Spellings

Any idiot can tell a genius they've made a spelling mistake

- Harold Rosen

 

Teaching and learning spellings can be notoriously hard to get right, and can seem to some a breeze and to others a burden.

The traditional approach to the teaching of spellings is to provide a list of 10-12 words, spend a week revising these, get full marks on a test - and then promptly forget all those words the next week, to be replaced in the short-term memory by another set.

Research shows that an important part of an effective approach to spelling is that they are actively taught rather than just tested (Young & Ferguson 2021) - as such, our approach endeavours to shift that focus from testing to teaching and the retention of spelling patterns to move from the short-term to the long-term memory.

The scheme we use, Headstart, provides children with a list of around 40-60 words which will be looked at over a 4-week period, broken down into 10-15 a week in school. Rather than focusing on repeated tests, the onus is rather on instruction and practice. Children are then tested on a selection of 10 of these words at the end of each 4-week block, to assess the effectives of instruction across that time.

In terms of content this is no more onerous than the 10-12 spellings a week children were given previously, and practice can continue to follow this pattern at home. However, the importance of reviewing and consolidating learning over a longer period of time supports the drive to commit these to long-term, rather than short-term, memory.

Differentiation

Whilst we aim for the majority of children to access spelllings from their own year group, we are aware that some children will require support to catch up with content from earlier year groups which they have not yet mastered. These children will be given bespoke spellings based on their individual learning pathways and provided with extra support in school to try and help them to make accelerated progress.

Practice

The most important thing is for children to get used to short, non-threatening practice sessions. It is tempting to put spelling practice off if children do not enjoy it but this leads to it being a longer, more daunting, more challenging activity which feeds into a negative cycle. Positive, collaborative, interactive practice for just 5-10 minutes a day will go a long way towards fostering a positive attitude and increasing your child’s confidence and competence.

Strategies

There are as many approaches to practising spellings as there are spellings to be practised.  While traditional rote learning can have its place, it is best supported by a range of approaches designed to deepen pupils' understanding and promote retention. Some ideas can be found on websites such as 3P Learning or Doodle; below are listed just a selection of techniques or ideas which pupils may find beneficial:

LOOK, SAY, COVER, WRITE, CHECK

A simple, straightforward method; children look at the word, say it, cover it up, write it, check it. You can download a simple pdf template to help you below:

Look-Say-Cover-Write-Check

COLOUR THE PATTERN

You could write out the spelling pattern (e.g. –tion) in a different colour to help children identify the focus and where it occurs in different words: e.g. station, location, emotional

DRAW THE WORD

Not a strategy to use for all your spellings, but can be a fun way to make a tricky word memorable.

PYRAMID WORDS

Construct a word a letter at a time to form a pyramid:

b

be

bec

beca

becau

becaus

because

APPS

There are a wealth of fun and interactive apps and games into which you can input your child’s spellings if they need that extra motivation to practice. Remember they still will need some time to practise physically writing the words, but this can serve as an easy way to build in some quick daily revision. There are various websites offering suggestions on best spelling apps, such as these lists from Holly Swinton, Focus and Read or Asda, with many more suggestions available online.