Teaching spelling using differentiation
The ability to spell is an important asset. It impacts on a child's achievements in all areas of the curriculum and can make a big difference to confidence and self-esteem at any age. How then, can SENCOs help colleagues to adopt effective approaches to teaching spellings so that pupils are supported in every lesson? The ideas below are a starting point for useful CPD with teachers and TAs/LSAs. If you can achieve some consistency throughout the school in how spellings are taught, you will be doing a great service to all learners, but especially those with SEN.
If you can secure some time in a staff meeting or CPD session, remind colleagues of the key points to remember (see below). A quick spelling test will get the session off to a good start (and demonstrate how stressful these tests can be for children) as well as illustrating how tricky the English language can be when it comes to spelling. You can include words such as:
- millennium, accommodate (two sets of double consonants)
- professional/occupation/commitment (one set of double consonants - but ‘committee' has two sets)
- bureaucracy, manoeuvre (French influences).
In most groups of staff, someone will make errors - ask colleagues to think about ways in which these words can be taught and remembered effectively. Some ideas include identifying the ‘tricky bit' and using a mnemonic to help remember it, eg:
- commitment = ‘double m in the middle'
- accommodate = ‘big enough to accommodate double c and double m'
You could also ask them to make a list of all the words they know which contain the ‘eez' sound (breeze, cheese, knees, fleas, tease, these, seize, frieze) to demonstrate how the same sound can be spelled in different ways, and to list words spelled with the ‘ough' letter combination (bough, cough, dough, enough, though, through) to demonstrate how words that look similar, may sound very different. Spelling is not just a case of phonic knowledge, though this helps in many cases. Spelling is also a visual skill - learners need to be able to tell if it ‘looks right'.
Support for teachers
Supporting good spelling - key points
- Use every opportunity to look at new words and help pupils learn how to read and spell them (topic words/subject-specific vocabulary, for example). A few minutes at the board to show the whole class will be enough for most pupils, but extra care and practice with a focus group of weaker spellers will be time well spent. Provide the words on an individual card for SEN pupils to stick in their books or folders, or to stand up on the table while they write.
Get into the habit of using LSCWC (look, say, cover, write, check):
- look at the word carefully - notice its shape and any double consonants, or any small words inside the bigger word
- say it aloud; using a mnemonic for tricky words can help, e.g. should... ‘O U Lucky Duck)
- cover it up
- write it down - have a go at writing it from memory
- check that it's correct - if not, run through the procedure again, paying attention to the bit you got wrong.
When pupils ask for help with a spelling, encourage them to ‘have a go':
‘Let's see, there are five letters in that word... but only three sounds (draw three boxes on the board or in the margin of the writer's book). I'm sure you know what the first letter is... now what about the last sound you can hear?'
Support the pupil in building up the word as appropriate; the middle bit is often the tricky part - fill in this part for him if necessary. Praise for trying ‘that's nearly right, well done'.
- If a child wants to spell a word you're not sure about, use it as an opportunity to model good practice - have a go (think aloud) then check on a word bank, in a glossary, in a dictionary/thesaurus - or use a spellchecker.
- Always provide the pupil with a visual model of the word rather than just spelling it out verbally. Point out when the word is part of a family: bought, fought, nought.
Other classroom strategies
- Make sure that there is a range of dictionaries and thesauruses in the room for pupils to use (‘grown up' versions for more able, easy to use/phonetic for less able) - and actively encourage their use.
- Display key words in the classroom, (‘word of the week' etc).
- Play ‘spot the mistake' by deliberately misspelling the word on the board and asking pupils to spot/correct it.
- When marking work, correct spellings of a few selected words: point out the ‘tricky bit' in a mis-spelt word and suggest ways of remembering this in future.
If you use spelling tests, make them relevant and match them to different abilities (fewer, easier words for lower ability). Children who struggle with spelling need to feel that they can succeed. One way of differentiating spelling tests is to use complete sentences, or a paragraph of appropriate text rather than a list of unconnected words. The teacher reads out the text to the whole class but the activity can vary for different groups:
- Group 1: write down the complete text (as a ‘dictation' exercise)
- Group 2: are given a copy of the text with some ‘target' words missing - they write these in as the teacher reads
- Group 3: are given a copy of the text, with fewer/different words missing (perhaps more high-frequency words) - they write these in as the teacher reads.
A range of games can be used effectively for worthwhile activities at school and at home:
- Ask a parent or TA to make ‘wordworms' and wordsearches on the computer. A wordworm is a sentence without spaces, eg. ‘thesearewordsIamlearningtospell'. The task is to insert the spaces, helping the learner to develop instant word recognition. Wordsearches can be made quite quickly on squared paper, or on the computer (use lower case letters) and can incorporate new words being learned, subject vocabulary etc. (You can find a simple word square generator online, which does all the work for you.).
- Use software packages like Wordshark.
- Play Scrabble.
- Do crosswords.
- Investigate the range of books on the market about teaching spelling - many of these will suggest games.