With a new school year, comes new weekly spelling words to learn. For mainstream learners, weekly spelling lists are an effective way to add to their expanding mental list of correct spellings for grade-level words. For children with dyslexia, spelling tests are more often viewed as a part of school to be endured rather than a valuable opportunity to add to their mental word bank. The hang-up could be how the spelling words are practiced.
Traditionally, spelling list words are worked with in the spelling book each day at school and copied for homework each evening. Consider some alternatives to the simple copying of the list words to make learning the words more effective for not only the students with dyslexia but all students.
The first day words are introduced, be sure students are able to read each word correctly by having them read all list words orally. The ability to read each work on the spelling list may seem like a given, however, when working with students who struggle due to dyslexia, it is not always true. It is easy to see that spelling a word one is unable to read would be a truly difficult task!
If words are multi-syllabic, demonstrate how to scoop under the syllables in the list words, and have students do this on their papers. Explain that spelling the words by syllables rather than as a unit - is a much better approach for the dyslexic learners in the class.
Most spelling lists have a spelling pattern or sound which is common to all words in the list. When students copy the list words, have them underline that spelling pattern or write it in a different color from the other letters in the word. This helps by identifying what the list words have in common and also teaches the spelling pattern for words not on the list, but ones that may share that spelling.
Help students see spelling generalizations that are represented by words on the list. For example, if list words contain the /k/ sound spelled c, k, and ck, teach the students that k generally spells /k/ before i, e, or y. Teach that c spells /k/ before a, o, and u. Generalize that we like to spell /k/ at the beginning of a word with c - when we can. Teach that ck is reserved for the end of a one-syllable word right after a single short vowel.
Once the week’s spelling generalization has been taught, you can reinforce it by making columns on the practice paper, one for each spelling of the generalization. Using the c, k, ck generalization above, students would make three columns, one topped with c, the middle with k, and the last with ck. As spelling list words are dictated, students decide which column that word should go into based on the spelling generalization. This is a very strong practice method because it reinforces the spelling generalization, which leads to not only the correct spelling of the list words but of all words with that pattern.
Words that defy categorizing sometimes populate spelling lists too. For example, the /ē/ sound could be spelled ee or ea. There is not a spelling generalization to guide students in choosing one spelling over the other except for the vague and sometimes inaccurate saying that ea words are related to food and water while ee words have to do with nature. In this situation, making up a silly sentence with all the ee words will help students remember which are the ee words when practicing and on test day. An example sentence might be, “Did we see three sheep in green fleece peek at the beef queen?” Writing the sentence out cements it in the student’s mind as well as giving one more practice session on writing the words. Illustrating the sentence takes memorizing it one step further, and makes for a great classroom display throughout the week until test day.
These strategies add up to the more meaningful practice of spelling words by all students. Dyslexic students, as well as all learners in the classroom, will benefit from using these strategies.