Spelling Strategies:
Mastering New Words for Writing
By Diane Snowball

A seven-year-old recently told me that instead of the whole class learning the same spelling words, students would be better off learning the words they wanted to use for their own writing. Smart kid! So how do we help children select and learn relevant words?

Strategy 1: Proofreading

As soon as children are spelling some words conventionally, encourage them to proofread: Underline words they think are wrong, and then try to get them right. A Try-It-Out sheet (with columns for First Try, Second Try, Third Try, and Correct Spelling) can help. Children try each word two or three ways and then use a resource to check the spellings. This is also useful for charting spelling growth.

Strategy 2: Choosing Words

From their proofreading (and class theme lists, if appropriate), children select a group of words they think will be useful for future writing. Often, I also indicate  —  in the Correct column of the Try-It-Out sheet  —  one or two other words a student might want to learn.

Strategy 3: Learning Words

Talk about useful ways to learn how to spell words, such as:

  • Think about the part of the word you spelled wrong and try to remember it.

  • Use the Look-Say-Cover-Write-Check technique until you can quickly spell the word correctly.

  • Look at the spelling pattern and think of other words that have the same pattern (for example, good has the same spelling pattern as look).

  • Use memory aids (such as "I am a friend to the end").

  • Look for words within words (such as hen in the word when).

  • Work on spelling the base word before adding the prefix or suffix.

Strategy 4: Learning Related Words

It is most useful for children to choose a few words to learn, to learn them thoroughly, and then think about related words they now know how to spell, such as:

  • Other words with the same spelling pattern (for example, now: bow, cow, low, tow, wow).

  • Other words in the same family (like: alike, liking, dislike).

  • Other words with the same derivative (autograph: autobiography, photograph).

Strategy 5: Geeting Feedback

If children want to check how well they've learned their words, they can have a partner ask them to spell each word. I also ask children to record in a notebook the words they are learning and how; I collect a few notebooks each week to see where kids may need help. Make time every week or two for children to share their ideas about learning words.

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Diane Snowball is an internationally known educational consultant focusing on language arts. Some of the material for this column was adapted from Ideas for Spelling and Teaching Spelling (Heinemann).

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