We are too consumed on spelling the word correctly that we forget the approach towards learning how to spell. As a result, spelling instruction can be messy if there is no clear structure to it. Moreover, there are tons of spelling activities that can be used in the classroom to enhance the spelling of our students.
To make that work easier, here are a few that I have seen that students love in my own classroom and in classrooms with teachers who I have shared these with:
Chain Spelling: I found this idea from KIPP. You write a word on the board. For example, you write ten. Of course, the students need to have prior knowledge of CVC words to be able to spell the words. The students need to spell another word with the last letter of that word, which in this case is the letter “n.” This is a particularly useful strategy if you want to link this to reading fluency to get students to spell CVC words. Otherwise, it can be used as a hook before a writing session. You can also prepare words ahead of time. For example, if a student is struggling to spell a word with a certain sound like /sh/, you can keep that in mind and call out the word to the student. You write cats on the board and then say, "[Student name] can you spell the word shop?” You can build the difficulty in this activity by moving towards words that are more appropriate for the students' grade level.
Robot Attack: There is a variation of names for this game (Robot Wars or Invisible Man). Here, you divide the class into two groups. Each group receives one robot or person with the same number of body parts. You ask one group to spell a word (I usually give the team two chances to get it correct). They have to tag someone if they want help. If the team spells the word correctly they get to erase one body part from the other team’s robot. However, if they get it wrong then I take away a body part from that team’s robot. Give chances to the whole class instead of focusing on a few students who are excellent at spelling; you want to embrace and welcome mistakes.
Sparkle: This is a game that Sapna Shah, one of my Program Managers at Teach for India taught me. During this activity, you put the students in a circle and stand in the middle with a bag of words. The words inside the bag can be sight words or anything else you want the students to learn how to spell. The rules are simple. The first student picks the word and says it. The next student in the circle has to repeat the word. Then the students have to spell one letter at a time. Therefore, after the first two students go (one has said the word and the next one has repeated the word), the third student would say spell the first letter of the word. The last person has to say, “Sparkle,” once the word is completely spelled. For example, if the word is blue the order is as follows: Student 1 says blue, Student 2 says blue (repeat), Student 3 says b, Students 4 says l, Student 4 says u, Student 5 says e and the last student says sparkle. The student who gets sparkle is technically out of the game, but you can introduce this a little bit later. Although students who do not spell correctly or forget the rules are supposed to be out of the game, try helping them out at first or get them to ask their friends for help by saying, “Do you want help from a friend?” This way, the student can still remain in the game and learn. You can also add another part. The last student before sparkle can make a sentence with the word. I use this for students who are technically out of the game as a way to give them a chance to come back into the circle.
Five-Day Spelling Plan
Aside from the activities and games, I usually schedule ten minutes each day for spelling based on the five-day spelling plan. In this process, the time is used to purposefully ensure that all students are able to define and recall the words we are learning.
Monday: Give students a list of five words related to the topic and/or theme. For example, if I am teaching about the summer season this week then I will provide words such as summer, heat, warm, beach, and sand. You can ask students to write this down in a notebook or on a handout paper provided to them. Ask them to also draw an illustration of the word, as you do the same on the board.
Tuesday: Use Pepper (a Teach Like A Champion strategy) or another helpful strategy. In Pepper, all the students stand up and I ask questions based on yesterday's word list along with past word lists. If the student spells the word correctly, they can take a sit. If the student spells it incorrectly, they have to remain standing, waiting their turn for another word. At this time, the teacher selects the student; thus, no hands should be going up. To add some more fun, I sometimes ask questions to students who have already answered one question correctly (i.e. those sitting) to ensure they are alert and listening. However, they have to stand up if they misspell the word.
Wednesday: Give students a list of ten sight words or other high frequency words to practice at home on their own. They can write this in the same notebook as they write their word list from Monday.
Thursday: Play bingo or another game to test sight words. I saw this in a Teach for India classroom, where the teacher, Neida Khurshid used it with her students. It serves as a useful practice of sight words. You can think of other ideas around spelling, but remember to think about how it actually impacts the students. For example, word searches are readily used in classrooms for fun, but do not really teach students how to spell. There are tons of sight word bingo sheets online -- two of which are The B Keeps Us Honest and Sight Words Game.
Friday: Use the ten minutes to test the students on the word lists provided on Monday and Wednesday. I use a standard spelling test printout. The students really love the test because it allows them to celebrate their success. Oftentimes, some students do not do well. I give them a chance to go home and practice the words from the week. Then, I will randomly call them up the following week when I have a spare five minutes — usually at recess -- to take the test again. This also helps in boosting their confidence and pushes them to practice the words each week on their own.
More Spelling & Word Games
Boggle: Give students 12-16 letters using either letter tiles or letters written on pieces of paper. Students have to come up with as many words possible with the combination of those letters.
Scrabble: Have students work with letter tiles to play a whole class version of scrabble. The teacher calls out a word and students have to use their letter tiles to spell the word. Scramble: Provide students with a set of flashcards with various words that are scrambled (e.g. etki). Have students unscramble the word and write it out (e.g. kite). These words can CVC words, sight words, vocabulary words, word families, or anything that students are learning.
Word Ladders: Give students a word to start off. Next, have students come up with a new word by replacing one letter from the given word. For example, if the teacher provides the word fire then students can replace "f" with "h" to make hire. Then, students can replace "i" with "a" to make hare. There are also several word ladders worksheets online that can be used instead.
Word Wheel: Think of a nine letter word that fits into a wheel. Students have to come up with as many words with the letters in the wheel, including, if the can spot it, the nine letter word.