Category Archives: Spelling

How to teach –ight, -ought, -ind, -ild and word families that don’t follow rules

Words ending with –ight don’t follow the rules of phonetics.  The “g” and “h” are silent, and there is no silent “e” after the “t” to make the vowel “i” long.

Some word families, such as –ought, -ind, -ild, and -ight need to be taught as exceptions to phonics rules.  Essentially, they are a group of sight words which follow the same spelling rule, but they are not pronounced the way they look.

It’s probably better to delay teaching words like these until students learn the basic rules of phonics.  Exceptions to rules are confusing.  Better to get the rules understood before introducing exceptions.

That said, how do you teach such exceptions?

  • Teach one exception family of words at a time, giving several days for the student to get used to that family.
  • Post a list of the family of exception words so students can see them on and off many times a day.
  • Ask the children to read short paragraphs containing such words.
  • Ask the children to compose a silly verse using a familiar song for rhythm. For example, to “Old McDonald Had a Farm” students could write, “My brother Dwight did pick a fight, EE I EE I Oh.  He picked a fight with a mighty knight, EE I EE I Oh.”  The sillier the better.  Write down the song, show the words to the students, and sing it daily to reinforce the family pronunciation and spelling.
  • Play games using the exception word families. Students could write the 15 –ight words plus 10 –ite words on a blank BINGO board. You could call off a definition of each word which students would need to identify on their boards.
  • Have a spelling bee using the words.
  • Students could write a paragraph using as many of the words as they can. This could be a group project the first time and later an individual project.

Students should be reminded about words with the same sound as the exception but which follow the rules of phonics.   Students need to remember which words go with which rule.

English has many words which don’t follow the rules, but it helps when there are a whole group of them which follow their own strange rule.  They can be taught in groups rather than singly.

Spelling—What works? What doesn’t work?

Because no national student tests focus on spelling only, experts can’t say how widespread spelling problems are.  But ask any teacher, and she will tell you many, many children learn to spell with difficulty or depend on phonetic spellings.

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If you are the parent or teacher of such a child, what do you do?

Here’s what doesn’t work.

  • Teaching spelling rules rarely works. When students see a worksheet or test on one aspect of spelling, they can do okay.  That’s because they are focusing on one rule of spelling.  But if you test on several rules, or wait a week to retest on one rule, a poor speller makes numerous mistakes.  And if you ask the child to write a few sentences with words which use some of these spelling rules, spelling errors abound.  It’s as if you never taught the rules.
  • Having the child memorize often used words can work if the word is simple. But not always.  Many children spell “went” as “whent,” or confuse “then” and “than,” or use “b” for “d,” or spell “was” as “saw.”  These children might have great visual memories for colors and landmarks, but not for spelling.  Experts think this is because the brain’s “wiring” for spelling is part of the language processing part of the brain.  Poor spelling is one sign of underlying language processing problems.
  • Teaching word parts—prefixes, suffixes and roots—can help a child guess at the meaning of words, but it doesn’t help much with spelling. The child will say the word in her mind and spell it the way it sounds to her.  “Useful” might come out “youzful.”

Here’s what does work.

  • Accommodations, especially allowing the child to use electronic writing equipment, reduce some but not all spelling errors. Spellcheck alerts the child that a word has been misspelled.  She can click on the misspelled word and the correct spelling appears.  She clicks on the correct spelling and eliminates the problem.  You might think:  but then she will never learn correct spelling.    But how about you?  When you make a spelling error on your computer or phone, don’t you click and replace?  So why shouldn’t a student?  Because of ubiquitous technology, the same rules which applied to us when we were students shouldn’t necessarily apply to students today.  The SAT allows calculators.  It didn’t when I took the test.
  • Teachers who limit the number of points off for spelling errors would lessen the stress on poor spellers. What if teachers would limit the percentage of a writing grade devoted to spelling to 5%, no matter how many words are misspelled?  Spelling is a way of delivering a message, the same as sentence structure and vocabulary and type faces.  If teachers would focus more on the content of writing, on its organization and message, and focus less on spelling and handwriting, poor spelling would be less of an issue.
  • If a child focuses on learning the spelling of the 100 or 200 most commonly used words in English, and ignores the rest, her spelling would improve. If those “most used” words were posted in the classroom as a universal word bank available to any child any time, spelling would improve.  Or those words could be offered to each child in a little booklet which the child could keep in her desk and refer to at any time. Why not?  Do you remember every one of your relative’s phone numbers anymore?  Or do you let your smart phone remember for you?  Is it “cheating” for you to press a name rather than to key in a  ten-digit phone number?  Then why can’t a child look up a spelling word?

English is a tough language to spell–maybe the toughest.  So many rules, so many exemptions.  Let’s take away some of the energy that goes into spelling correctly and put it into more important skills, like writing well.

