Spelling: teaching and learning spelling

Colin Harrison and Greg Brooks | View as single page| Feedback/Impact

Age 11+ and SEN

Developing readers and writers

The current Appendix on Spelling in the National Curriculum for English in England does not give advice or statutory guidance on spelling for Key Stages 3 and 4.

However, it's worth knowing that all teachers will be required to have taught children to spell the words in two rather challenging word lists before they get to secondary school. Here they are (in downloadable jpg files): Word list for Y3-Y4; Word list for Y5-Y6.

It is essential to make time for some work on spelling, particularly during Years 7 and 8, both in English and in other curriculum areas.

Some important principles to bear in mind:

  • If children don't read, they won't learn to spell: knowing whether to use 'bear' or 'bare' (rather than 'bair') comes from reading
  • Many children are still learning spelling rules during their secondary schooling, so teaching spelling remains important
  • Teaching words that have the same spelling pattern together is less confusing for pupils than having them do exercises that mix them up
  • Getting children to do spelling corrections is worthwhile- but there are better ways than simply asking them to write down corrections five times:
    • get students to self-correct their spelling errors by circling and then discussing misspelled parts of words. This is a valuable part of the learning
    • have students create their own Personal Spelling List to take home, and have a parent sign the list. Get pupils to focus on-
      • words that were spelled incorrectly
      • words that were spelled incorrectly previously
      • important new words, including proper names (to avoid 'Bunsin Berner', 'Cherchil', and 'Romio and Juleiet')

Do ask the pupils to make a list of spelling errors that their spell-checker software missed. Remember- Spell checker software is NOT always reliable.

Working with those who have a serious delay in spelling

Let's begin, not with spelling, but with some principles. These will be familiar to most teachers, but they are too important to omit:

  • Acquaint yourself with the underpinning knowledge for any strategy, so that you are confident in the classroom.
  • Inspire your learners with your enthusiasm and conviction - not your prejudices.
  • Keep your learners informed, consult them as democratic partners and let them exercise choice.
  • Take it slowly. Build it up step by step. Don't move on just because you are afraid of boring your learners. Lots of repetition/consolidation may be needed.
  • Facilitate and cherish peer support.
  • Involve your assistants and volunteers - but ensure they understand the principles of any strategy, particularly if working with lower level learners.
  • Use humour in your teaching.

Source: Burton, M., Davey, J., Lewis, M., Ritchie, L. and Brooks, G. (2008). Improving Reading: phonics and fluency. Practitioner guide. London: National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy. Available at: http://www.nrdc.org.uk/?p=254