No More Classroom Spelling Bees

Keywords: Instructional Strategies, Language, K-6

Taken From: Teacher's Edition Online Newsletter

Many people assume that spelling is a gift with which one is born. But what do those of our students who were not arbitrarily selected as one of "the chosen few" do? Read, read, read. That's right. Seeing words over and over again, especially when one is not expecting them, can greatly help those visual learners to associate a word with how it looks when it is spelled. However, as it may be difficult for you to give your students reading pieces that always contain your spelling words, here are a few more ideas on how to practice those words without writing them over and over ... and over again.

One teacher shared a new method being implemented in the New Jersey school in which she teaches. Based on the Rebecca Sitton method of spelling, it requires that each grade level be responsible for teaching 25 spelling words that the students MUST know in order to earn an A in spelling. These words are not given just as a spelling test, but must be spelled correctly every time they are used in writing. Accountability IS THE KEY in this method. This also allows you to integrate spelling into other subject areas.

If you are looking for a less severe change in the way that you teach, there are several game-type ways to practice those words. Here are some of our favorites:

Select seven kids to go to the front of the room. Give the group one of the spelling words. Start with one kid who says the first letter of the word. The next child says the next letter, then the third and so on until the word is spelled. If a student gives an incorrect letter, that child picks a person to replace him at the front of the room. Start out with a "no yelling out from the class" rule from the beginning of the game. Anyone staying at the front of the room for more than five or ten words receives a prize.

Use magnetic letters on the white board, if you have one. (Some of these don't stay up very well, so try placing a strip of tagboard underneath with big magnets holding it up.) Spell out the word on the board, using the letters, but scramble them up. Do this in two spaces on the board, for two contestants. Give the students a clue, such as "This word has a long a sound and means to not move." Then pick 2 kids from the room who race up and sort through the letters until the word is spelled correctly. One can also use the magnetic letters one-on-one as support for those students who need something tactile. Try having them spell the words backwards with these letters. They have to think twice as hard.

You have a great tool available for spelling in your word processing program. Type out your list in one of the symbol fonts! The kids have to "decode" the words by using a master copy with both the regular type and the symbol type correlated. They love to do this! (Hint: Type the list in a "normal" font first, and save it as a master. Then change the whole list to the symbol font! If you do it the other way, by actually typing the list in the symbol font, you will waste a lot of time trying to remember what is what when you lost track of your words.) A variation on this is to give the spelling words to them cryptoquip-style, having regular letters of the alphabet represent different letters of the alphabet. Start out by giving them a freebie letter.

This game has been named "Sparkle." Seat the students in a circle. Give them one of your spelling words to spell out. Each child, in turn, says one letter of the word. When the word is completed, the next person says "sparkle" and the person after him is out. If someone gives the wrong letter, then he is out as well. For example, if your word is "educate," the first seven students would give out one of the letters, the eighth student would say "sparkle," and the ninth student would be out.

Give each student a long - approximately three feet - "wickie" (piece of candle wick) and have the students write the words at their desks. This is also a great way to practice their cursive writing, as opposed to print.

A variation on the theme of repetitive writing is to time students for a minute. Call four or five students up to your board, which is marked off into just as menu sections. Give them a spelling word. Whoever can write it - legibly and correctly - in one minute receives a treat. Those students who are sitting down at their desks are doing the same on scratch paper or chalkboards. The student who, sitting down, wrote the most words correctly earns a treat as well.

Separate your class into four or five groups of five or six children each. Give the students the entire list of spelling words and have them create a word search and a crossword puzzle. In this instance, working together usually breeds diligence, and forcing everything to "fit" into its space will make the students extra-careful. The next day, or at the end of the week, the class can work on each other's puzzles.

Try "Tic-Tac-Toe" spelling. Draw a large tic-tac-toe diagram on the board and above it label left, middle, and right. Then divide the class into two groups (xs and os). Then take turns between sides, giving an individual representative of the group a letter to spell. If the person, who changes every turn, spells correctly, the team decides where to place their respective x or o by saying right top, right middle, left bottom, middle middle, etc. If they give the name of a box already occupied, they forfeit their space. If they do not spell the word correctly, no mark is placed up; it is the next team's turn. This not only helps students with their spelling, but it aids in the reading of graphs and grids.

Play Scrabble! If you ever come across some used Scrabble games at a garage sale, pick them up. If you cannot use these games and the wooden letters contained within (which is doubtful) you will probably be able to find someone else at your school who will want to use them. In fact, these boards are probably worth devoting some extra classroom funds. Split up the class into groups of 4 and play two against two. Require the students to keep the words appropriate and use one from a lesson whenever possible. The best way to do this is to give a piece of candy or some other small prize whenever they do. Make sure the strictest rules of Scrabble are adhered to, as this will force your students to use the dictionary, which is helpful as well. This is great for an end of the week reward, as students most of the time are having so much fun that they don't have time to resent the fact that they are learning.

Divide kids into groups. Each group goes to a different center and practices their spelling words. There are 4-5 different centers. Each week the groups rotate so that in the course of 5 weeks, each group will have gone to all 5 centers:

  1. magnetic letters - has big tub of magnetic letters and small metal boards (old trays, etc.). Kids make their words with the letters.
  2. slates - Use any kind of slate with the flip up erasable sheet or a chalkboard, and let kids practice writing the different words.
  3. markers - this station has scrap paper and lots of brightly colored markers. Kids do their words in beautiful colors.
  4. overhead transparency - and those waterbased pens that are used for writing on overheads. Set up an overhead near a wall. After kids write their words on transparency they put it on the overhead. This sounds dumb, but the kids like it!
  5. Wet brushes on the blackboard - Kids have cup of water and "paint" their words in water on the board. It helps clean the board, too, but can get messy if you use two much water. You may wish to do this activity toward the end of the day.
  6. And the favorite - shaving cream. Put a little lather in the area in front of each child at their table or desk and allow him to smear it out and write his words in shaving cream. The children are then required to clean their desks off at the end of the activity.

Let's play ball! That's right, play spelling baseball. Divide the class into two teams. As the students spell words correctly, they move to different areas of the room that are designated as bases. Score is kept the same way one keeps score in regular baseball.

Try spelling battleship. Give students a few sheets of graph paper and have them pair off. Along the side and bottom of the page should be the marking of a grid, with letters going up the bottom half of the paper and numbers running across the entire bottom. At the center of the paper, on the left side, you start over with the letters. The top half of the page represents the opponent's board. The bottom half is yours. On your side, write in four or five spelling words. Then take turns calling off squares (like E-12). The opponent then says it is a hit or miss until they have sunk the word.

Play spelling bingo. Divide a paper into 25 sections, and have students randomly write the words in the squares. You call off the spelling words, and they mark them off in the appropriate square. They win when they have five in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. You can also play Four Corners or Blackout.

Uploaded By: Jodi Gray/KSU/Deaf Education Major