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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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Leave a Comment

Jessica T.

says:

This makes so much more sense to me. My son is “why” person and this approach would tap into that so much better than the way he is taught at school.

jane

says:

This does bear out in my experience with my children. We started out doing spelling based on a reading program that we used that taught using word families. Spelling went great. Then we switched to using a high frequency list. It was fine in the beginning, but as we moved through the list, it got worse and worse. My 6th grade son has never spelled better since starting AAS. We did level 1, 2, and 3 last year. This year I hope to complete levels 4 & 5, finally finishing with level 6 & 7 the following year, or maybe two.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Jane,
Just remember that AAS 7 takes students through high school level spelling. We use all of the modern Ayers list words which ranks up to 12th grade, and other various lists that rank words between 9th and 12th grade. So, if your son needs a bit more time than half a year per level, he’ll still be on target. And if he’s anything like my daughter, he’ll be correcting your spelling before long. :D

Lisa G

says:

As a teacher and now a parent, this all makes so much sense. I wish all teachers could see the logic in connecting words and use this type of logic and system in their classrooms!

Alta

says:

This makes so much sense to me. I’ve never struggled with spelling but my husband and daughter are bith dyslexic. I can’t wait to try this program with my children!

Jamie

says:

My daughter aced every spelling list ever sent home through public school. She was bored out of her mind and thus used to help the other struggling kids in her classes. Beginning homeschooling this year has allowed me to see where she needed extra help. She LOVES to be challenged. It’s so exciting for me to see her actually progressing. This is a new world for me going beyond the preschool years with home learning. It’s a little scary, however, I think the challenge is fantastic for us both!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Jamie,
Have you see our recent blog post about a dad using All About Reading with a gifted son? The same concepts apply across all areas of learning. Children do wonderfully when allowed to move forward at their own pace!

Margaret

says:

I agree.

Ashley

says:

My niece has studied spelling lists for elementary school, and it always makes me so very glad we homeschool and are able to use programs like yours that are so much better for teaching and learning!

Kim

says:

AAS seems to be working well for my boys so far. It’s well organized and easy to use. Thank you!

Amy Smith

says:

AAS has been a great help to my DD whi has struggled with spelling. Since beginning AAS she has become a more confident speller and now believes in her ability to be able to spell.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

This is wonderful, Amy. Thank you for sharing your daughter’s success!

Adrian N.

says:

Thanks for the helpful article!!

Anne

says:

Bless you for creating AAS with all of this in mind!! It has been tremendous for us.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Awwww, thank you, Anne.

Carly Staub

says:

My daughter has easily grasped spelling concepts that she didn’t learn successfully any other way we tried. What really excites me, though, is how her confidence has also grown. Now she’s happy to try spellingnew and unfamiliar words instead of just wanting me to spell them for her.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

This is great, Carly. Confidence in one’s abilities is so important!

Lacey

says:

Learning the “why” behind the concept has always helped me learn better. I am so grateful for your programs that allow me to easily pass that on to my children as we homeschool!

Mia

says:

It is so important to make sure spelling rules are understood. My son had no problem memorizing when spelled before this program. However, when it was time to spell those same words later, he had extreme difficulty.

Beth

says:

I completely agree. Having homeschooled for many years, my children and I achieved the most spelling success and progress when we focused on one concept at a time.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing your experience with this, Beth. We discuss this in the first post of our Memory Series, The Funnel Concept.

Christine

says:

You are so right. The way you have organized the spelling lists do make “learning stick”. When we were at the end of All About Spelling Level 1, I had my 6 year old spell every word that we had completed through the entire book. She got them all correct. We are now almost done with Level 2. She loves both your reading and spelling programs and is learning so much and feels positive about her experience (which is the most important part for me). Thank you.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Wow, it sounds like your daughter is doing very well, Christine! Thank you for sharing.

Jessica

says:

I have been using all about reading with my 2 oldest! We are loving it!!! Would like to try the spelling.

Lindsay S

says:

My 5 year old loves spelling and reading. I don’t know what we would have done without All About Learning Press!

Sherrie

says:

I homeschool and see this types of lists all the time on the internet. I cringe when I see them because they just don’t make sense to me. Sometimes you’ll see the alphabetical list. Even some phonics programs I’ve seen may have a test where the ay, ai, aCe forms of long a are given in all the same list. I like your approach centering on only 1 concept (which is always how I’ve preferred to teach my kids on my own). We have your AAS level 2 and am looking forward to starting that as I have to do some fundamentals to go back over for my 5th grader

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Sherrie,
I’ve seen some spelling tests that make me cringe too. Hopefully you find All About Spelling to be a good fit for you and your student.

TomI Carroll

says:

Love this program!

Melissa

says:

I love this program. My son has dyslexia and lots of trouble with spelling. The All About Spelling program is the only one that has helped him make real progress.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing this, Melissa. It is great to hear that All About Spelling is helping him make real progress.

Melissa

says:

We’ve been using the program for a little over a month. I love how you learn rules and why you spell things a certain way. I can see my son grasping the concepts and applying them to more complicated words. Amazing!

Mia

says:

Is your son homeschooled?

Karen

says:

I’m enjoying learning the spelling rules as I am teaching them to my daughter. I was taught to spell by memorizing, and had no idea there were more rules than “I before E except after C”.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Karen,
Ah, the infamous “I before E except after C” rule that is mocked for having more exceptions than words that follow it. Sigh. All About Spelling instead focuses on rules and patterns that are reliable.

Karen

says:

I love your materials and use them for intervention.

Stacy

says:

I am very thankful for this spelling program. Not only has it improved my kids’ spelling skills, but it reminded me of all the spelling rules that were locked away in my brain’s filing cabinet! It retaught me some of the basic spelling rules that has enabled me to teach my kids to become better, smarter spellers. I can’t tell you how thankful they were to be told that they weren’t have a spelling test! Thank you!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Stacy,
This is great! Thank you for telling us how AAS has helped your kids.

Ashlea

says:

We haven’t started spelling tests yet; glad I read your post now!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Ashlea,
I’m glad this was timely for you!

Teesa

says:

I’ve been doing simple spelling lists with my first grader the first part of this year and it’s not working at all. Ready to take a different approach with AAS since he LOVES AAR!

Michelle

says:

Spelling tests never worked with my 4th and second graders either. Since we started this program, they actually get it!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Thanks for sharing that this method has worked with your students, Michelle!

Jennifer P

says:

As a reading tutor, I am always looking for new strategies for the encoding side of things.

Jenni Evans Smith

says:

Wow, this sounds like it may really help my son learn to spell.

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