I need to admit something. I do not believe in homework. I think that my job is to push students to learn to their potential during the school day. Homework in my class consists of taking home what you didn't finish in class that day. I should also tell you that I only teach reading, language arts, and science. In reading I expect my students to read every night, but I don't really consider that homework. The only subject I make an exception for is spelling.
In fifth grade, we have little to no time in our school day to devote toward spelling. This saddens me, because I consider spelling to be an important life skill. Spelling and handwriting were two of my favorite subjects in elementary school, but today, they are almost extinct. I remember getting points taken off for not having perfectly formed cursive letters. Now, the only standard I have for handwriting is "Can I read it?"
While handwriting is no longer taught at all, spelling has become more of a student-directed skill. My students get their spelling words on Monday, and it is up to them to learn them by Friday. On Thursday they turn in their homework assignment for the week. It is called Creative Spelling Homework. I like this assignment because it gives students some choice. I have been doing this with my students for years, but I was inspired to revamp it after seeing this post on The Organized Classroom Blog. Here's a freebie if you are interested. How does everyone else do spelling instruction in the upper grades?
Spelling lists are a necessary part of our weekly routine. We all want our students to do well, but still need to spend time creating exciting lessons for the rest of the curriculum. So how do we keep the spelling activities familiar enough to allow for self direction, yet fresh enough that the students won’t balk at the idea of doing them? Here are twenty-seven tips for primary through high school to help get you started.
For starters, having a deep repertoire of practice activities is critical. You want the activities to feel familiar when the come again in the classroom, so students will be able to immediately get to work. However, you don’t want to repeat a certain activity too many times, or it will become boring for the children. Also (and this is just a personal opinion), it helps to have a fair number of the spelling practice activities take place while you are busy with small group instruction or circulating the room to reinforce on task behavior. It just sets things up for success from a classroom management perspective. Here are several that I’ve used at various grade levels over the years, and a couple that I ran across just recently.
Similar to definition match up for vocabulary instruction, you’ll need index cards for this as well. It’s great for sight word based spelling lists as well as harder to spell terms. Basically, two separate cards are needed for each word, as well as an initial copied list to check off found words from. Since students create their own master game list and word cards, this makes the age old traditional assignment of copying down each word 2-3 times meaningful and game – based as opposed to boring and tedious. My experience is that children up to at least fifth grade enjoy this activity.
A manuscript and cursive T-chart.
This one works well for grades where you’re transitioning from manuscript to cursive penmanship, or for ESL groups that are learning both versions of the new alphabet. Require name and date in the top right hand corner of the looseleaf page, and keep the top margin available to label each column of the T-chart. This way the students are responsible for their own lists, and get the initial practice of having to write each word twice. It’s an authentic activity as well, because taking home a spelling list is necessary for weeknight study activities. This technique also reinforces both spelling and penmanship without taking time away from other holistic lessons and activities.
Parts of speech sorting mats.
This can be used with story vocabulary spelling lists as well as sight words. Divide a sheet of looseleaf notebook paper into two columns, and then add lines to form four to six separate rows of two cells each. Label each section with a separate part of speech such as adjective, conjunction, verb, pronoun, etc. Have students create individual word cards by using cut apart sections of index cards and copying the words from the spelling list on the board. They will then practice sorting the word cards onto the various sections of the parts of speech mat. Using the dictionary and story the words are pulled from, the students will also need to copy a fresh list onto notebook paper, making notations as the parts of speech for each word. They can use it to check their answers. Have each student create their own set of materials, but work next to a partner so they can check each other’s work. If you’re not sure what a sorting mat should look like, check out some of the coupon sorting mats used by money saving mothers around the internet. It will give you a pretty good idea of how this spelling lesson should work. If you don’t want to take the time to have students create their own mats, use our multipurpose game board strategy and use this as a small group or buddy pairs center activity.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of using things like newspapers and phone books as affordable classroom materials. Here’s a super cheap spelling activity students can work on using nothing but their own supplies and donated newspapers. Have students create a T-chart on a piece of notebook paper by drawing lines with their pencil. After recording name, date and assignment information in the top right corner, the spelling words need to be copied in order down the left hand side of the paper. Using their own scissors and glue sticks along with one new newspaper each, students will search for examples of each word to cut out and paste directly across from the corresponding hand written word in the next column. If a reasonable attempt has been made to find full examples of each word and some are still missing, students may resort to cutting out individual letters to assemble the remaining words letter by letter.
