Learning to spel rite

Mongrel and mess

The ‘pure’ English language is a mongrel created from many different languages. The spelling system is a similar mess and standard spelling is not a standard used by all English users. David Crystal’s entertaining book SPELL IT OUT: The Singular Story of English Spelling [Profile Books © David Crystal 2012] is an entertaining and highly readable story of how we got into this mess. If you are interested in spelling, I strongly recommend that you read this book.

Practical Help for EFL Teachers

In this article, I want to concentrate on practical procedures which EFL teachers can adopt for helping their students to improve their spelling.

Two Spelling Engines

David Crystal suggests that all English language users, both native speakers and language learners, use two different spelling engines. When we read aloud from text, we use the text-to-sound spelling engine and when writing, we use the sound-to-text spelling engine.

As English language teachers, we are aware that our learners have problems with both engines. When reading aloud, students often misunderstand or mispronounce words from the text. When doing dictation or attempting to write, we often see misspellings.

Text-to-sound Engine

When learners are reading aloud, or even reading silently, their brains are using their text-to-sound engine to convert the black signs on the page into sounds and meanings. This text-to-sound engine uses a lot of the processing power in the brain. Many graded story books are now available on Audio CD. If students listen to these recordings while following the printed text in their books, learners can hear the results of this text-to-sound process.

This is also true when listening to the teacher reading aloud from a text. By hearing the text, comprehension demands less processing power from the learners’ brains. Research has demonstrated that this improves the learners’ silent reading speed. If learners follow the printed text, their eyes continue to work and they begin to learn the sounds of different combinations of letters.

Teaching the text-to sound engine

When presenting a text to the class of learners, read the text aloud so that learners can hear the sounds. Then ask them to read the same text aloud. Either ask individuals, pairs or groups to read aloud. When learners have done this successfully, ask the whole class to read aloud in chorus.

Text-to-sound engine and grammar

When learners listen to a text read aloud, they not only hear the pronunciation of individual letters and letter combinations, they also hear the correct syllabus stress in words and the correct word stress in sentences.

When reading aloud, some groups of words are run together, while other groups of words, usually phrases, are preceded by pauses. We pause between ‘language chunks, at the end of sentences and make longer pauses between paragraphs. In this way, Learners hear and begin to learn, the patterns of syntax in English.

Letters and letter groups

By listening to and looking at a text being read aloud, students will learn the pronunciation of words, the sounds on individual letters and of letter combinations, both vowel combinations and consonant combinations.

Exercising the Text-to-sound spelling engine

As already suggested, listening to an audio recording of a graded reader or to the teacher reading aloud while the learners are following the printed text will provide excellent training for the Text-to-Sound spelling engine. The more that students read, and listen to recordings of reading, the greater will be the benefit for the Text-to-sound spelling engine.

Listening Bingo

Learners listen to the following text:

Alice and her big sister sat under a tree one sunny day. Alice’s sister had a book, but Alice had nothing with her. She looked at her sister’s book. There were no pictures or conversations in it.

‘ Why is she reading a book without pictures or conversations?’ she thought. ‘ I’m bored. I know! I’ll look for some flowers.’ Then she thought, ‘ No, it’s too hot for that and I feel sleepy.’

Suddenly, a white rabbit ran past her. It took a watch from its jacket and looked at it. ‘ Oh! Oh! I’m going to be late! ’ it said.

‘ That’s strange! A rabbit with a watch! ’ said Alice.

She jumped up and ran after the animal. It ran down a large rabbit-hole, so Alice went down the hole too. She didn’t stop and ask, ‘ How am I going to get out again ? ’

From Alice in Wonderland © Pearson Education 2008

Learners have a BINGO CARD as below:

tree watch jacket rabbit thought
animal pictures sister money book

Learners number the words as they first hear them. Notice that there is one word which they do not hear.

By using a recorded text, learners hear the words in context. This is much better than hearing words in isolation, as they would be, in a list.

Listening and silent reading

As mentioned before, during silent reading, learners need to create sounds in their heads to achieve comprehension. This uses a lot of brainpower which reduces the learners’ progress through the text and their ease of comprehension. Listening to the text being read aloud makes reading easier but it is only a temporary learning device, the ultimate goal is silent reading.

Teaching the sound-to-text spelling engine

Students learn spellings by reading. Sometimes, they are slow to transfer their knowledge of correct spellings from the text-to-sound spelling engine to the sound-to-text spelling engine. Learners need to write and write frequently and meaningfully. This starts with young learners labelling pictures and writing captions on their pictures. Later, they write organised lists, sort words into organised lists, write messages, texts, letters, articles, essays and so on.

Form filling is a useful early task because the printed form supplies the grammar and learners add the information. After filling a form, learners can re-write the information as a sentences. Consider the form below:

Name Jason Brown   My name is Jason Brown.
Age 9   I am nine years old.
Home Flat 23   I live in Flat 23.
Street 12, Park Road   It is at 12 Park Road.
Town Newtown   Park Road is in Newtown.
Email jasonB@hotmail.com   My email address is jasonB@hotmail.com
Pet A parrot   I have got a parrot.
Pet’s name Vera   Her name is Vera.

When students write, they create ideas in their heads as streams of sounds. Then they try to write those spoken words as written text. Before students start to write their own stories or messages, we often start with simple dictations. Once again, we can use the recordings from graded readers as an alternative to the teacher’s voice.

The Completion Dictation below does not ask learners to write full sentences, but only to complete a passage with a few words. Once again, the words are used in a simple comprehensible context. Learners will use their knowledge of vocabulary and grammar as well as their listening and spelling skills.

