Spelling Game versus Spelling Challenge

Do you play spelling games in your classroom? If yes, do you use Scrabble tiles or similar? If you're trying to help your students create a consistent spelling strategy which also supports word reading, be cautious with spelling games.

  • If you're playing games with letters rather than graphemes, you're unlikely to make much impact on spelling and reading. We're trying to get our students to think a whole new way about words. Syllables, sounds, graphemes, morphemes.
  • If you've found a game that uses graphemes, take care that it looks age-appropriate and includes graphemes teens and adults need to spell a mature, vocational and/or academic vocabulary.

Over the years we've found that satisfying trumps fun, so start a challenge to get them spelling the longest words possible, words they never thought they'd be able to spell.

Try a  "-tion Spelling Challenge" which moves from 2 to 6 syllable words and has the potential to create a huge sense of achievement for young people or adults who think they're rubbish spellers.

This isn't a prescriptive activity. Use the instructions and lists to create a challenge to suit your students with the level of competition that suits the dynamic of your group.That might mean no competition at all or just competition with self.

The goal is to build confidence through real measurable success, so start with appropriate words and leave room for increasing difficulty.

• Use puzzles for a couple of words then try them without puzzle pieces. See the TST book on building versus spelling.

• Each student needs their own dry erase board and puzzle pieces. Don’t try this from up front with students watching. They need to be saying, writing and manipulating syllables, graphemes and words as well as seeing and listening.

The easiest words have only single letter graphemes plus -tion: action, documentation etc.

• The double letter graphemes (digraphs) and endings are in bold. Your students will have to use a little more memory for those: ammunition, consideration, organisation. Put bold graphemes & endings on single puzzle pieces.

• Expect to talk a lot about meaning. Write some sentences together using the words correctly. Give them all the other words to copy if they don’t know how to spell them.

• 5-week challenge:

o learn 3 to 5 words per week starting with 2-syllable words.

• 1-week challenge:

o let each student choose 4 words and you give them 1 harder bonus word. Encourage them to be confident & challenge themselves.

• Give students as much power as possible when choosing words and word length.

• Make it safe by sticking to this one way of spelling the ‘shun’ ending. If they want to spell a word like ‘possession’ – tell them yes but it will be a bonus word.

Word study – from simple to more complex. These may come up naturally as you talk about meaning so be ready to look things up if necessary. etymonline.com and wiktionary.com are helpful resources.

    • Look for words on the list linked by meaning: action/reaction, presentation/representation/misrepresentation
    • Add prefixes to create words not on the list: repopulation, overpopulation
    • Identify other words based on the English root: populate
    • Explore adding other suffixes: populated, populating.

Enjoy learning together and ask questions @spelling_thing on Twitter.

Download the list and instructions as a pdf