Three – column term / antonym / synonym charts.
You might need to have the class orient their notebook papers horizontally for this one, depending on the average length of the spelling words that week. Label the tops of the columns with the three categories mentioned, placing the terms category first. Then, assign research of antonyms and synonyms for each word, and have the students record them in the appropriate slot in the chart, on the same line as the corresponding term. For those occasions where there isn’t a synonym or antonym to be found, record a dash (hyphen) in the slot. This will make their overall charts look complete data wise, and yet let you know what could or could not be found.
Kids of all ages love to solve secret code puzzles. Why not work this in to your weekly spelling routine? Members of our curriculum web site, TheLessonMachine.Com, have this provided for them in all of our units anyway. For those who are just starting out however, you could always have the students create their own and have a partner solve them. Or, you could create one of your own and list each word in code on the board. Then work as a group or assign independent decoding of the spelling words as a sponge activity.
Pictionary or charades.
This doesn’t exactly work with every single word, but there are usually at least a few terms each week that are suitable. Establish a set of workable rules and use either one of these as a sponge activity for getting kids to line up, or to kill a few minutes while waiting for the art specialist to arrive.
This only works if you are integrating your spelling words with your weekly classroom literature choice. Require a minimal number of terms to be used, and require students to rewrite the story to be told in their own voice. This gives you an integrated writing, spelling and reading assignment with only one project to grade.
Syllabication and accent breakdowns.
You can do this not only in written form, but also with oral and kinesthetic strategies. Integrate dictionary skills practice as well by looking up each word together as a group. Pronounce the words together as a class. I also like to pronounce the words in sections as well. For example, if it’s a five syllable word, say the word in its entirety, followed by the first two syllables only, then the first three, first four and the word in its entirety again. I say the word or sections of the word first and have the students repeat after me. This works REALLY well with ESL students. Still looking for the kinesthetic connection? As you say each syllable, touch a different joint, starting with your shoulder and working your way down one arm and up the next. Or, have them count out the syllables on their fingers. It’s a great way to work on syllable count in morning language, if you are the type to write up a simple paragraph using some words from the spelling list.
Prefix and suffix breakdowns.
You can work this one in as words come up certainly, but if you are looking to cover the concepts with a strong initial focus, it might be good to concoct a list on a week where you don’t necessarily have a separate story to read. (For example, when you are allowing extra time to work on a science or social studies report.) That way, the vocabulary for that assignment will already be familiar to the students and you’ll have the open slot to create a prefix and suffix rich list for that week. Cover what the most common prefix and suffix combinations are and what they mean. Use this information to decode word meanings as a group and work in the concept of root words.
Word search puzzles.
These are again something we work in with all of our literature units as a way for teachers to have access to a meaningful sponge activity every week. However, they can also make a great DIY activity for the children. They can use quarter-inch or larger graph paper to create two copies each of their own word search puzzle. Place the words in the puzzle from all directions and then fill in other letters into the open squares randomly. Just make sure the second copy is the exact replica. (Or photocopy the original) One will have the answers highlighted in red (or another color) and the other will not. Glue each graph paper to opposite sides of a slightly larger piece of colored construction paper and slip into a page protector. Then, using grease pencils or water based overhead projector markers, they can swap with a buddy to each have a unique word search puzzle that they can self check afterward.
