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Does Your Child’s Spelling List Make Sense?

Spelling lists are the foundation of many spelling programs. But when you take a closer look, you’ll see that most spelling lists don’t make sense to the student. In fact, most lists have major flaws that actually keep kids from learning to spell.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some common types of ineffective spelling lists. After you know what to look for, you’ll be able to spot the ineffective lists and prevent frustration for your student. And you’ll save yourself a lot of grief, too!

Common Types of Ineffective Spelling Lists

  1. Words taken from a book the student is reading

    The words on these lists are usually unrelated both in terms of content and phonetic structure. For example, this 3rd-grade spelling list from Trumpet of the Swan includes words such as catastrophe, reveille, and plumage.

  2. Spelling List 1 - words take from a book
  3. Words showing all the different ways that a single sound can be spelled

    These lists can contain words with as many as six or seven different ways to spell the same sound. For example, the following list features the long I sound and includes words such as item, timed, pie, cry, light, and kindness.

  4. Spelling List 2 - different ways to spell the same sound
  5. Words taken from the Dolch or Fry lists (in frequency order)

    The words on this type of spelling list are completely unrelated to each other. Seemingly random words such as hot, because, far, live, and draw, are grouped together only because they are frequently used words.

  6. Words centered around a theme

    One week the spelling list might be geography-themed and include the words longitude, Britain, and region. The next week the word list might focus on math and feature words like quotient, addition, and prime. These are all good words, but unfortunately kids are expected to memorize the spellings by rote instead of learning why the words are spelled the way they are.

Spelling List 1 - words taken from a book a child is reading

Here’s the Main Problem with These Lists

All these lists make spelling much harder than it needs to be. The related phonograms and spelling rules generally aren’t explicitly or systematically taught, leaving students to figure out the code on their own or resort to guessing. Rote memorization of the words on the list is difficult (and boring). And the words are easily forgotten because there is nothing for the learner’s mind to “attach” the words to.

For many students, learning to spell with ineffective lists leads to a lifetime of poor spelling. But there’s a better way!

Spelling Lists that Do Make Sense

Here’s the good news! There is a fifth type of list that actually does make sense.

  1. Word lists centered on a single, well-organized spelling concept

    This is the type of list we use in the All About Spelling program.

    Our lists are different. We don’t just hand the student a list on Monday and expect him to have it memorized for a test on Friday. In fact, we don’t even have tests! Instead, we teach students why words are spelled the way they are and demonstrate how all the words on the list are related to each other.

    Phonogram card 'IGH'

    For example, when we teach the IGH phonogram (which says /ī/ as in high), we teach multiple words that contain IGH, such as:

    Words that contain the phonogram 'IGH'

    Can you see how the words on this list reinforce the phonogram the child has learned and provides the opportunity to practice it?

    Unlike the Long I list shown in list type #2, our list has reason and logic behind it and will therefore be easy for a student to remember and use for encoding new words later on.

An Emphasis on Review

After the student learns the words that contain the IGH phonogram, we review that newly learned concept in many ways.

In all, we incorporate four major spelling strategies (phonetic, rule-based, visual, and morphemic), as well as five minor strategies. Check out this article on effective spelling strategies to learn more.

We do whatever it takes to make learning stick, which is the exact opposite of what happens with the “list on Monday, test on Friday” approach. When you use spelling lists that make sense, it’s a win-win. Your child gets the type of teaching he deserves, and you get the satisfaction of watching him become a happy, successful speller.

Has your child ever been given a spelling list that didn’t make sense? Please share in the comments below.

Six Ways We Make Spelling Easy Report

Does your child's spelling list make sense pinterest graphic
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Gail Stomski

says:

I love and use both your reading and spelling curriculums. However, I DO wish that you would have some kind of preprinted word list for each spelling lesson. I have been typing up your word list for each lesson, but also include additional words that I have to search for on the internet with the same phonogram. It’s time consuming, but I use the list for my kids to write out the words during the week and then I like to give them the written test a few days later. I know you state in this blog that your program doesn’t give tests, but it assures me that my kids are learning. So, my main purpose in my comment is that I just wish you had the word lists already listed out and to have more challenge words, like the ones I find on the internet. Thanks.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Gail,
The dictation found at the end of each Step in All About Spelling is a much better “test” or assessment than using the word cards, the more words, and other words that use the same concept. This is because when testing on all the same pattern, the student can just apply the pattern to each word. This assesses if students have understood the pattern, but it is easy for them to then forget to use it later on when new spelling words are given.

The dictation is more difficult as it requires students to spell words that use a variety of concepts, rules, and patterns previously learned all mixed together. He or she has to know which to apply and when. This is much more challenging and a truer assessment of whether the student has mastered the concepts and allows you to determine which things need more review.

We don’t provide more challenging words as longer and more advanced words generally use multiple spelling concepts and methods that are taught later on in the program. The word lists given in All About Spelling are words that use only the concepts that have been introduced to that point. We don’t expect students to spell words that use concepts, rules, or patterns that have not yet been explicitly taught yet. If the words in AAS are easy for your students, make sure they can teach the concept back to you with the letter tiles to ensure mastery, and then move on. That way you will get to harder words more quickly.

All About Spelling is a research-based spelling program designed to take the struggle out of learning to spell. The methods, sequences, and procedures in the program are carefully designed to follow educational research and ensure students the best chance at spelling success.

