Spelling Test Advice for Parents and Teachers

This post is based on a long twitter post @spelling_thing. If your child has a teacher who is sending home illogical or overwhelming spelling lists, please point them here. I'm happy to answer their questions and yours!
A parent has asked me for some advice on what to do with a spelling list when using That Spelling Thing.
First, here's the list for this week - 25 words of which her child typically gets zero.


The teacher's instructions are to have the child write each word 10 times which means writing 250 words with zero satisfaction. So what would I do? First, let's see if we can get some guaranteed success. Find the easiest words to spell and discard the rest. Better to get 5 or 6 right than none.
This uses the That Spelling Thing method of helping the student slow down and physically attach symbols (graphemes) to sounds (phonemes) using puzzle pieces. You can use little sticky notes or make some laminated rectangles.


I've picked out 12 of the 25 words to work on, starting with the least complex. The first set have only one letter per sound. Be prepared to flex a little with the syllables if the student is adamant. For instance, they might prefer ha/bi/tat.


Do one word at a time, working through the TST script. The script is NOT scripted teaching, but a few sentences a student can remember when they're trying to write independently. It helps them to slow down and focus on one syllable at a time. Here's what it looks like:
This infographic is for spelling so, for puzzle building, put down the pieces after they've said the syllables clearly.
habitat   humanity   hospitality 


Do one at a time and see how they feel. Can they build and copy successfully? Do they want to try one without puzzle pieces? That would be spelling.
Notice how the simplest words have the clearest natural pronunciations. There are unstressed vowels (schwas) but the <i> spelling makes them easy to say in a clear spelling voice.


The second batch requires a clearer spelling voice and one word has a digraph (2 letters for one sound). Ask the student how they'll best remember 'inherit'. in/her/it or in/he/rit? Do they know the word 'heritage'? Most will know the <ar> in 'harmony' because they're familiar with 'car'.


Batch 3 has split digraphs. If they don't know what to do with these, find an activity online and play with them. Does anyone know of an age-appropriate resource for this? (For upper primary or secondary - not little ones.) The rest of the graphemes are straightforward.

Finally - I've picked out some bonus words that aren't too complex but have a high satisfaction quotient. They introduce the 'tion' ending and <y> as a way to spell the long i sound. You can get them spelling 'hydration', 'action' etc by playing with suffixes.


Apologies for my mismatched syllables in "imagination". So many choices: i mag in a tion, im a gin a tion, i ma gi na tion, etc etc.
Ask what they like best. I like a/tion because that's a pattern in so many words.

12 words in a week might still be too many for someone who usually gets 0 on a test. Make sure they've got their own success chart where 1 right is a positive start. The first week will be all about thinking in sounds and moving the puzzle pieces to match the sounds, then copying the word in syllables and finally writing it out as a whole. If they're feeling confident, try one they like without puzzle pieces (i.e. spelling). Each week, pick the words that are most likely to succeed - the ones with the most single letter graphemes & clear syllables.

No more look/cover/write/check! Instead:

How many syllables?

Say them clearly. (put down puzzle pieces)

Build syllable by syllable/sound by sound.

Write syllables (copying is fine)

Write out whole word.

Identify the bits that need concentration.

Try it without puzzle pieces.