I have a love/hate relationship with spelling. I really do. I love to teach children word patterns, chunks, spelling rules…all for the sake of creating future perfect spellers. I feel like it is one small way that I can make the universe a better place 🙂 But I also hate spelling, or at least the way we traditionally teach it in elementary schools: give students 10 words on Monday, have them practice them for homework all week, test them on Friday, and then repeat it all over the next week! For most students, this approach doesn’t work. They are simply memorizing the words for the test on Friday, after which they promptly forget them. In order to truly learn to spell, students need multiple meaningful interactions with the new words. Furthermore, they need to learn patterns, spelling rules, and exceptions to the rules. There are so many wonderful spelling and phonics programs out there. I have tried several, but the one that my district has used for the last several years is Fundations by Wilson Language. This outstanding, research-based program provides a solid foundation for students in spelling and reading. I have used Fundations and the Wilson Language products in my classrooms from kindergarten through fourth grade.
When our district first adopted Fundations, each classroom received a kit as well as consumables for every student. These products are worth every penny! During the last few years, however, our funding has been cut and we no longer have the means to purchase the consumables (student journals/notebooks/etc) for each student. Therefore, I needed to create a homework and word study system for my classroom. This seemed like an overwhelming task at first, but once I got a system going, it didn’t take too long. This process can be used no matter which program you use for spelling. If your school or district does not have an official spelling program, there are several that you can find online.
To begin my planning, I use this planning guide to help map out all of the concepts and/or skills that I want to focus on for the year. I make two copies of this sheet (one for each semester). I fill in all of the concept/focus boxes first with the skills from our standards such as: plurals, r-controlled vowels, etc. Next, I decide how long I will spend on each concept/unit. I typically spend two weeks on each concept. After that, I start filling in my spelling words for each week of each unit. During the first week of a unit, I usually focus only on root words that contain the word pattern I am teaching. For example, if my focus is r-controlled patterns “ar” and “or”, then in week 1 of that unit my words might include park, chart, horn, and forth. In week two, I will then use those word patterns in multi-syllable words or in words with prefixes/suffixes, such as parking, charted, horns, etc. Each week, I also include five challenge words. These are almost always sight words that do not follow the spelling rules (in Fundations, these are called trick words). I fill out the entire master planning sheet at the beginning of the year. This helps me know exactly which words I will be focusing on not only for spelling instruction, but also for my word work centers as well as grammar lessons. I make a file for each unit and place all related activities in the file that corresponds with each skill or concept. This helps me organize all of the cute Pinterest activities I find throughout the year! Another added benefit is that I don’t repeat words! I’m sure none of you have ever done that, but I sure have!
So what about spelling homework? Yes, I still do spelling homework even though I know that the word study work we do in class is truly what helps the students master the spelling concepts. Our spelling homework provides additional practice, and parents like to see what their child is working on in class. Over the years, I have compiled quite a list of engaging spelling activities that students enjoy. Using the idea of the tic tac toe board, each student gets a spelling menu/choice board with their new spelling words on Monday. These are glued down onto the next clean page in their “Spelling Homework Notebooks”, which are simply composition books. Students must select three choices to complete during the week, and they return their notebooks to me on Fridays to be checked. Students are asked to keep the notebooks in their backpacks at all times unless they are completing homework. Often during word work time, students will use their spelling notebooks to complete activities on their choice boards from a previous week. I don’t mind if they repeat an activity that they have already done, but most often they like to choose a new one to mark off more activities on their tic tac toe boards.
A few years ago while teaching second grade, I decided that I would create all of the tic tac toe boards for the entire year before school began. It was a great accomplishment, and I loved not having to worry about making one each week for the following week. Of course, I had already planned out my entire list of spelling words for the year, so I just included those words on the tic tac toe boards and BAM! Spelling was done for the year. If you would like to save yourself a lot of time planning and creating spelling lists and homework boards, click below to get my year long spelling unit for second and third grade. I am almost finished with the one I created for fourth grade, so check back soon if you need that level. I’d love to hear what you do for spelling instruction and homework! Thanks!