Students can either create one on notebook paper or in their journals using a pencil or create one on the computer using the insertion of a table with multiple rows and columns. In the first column on the left hand side, list the spelling words placing one term in each table cell. Several cells will be to the right of it for adding rhyming words that correspond with that particular word. I would shoot for a minimum of five rhyming words for each spelling term, but do what you think meets the needs of your class. This creates an impressive looking final chart that is more grown up in appearance than your basic rhyming list, and also gives the students practice with charts and tables.
An oldie? Yes. But valid, nonetheless. Being able to alphabetize data is a skill we need into adulthood. Granted, if you have older students you’ll want to have them alphabetize the list in addition to another activity, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to work it in.
Assign spelling sentences for each word where every word in the sentence starts with the same letter as the spelling word. (Or at least as many as possible.)
Word form wackiness.
See how many forms of each spelling word you and your students can come up with as a group. (past and future tenses, suffix or prefix additions, etc.)
In the Bag.
I’ve mentioned this game before as being popular with nearly every grade. It requires nothing but basic information on word strips, cut paper or index cards stuffed in a paper sack for on the fly review games. Here’s a link to a full article on how to set one up.
Direction cards for line up order.
Basically, you call on one student at a time to complete a particular spelling task before they are allowed to line up for recess. If you have more students than words, it’s no big deal. Just start through the list again. Some examples: spell a word while standing on one foot, spell a certain word backwards, sign language spelling, spell and use in a sentence, etc.
This full body floor game is great for competing in teams of two for larger words, or one student against the other for shorter words. Use for indoor recess, or a center activity.
Anagrams and palindromes.
Children in intermediate grades and above have fun spelling a different word with letters from a particular vocabulary term (anagram) or noticing that a word is spelled the same forward and backward (palindrome). Incorporate these ideas as appropriate.
Stencils and stamps.
For younger children or any learner needing an extra kinesthetic element to spelling instruction, have stencils and alphabet stamps available for students to create each spelling word letter by letter on its own index card. Then they can punch a hole in the top left corner of each card and thread them on a book ring to take home for extra practice.
This is a definite hit with first and second graders. Using larger lined index cards or sections of sentence strips, have the students copy their spelling words one at a time in pencil using their best penmanship. The larger handwriting makes this a perfect time to incorporate rainbow lettering. After each word has been written, have the children take a word at a time and copy over it using a different color crayon. Then another, and another until they have four-six colors copied over the original lettering. The colors should overlap creating a rainbow effect. Primary children love rainbows, so this is a fantastic way to get the age old “write your spelling words x number of times” assignment to have meaning for them. It’s also a great science integration if you happen to be covering rainbows, crystals and light bending concepts.
Use extra large graph paper with squares that are 13 inches in width. Have each student place a different spelling word in a random square (allowing some to actually be in straight or diagonal lines) until each word has been use. Then have them fill in the extra squares with random words. Then they can switch with a partner, and using dried lima beans as game pieces you call out the words until someone has a straight line of covered terms for “Bingo”.
Work in a nearly lost art by assigning conversions of the spelling words into this form of code. Then have them switch lists to decode back to the original words.
Take the kids out for recess a few minutes early and let them practice spelling words using sidewalk chalk and a checklist. Collect the chalk in a bucket afterwards and let the children keep the lists in their pockets. This way they’ll make it home for study time.
Dry erase markers on sliding glass doors or windows.
The writing can be removed with DIY whiteboard cleaner and the activity as a whole has a fair bit of fun factor. Great for home schooling or resource rooms.
Self selected spelling study.
I can’t take credit for this one. Although I think it’s super cool. Here’s a chart a teacher put together of various ways he’ll allow the children to work on their spelling homework. Rather impressive, in my opinion.
Again, not my idea but a great one regardless. Here’s a link to some ideas on how to try this out in your classroom.
As you can see, there are more than enough ideas here to keep things fresh throughout each grading quarter, no matter what grade level you teach. Several of these activities could also be incorporated into interactive bulletin boards for older students. However you decide to incorporate them, your spelling activities will be seamlessly integrated into your overall classroom routine.
Photo Credit: Central Asian