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Spelling myths and enchantments
Everybody seems to have something terrible to say about English spelling. But how much of that talk is really true? And how much of it focuses on practical solutions for the English language classroom? Thankfully, Jo Stirling shines some positive light on the subject.
Video 1 - Introduction / The different 'systems' in English
Downloadable resources and further reading
- Download the print version of this training session.
- Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners, Johanna Stirling (2011).
- Johanna Stirling's blog: The Spelling Blog.
Session summary and objectives
- Is English spelling really chaotic, and if not, how can we understand the complexity of it?
- Should teachers teach rules, or is there a better way?
- How can spelling be practised without making people more confused than they were before they started?
- What’s the relationship between teaching and testing spelling and are teachers always sure which of those they’re doing?
- Does technology really adversely affect spelling?
Who is this seminar for?
- Primary or secondary school English language teachers looking for ideas for teaching spelling.
- Pre-service or pre-qualified English language teachers addressing English spelling for the first time.
- Teacher trainers looking for stimulating resources for teaching vocabulary and spelling.
- What particular problems do your students have with spelling in English? Make a list.
- What spelling tips and tricks do you use in class to help your students with English spelling? Review what you do before watching the seminar.
- Students copy the word down in the first column of the table.
- They say the word out loud - both the word and the spelling of the word.
- At this point it is very important that the teacher checks that the students have copied down the word correctly. If it is wrong now, it will be more difficult to get it right later on.
- Ask the students to count the number of letters in the word and add this to the table – this helps them focus on word length.
- Then ask students to note what is odd or difficult about the spelling (e.g. is it an ‘ough’ word? Or is there a silent letter, as in ‘knife’?).
- Students then cover up the word and write it from memory.
- Afterwards, the teacher tells them to turn the page over – and again asks them about the spelling, word length, what is odd, etc. about the word.
Task 2 - Reviewing and checking spelling
- Set a writing task for the students – for example ‘What did you do at the weekend?’ or something more creative, but not too long!
- Provide the typical or challenging vocabulary that you want the learners to focus on, or alternatively, allow the learners to choose their own word lists – it could be a revision list.
- Encourage the learners to use their course book and dictionaries now to find the words and the spelling.
- (Optional) Focus on the ‘learn’ steps outlined above in Task 1 to help the learners memorise the words.
- Then the students complete the writing task – but they cannot use dictionaries while they are free-writing.
- While free-writing, the students should use a highlighter pen to highlight any words for which they are unsure of the spelling.
- The teacher checks the writing, using the marking table below (provided by Jo Stirling).
|Highlights the misspelt words||Over 90% of misspelt words corrected||75 - 90% of misspelt words corrected||50 - 74% of misspelt words corrected||25 - 49% of misspelt words corrected||less than 25% of misspelt words corrected|
|Accurately corrects them in second draft||Over 90% of highlighted words corrected||75 - 90% of highlighted words corrected||50 - 74% of highlighted words corrected||25 - 49% of highlighted words corrected||less than 25% of highlighted words corrected|
|Vocabulary range||Used vocabulary considerably higher than writing level||Used vocabulary somewhat higher than writing level||Used vocabulary range appropriate to writing level||Used vocabulary somewhat lower than writing level||Used vocabulary considerably lower than writing level|
- Note that learners get positive marks for anything they are unsure about. This is far more positive than being penalised for incorrect spelling.
- Ideally, give the students a chance to write the text again, this time getting the spelling right.
- English spelling isn’t chaotic, but it is complicated. So it is important to help students in a constructive way with spelling.
- Students need to discover patterns with word spelling rather than be taught spelling rules.
- Multiple choice activities are not necessarily a good way to learn spelling. When given two or more choices, learners often remember the wrong way to spell the word!
- Testing isn’t teaching – try to teach spelling rather than simply give spelling tests.
- Contrary to common practice, homophones (i.e. words that sound the same but are spelled differently) are best not taught together as this can be confusing for learners - teach connected word groups instead.
- Spell checkers serve a good purpose, but students still need to learn to spell.
- Contrary to popular thought, technology needn’t negatively affect learners’ English spelling; instead use technology to aid improvement in spelling.
Join the discussion!
- Do you think technology helps or hinders students when they are learning to spell in English?
- What advice can you share with other teachers?
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