Spelling can often come across as a challenge to many people, both adults and children. With the English language, it is can be doubly excruciating to learn.
Teachers of English need to be sure that their spelling is immaculate, as it can often reflect badly on you if your spelling is not up to scratch. Even if you have difficulty (a lot of people suffer with mild to severe forms of dyslexia), a good idea would be to have a dictionary close by. This will allow you to be sure, especially if a student asks a question. Techniques of spelling are taught differently, depending on the age of the students and of course their current level of language. It can be something of a challenge if you’re teaching the Roman alphabet to individuals who come from places like the Far East, Russia or the Middle East. Often their own languages will use a different alphabet such as Arabic or Cyrillic. Before you decide to set about teaching spelling, it is important to realize just where each of your students is coming from. But rote learning isn’t the only thing that is going to help. You need to be creative in your style in order to grab and keep the students’ attention.
How to Teach Spelling
The ABC Song
Everyone has learned this in school. It is probably one of the most simple and effective ways of teaching in rhyme. This is particularly effective with children. When it comes to languages where the Roman alphabet is used, they will have their own versions of this song. Sometimes they are similar, sometimes the letters are pronounced completely differently. It is important for you as the teacher to give the English pronunciation and make sure that the students apply it correctly. This activity is generally for beginners, and afterwards it will serve as a practical basis for learning to spell words, both simple and complex.
Most of us have played Hang Man at some point in our lives. The teacher will usually start with a blank board, and draw out “gaps” for where the letters of a specific word go. Get one of the students to stand at the top of the class and ask them to think of a word. The students will then ask the student what letters are in the word. If it is correct, then the letter will be put in one of the gaps. If not, then the man slowed gets “hanged”, first with the drawing of the noose, the head and all the limbs. This can be incredibly effective for students to see how a certain word is spelled out as it is slowly revealed to them!
Whether you have a class of children or adults, a good idea is to use a personal dictionary. Have them divide it into different sections for each letter at the beginning of the course. Any word the students are unfamiliar with or have difficulty spelling can be put into this dictionary. It is a great way of building up a quick reference, especially for words that constantly crop up.
Using Scrabble Squares
This isn’t so much Scrabble - it is using the scrabble squares. A variety of different games can be made from this. An idea would be to get an article and jot down the unfamiliar vocabulary. As an activity for afterwards, play a game involving these. Get the students to spell out a word with their cubes and go around and check them. Write up the words as they originally appear on the board, and with those that are spelled incorrectly, ask the students what is wrong with them and why they are incorrect. This will allow the student to correct their own mistakes, which can help them to be more cautious in the future.
English is notoriously difficult when it comes to spelling. Therefore, there is a variety of different rules which are associated with it. Here in an example:
“I” before “e” except after “c”.
An example can be seen in the words “receive” and “conceive”.
However, due to the nature of English, there are exceptions , such as in “science”.
To help students get their heads around this, write down all the rules and get them to write it down in their personal dictionaries.
Focus on Exceptions
This ties in with the last point. It is a good idea to focus on the exceptions, such as words like “science”. Have the students write these down in their dictionaries. As a language learner myself, I found compiling my own list of words I found difficult to be incredibly helpful. Now as a teacher, I find it to be just as useful for students.
Regular Spelling Tests
Most people who attended school in an English speaking country has been subjected to the painful thought of spelling tests. Usually they are held on a certain day of the week. The students are given a list of words to learn for the week, and then tested on them usually at the end of class. Offer rewards for those who get everything right! This will further motivate the students to learn.
Word of the Day
Having a specific word, particularly one that has difficult or unusual spelling, during every class will expose the students to new spelling structures. Not only will this allow for much more familiarity with strange words, but a discussion can be brought up from it. Often it will work as a great filler if you happen to have some time left at the end of class!
As a quick test of the student’s spelling ability, have everyone stand up. Throw various words at random students and see if they are able to spell them. If not, they have to remain standing. Often this will motivate them to learn the words correctly, as nobody wants to be left standing on their own.
In certain countries, Spelling Bees are quite popular with younger people. Often they can be a great incentive for people to learn. Hosting a mini spelling bee in the class is often a great way of motivating younger learners, especially if there is a reward involved. It can be a lot of fun. Get your students to try and organize the competition themselves, organizing who will be the judges, the participants etc.
All of these methods come with the purpose of helping students to become familiar with new words.
We cannot stress the importance of building up a personal dictionary enough. Having a quick reference is often a life saver and, over time, the students are gradually going to need it less and less.
How do you teach spelling? Please share your top tips in the comments below!