Learn vocabulary through online games

One key to reading well is to understand many vocabulary words.  Is there a fun way to learn new vocabulary words?  How about learning through online vocabulary games?

http://www.vocabulary.co.il offers many kinds of vocabulary learning games, a few of which are described below.

  • Prefixes offers matching games for various grade levels.  For third through fifth graders, four prefixes appear on the left and four meanings appear on the right.  Click on one prefix; then click on its matching meaning and a line connects them.  When all four have been matched, click on the “check answers” tab, and check marks appear in front of the correct matches.
  • Foreign-language offers matching and other games for English-Spanish, English-French, English-German, and English-Latin learners.
  • Word scrambles ask the player tot unscramble given letters to form a word. You can press “hint” for help.  A clock keeps track of your speed in finding the correct word.
  • Idiom games include matching games and choosing the right meaning of a phrase from four possible choices.
  • Spelling games include word searches, unscrambling of words and choosing the correct part of speech for a given word.
  • Syllable games ask the player to divide words into syllables.
  • SAT vocabulary games offer various kinds of word-building games for older kids.

Twenty-four different kinds of vocabulary learning are offered, and from them, usually there are many choices in kinds of games to play and age or grade level choices.

Can dyslexia be identified in a preschooler who can’t read yet?

Yes.  Check this list of indicators developed by Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey.  But keep in mind that a child exhibiting one or two of the indicators isn’t necessarily dyslexic.  For example, almost all children learning their letters mix up b and d.  But a child EPSON MFP imageshowing several of the indicators might foreshadow problems learning to read or spell.  That child should be tested.

Dyslexia is defined as a neurological learning disability.  Children having difficulty with word recognition, fluency, poor spelling or decoding might be dyslexic.  The sooner it can be identified in a child, and the earlier intervention can begin, the better the chances that the child will learn to read.

A key indicator is family history.  If a parent or a sibling has had trouble learning to read, there is a greater chance that another member of the family will have trouble.

According to Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey, Language indicators could include:

  • delayed speech
  • trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, and days of the week
  • difficulty rapidly naming people and objects
  • lack of interest in stories and books
  • mispronouncing words
  • difficulty using new vocabulary words correctly
  • trouble distinguishing words from other words that sound similar
  • struggling to identify or produce words that rhyme

Reading indicators could include:

  • difficulty naming and recognizing the letters of the alphabet
  • problems matching letters to their correct sounds
  • scoring below expected reading level for his/her age
  • trouble understanding the difference between sounds in words
  • difficulty blending letter sounds within words
  • trouble recognizing and remembering sight words
  • confusing letters and words that look similar
  • losing his/her place—and skipping over words—while reading
  • avoiding reading tasks

Writing indicators could include:

  • problems copying and writing at an age-appropriate level
  • confusing the order or direction of letters, numbers and symbols
  • spelling words incorrectly and inconsistently most of the time
  • a tendency to spell phonetically
  • poor ability to proofread and correct written work
  • handwriting which shows poor letter formation and placement

Social / emotional indicators could include:

  • Lack of motivation about school or learning
  • lack of confidence in learning
  • negative self-image compared to grade-level peers
  • expressing dislike for reading and other academic tasks
  • exhibiting anxiety or frustration

Other indicators could include:

  • poor sense of direction/spatial concepts, such as left and right
  • performing inconsistently on daily tasks
  • appearing distracted and unfocused

If your child shows some of these characteristics, don’t be discouraged.  Most children show some of them.  And if your child is dyslexic, there is so much you, as a parent, can do to prepare your preschooler to read fluently.  In the next blog we’ll identify some of those activities.

 

My third grader spells haphazardly, using correct spelling in one sentence and incorrect spelling of the same word in the next sentence. How can I make her care?

Some kids, like adults, are detail people, proud when things are “just so.”

Other kids, like your daughter, are not concerned with details.  Does she get distracted easily?  This could be part of the problem.  Is she trying to establish a different role in the family from an older, more obedient child?  Is her personality laid-back and easy-going?  Causes for her lack of rigor could be many.

Child writing with right hand.

She might have gotten away with this carelessness in first and second grade, but now that she is in third grade, she will be taking the Common Core tests.  For the first time, lack of attention to detail might bring down her grades.  Does she know this?

The best motivation is internal, but for some children, an external goal focuses them.  What might motivate her to be more consistent with her spelling?  Money?  A trip to the book store?  A lunch out with Mom and Dad?

Considering your daughter’s age, a “contest” for one week might be a way to begin.  If she brings home worksheets every night and there are no spelling errors, she might earn a small but meaningful reward.  If she can keep it up for another week, then she might earn a second reward.  If she can get a certain grade on her end-of-year test, then she might earn another reward.

