Making sense of spelling


Today, we were directed towards Millar, R. & Klein, C. (2002) Making Sense of Spelling: A guide to teaching and learning how to spell. SENJIT: London. I love books like this that give you easy to follow checklists and methods to use in class. The following are ‘instructions’ slightly adapted so I can print them off easily (my memory is rubbish mid-class sometimes!), but all ideas are taken from pages 15-18.

Step 1

  • Looking at a piece of the learner’s own writing, group errors to find patterns such as rules, letter patterns, suffixes and prefixes (catalogue errors on the Spelling analysis learner self assessment for your file to help you select words to be learned). An example of the spelling assessment, and a piece of learner writing are below.
  •   2014-12-27 09.39.032014-12-27 09.39.15
  • Select a maximum of 10-12 words with the learner
    • choose words which learners spell nearly right/learner already knows similar word
    • choose words which the learner uses often
    • choose ones they want to learn
    • choose common words
    • choose words with common patterns (but don’t present confusing ones in the same week)

Step 2

  • Make a list of appropriate words for learners to spell. You could use the ‘spelling’ column on the Spelling and dictation record sheet I made, along with a few other documents in here that I find useful. I also find it useful to print all spelling stuff on coloured paper. Working anywhere, nevermind on outreach, colours help my organisation(slightly).

Step 3

Use Look say cover write check with the learners. They can keep this to practise at home (as I only see my group at the moment once per week) but I usually take a photo of it (just in case they lose it, and also for evidence of their progression).

Step 4

The following week,  using the dictation columns of the Spelling and dictation record sheet complete a dictation exercise with learners, ensuring that the learner:

  • repeats the word aloud
  • writes it
  • spells it orally
  • if a learner makes a mistake
    • ask them if they can find it, but don’t let them struggle. Show them the right spelling, compare and discuss. Make a note of any difficulties on the spelling record sheet.
    • get them to look at it again, and write it from memory – add the word to next week’s list (on the spelling record sheet)
  • add words learned to a personal dictionary (usually an exercise book that they can keep with them).

They suggest that dictations should also involve writing sentences using words that they already know to give practice.

  • dictate a sentence
  • get the learner to repeat it and write it from memory
  • get them to proof read immediately and correct errors
  • point out any errors and encourage them to correct them
  • if it’s not corrected, show the correct version and ask them to write it again from memory


Sometimes I’ve found it difficult to keep track of learner’s errors, so have at times not completed the spelling analysis. Also, even though class sizes are small, it can be hard to capture what is really happening, especially if you’re working with someone else. I’ve ‘caught’ learners throwing pieces of work away or changing their selections to synonyms they can spell, even with good levels of rapport and trust. This, of course, is a completely understandable coping mechanism for a skill which some have hidden away from others for years. Sometimes you have to encourage learners to take risks. Sometimes there’s just stuff you’ll miss, no matter how hard you try. People often come and go, depending on what is happening in the rest of their lives. I feel I need to get better at processes in an environment which doesn’t lend itself to processes sometimes.

Sometimes, I don’t get enough words per session from learners as the pace of work produced is slow, the words they find difficult are topic-specific, aren’t used frequently enough, or sometimes, they just don’t want to learn the words they’ve made mistakes with. I negotiate a lot with my learners. Sometimes possibly too much, but I’m always aware that they find it difficult, and there are often a lot of disputes in class, so sometimes it’s about making the best of what we’ve got on the day.

I’m going to try to use the above documents more, and print this page off as my ‘checklist’. I also have a volunteer, but with learners needing a lot of individual attention, it’s sometimes a bit thin on the ground with a tutor, a volunteer, and 5 learners.

I think I need to implement this more next term, and I’ll then be in a better place to reflect on my findings, as at the moment it kind of works, but the system doesn’t get followed. You might see this as my inability to control my classroom, or as adequate reflection in action. If a learner tells me they haven’t practised their spellings and can’t be bothered with them that day because their medication has changed too, then I don’t think I’m in a position to insist, but encourage.

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