The Do's and Don'ts of Spelling Lists

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The Do's and Don'ts of Spelling

First of all, please note that very little research is available regarding the teaching and acquisition of spelling skills. However, evidence of good practice is. Many teachers have developed the tried and true strategies to help their students become better spellers. Here is what they say and do:

Do have a word wall.
Don't forget to change the words.

Word walls provide a great strategy for young learners to see and write the words they need when they need them. Change the words as needed throughout the year to ensure maximum learning. Use it all year, refer to it often and make sure the words are relevant to their learning throughout the year. Wordwalls will benefit students in kindergarten to the 3rd grade. However, they can be used in the inclusional classroom at any grade. Word wall words should be alphabetized to help children locate the word they need quickly.

Do provide spelling lists that meet the weekly/monthly needs.
Don't use those traditional spelling texts.

Students need to be able to spell the words they need to write. Therefore their spelling lists need to be connected to other things that are currently being taught. For instance, if you are teaching transportation, the spelling words should be those that they need to know like: fast, slow, air, ground, fly, train etc. Have your students brainstorm the list of words they need to learn on a regular basis. Everyday words should be included in their word walls. Words that have certain patterns are good to learn as well. These would be the word families and words with similar patterns like through, enough, etc. I can't find any research to indicate that spelling texts lead to improved spelling ability or new learning.
Also, note that word searches, alphabetizing words, writing words out rarely leads to new learning or improved spelling ability. Applying words in authentic situations is much more worthwhile.

Do focus on the 44 sounds throughout the year.
Don't just focus on the long and short vowels and beginning and ending consonants.

When you think about ape and apple, long and short come to mind. However, what about the "a" sound in star and in jaw? Is it long or short? If you're teaching about some of the spelling patterns, be aware of the 44 different sounds.

Do provide strategies to help them spell.
Don't bother with weekly spelling tests.

Help students recognize spelling patterns, generalizations and some of the basic rules. When students write, have them circle the words they're uncertain about. This will help them learn them. Spelling tests only support short-term memory and don't tend to lead to permanent learning. Help them to notice the patterns and help them to make connections. (If funny has 2 consonants, how do you think bunny and runny would be spelled? Prompt children to identify the patterns) Do use spelling patterns, everyday words and theme-based words focused on your specific curricular area. Although some children enjoy the weekly spelling tests, others spend far too much time memorizing words and all too often forget them. The weekly spelling test tends to only be a test of short-term memory.

Don't over emphasize spelling rules. Remember that thinking is more important than memory and leads to more permanent learning. There are also many exceptions to the spelling rules so choose the rules you teach carefully.