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Literacy Conversation – start with spelling

What shared language do you use with your students to talk about a word they’re struggling to spell or read?

We’re limiting this post to four terms:

  • sound & spelling
  • phoneme & grapheme

Because of changes to the curriculum, your students might need phoneme and grapheme. However, I prefer to start with the familiar because older students who’ve struggled with reading and spelling in the past can feel anxious about learning terminology and recalling terms can waste precious memory in the beginning.

  • Using simple language to talk about how English works as a code is a powerful tool for students who’ve never felt in control of reading and writing.
  • Introduce phoneme and grapheme once they’re secure in the concepts of sounds and how to spell them.
  • Develop that confidence by using a shared language, starting with spelling and demonstrating the concepts in every lesson.

When a student asks how to spell a word:

  • Ask which part of the word (or which grapheme) is causing them trouble and stop spelling whole words for them. It gets them thinking of a word as a collection of sounds and symbols (phonemes & graphemes) rather than a string of letter names to be recalled.
  • Feel free to spell graphemes using letter names. Most students know the alphabet so it’s quick and easy. It also demonstrates appropriate use of them.
  • If you have time and it will be useful, refer them to a spelling options chart or create your own.
  • If it’s a word that comes up frequently, plan on doing a whole class lesson on it with puzzle pieces.

Developing this kind of conversation isn’t complicated but it’s often a new way of thinking about the language, even for English teachers. Take the time to start thinking about sounds (phonemes) and the spelling of sounds (graphemes) and consistently using a simple conversation about spelling in your classroom. Because you control the level of the vocabulary, this strategy is appropriate for any age from mid-primary to college.





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