I am a big advocate of teaching formal spelling, but before I start, I want to see some consistent skills in my students. What are those skills? Keep reading!
Skills Before You Start Spelling
Students should be able to do the following skills when it comes to reading. That is not a misprint. I believe that spelling and reading are connected. Early on in my teaching career, I heard this, “Good readers do not always make good spellers, but good spellers always make good readers.” That was true in my life. I was a good reader but not a great speller. I could memorize words but I didn’t understand why they were spelled a certain way. As I got older, my reading began to struggle because my comprehension and vocabulary skills were not at the level my reading was. So I stopped reading. I loved books but they were getting tough to read.
Should You Start Spelling in Kindergarten?
Excellent question! You can but consider these skills before you start. It’s not about age when it comes to spelling. It is about readiness. The biggest component is phonemic awareness.
Skill #1 – Letter Sounds
No surprises here! You will make things difficult for yourself if your students do not know their letter sounds. Do all your students need to know their letter sounds? No, start when the majority of your students know their letter sounds and then differentiate. The average primary classroom has 20-25 students in it. Aim for 80% knowing their letter sounds (16-20). This year I tried starting spelling with my numbers closer to 75%. They are doing okay, mainly because the first spelling list is CVC words and they are known (high frequency) words.
I introduce all the letter sounds of the single letters and then quiz them to determine if they are ready. There are more than 26 letter sounds to the alphabet. Overall there are 75 letter sounds, but for single letters, there are 40 letter sounds. If you want to read more about this, check out this blog post on letter sounds. I have a freebie in my TpT store where you can create smaller letter card sets for your students to use. You can click on letter cards.
Skill #2 – Blending
I haven’t written about this but this is important. At the beginning of the year in Kindergarten and Grade 1, students struggle with this. This is where a lot of oral practice and orthographic activities need to be done. In our school, we use an oral program called, Heggerty. Heggerty teaches phonemic awareness in 10 minutes in day and it’s all oral. This has been really fun (sarcasm) with masks. I purchased a clear mask which helps and the students prefer I wear it.
Skill #3 – Syllables
We ask students to bring all the sounds together and now we are asking them to break them apart. They must think we are crazy! It is important for kids to know how many syllables a word has as it helps determine how larger words are spelled. This is still part of the all important phonemic awareness. Asking students how many syllables a word has takes time, but most will get it. Start with words, such as compound words, where the syllable break is easy. For example: base-ball, bas-ket-ball. Some teachers teach syllables with clapping or having students place their hand under their chin to feel their mouth open. There are syllables that will be subtle.
Skill #4 – Segmenting
Segmenting is breaking words down further into their sounds. For example, the word math. It is 1 syllable but 3 sounds (m-a-th). I usually start with 2 and 3 letter words for segmenting. Many students will find instant success before you move onto longer words.
Skill #5 – Spelling Rules
There are a few spelling rules that I teach before I start spelling
- English words do not end with an “i”. This is part of a longer rule but I start with this part as there are two and three letter words that have an “i” ending sound (my, fly, by, cry).
- Every syllable has to have a vowel (at least one)
- q is always followed by a “u” in English words
Once we start spelling, I will introduce a rule almost every week as there are 31 spelling rules (Logic of English).
Now You Can Start Spelling
Sometimes I think that teaching spelling and reading is like herding cats or plate spinning (pick your analogy). What I have found is that all of this is “roughly” in place in 1-2 months of daily work. When I mean daily work, focus on 10-15 minutes a day. And remember that not all of them will be in the same readiness. TRUST your instincts. If you think they are ready, then start. I know kindergarten teachers that start in the spring while others don’t at all.
This is going to be part of a series, so you can expect to find more spelling related posts. Let me know if you are looking for something specific when it comes to spelling!