We know we need to review spelling daily, and routine is necessary for our kiddos. Yet sometimes, routine can also bore our kiddos. So how do we incorporate variety into our routine? Reviewing spelling is the routine that we practice daily, but we can incorporate variety in the ways we spell with our students. Today, I’m sharing 5 ideas to bring variety into your spelling routine.
I’ve mentioned dictation several times, and I will keep talking about it. This is one of the easiest practices to implement and requires nothing more than paper and a pencil. No special purchases necessary. You can practice dictation on plain notebook paper, but for organizational purposes, I prefer to have a composition book. I love getting to see how students’ handwriting and spelling improve over the year. Also, loose paper drives me crazy, but that’s a story for another day.
To begin dictation, ask students to write their alphabet and five words. Students should write their alphabet lowercase, a-m on one line and n-z on the next. (This ensures there are equal letters on top and bottom, and you get to break up the “lmnop”). Then, they should number the lines 1-5. Ask students to spell words you have chosen, ensuring you have a variety of taught skills. I focus on skills I know my students may not have completely mastered. I do not always do just words. Learning to write sentences is vitally important as well, so we do dictated sentences weekly.
Word chaining is an activity that merges phonemic awareness and phonics. In a word chain, you give students a word, like grip. You then ask them to change a single sound each time to create a new word. A word chain might go like this: grip, gripe, ripe, rip, rid, ride, bride, bide, tide, tid. Can you tell the skill we were focusing on? I was teaching children about magic e and ensuring that they had a blend of both long and short vowel sound words.
This activity blends phonemic awareness and phonics because students will have to understand where the sound is changing (phonemic awareness) before changing the letters (the phonics component). Do not tell them where to change the sound! If you tell them where to change the sound, you are removing the phonemic awareness component and doing some of the heavy lifting for them! The only exception is when I first introduce the concept of word chaining and they don’t quite understand the practice.
Love the idea, but don’t want to spend time each week making word chains? I’ve got you! I’ve got 59 word chains for a variety of skills already done for you. (I’m adding more this summer!)
Look-alike words are a great way to have children pay attention to every letter in a word. With look-alike words, students are given a picture and several options for the correct spelling. They must attend to every letter in the word to figure out which one is the correct spelling. I first heard about look-alike words in David Kilpatrick’s Equipped for Reading Success. He states, “The Look-Alike word strategy may be one of the most powerful tools in your ‘bag of tricks’ to assist word storage… This forces students to attend to every letter in the words they are learning. This has been shown by multiple research studies to reinforce [orthographic] mapping”(Kilpatrick, 2016, p. 57). Have I convinced you yet?
I do not use this practice with every skill or every group. Instead, keep these in my toolbox for when I notice my students are guessing at words. I was shocked at the level of engagement I got from my students when practicing these. They kept wanting to spell word after word after word! You know I had to make some of my own, so if you want to check them out, you can find them here.
Sound-symbol mapping is also known as phoneme-grapheme mapping. With this practice, you ask children to match the phonemes (sounds) to the graphemes (letters) that represent those sounds. It is a especially helpful practice in showing children how a single sound can be represented by multiple letters.
With sound-symbol mapping, each box represents ONE sound, no matter how many letters make up that sound. So, if you had a word like clutch, you would need 4 boxes: c-l-u-tch. If you were mapping the word gray, you would need 3 boxes: g-r-ay. In a world where we are told that English doesn’t make sense, this is a great way to show students that logical nature of English.
Changing the Medium
When all else fails, just change the medium for your students. Instead of doing dictation with a pencil, you could give them a pen, a marker, invisible ink, shaving cream, sand, or whatever you are willing to deal with mess-wise. This one simple shift can boost engagement without requiring much extra effort for you.
You can also change the paper that students write on. I love giving them sentence strips and seeing how many words we can write before we fill it up. Just last week, I allowed my students to use dry-erase markers on the table and they about lost their minds with excitement. You can use construction paper, dry erase boards, blank paper, lined paper, colored paper. Any deviation from the routine that can still get the objectives (reviewing spelling) done are okay by me.
Lastly, turn it into a game. See how many words students can write in 3 minutes. Put kids in two teams and ask them to come up with as many digraphs words as you can. Gamifying our instruction yields high interest from our students whose attention is waning!
Children thrive on routine. But routine can get boring. Instead of thinking about eliminating the important practice of daily review, think about how you can alter the activity to get students excited again. At least once a week, if not more often, we should be writing on paper. The ability to write their thoughts on paper is of paramount importance.
Do you have any other ideas for how we can add variety to our daily spelling routine?