Tosha Ruggles

says:

Throughout my son’s first grade year I struggled with his spelling lists. I didn’t understand why the words were grouped in a specific way – and they didn’t seem to align with any focus.
This summer, I started in AAS 1 just to be sure we hadn’t missed any rules. This program is EASY to implement, it is thorough, and my two young boys put up with it each day without complaints! I’m so excited to use this program to supplement his school program when he returns. I wish I had this sooner!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Tosha,
I’m so pleased to hear that All About Spelling is working so well for your son! Thank you for sharing this.

Christy

says:

I have had such difficulty the past few years trying to teach my children to spell that I ended up not even doing any spelling last year. Now I understand why it was so frustrating. Most of the programs we used had lists like the examples you showed above. I hope I’m not too late jumping in with AAS, but I need to help my kids learn how to spell well. Thank you for this information.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased to hear that this was helpful for you, Christy. It is not too late to start All About Spelling; it has been used successfully with teens and even adults! We have a blog post on Using All About Spelling with Older Students that I think you will find helpful.

Please let me know if you have any questions about placement or anything else.

Charity

says:

It’s interesting to see how many spelling lists I had growing up were helpful in expanding spelling skills.

Nakesha

says:

Spelling has kind of sat on the back burner. Seeing all the different types of spelling programs, they just didnt make any sense with the lists. They didnt flow or really teach my child the Foundations of spelling. We are so excited to start up AAS this fall, and really understand the ground rules for spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sounds great, Nakesha! 😊

Maria

says:

Can’t believe how hard it is to teach spelling! I have a struggling speller, and have been doing tons of research to figure out how to help him. Thanks for these great articles and posters!

Merry

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Maria! Our goal is to make spelling easy to teach! https://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/easy-to-teach/

Pat

says:

This makes so much sense!

Amy

says:

This way of learning to spell actually makes sense to me.

Jayne Ayliffe

says:

This is very useful information for teachers and parents! I wish that this was included in teacher training so that they were equipped to teach the most effective ways.

Merry

says: Customer Service

Good point, Jayne!

Rashanda D King

says:

Lists like #1 or #4 seem to make sense but now I can see how they don’t reinforce any spelling concepts.

Kellie Merwin

says:

I am hopeful that my daughter with dyslexia can finally learn how to spell using AAS.

Merry

says: Customer Service

I hope so too, Kellie! Let me know if you ever have questions along the way–we provide ongoing support for all of our programs, so you can email, call, or FB message us with questions any time. You may want to check out our Dyslexia Resources for teaching tips and ideas too: https://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/category/dyslexia/

Charise W.

says:

AAS and AAR are the only programs that have worked for my struggling learners. I love both these programs!

Merry

says: Customer Service

I’m so glad they worked for your children, Charise!

Carrie Phillips

says:

This is great! Thanks

Becca

says:

Thanks for the great program!

Stephani

says:

This is why I love this spelling program. My son used to come home with word lists like #3. He memorized them for the test, but quickly forgot. We have used All About Spelling for two years and his spelling has improved significantly because “it makes sense”.

Merry

says: Customer Service

Thanks for sharing your experience, Stephani–it sounds like you are doing a great job working with your son!

ANGELA PEPPERS

says:

love all about spelling. my daughter is turning into a great speller. what i love most is that it is mastery based. i have not had any trouble with her forgetting how to spell anything she had previously spelled correctly on a test.

Jessica R.

says:

I will begin teaching spelling with my son this coming school year and this approach to spelling makes so much sense to me! Thanks for this article.

Dacia Bergeson

says:

We will be starting level 1 next year and I’m so excited!

Brittany Leader

says:

This makes so much sense! We will be starting level 1 this year with reading and spelling. I’m actually more excited to start this year than I have been in the past, because I feel like I have found a program that will really work for my kiddos!

Merry

says: Customer Service

I hope you have a great year teaching your kids, Brittany! Let us know if you have questions along the way :-).

Denise

says:

I like spelling lists that make sense.

Angela Boudro

says:

My kids are just starting school, so we can avoid meaningless spelling lists! Excited for them to learn this way!

Sarah D

says:

Makes more sense to teach it this way!

Charissa Reed

says:

interesting. I never thought about spelling lists this way.

Lani Liberatore

says:

I’m excited to learn about this approach to teaching spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lani,
We have a good overview video you may find helpful, Why Our Programs Work. Let me know if you would like more information about All About Spelling or need any information.

Lani

says:

Thank you Robin! I will check it out!

Jen

says:

Teaching my son to spell this way has made so much sense for him!

Dawn

says:

This makes so much sense. Thank-You!

Margarita

says:

Oh my gosh!! I love this. I’m teaching my son spelling and this is absolutely helpful!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad this is helpful, Margarita! 😊

Brittany

says:

Yes! I’m so thankful that I don’t ever feel like I am “helping my child” by teaching them in a way that encourages them to reinforce the skills they e been learning!

Renee Jennings

says:

This sounds wonderful! Neither my husband or I are strong spellers and we want our kids to be better. Also my 9 year old will ask my why words are spelled a certain way and I have no answers for him.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Renee,
All About Spelling does go into the whys of spelling quite a bit and we often hear how parents’ spelling is improved as they use AAS with their child.

By the way, I’m happy to help you answer the why questions too. In fact, I rather enjoy delving into the whys of English spelling. 😊

Kristall

says:

AAS has worked great for us!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is wonderful to hear, Kristall! Thank you.

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