Spelling in Style


Spelling is a perennial concern to most homeschooling moms. Do we need to use spelling lists? Which spelling book would help? Why can’t my 7th grader spell when he writes but gets all the spelling words correct on his tests?

Spelling is like learning to speak a foreign language fluently. It takes years before proficiency shows up and about ten years before real fluency kicks in. Reading and writing are the best ways to grow as a speller. Learning to take responsibility for spelling words correctly when writing is the key to spelling success down the road. That means that after writing, the writer looks for spelling errors, runs spellcheck in Word, double checks any words she isn’t sure of, and asks for a second pair of eyes to help her spot typos and misspellings.

Copywork and dictation support growth in spelling, and especially attentiveness to spelling in the context of writing.

Beyond that, however, some kids really enjoy a spelling challenge. They like the tests, or spelling verbally as if in a bee; they like showing off how much they know. And for other kids, sometimes they are proficient spellers, but they have a particular area of vocabulary that is challenging and they want to be sure they know how to spell those words correctly before having to write using them.

I have a couple of ideas for you. First, if your kids enjoy spelling tests or bees, by all means enjoy spelling together. There are some terrific spelling lists online or you can make your own from the reading your kids are doing.

If they are struggling with a category of words (names of birds and birding equipment, ancient Greek mythological character names, engineering terms, WWII tanks, cities and states, furniture in your house, breeds of dogs, apparatus for gymnastics, football terminology), you can tailor make a spelling list for that category. Use that list to play some spelling games, and ultimately, to test those words before writing in that category.

For instance, my daughter Caitrin (who is featured in the photo above) is hoping to be a fashion designer some day. She loves to design, sew and create. She pours over Vogue magazine for inspiration. We created a spelling list that included famous designer names (these are HARD to learn otherwise) and the typical vocabulary found in the fashion world that she will want to know how to write easily, without thinking. She chose words like: couture and boutique, pants and v-neck.

Once she and I pored over a magazine to make the list (featured above as well), we wrote out the words on slips of paper and played a spelling game. She would draw a word for me to spell (I had a tough time with those designer names) and then I would draw a word for her to spell. We kept the slips of the words we got right and returned the ones we got wrong to the table.

The selection of the words introduced the vocabulary to her through the act of selective reading. Caitrin had to discover what words she felt unsure of and choose them for the list. I offered suggestions as well. The act of writing out all the words onto the slips of paper served as copywork and spelling practice. The reading of the words to me for me to spell reinforced the spellings Caitrin had already written. The reciting of the spellings (based on words I chose for her) forced her to remember what she had already seen and written. Freewriting about fashion after this whole process was a breeze! She was also very able to spot and correct her mistakes once her freewriting was finished.

Hope that gives some new energy for those who wonder what to do about spelling!

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