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Why I Don’t Believe in Spelling Lists

When I was a teacher, I never gave spelling lists. The idea of making my students write words several times in a row and complete busy work about the words didn’t sound appealing to me. It didn’t seem like a wholesome and meaningful practice. “Learning to spell is a complex, intricate cognitive and linguistic process rather than one of rote memorization” (Reed, 2012; Schlagal, 2007; Templeton & Morris, 2000).

Instead, this is what I did:

I gave 3-7 vocabulary words (depending on the grade I was teaching at the time). The vocabulary words I chose each week had to do with what I was teaching in math, history, science, or any other topic we were going over that week. Each week I gave a vocabulary Powerpoint. In this Powerpoint I gave the definition, showed a picture, and had students give me sentences using the word. We spent time on each word really understanding them. Then the homework they did about the words were also meaningful. They used the words in sentences, drew pictures about them, added them to their own vocabulary dictionary (find template in my free resources at, and other activities to help them understand the words. I also had the children write the words and definitions themselves instead of me giving it already written out so it is another opportunity for them to practice with the words.

At the same time, words that are difficult to spell and not phonetic are important to practice. Therefore, including these in your teaching and practicing them regularly is important. “Words that cannot be spelled by applying general spelling patterns and conventions have to be memorized, and rote memorization works well for these words” (Putman, 2017).

Sight words for younger children are also important. Practicing commonly used words and focusing on shorter words that are not phonetic is worth the extra exposure.

So how would students practice spelling? The best way to practice spelling is in their writing. When students are writing essays or any writing in their work, you could correct them at that point. The best way to teach something is when they are doing what you need to teach them in the moment, because at that point they will see what you’re teaching them applies to what they are doing. They have a better opportunity to remember what they are spelling because they are actually using it. “Students do not learn spelling words in isolation; instead, they use prior knowledge and understanding to help make decisions and form concepts about how to spell new words” (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2012; Frith, 1980; Invernizzi, Bloodgood, & Abouzeid, 1997).

Also, studying word patterns (word families) is important. Words that have similar patters (i.e., -ight words, -ig words, -ea words).

How can you apply this with your student(s)?

  • Focus on 3-7 vocabulary words a week. Preferably words that correspond with what you are teaching. Make flashcards, apply it to every day life, and do fun activities with them.

  • Work on spelling when they are writing in general

  • Focus on spelling patterns and sight words

How do you work on spelling with your student(s)?

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