Or you might give her a 15-minute writing assignment at home Monday through Friday.  On Saturday she could receive her writings back and edit them, looking for spelling errors.  She could circle any word she thinks might be misspelled and look them up in a children’s dictionary or online.   This would be her chance to make changes before you evaluate her spelling.

Other ways she might find the correct spelling of questionable words are writing the word several ways and figuring out which one “looks right.” Or she might use a spell checker on the computer.  I have a spelling dictionary which I let children use to look up frequently misspelled words.

If she is writing at home, you might give her a short list of words she is likely to want to use.  If she is writing about fossils, for example, you could write “fossil,” “sedimentary,” “erosion,” and “layers.”  This encourages her to use such words and to follow standard spelling.  If she is using more advanced vocabulary, words like “canyon,” “marine” and “stratification,” and she spells those words phonetically, praise her for trying and tell her the proper spelling.

If you notice your daughter is repeatedly misspelling a particular word, you might develop a silly story which helps the child remember the correct spelling.  “An elephANT is beigger than an ant.  Or if she is misspelling a “family” of words, you might come up with a way for her to remember the spelling.

The more game-like you can make learning, the more likely your child is to participate.  And games have winners.  Offer her the prize she has earned, and let her know how proud you are.  Your daughter is still at the age where pleasing her parents is so important.  Make the most of it.

How can writing improve reading?

When educators combed research on the writing / reading connection in 2010, they found three writing activities which improve reading comprehension.

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  • Having students write about the stories and texts they read by writing personal responses, analyses, or interpretations; by writing summaries; by writing notes; and by answering or asking questions in writing about what they have read.
  • Having students learn about the process of writing; about how texts are structured; about how paragraphs and sentences are put together; and about how to spell.
  • Having students write  frequently.

All of these writing activities improve students’ reading. In future blogs, we will look at why these activities improve reading, and how these activities can be incorporated into a student’s schoolwork or work at home. We’ll start in the next blog with the last idea, that students should write more to improve their reading.

Meanwhile, for more information, see Writing to Read.  At this site you can read the full report, Writing to Read; evidence for how writing can improve reading by Steve Graham and Michael Hebert for the Carnegie Corp. of NY, 2010.

You might also enjoy reading Shanahan on Literacy, a blog about reading by an expert in the field. In his current blog, Dr. Shanahan comments on ideas in this report.

Play word games to encourage or to reward reading

When I tutor reluctant readers or bad spellers, sometimes I reward them with a word game in the last five minutes of an hour-long lesson. The kids love the game and ask at the beginning of the next lesson if they can play again. I never play this word game at the beginning of a lesson or they will balk at doing other kinds of reading work, but it is great as a reward.
This game is also a good game to play in the car on long trips or when a child is bored. It turns dead time into learning time.game of breaking up a big word into little words

  • Start by choosing a long word or a phrase. I try to relate the word or phrase to the season or to what we are studying. For example, “NEW YEAR’S DAY” or “JUNIE B. JONES” might be appropriate. After the first game, the child will want to choose the word or phrase, but you must steer him to pick an appropriate word or phrase for the game’s purpose.
  • The word or phrase should have ten to 15 letters but not many more or the game becomes too easy. Good words or phrases to work with contain several vowels, including the letter “E.” Bad words or phrases contain few vowels, do not contain the letter “E” and repeat many of the consonants.
  • I write the word or phrase at the top of a blank paper, often in all caps, so the child realizes capital letters are irrelevant.
  • Next, I explain that we are going to make little words from the big word or phrase, using the letters in any order. So for the phrase “NEW YEAR’S DAY,” I might write “ear,” “way,” and “weed,” and point out how each letter in the little words is part of the phrase.
  • I also point out that if there is only one “N” in the original word or phrase, then there can be only one “N” in the made up words. Also, if there is punctuation in the original word or phrase, it can be ignored or used.
  • The object of the game is to find as many small words as possible in five minutes.
  • Eventually you want children to discover word families, words whose letters can be moved to create other words (tea, eat, ate), words within words (heard, hear, ear, he, head), and how having certain letters (E and S, for example) makes the game easier. This shows the child is thinking about word patterns.
  • I help younger children find words, and show them word families that can be made by changing a single letter. Once they understand the game, they usually do not want help.
  • For older children, I compete with them, sometimes giving them a handicap.
  • At the end of five minutes, if there is not a competition, the game ends. If there is a competition, the child names his words aloud, and if he and I have duplicates, we cross them out. His score becomes the number of words he has without duplicates plus the handicap.
  • Additional points are given for words of five letters or more and perhaps for the word which is the longest and which seems to be the most clever use of the original letters.
  • I allow proper nouns, but I do not allow repeating the words in the original word. You can make your own rules depending on the ability level of the child. Some children will put an “S” on every noun.