Completion dictation

Show the learners the text below. Give them a few minutes to read the text and guess at the missing words. Then read the text or play the recording. Ask students to write in the missing words.

Alice and her big sister sat under a tree one sunny _______. Alice’s sister had a book, but Alice had nothing with her. She looked at her sister’s book. There were no __________ or conversations in it.

‘ Why is she reading a __________ without pictures or conversations?’ she thought.

 ‘ I’m bored. I know! I’ll look for some flowers.’ Then she thought, ‘ No, it’s too hot for that and I feel ____________.’

Suddenly, a white rabbit ran past her. It took a watch from its jacket and looked at it. ‘ Oh! Oh! I’m going to be late! ’ it said.

‘ That’s ____________! A rabbit with a watch! ’ said Alice.

She jumped up and ran after the animal. It ran down a ____________ rabbit-hole, so Alice went down the hole too. She didn’t stop and ask, ‘ How am I going to get out ____________?’

You may need to play the recording several times and allow learners time to check their answers.

Using a graded reader at an appropriate level for your learners will ensure that it will be understandable and will contain suitable vocabulary.

Concentrating on vowel combinations

Frequent spelling mistakes appear when learners use the wrong pairs of vowels in a word. In this passage there are several words using vowel combinations. Exercises like this can focus attention on vowel combinations.

Alice and her big sister sat under a tr___ one sunny day. Alice’s sister had a b___k, but Alice had nothing with her. She l___ked at her sister’s b___k. There were no pictures or conversat___ns in it.

‘ Why is she reading a book with___t pictures or conversations?’ she thought. ‘ I’m bored. I know! I’ll l____k for some flowers.’ Then she th___ght, ‘ No, it’s t___ hot for that and I f___l sl____py.’

Suddenly, a white rabbit ran past her. It t___k a watch from its jacket and looked at it. ‘ Oh! Oh! I’m going to be late! ’ it said.

‘ That’s strange! A rabbit with a watch! ’ said Alice.

She jumped up and ran after the animal. It ran down a large rabbit-hole, so Alice went down the hole too. She didn’t stop and ask, ‘ How am I g___ng to get out ag____n ? ’

Tell the students that they need to write two vowels in each space. It may be two different vowels or the same vowel repeated.

Concentrating on consonant clusters

Consonant clusters such as ght or tch, ph, stl, qu, often cause spelling difficulties. Practise vowel and consonant clusters by asking learners to re-write and complete these sentences.

  1. Please, give me your camera. I want to take a __otogra__.
  2. It’s very dark in here. Please __i___ on the li___.
  3. Ele__ants are very big animals.
  4. I haven’t got enou__ money to buy the red train.
  5. Prince__ Eliza lives in a big, old, stone ca___e.

My grandmother likes … Practising double letters

Tell the learners “My grandmother likes apples, but she doesn’t like oranges. She likes carrots but she doesn’t like potatoes. She likes tennis and football, but she doesn’t like judo or boxing. She likes crosswords, knitting and doing needlework but she doesn’t like watching television or listening to music.”

Invite students to ask you what your grandmother likes.

The key to this game is that your grandmother likes any word which contains a double letter. Play the game until your learners discover the key. You will find that the leaners practise a lot of vocabulary before they discover the key!

Other Spelling exercises

Anagrams

Anagrams contain all the correct letters for a word, but learners have to write them in the correct order.

Every day, I ride to school on my _______________.                                [bccliye]

My tooth hurts. I must go to see the ____________.                                [dntstei]

I’m so hungry. Can I have a _______________?                                 [hmbrgraue]

Wordsearch

Wordsearch tasks encourage students to look for letter combination and find the words from the word list. At this website, you can choose the directions in which words will appear.

Make your own worksheets online @ http://www.atozteacherstuff.com
 
J E L I S T E N C L O O K Z Y
H K U S H P X A A J U P K T L
F R G N E U H E E J B T R E N
X F T C U Y K C B A G T V M V
T C L O C K D S P B O O K M R
K X Y D V X J W O Z X E B U R
Z S R Z T W V C H A I R U W J
J B O Q G A M E F B Y D V H W
V J M Y T U F O C D X B U N C
R E A D O O R D G K H U I K Q
P C E C Z P I C T U R E H E F
G T E A C H E R P A S N D Y E
N V G Z V T P I A O B D N W Z
K X L T M D U O O L Y Y U R F
F F S C H O O L A H U S E I Y
TEACHER BOOK CHAIR DOOR READ LISTEN LOOK PICTURE SCHOOL BAG GAME CLOCK

Wordsearch does not practise the meaning of words, only the spelling. If you want to focus on both meaning and spelling, use a crossword puzzle with meaning clues. Crossword puzzles and clues can be made at http://www.printablecrosswordmaker.com/crossword_maker/crossword_maker.jsp

Just for Fun

Misspellings can often create very humorous results. This was exploited by a brilliant American poet, Taylor Mali. Enjoy his poem at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-c03YCBo3z8 but don’t show it to your students!

Conclusions

Spelling in English is not consistently phonetic and does not appear to have any logical system. Although there is no system, there are regular patterns. Through hours of extensive reading, students learn to recognise these patterns and gradually become more accurate in their writing.

Today, most writing is done within word processing programs on computers and these usually contain Spellcheck applications which will underline misspellings in red and suggest likely corrections. Learners should be encouraged to use Spellcheck applications and learn from the suggested corrections.

Encourage students to make lists of their regular misspellings and use these to create spelling tests and exercises.

Nick Dawson 2014

Standard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s