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Best Practices in Teaching Spelling With Individualized Spelling Lists

written by: Margo Dill • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 3/2/2012

Spelling is a subject that is often difficult for students with special needs. Some of these students have trouble understanding word patterns and rules or memorizing a spelling list. Let's take a look at the best methods of making those spelling lists so that they engage and teach.

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    Spelling Lists Don't Need 20 Words

    Using best practices in teaching spelling will help make weekly spelling lessons meaningful for your students. With the use of computers and spell checking devices, many people feel spelling should not be the focus of any block of the school day. Other people believe that students will not always be able to rely on spell-check or an electronic dictionary, and teachers still need to focus on the spelling curriculum. In the middle of these debates are our elementary students, especially students with special needs.

    Teaching spelling in today's classroom doesn't have to be like it was 30 years ago. Put away the spelling workbooks, worksheets, and Friday tests. All students with special needs do not need a list of 20 words. All students do not need a spelling list of the same spelling words. Modifying your spelling curriculum to reach all your students at their levels is important to a student's success and self-esteem.

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    How to Make the Spelling Lists

    You might be thinking if all students do not have the same spelling words, this will be an organizational and assessment nightmare. It's not! Best practices in teaching spelling do not have to cause you more work. With a spelling system that meets students at their own levels, your highest achieving students will feel challenged, and your students with special needs will feel successful.

    Before you start this system of spelling, give your students a spelling pretest. You can use a basic spelling word list for your grade level or words from your spelling text. Explain to students that they may not be able to spell every word, but you want to see which words they already know how to spell. This will help cut down on test anxiety.

    After you have graded the pretests, decide if your students will need challenging spelling words, at-grade level words, or below-grade level words. Start the year with a list of five words for some students or ten words for other students. You can increase or decrease words based on assessments and observations during spelling lessons.

    Students make their own spelling lists with this spelling curriculum. First, each student has a spelling dictionary where they keep words they want to learn how to spell or words they missed on a test or during a writing workshop. When they make their spelling lists for the week, each student chooses their words from their spelling dictionaries. You can also post a list of words, some easy and some challenging, from current social studies and science units. Students make two spelling lists with the exact same words--one for home and one for school.

    Once the lists are finished, you can have a four to six day cycle, depending on your class schedule. You can suggest to parents tips for studying spelling at home, and see part two of this series for information on weekly spelling lessons and more best practices in teaching spelling.

Making Spelling Meaningful for ALL Students

Spelling can be modified for all students at any ability level and make this sometimes dreaded subject fun and successful for all. Spelling doesn't have to be about memorizing a long list of spelling words for a weekly Friday spelling test anymore. These articles explain how to set this up.
  1. Best Practices in Teaching Spelling With Individualized Spelling Lists
  2. Modifying Spelling Activities and Spelling Tests to Meet Students' Needs

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