Spelling, as you know, is a very important part of language arts. There is a vast array of words to be learned by our children. Charlotte Mason used the method ofprepared dictation as a means of learning spelling words. She believed that children would memorize the correct spelling of words if they were used in meaningful context with one another, as opposed to random words learned in isolation.
In our homeschool we use both prepared dictation, and a spelling notebook for our routine daily spelling exercises.
Let me explain the latter to you to begin with.
What is the Spelling Notebook?
Our children each have a spelling notebook. We use a simple 3 ring binder.
The notebook is divided into 4 sections: Practice Pages, Frequently Misspelled Words, Tests and Dictation.
Let me explain how this works.
Using notebook paper, I create numbered word lists with each list containing between 3 and 6 words depending on the child’s age.
These word lists go in the very front of the notebook, before the 4 dividers.
I choose the words for these lists from various places. First of all, I choose words that the child has misspelled in written narrations or notebooking pages, letters or notes. Also, words that the child asks me how to spell gets put in these lists.
I also use words from the IEW’s Phonetic Zoo. I had bought this program for my children, but really didn’t care for the auditory cd’s. However, the word lists are great and I use them starting with level A at about 3rd-4th grade. All you need to purchase is the Zoo cards which are modestly priced at $7 per level. Begin with level A and progress from there. Before 3rd grade we work on common sight words.
You might ask why I didn’t care for IEW’s Phonetic Zoo spelling cd’s? I will tell you. I tried these with my daughter for about a year. Each spelling lesson has 15 spelling words and the child listens to the cd during the lesson. First the speaker says the word, then the child writes the word on their paper. They continue to do this for all 15 words. After that the speaker will spell each word correctly for the child. The speaker repeats each word twice while the student writes the correct spelling beside the original spelling from the first time around. Each lesson is repeated until the student scores 100% twice.
My daughter felt really bogged down by the amount of words in each spelling list. 15 was just too many to work on at once. Also, the speaker spoke rather fast and she would frequently have to pause the recording to keep up. The lesson was just too long. She started to HATE it, and I realized that she was NOT able to correctly spell many of the words from her previous lessons after just a short time.
So, back to our spelling list. I create a list like the one above with several sets of spelling words for each child.
4 days per week we do our spelling practice, and it only takes us about 5 minutes.
The child will take out a piece of paper and write the number that corresponds with the number of the set of words he working on. So, if the child is working on set number 3, then he will write a number 3 on his paper and circle it before he begins his practice. Then he will take a word from the list and study it. He will look at it intently. He will take a picture of it in his mind. He may trace the word with his hand on the table. When he feels he is ready, he will turn the spelling list over and write the word on his practice sheet. Then he will turn the spelling list back over and look and see if he got it right. If he did not, he will quickly draw a line through the incorrect spelling and he will rewrite the word correctly this time.
The child may do this with as many words as he likes until the timer goes off, which is normally set for 5 minutes.
The child will then file his practice page behind the Practice Pages divider.
Here is a sample of one of my daughter’s practice pages. Notice how she worked on one set of words several times, over several days and how she numbered each set accordingly.
When the children number each set it makes it easy for me to reference their practice words to the correct set of spelling words from the spelling list.
We add variation to our routine as we see fit. Some days my youngest son will recite the correct spelling to me instead of writing them, or he will write them on the white board for fun. You could also use lettered blocks to spell the words. Variation helps break up any monotony and adds a little fun.
Once the child can spell all words from a given set correctly, and they feel they are ready to be tested on the words, they will put a check mark by that set. (Look at the picture above of the spelling word list and you will notice the check marks besides each set). When I see a check mark I know that I can include these words on our weekly spelling test.
Every Friday we have a spelling test. Now, we are not much for testing in our homeschool, so we just call it a spelling quiz. They don’t get graded on this, it’s just a way to make sure they are indeed remembering how to spell the words. This only takes us about 5-10 minutes every Friday.
Both children take the test at the same time. They are quizzed on 10 words. I call out number one, and then I give each child their word. If you have several children then this will not work for you. You would then want to give each quiz separately, or in what ever fashion you deem best, maybe doing the quiz in groups of two.
During the quiz, I am intently watching each child’s paper. I have prepared ahead of time little strips of colored sticky tabs. I just bought a package of rectangle shaped sticky tabs and then I cut them into strips. If I see my child misspell a word I quickly put a sticky tab over the word, and they know that word was spelled incorrectly. They do not interrupt the quiz, they just wait for the next word to be called out. By doing this each child knows immediately if he spelled the word correctly. No tab means a correctly spelled word.
The sticky tab also keeps the child from starring at a word that is misspelled. This way, the child will not take a mental picture of the word in its incorrect spelling.
At the end of the quiz I will repeat the misspelled word to the child and write it on the white board. The child will then copy the correct spelling onto the sticky tab. This word now goes back onto their spelling word list. I simply add it to one of their sets of words. This rarely ever happens, especially with my oldest. Younger children can forget correct spellings easier I have found, but usually once the word is reviewed again they remember it longterm.
Now, each spelling word set only contains 3-6 words but the children get quizzed on 10 words. The quiz includes all the words from the most recent set they have checked off and any word from any set previously checked off. In this way each child is reviewing previously learned words consistently. I mix it up each week, so they never know what extra words I will throw in.
Spelling quizzes are actually fun for us and I never hear any complaining about it. I contribute this to the very short spelling lessons. Just 5 minutes a day. There is no rush to get to the next set of words. Mastery is the objective here. It may take a child two weeks to be ready to check off a word set. If so, that’s fine.
This way of doing spelling is the absolute BEST I have found. It is quick and easy and the children retain what they learn.
Frequently Misspelled Words
Behind the Frequently Misspelled Words divider I put a small stack of notebook paper. Every time that child misspells a word I think they should know, I write that word on the paper. We also come across words in other subjects that get added to the list. For instance, When we were studying Africa and needed to label the Mediterranean Sea on our map, everyone asked, “How do you spell Mediterranean?” I must admit that I did not know myself and I had to refer to our wall map. Mediterranean immediately got added to both children’s Frequently Misspelled Words list. I wanted my children to be able to spell it correctly the next time we labeled our map.
The Frequently Misspelled Words list is a place for you to write down all words you want to remember when you create a new set of spelling words. This ensures that no word gets overlooked and you can create your new sets of words quickly and easily.
The last divider in our notebook is Dictation. I created another page to discuss this topic. You can learn about dictation here.