follow these steps.

  1. Exchange lists and decide who will be quizzed first.

  2. Quiz givers should call out each word and use it in a sentence, while the quiz taker writes the word down. Remember, no hints  —  your partner is responsible for knowing his or her own spelling words.

  3. If you're the quiz giver and you can't read a word, let your partner help if he or she can (without looking at the word), or ask the teacher to whisper it to you.

  4. When you've finished the first quiz, switch roles and repeat the process.

  5. Work quickly and efficiently. Two partner quizzes should take only about ten minutes.


Grades: 2-6
Purpose: To assess students and use results to inform teaching.
Time Needed: 5 minutes

  1. 1 After students have quizzed each other, have quiz givers call out the correct spelling of each word, while quiz takers mark the ones that they misspelled.

  2. Ask students to turn in their quizzes so you can quickly check their work.

  3. Have students recycle misspelled words by putting them back on their "need to know" lists.

  4. If a student is continuously scoring poorly, confer with her to find out why. She may need to try harder, work on fewer spelling words at a time, or choose easier words.

  5. Have your super spellers use spelling time for vocabulary enrichment. Encourage them to identify words that they might use in their writing, but aren't sure how to spell. One fifth grader, for example, chose the word millennium to use as the title of a movie he wanted to write about. Most adults misspell millennium, but this student mastered it by researching the word and including it on his individualized spelling list.


  1. Keep spelling lists short. Second graders should choose about six words a week, while older children should choose about ten. Short lists will reduce the time needed for partner quizzes and other spelling activities, leaving more time for reading and writing.

  2. Make sure lists are composed of words and patterns that your students use. Egypt, for example, is generally more appropriate for fifth graders than sarcophagus!

  3. Don't underestimate the power of recycling words. Continued practice is a good way to build spelling consciousness.

  4. Set a tone of comfortable rigor. Encouraging shorter lists or easier words for good reason doesn't mean you're lax about spelling.

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