Young writers often
try to use the sounds in words to figure out their spellings; experienced
writers often use this phonetic strategy first, and then try other approaches,
including applying common spelling patterns. So it is definitely worthwhile
to help children hear the sounds in words by developing phonemic awareness,
and then exploring sound/symbol relationships and spelling patterns
especially if you continuously encourage kids to think about how these
strategies will help them as readers and writers. Here's how.
Strategy 1: Develop
- I find that children
develop the ability to hear sounds in words when I involve them in lots
of shared reading of poems, chants, songs, and big books with repetitive
refrains and rhyme. I ask children to listen for and identify rhyming
words, and clap when they hear them.
- Select words children
know from books, rhymes, songs, and so on
and discover together how knowing one word can help with the recognition
or writing of others, just by changing the beginning letter(s). For
example, when reading the chant "Mary Mack" or the book Zoo-looking
by Mem Fox (Mondo, 1996), write the words Mack, black, back, crack,
quack on a chart. Invite children to suggest other words with the same
sound: pack, sack, whack, track. Ask children, "How will this
help you with your reading and writing?"
Strategy 2: Explore
- Tell children you
have noticed them listening for sounds in words they are trying to write
so you will help them discover how different sounds
can be written. Reread familiar books, rhymes, chants, and songs, asking
children to listen for words with a particular sound. List these on
a chart; for example, words with a /k/ sound: kite, cat, school,
bike, Christine, truck, cake, back.
- Help children to
identify the letter(s) that represent this sound. Underline these and
ask children to group the words according to the different ways the
sound is represented. For example:
the same sound may be represented in more than one way, depending
on the word. This is important for children whose first language is
not English, particularly if their first is a phonetic language, such
- During the next
few days, ask children to find other words they know with this sound
and add them to the class list. I usually explain that kids must say
a word to listen for the sound, and I do not confuse them by referring
to the sound by a particular letter name. As other sounds are explored,
ask children how this will help them with their writing.
Strategy 3: Discover
- Tell the children
that thinking about what a word looks like is a useful spelling strategy,
so you are going to explore some common spelling patterns together.
Reread a familiar big book, poem, or so on, selecting a particular spelling
pattern to look for. For example, look for and list words with ea,
such as: bead, bread, dead, instead, great, read, treat, break.
- Ask children to
identify and underline the ea spelling pattern in each word, say the
words, and group them according to their pronunciation, such as:
bead, read, treat
bread, dead, instead, read
- Select one of the
words and show how knowing it can help with the spelling of other words
in that word family. For example, great: greater, greatest, greatly,
or break: breaking, breaks. Ask children to try this with the
other words you've found. Talk about how thinking about spelling patterns
and building on word families can help with reading and writing.
to Spelling Strategies
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).