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Why do we Teach Spelling?

Jul 15th 2021

It’s a question often asked as there is now so much technological support to help us as adults – “Hey Siri, how do you spell collaboration? Alexa, can you spell pedagogy?” Never mind wonderful Google who will send us to dictionary.com in a second.

As teachers, we know spelling is important for communicating, for getting your voice out there, for giving a first impression of your writing and for making spelling second nature so that you can focus on composition. All of these reasons are important but there is one more: for engaging and enthusing our impressionable young learners with a thirst for knowledge about words. This is why we should teach spelling – to learn more about words. Learn where words come from, what they’re linked with, what they mean and other words that mean a similar thing, what shape they are, how they sound in different accents, which phonemes we’ve borrowed from the French…so much to learn about words. The teaching of spelling should be as engaging as the introduction to a new picture book or reading your favourite novel out loud.

Realistically though, there is a lot about the teaching of spelling that doesn’t feel very exciting or engaging. There are ways we can improve the teaching of spelling in our classrooms. We can start by making the learning collaborative and to encourage more talk. More talk means more engagement.

Try one of these, next time you teach a spelling lesson:

  • Use your teacher talk to model and demonstrate enthusiasm for finding a particular rule or pattern.
  • Set a problem, an investigation, something that pupils have to grapple with – fascination lies at the heart of engagement.
  • Give pupils time to think and talk before practising spellings: exploration is needed for the thinking and creative processes involved in becoming a writer.
  • Encourage time for reflection and talking through errors with a partner: the most effect learners are the ones that can self-regulate and organise their own learning. Encourage pupils to discuss which strategies worked and which ones didn’t so they can approach next week’s spellings in a different way.

When teaching spelling consider the needs of all the learners in your class. Every pupil learns to spell in a different way. You’ll already have an idea of those pupils that phonics just doesn’t work for and those pupils that just need to look at a word and they can spell it. It is worth considering how you vary the teaching of spelling. A strategy like ‘Look/cover/say/write check’ works brilliantly for children who learn spellings by rote-visual memorisation but if you use this every week, what about those learners who need to break down the words into syllables and know the parts mean different things, or those that need to do a ‘best bet’ phonics approach?

Pupils need to develop a wide range of knowledge about words and the way in which the English language is made up. In EYFS and KS1, pupils begin their spelling journey on a ‘Developmental approach’ where they learn the sounds of the English language and the graphemes that represent them. As they move from Y2 into KS2 pupils will consider the patterns in words, the links to other words, what words look like and their origin. It is important for us as teachers to ensure we develop all aspects of pupils’ word knowledge. There are four main forms of knowledge to be developed as identified in ‘Teaching Spelling 6-11: designing effective learning in English and across the curriculum by Kirstie Hewett (UKLA, 2019)’:

  • Phonemic knowledge – the understanding of sounds and grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) to represent words
  • Orthographic knowledge – the letters or groups of letters that are used to represent words including the look of a word, letter shapes and the order
  • Morphological knowledge – the meaning of the word or the meaning of each component in a word. A morpheme being the smallest unit of meaning in a word
  • Etymological awareness – the origins of words and their meanings e.g. knowledge that chef is a word which is French in origin helps you to learn to spell it with ch rather than sh

Have a go a planning your spelling lessons with a focus on developing one of these forms of knowledge, rather than starting with a list of words to be learnt.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog. Hopefully you’ve been inspired to try delivering your spelling lessons a little differently. Remember when teach spelling, make it engaging and collaborative, ensure talk underpins it, expose pupils to a multi-sensory approach developing spelling knowledge and try to enjoy it yourself as your enthusiasm will be the biggest factor in how much your pupils will benefit from spelling lessons.

If you would like to explore more of these principles or look at a sample of our spelling programme ‘Pathways to Spell’, please get in touch with Nicole at admin@theliteracycompany.co.uk

Our next Pathways to Spell webinar is on the 30th of September. You can book your space on this webinar here Introducing Pathways to Spell – Free Webinar 30th September 2021 – The Literacy Company