Have you ever wondered how to get kids curious about spelling? If so, read on.
Over the holiday break, I read a wonderful new book entitled Spelling It Out by Misty Adoniou. The premise of the book (which I loved) is that the teaching of spelling should be joyful and filled with inquiry and curiosity. If you have read any of my other blogs, you will know that curiosity and joyfulness are paramount to me.
To get kids curious about spelling, she recommends that you talk to kids about ALL the different types of spelling knowledge. In that way, all kids get a more detailed and more truthful explanation about why words are spelled the way they are. Specifically, these different types of spelling knowledge are:
- Etymology: The history of the word
- Phonology: The sounds of English
- Orthography: The conventions of spelling
- Morphology: The meaning of the word
In many spelling programs, teachers first focus on phonology and orthography and then as the kids get older or more sophisticated focus on morphology and etymology. The problem with this method is that many kids are missing out on the juiciest and most meaningful parts of the explanation. No wonder they are struggling. Without this knowledge, spelling often becomes a confusing, guessing game!
Truthfully, in the past I haven’t viewed spelling as joyful and/or interesting. Mostly, I avoided the conversation with teachers except to give a few tips here and there on how to make sure that kids paid some attention to it. Now, I am excited to jump in and teach it in joyful ways. Here is my plan.
Teach Spelling Across Subject Areas: Although many districts choose to have a specific spelling time, this book reinforced the importance of also teaching spelling across subject areas in authentic ways. For example it makes sense to teach the spelling of pentagon during math when you are teaching about geometry shapes. Did you know that the prefix ‘pent” means five? This morphology knowledge will not only help kids spell pentagon, but it will also help kids spell other words with the same prefix (pentathlon) Also, knowing the meaning of pent will deepen their knowledge of geometry shapes.
Teach Spelling During Writing Conferences: Conferences should be conversations about spelling (not simply correcting spelling) Recently, my 5 year old daughter was writing and I saw that she had spelled the spelled the word what as ‘wat’ and when as ‘wen.’ I took this opportunity to have a conversation about the history of those words: Did you know that 1000 years ago where, what, why, when and which all began with the letters ‘hw’? The words were pronounced that way as well. Over time the pronunciation changed and they took the h out of the spelling. Eventually, it was put back in (but after the w) as a visual reminder of the original pronunciation. My daughter was fascinated by this story and I think the story will help her hold onto to the correct spelling. I can’t wait to have more of those types of conversations during writing conferences.
Teach Spelling During Writing Share Sessions: In my book, Don’t Forget To Share, I talk about shares as a time for instructional conversations. How cool would it be to have spelling conversations during share sessions? Wouldn’t it be interesting to assess student writing through the spelling lens and then once a week use the share to have conversations about those words? Some of the conversation might be about the history of the word. Perhaps some would be about the meaning and others would be about the sounds or conventions of the word.
I’m curious about your questions about spelling. What other questions or concerns do you have about spelling? Which of these ideas might you try? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. As always, shoot me an email if you want to have a longer conversation.
PS You may be thinking to yourself (as I was) that some of this seems tricky because of your lack of information about the history of words. Don’t worry –It has been so much fun looking up and learning this information alongside the kids.