Helen Rouse offers some tried-and-tested spelling games to help your second and third-cycle pupils write right and spell well!
Author: Helen Rouse
As we all know, the English spelling system can prove complicated for Spanish speakers, and especially for young learners who are still novices at reading and writing in their own language. The English language can throw up a host of spelling complexities ranging from different graphemes for the same sound to silent letters, double letters and clusters, weak forms, apostrophes and many complicated rules. Since most of our pupils are going to need English in their adult lives, we need to teach them to prioritise spelling so they produce clear and accurate language with confidence and thereby create a good impression on their readers. In addition, at school itself, correct spelling has an important place in CLIL programmes where other subjects are taught through English.
Spelling can be difficult to teach and what our pupils most benefit from is regular exposure to written words and systematic spelling practice. We need to provide regular English reading and writing activities, ensure that pupils hear accurate pronunciation and make them aware of spelling rules. Above all, we must recycle words regularly. Games are a great way to practise spelling and make it fun, so here are ten of my favourites which can be used at any stage of the class.
This is very similar to the numbers game, where the words fizz and buzz traditionally substitute a chosen number. Here, pupils spell out either picture or word flashcards positioned around the class, one letter per pupil, but two letters have previously been chosen to become fizz and buzz. So instead of saying these letters, pupils say fizz and buzz. For example, fizz is E, so zebra would be:
Child 1: Z
Child 2: fizz
Child 3: B
Child 4: R
Child 5: A
A buzz letter can be added once they are familiar with the idea. Pupils can start the game standing but sit down when eliminated.
2 Strip bingo: exposure to words
Ask pupils to write any five-letter word on a strip of paper (you may have given them a word bank to choose from). Call out letters which pupils tear off if they occur at either end of their strip (you’ll need to repeat letters). The winner is the first person with no letters left at the end.
3 Double letter bingo: notice specific spelling
Prepare bingo boards (or have pupils make them up) for pupils to play in pairs with pictures of four objects written with a double consonant. Show cards with the appropriate double letters and the first pair to call out the name of the object in question, eg rubber, wins the card (in this case BB) to place over the picture on their bingo card. Adapt the format to any number of spelling areas: silent letters, homophones, irregular plurals, etc.
4 SMS: productive spelling practice
Ask pupils to write a short text on something you are studying or wish to practise, eg the house. Help them with corrections and then have them write out the text again for their partners, but with no vowels. Their partner recreates the text and they check together.
5 Dominoes: prefixes, suffixes and compounds
Prepare or have pupils prepare a set of split words in domino form. Either a lexical set you are teaching or a specific set of difficult words. Play in small groups.
6 Words within words: letter configurations
What’s the animal in sepaRATe or the drink in TEAcher? What is the number insenTENce or the body part in EARth?
7 Flash: silent letters, double letters, consonant clusters, etc.
Quickly flash a written word with a letter or letters missing, eg dau ter.Pupils identify both the word and the missing letters.
8 Pictionary: letter configurations and predictions
Write a word very slowly on the board. The first group to identify it and finish it correctly wins a point.
9 Order the middle letters: fun spelling puzzle
Research has shown that we can make sense of a text as long as the first and last letters of each word are in place, even if the middle letters are muddled. Prepare or have pupils prepare different, short texts (eg from their coursebooks) in this way and swap them with their partners who then recreate the correct text.
10 Plurals money race: irregular plurals
Play in groups. Prepare cards with singular nouns on one side and varying amounts in euros on the other. Place the pile in the middle of the table and pupils take turns to pick a card. If they can write the correct plural they keep the card and win the money. The richest pupil at the end wins.
Finally, we can help pupils acquire spelling by creating classroom wall visuals which we can return to for revision or redirect their attention to in future activities. Here are two examples:
A pear tree poster. The fruit on the tree consists of words which rhyme with pear, eghair. Pupils add more ‘fruit’ themselves.
Pupils draw words, e.g. giraffe.
Studies show that most spelling errors can be grouped into set categories such as vowel and consonant addition and omission, substituting one vowel for another, etc. So regular spelling games and activities that draw attention to these problem areas are the best way to iron them out. Instead of being a chore, spelling can actually be fun!
Helen Rouse is a teacher and teacher trainer. She worked as the Director of Studies at International House, Malaga.