[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1983, pp11-13]

Unlock the Door to Spelling,

by Dr. Janet T. Bercik*.

* Whiting, Ind.

Have you heard your students say, "I hate spelling. It's so boring!" and come test day they prove it. The simple 12 word list has not been passed by your students. If it has been passed, you find they make errors in spelling on their English assignments - spelling errors that contain words you have just had in the weekly spelling list! It appears that words they memorized last week become meaningless this week. What can you do to challenge your students to become better spellers?

As a teacher of second and third graders, I wanted to challenge my students. There were always those children who seem to 'absorb' spelling words; there are those who never absorb spelling; and then there are the middle-roaders who really study and pass the test. Over a several year period, I devised a spelling system that has proven beneficial to me and exciting to my students. The resulting program takes time initially, requires planning, but yields substantial results.

First, start with your spelling book; then obtain copies of the reading series your children will be using; and finally use your English textbook. I realize that in most instances, we as teachers work with two or three reading groups, but it all works out. Make a list or obtain a list of all words from the reading series which your students will be using. From the English textbook, extract words you feel your students should know how to spell and become acquainted with during the year.

Second, take the three major lists you now have - spelling, reading, and English. Start with the spelling list for the first week in the book and add to it 20 other words that will be chosen from the remaining two lists. Your choice should include words from the stories that children will be reading the next week, and words that you think are of importance from the English textbook. You should assemble lists for a ten week period at a time to give yourself some perspective of the words you will be covering.

Third, turn one of your spelling boards into a permanent spelling board. Be sure it is located in a place where all students have access to it. Now place the 32 words on individual cards written in manuscript. Place 12 words in the first grouping from the spelling list for that week. (The remaining 20 will be a compilation of the reading and English lists.) In the second grouping place 10 words; and in the final grouping the last 10 words. Your board may now look as follows:

______ ______ ____________ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______
______ ______ ____________ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______
______ ______ ____________ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______
______ ______ ______ ____________
Group AGroup BGroup C

Fourth, and this is a crucial step - present your students with their week's spelling list. Explain that each week they will be given 32 new words, and each week they will be able to choose their own words for study. On a daily basis, everyone will copy all 32 words, but they will only have to spell those words which they chose for the test on Friday. Explain that they may choose Group A only; Groups A and B; or Groups: A, B, and C. The idea of self-choice appeals to all levels of children. Don't worry if it appears that all children are choosing only Group A. Believe me when I say that it will change, and you will find students you never thought could spell choosing 20 and then 32 words. It is a delightful process, especially as word gets out to other classes that they have 32 spelling words to choose from, not just '12'. I do make one stipulation, however, and that is if the students 'bite off more than they can chew', I have the option to cut them down to a lower number of words. When I see they are handling the lower number, I then ask them if they wish to go back to their original choice. If there are any questions as the program continues, we discuss them and settle them together.

Fifth, I give each student a composition book which will act as his/her permanent spelling list. On the first page, we establish the pattern that will be followed throughout the school year. Each spelling list is written and copied with the following information: the page is folded in half so that there will be room for 16 words on a side; the date for the week is entered on the first line; and then the words are copied. Because young children write larger, you will have to work on size differentiation. It takes time, but it can be done and it all helps as the year progresses.

Explain that you will know which words a child chooses by the use of a special symbol he/she makes after each word in the list. For example, one week a circle (o) may be used for the words chosen. A student's spelling list may look as follows:
1. saw o
2. came o
3. jump o
In this way, you will know at a glance how many words each child has chosen. This symbol is used not only in their composition book, but also on their daily spelling work. The symbol is changed from week to week.

Sixth step is the educational and creative part for the teacher. Each day your instructions for the use of these words should vary depending on what you feel is necessary. Children will copy all the words from their spelling list and symbol their choices. On the back side of the paper comes a special assignment utilizing these words, and at the same time teaching another skill you may want reinforced.

Some of the activities you may have your students do are:
1. Write sentences using 10 words, making 5 statements and 5 questions;
2. Alphabetize the words by columns;
3. Rhyme specific groups of words;
4. Add prefixes and suffixes to certain words;
5. Practice cursive writing;
6. Test one another;
7. Define certain words using the dictionary;
8. Write poetry-use rhyming words;
9. Write paragraphs or letters utilizing some of or all of the words on the list.
As you can see, the ideas are inexhaustible and only your imagination will stop you. With this basic weekly list, you can improve your English and writing skills, too.

Seventh is test day. In the morning, remove the lists from the board according to the groups and clip them together. Place 32 new words on the spelling board, and have the children copy them as instructed. You will have to go over this for at least one month to be certain they understand, but the benefits you reap throughout the year will be worth it.

When the test is given, begin with Group A since all children have this list in their choices. (Don't forget to shuffle the words in the group when you give the test.) After the first 12 words have been given, ask that all students who took 12 words turn in their papers now. Then proceed to Group B words doing likewise, and finally to Group C words.

Over the years, I found it best to grade the spelling scores on a percentage basis (100%, 90%, etc.). The children are told how many words they must get correct for a specific grade. The scores would look as follows:

Twelve Words
12-11 = A
10 = B
8-9 = C
Twenty Words
20-18 = A
17-16 =B
15-14 = C
Thirty-two Words
32-29 = A
28-26 = B
25-22 = C

You might ask yourself, "is this process worth the time and effort put into it?" My answer is an unequivocal "YES?" Out of 19 years of teaching experience, I have used this system, or one similar to it, for the past 12. The results I have seen far outweigh the initial work. Some of the obvious results are:

1. A positive self image was enhanced because each child made his/her own choice and was then rewarded with success as they completed their choices successfully.

2. Words used by other groups in reading were recognized by all and, in many instances, challenged the low reader. He/she felt that they could read with any group.

3. With the use of these words, extra work in developing other English skills became effective.

4. Writing assignments improved because students had a ready reference to check back on words they needed to use in writing assignments (their spelling composition book).

5. Students who once dreaded studying spelling were saying, "I didn't have to study much, and I got an A. "The constant use of the words became a part of them, and the words were assimilated.

6. Weekly spelling skills improved to the point that rarely was a spelling grade below B issued on their report cards in any of the three groupings.

7. Parents came in and talked with me about the improvement they were seeing in their child's work, not only in the spelling area but other areas of written work. 8. The students work in other areas, such as Social Studies and Science, indicated better spelling skills when turning in written reports.

9. On the Stanford Achievement Tests all students tested 4.6 or better in spelling, and

10. For the past four years our school has given students competency tests in spelling, and all of my class has been 1 to 3 years above grade level.

In conclusion, I feel that the use of this program did accomplish what I had set forth to do. It improved the spelling skills of all my students, challenged the skills of others, and enhanced the entire Language Arts block. The most important by-products were student pride in their accomplishments, the development of a self choice situation, and an improvement in English communication skills. All in all, this is a program that can be used by many and serve a good purpose in the general educational process.

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