Since my first year teaching in 2012, we have used Words Their Way to teach spelling. If you aren’t familiar with the program, we start by giving students a spelling inventory.
This assessment places them in a spelling stage, and we begin giving them word lists based on their level. We have really improved our practices over the years with the program. We used to give our students different word lists in our own classroom and give a traditional spelling test on their 20 words at the end of the week. Now, we focus a lot more on the sort so they really learn and can apply the pattern.
After we give the assessment, we make spelling groups based on the students’ levels. We use our literacy coach, ESL teacher, and two instructional assistants to help make our spelling groups a little smaller and so we can differentiate better and have more groups. This year, we have 8 spelling groups for all of third grade. We meet with our group for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
On the first day of the week, students cut their words for the week into little cards. (We also write their words in their planner because the little cards are often lost throughout the week.) Then, we sort the words into two piles: 1. Words I know and 2. Words I don’t know. We review the words in our second pile and draw pictures on the word to remember them. Next, we practice the sort for the week. This year I have a long vowel group, so our sorts have been focused on long vowel patterns. For example, if the focus was long a then the sort would be CVC (short a), CVVC (long a with ai pattern), and CVCe (long a with magic e). We glue this chart into our notebooks which really helps students remember the long and short vowel sounds.
On Wednesdays, we play games with our word sorts. We play a speed sort where students compete against themselves to sort words and try to beat their time. I put a stopwatch on the board and we do the speed sort three times. We also play a blind sort game. A partner calls out the word, and they have to point to the correct header. If they get it right, they get to keep the card. If they get it wrong, their partner gets to keep the card. Whoever has the most cards at the end wins the game. Their favorite game is a board game I created. There are lots of free templates online, and I like to add words to the board like “move forward 2 spaces” or “skip a turn.” They simply roll a die but before they can move forward they have to spell a word correctly.
On Friday, we give the spelling test. Instead of giving a traditional spelling test, we use a template that requires the students to also sort the word. We also give 5 “surprise words” that follow the same pattern for the week. This shows us which students are understanding the pattern and can apply it to new words.
We all give the same homework to avoid confusion about assignments. The homework is the following:
Monday- Word Sort Practice. We give students a template to glue in their spelling notebook.
Tuesday- Rainbow Words. Students write their words in different colors.
Wednesday- 10 sentences. Students must follow the “sentence rules.” The rules are that the sentence must have more than 5 words and explain the meaning of the word. These rules are glued in the front of their spelling notebook.
Thursday- Practice Test. An adult calls out the words, and they practice spelling and sorting the words. Any words that they misspell must be written three times each. These rules are also glued into the front of their spelling notebook. This helps them prepare for the format of the test.
We send this letter home at the beginning of the year to families to explain our spelling program.
Despite all of this, we still find that students have a hard time transferring spelling into their writing. How do you teach spelling and what do you find effective?