One of the ways I approach spelling with my students is to use spelling investigations.
A spelling investigation requires a student or group of students to inquire into a spelling pattern, sound, or observation about how words are spelled, and then to find and sort examples of this and create generalisations about spelling based on the evidence found.
I usually decide on an investigation focus based on:
- errors and misunderstandings I see in student writing
- appropriate next steps on a scope and sequence, or
- a question or wondering that arises from within the class.
Below I have outlined just one spelling investigation done with my class. I hope it can provide a sense of how these lessons might work for you and your students.
I introduce a sound that has multiple spelling patterns. I read some or all of a text and students listen for that sound in words. I purposely do not show the text so they can listen, rather than look for it. A familiar text is helpful so the story is already known and focusing on word sounds is easier.
When we find a word with the featured sound, we write it down, noting the letters that spelling the sound we are looking for.
Today we listened for the /shn/ sound (because a lot of my students have been interested in stop motion lately and I have seen every variation of attempted spelling possible for stop moshune/stop mishin/stop moton, to name a few). I read them a few pages of the book ‘Melu’ by Kyle Mewburn and they said “shn” whenever they heard the sound in a word. We found two instances and an almost-example, which helped to refine the task.
Students read aloud in pairs and notice when they hear the sound. Using pairs allows for one student to read while the other listens for the sound. They write down the word if no one else in the class has written this word down yet. They add it to the growing pile of words found with the featured sound.
Tip: Have a couple of books prepared for students who are reading simpler books as they are have fewer words and those students are less likely to have success finding the words to add to the group’s collection.
With the whole group, we discuss and list all the different spellings we found, and then sort the words into columns. This is also a good time to add words students have realised fit into our spelling pattern lists but did not read.
We make a generalisation about the spelling rule.
Today it was “The shn sound can be written like sion, ssion, cean, tion, tian.”
We will add to this list over time and refer to it as a prompt for making spelling choices throughout the year.