Helping your students to spell

Spelling is the proper way to write a word, using the correct order of letters. Quite often this aspect of language learning and teaching is a little neglected. Kids are supposed to ‘develop it with time’, adults nowadays can rely on spelling checkers of various kinds. However, at certain moments proper spelling is crucial. When, why, and how to help your students with it – today’s article will answer these questions.

Why care about spelling?

Generally, spelling is an essential literacy skill. It is required not just for dictations in school English lessons, but for any kind of writing outside the classroom, for exams, and even for developing your listening skills.

  • Correct spelling, alongside with other factors, demonstrates the level of English. Even the most perfect email with brilliant grammar structures and sophisticated collocations can ruin everything if it’s full of typos and misspelled words. 
  • Spelling is crucial for exams. Both school exams and international ones require students to be able to write correctly. Cambridge exams, IELTS and TOEFL, Russian State Exam – you can be marked down for a spelling mistake in nearly all of them. 
  • English spelling is tricky and not always an accurate guide to how a word is pronounced. Sometimes our students do not recognize a word because they don’t know either how it is spelled, or how it sounds. It leads to certain misunderstanding not only in writing, but in speaking. Learning spelling strategies and paying attention to regularities might help to spell unfamiliar or unseen words and understand the words while listening as well. 

How to help students with spelling?

To a certain extent, spelling skills do improve with time. The more exposed to the language your students get, the more automaticity they develop. They spot repeated words and patterns in reading texts, work out some tricky consonant and vowel clusters, get their writings checked by teachers, after all. However, there are some spelling-focused activities which can be incorporated into your lessons on their own. Some of them can be used for drilling pronunciation, others for revising and checking.

Good old dictations

A little dictation never killed anyone. They are still considered to be one of the best tools for spelling practice. You can just dictate the words in Russian to your students; show them pictures and ask to write the words down or label the objects in the picture; do a running dictation – the choice is all yours. There are many types of dictations and each of them can contribute to spelling improvement. Coming soon is our next article about all those types and their use.

Unscrambling the words

Unscrambling works well with younger learners but can help teens and adults to remember tricky letter order too. Give students a list of word with all letters mixed and ask them to unscramble them within a time limit. The words can be taken from a certain topic or chosen by difficulty for the learners. This serves as an intermediate stage between copying the word and writing it down from scratch. 

As a funny option, you can provide students with a lengthy word like ‘accommodation’ or ‘psychotherapist’, divide them into teams and invite to make as many words from the letters of the original word as they can.

Word search

The word search is a low-key activity to practice spelling. It is best used with kids and lower-level students, but once in a while can bring a change even to an adult class. There are tons of downloadable wordsearch worksheets on the internet. I personally prefer self-made once as they include only the target language we need to practise more. Try this website to create just the word search you need.

Cluster race

Sometimes students have to deal with difficult combinations of letters whose pronunciation and spelling are not connected at all. To help them memorize better, run a cluster race. Write a troublesome combination of letters on the board and ask students to write as many words with it as they remember. The clusters would be ‘ght’, ‘eam’, ‘spr’, ‘ck’, ‘kn’ and what not. It can be done in pairs or teams.You can spend 3-5 minutes on that every lesson – this habit will definitely improve your students’ spelling skills. It actually works like a drill, but a less boring one. The simple repetition should eventually bring about an improvement.

Self-correction

Do you correct spelling mistakes while checking your students’ writings? Don’t! Leave it to them as an opportunity to improve their spelling. Highlight the misspelt words with some colour and ask students to check up with the dictionary and write down the proper words on a post-it note. Collect the notes from each student, choose the most common mistakes and practise later in a dictation or a quizz form. Alternatively, you can tell learners to correct the mistakes and write a sentence with each word as part of their homework.

Proofreading

The point of this activity is quite the same as of the previous one. However, here you create a text with a number of proofreading mistakes yourself and give it to your students. Tell them they have five minutes to read through the text and correct as many spelling mistakes as they can. This activity improves ‘noticing’ skills and activates visual memory.

Visuals and mnemonics

If some mistake keeps repeating, brainstorm the ways to remember the proper spelling. Break the word into meaningful parts, draw a poster, create a funny story with it. It cannot be done with each and every spelling mistake, for sure, but some nasty words like ‘conscious’, ‘necessary’, ‘restaurant’ and ‘accommodation’ can be overcome and remembered for long. 

All in all, there are tons of engaging tasks and activities that might help students practise and improve their spelling without getting bored of the same drills or writing lines. All the activities mentioned can be adapted to the age and level of your students, as well as the vocabulary which requires practise.

Happy spelling!

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  • Екатерина Басова

    There are some mistakes in the text: prefer self-made once ( there should be ones, as far as I understand)

    25.08.2020

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