Teaching Spelling to English language learners
Is it just me, or has spelling taking a bit of a backseat in the classroom? We spend a lot of time teaching grammar and the four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening, but when it comes to spelling, I find that I usually only scratch the surface of the topic.
The other day, I was asking myself why this might be. Is it because we are reliant on spell checkers (see Eye halve a spelling chequer for a fun activity)? Is it because spelling doesn’t really feature in ESOL exams? Is it because teacher training courses don’t give it much attention? Perhaps it’s a combination of all of these factors?
For me, I think I have not given spelling the attention it deserves because I have been trying to reconcile how to make spelling relevant to learners, given the fact that each learner has problems spelling different words. So, I have been really put off from giving learners lists of often random words to learn for spelling tests. Sure, I have told them about practising spelling outside the classroom using the look, say, cover, write, check (LSCWC) technique, but I know most learners don’t do it for various reasons.
I remember when I was a trainee, we were told that the English spelling system is the result of the influence of many different languages, which goes some way to explaining some of the peculiarities of words an English learner may encounter. In addition, we were also told that the problem was also due to there being 26 letters in the English alphabet, while there are approximately 44 phonemes in the English language.
So, we were presented with the standard look, say, cover, write, check technique of teaching spelling. I think I was lucky, because our trainer introduced us to a few other techniques, such as looking at the shapes of words, looking for words within words (e.g. ‘finite’ in the word ‘definite’), saying words how they are spelt (e.g. Wed-nes-day), using mnemonics (e.g. ch on the left, ch on the right, you are in the middle to spell ‘church’) and acronyms (e.g. rhythm helps your two hips move to remember the spelling of ‘rhythm’). Our trainer gave us a very useful spelling template by Johanna Stirling which covers many of these techniques (Unfortunately, the original link from Johanna Stirling’s website is broken. An alternative link has been provided).
After further investigation on the Internet, I discovered that Johanna is a specialist in teaching spelling and that she has written a book, Teaching Spelling to English language learners. I persuaded the library at my organisation to purchase a copy and I highly recommend it.
The book is divided into three sections: the first talks about the English spelling system, the second section details how to teach spelling effectively and the final section is like a resource book with many activities and resources for teaching spelling. I found the whole book to be very interesting, but I particularly liked the activities and resources in the third section, because it is very practical and has lots of ideas on how to incorporate spelling in the classroom. I fact, I may never have to do one of those boring spelling tests with my learners ever again.