When I analyzed my class' writing at the beginning of the second trimester, I noticed that they had mastered the writing genre we had covered, that most of them used correct conventions consistently, but that their spelling left much to be desired. There was no clear pattern to the problem: not everyone was spelling high frequency or phonetic words consistently, and, with a few exceptions, they weren't using previously studied patterns to spell unknown words. Some were even spelling the same word in different ways within a paragraph. I decided to focus on spelling until I began to see some consistency in their use of spelling patterns and more attention to print in their own writing.
I wanted to start building my students' ability to independently pay attention to their spelling in order to improve the overall quality of their paragraphs. Small doses of phonetic spelling instruction have been shown to be important aspects of ELA instruction. Spelling lessons can give students the opportunity to think systematically about how words are formed.
I remembered that in previous years my grade level team had assigned a spelling worksheet for homework that was called word detective (thank you to the anonymous teacher(s) who created and shared it!). I decided that it could be the basis of spelling lessons and activities that would start addressing the spelling deficiencies I had noticed.
I started by praising my class' writing skills and I explained that to improve even more it was time to pay close attention to spelling. I told them that they would be word detectives, and that they would have to find that week's spelling patterns in a story, and then sort the words they found according to the patterns.
I wrote some words on the board, most with the week's spelling patterns and showed them how to prepare a paper to record the word sort. In this example, the spelling words for the week followed the patterns: wh_, ch_, _tch and _ch. We wrote each of these in one of the quadrants. Then I asked for volunteers to tell me words from the board to go in each quadrant and we completed the sort.
Our Language Arts adoption, as is common, contains stories that are vocabulary and spelling pattern control to provide practice on the spelling patterns covered each week. I directed my class to open their books to the stories that corresponded to the week, and told them to make another quadrant like the one we had worked on together. Then I told them to find words with each of the patterns.
Since it was the first time we had done this activity, I circulated making sure they had understood the task. You can see them working in the clip. When I saw that a student seemed unsure of the task, I told him/her to choose one of the quadrants and modeled how to scan each page (2 to 3 sentences) to see if there were any words matching that pattern. This 1:1 reteaching and extra modeling of the task, helped everyone become independent with this activity.
This "word detective" became a favorite independent activity the rest of the year. It provided them the opportunity to examine text and review spelling patterns.
As the kids left for recess, the Ticket out the door was to spell one of the words they had found.
This lesson was part of a long term plan to improve my students' spelling. It's efficacy won't be immediate, and will depend on repeated practice and consistently referring to the patterns when conferencing after writing. I was glad to see two days after this lesson, that my students were able to do another sort independently, in this case using a word list. I am confident that this kind of sort, and consciously referring to spelling expectations, will give fruit. I have also decided to add a word wall to my room. In the past, I have had very good results with them, but in recent years they have been frowned upon by the District. Time to have a talk with the Principal!