Introducing Non-Standardised Spelling

If you think back to your time at school, you may notice a little something about the way in which spelling was taught from start to finish. All lessons were composed of learning standardised lists of words that you probably did not have difficulties learning but were nevertheless recommended for your particular age group. Times have changed in terms of what most experts believe to be the best way of learning in many subjects but that does not necessarily extend to spelling because many experts still hold onto the outdated belief that standardised lists of words are the best option in creating a level of long term progress in the field (Shapiro, 2004, p. 261). As a tutor or teacher, you may already know that this is not the case. As such, it is time to embrace a different way of doing things!

Embracing non-standardised spelling is that different way of doing things. The idea behind it is that you reject standard lists of words that are impersonal and useless as a result and instead look to create lists of words that individual students have a problem with: “In most spelling systems the words come from children’s commonly used words. So if you collect your own child’s misspelled words, you have the same thing – common words – but tailored to your child’s needs.” (Suarez & Suarez, 2006, p. 235)

If you work with one child then doing this is easy but if you work with several then it can be more difficult because each child will have a unique set of learning needs that have to be fulfilled in order for them to progress. As such, it is your responsibility as a teacher to find out where the needs are for each individual child and come up with a program that either successfully combines them all or can accommodate having individualised plans. Both options are possible. All you have to do is make sure that each child is getting enough attention and enough help.

The lesson plan for introducing non-standardised spelling is relatively simple because the process is simple. It also lends you a lot of creative freedom so read on to find out how to teach it.

Your Lesson Plan

Content – Introducing non-standardised spelling

Goals & Objectives – The main aim is to develop spelling lists to suit individual students’ needs to ensure that they progress well in this particular area and to ensure that you can formulate effective lesson plans based around words and techniques that suit them.

Materials & Resources – The materials depend on the nature of the exercises undertaken. You may need a TV, episode of a show, selection of books, access to the Internet, pens, card, paper, magazines, newspapers and various other resources.

Introduction – Introduce the concept of spelling as an individual experience and make sure that your student understands that there is no normal learning curve and no real standard to try to achieve. Instead, achievements should be individual so goals should be set as such.

Development – Discuss an individual student’s spelling needs with him or her, asking how much difficulty they have with the process and set goals accordingly. The goals should be easily achievable to start with. Only then should exercises be carried out to establish the words that should be on his or her list.

Practice – Choose any one or two exercises from those outlined in the next section to help students to practice the skills that should be taught in this particular module.

Notes – This particular module is a very loose one. You can get as creative as you like or stick to conversations about various words that individual students have difficulty with. As long as you ultimately succeed in creating a list of at least 25 words that your student has trouble spelling, this module will have been a success.

Selected Exercises

There are numerous exercises that can be used to achieve this particular module’s goal of creating individual non-standardized lists. The whole point of it is to use all means necessary to discover words that your student has problems with so you should throw any preconceptions you have away and simply go with the flow. No matter what words end up on the list, learning them will give your student confidence.

The exercises below are suitable for children of all ages but younger children will need a little more supervision than the older children who undertake these exercises. It is necessary to make sure that the list contains words that they will be able to learn to spell because choosing words that are too difficult or complex may actually result in a complete loss of confidence for your children.

The following exercises will all offer you the opportunity to effectively gain an insight into your student’s spelling abilities and that will help you in future modules:

  • Encourage your student to read magazines and newspapers, cutting out words from the pages that they recognise but have trouble spelling. For younger children, this can be words that they ask the meaning of and are in their spelling range so as to increase their vocabulary as well. The exercise is fun and the words can be stuck to card to make a useful wall chart that can be added to at a later date.
  • Get your students to choose a favourite TV show and watch an episode of it. They should identify words that they would not know how to spell, asking for help to write them down. These words may not be many in terms of number but when they are added to words identified in a book, newspaper or other similar media then will soon add up. Using a favourite TV show episode will make an impact though because it will mean that they are engaged and paying full attention to the task at hand.
  • Plug your students in and get them reading Internet stories on news websites. Choose two or three selective websites and two or three stories on each. This is giving them the responsibility to find their own resources and encouraging research skills as well. From there, ask them to identify words that they do not know the meaning of or are confused by the spelling of and add those to the list. There is a whole range of skills that can be taught here but always remain focused on the fact that the goal is to compile a list of words that your student has issues with.
  • Have a reading session with your student, choosing a book that is either at their reading age or just above it slightly. Encourage them to read it aloud and note down any words that they ask how to say or guess at the pronunciation of. Afterwards, ask them which words they believe they think they can spell and then test them verbally and informally, making it clear that they are not under assessment. Those they struggled with should be added to the list.

These exercises are simply ideas. You can use them as a basis to think up your own creative schemes to get words out of your students for their own non-standardised lists. However, always keep the goal in mind because these exercises may get out of hand and move onto a completely different skill, as is highlighted by the Internet exercise.

There is a worksheet that has been designed specifically for this particular module and it can be found overleaf. It is designed to help your student to note down words that he or she is having difficulty with. It will make compiling the list a lot easier and help you to keep track of them much better.

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