If you’re still doing spelling tests the traditional way—from a list of 10 words that you have students memorize each week before a Friday assessment, it’s time to let that go, my friend! Yes, even if your students’ parents love when you send that list home to memorize!
Why? First of all, these types of spelling tests aren’t standards-based, and who has the time or energy to instruct material that isn’t? Secondly, you’re really only addressing the needs of students who already have strong spelling, memory, and word processing skills. You’re not meeting the needs of all students.
Spelling skills can be addressed in a way that benefits the kids who have struggled with traditional methods. Let’s talk about how to make that happen!
Shift From Repetition and Memorization to Phonics-Based Instructional Practices and Assessment
How do we give all of our students spelling strategies that build skills beyond memorization? We need to give them tools they can apply when spelling, reading and writing across the curriculum.
And no, I don’t mean asking students to do rainbow words, write words over and over, or stamp out letters in a word. What I mean is to teach, practice, and assess with an emphasis on phonemes, letter strings, and word patterns.
Phonics-based spelling instruction, practice, and assessments are a great way to improve the way your students learn and apply spelling skills.
When students apply phonics strategies to spelling, they’re building a toolkit of skills to not only improve their spelling but also their reading and writing. For instance, students’ reading comprehension will improve because they will have greater word automaticity. When writing, students will have a skill set to rely on in order to spell unfamiliar words.
Spelling is a higher-level process, so we need instructional practices and resources to help kids to hear, recognize, and orthographically map letter strings (word patterns) beyond just memorizing sight words. This way, they can connect phonemes to patterns with ease and speed.
When teaching, draw attention to phonemes, patterns, and rules. Explicitly teach syllabication. And when you assess students’ learning, focus on these same things.
Assessing Primary Students
Below is a list of question stems and prompts that you can use to assess phonic patterns in the primary grades. These are the types of questions included in the spelling tests I’ve created.
- Which word rhymes with ___?
- Choose the word that has the same beginning/end sound as the word ___?
- Which word has the same vowel sound as the word ___?
- Sentence writing
- Listen to the sentence and find the word (Teacher dictates sentence, students find the word)
- Choose the correct word to fill in the blank (Sentence with spelling word missing)
Assessing Upper Elementary Students
Below is a list of question stems and prompts that you can use to assess phonic patterns in grades 2-5. These are the types of questions included in the spelling tests I’ve created.
- Which of the following words is spelled correctly? (Include a list of a few variations of the word with one spelled correctly and the others with the incorrect spelling of the pattern)
- Which word has the same vowel sound as the word ___?
- The (sound) in the first syllable of (word) has the same (sound) in the first syllable of the word –
- The (sound) in (word) has the same (sound) in the word –
- Sentence writing – have students use the word in context
- Questions that require students to select two answers (For example: Which two words have the same vowel sound as the a in game?)
- Greek and Latin Roots: assess the meaning and not just the spelling of them
- Prefixes and Suffixes: like roots, assess the meaning of the suffixes and prefixes and not just the spelling
These types of questions assess so much more than your students’ ability to memorize a set word list!Notice how these types of questions are aligned with other standards-based assessments we use in our state and local curriculums? That’s the idea!
Pre-Made Phonics-Based Spelling Tests
But Toluca, I don’t have time to revise all of my spelling tests!!!
I hear you, and I also have good news for you!
I have a whole array of phonics based spelling tests for grades 1-6. These are full of questions to help students apply spelling strategies they can use in writing. Independently applying these strategies is what we want to see, not only on these tests, but also when they practice standards-based reading and writing activities.
Whether you’re looking for paper tests or self-grading and editable Google Forms, I’ve got you covered. These resources include spelling tests and exit tickets for the entire year, so you don’t have to scramble with last-minute planning.
Some of the Phonics Patterns Included are:
- Short and Long Vowel Sounds
- R Controlled Vowels
- Prefixes and Suffixes
- Compound Words
- Blends Digraphs and Diphthongs
- Vowel Teams
- Open and Closed Syllable Words
- Consonant- “le” Words
- Soft and Hard C
- Breaking Down Syllabication
Looking for more information to bring it all together for your students?
Replacing your classroom Word Wall with a Sound Wall emphasizes the sounds of letters and word parts, making spelling much more accessible. This is great for students who haven’t made certain connections such as that the word write sounds like R, not like W.
A great resource for community building and writing practice is one of my favorite activities: The Big Cheese. Students have so much fun with this, while also demonstrating their understanding of spelling foundations.
And, in case you’re up for a little homework yourself, check out my post about The Science of Reading, where I discuss what I learned at the Plain Talk about Literacy and Learning conference earlier this year. The information I took in there has done so much to change my perspective on best practices for teaching children to read.
Foundational Reading Skills Bundles
Are you looking for effective teaching tools, student practice, and assessments that are simple to implement and that help develop your students’ foundational reading skills? We have you covered!
These bundles include:
- Word Work Student Pamphlets
- Hands-On Word Work Activities
- Digital and Interactive Word Work Student Practice
- Sound Walls (Printable bulletin board + Google Slides)
- Digital + Printable Spelling Tests (that assess patterns and sounds and not just memorization!)