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Is There Any Scope for the Imagination in S-p-e-l-l-i-n-g?

Revisiting Some Archived Articles that Have Not Been Lost, but May Have Been Forgotten and Are Worth a Fresh Read

Original Post Date: June 28, 2012

Once Classical Conversations seminars wrap up, I have a chance to tackle whatever I think is a weakness in our academics. It is usually s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g. Latin, logic, history, and Memory Master testing all seem to demand my attention during Classical Conversations, so spelling does not quite receive the energy and attention it deserves. A list of unrelated words lacks any scope for the imagination, as I am sure Anne of Green Gables would agree, but words need to be spelled correctly so I do my research and try to inspire my children to love words and to value precision and correctness. This is a hard sell once they learn to type and discover spell check, but I am persistent—if nothing else—and I am tackling the subject with the best classical methods I can devise.

I am committed to memorizing the spelling rules with my children. Many Americans believe that there are so many exceptions to the rules that they really should not be called “rules” at all and memorizing them is a waste of time. I have to admit that I believed that to be true. However, once I began to actually memorize the rules, I began to see patterns that I had never noticed before. Have you noticed that in spelling the long “a” sound, “ai” is always used in the middle of a word and “ay” is always used at the end? I had not noticed that. (I have not found one exception to that rule, by the way!)

I am also committed to being efficient in this process so that I can spend my afternoons in the garden or at the park, so I am applying the one-room school house method. I have three children, ages fifteen, twelve, and eight. We gather around the dining room table where they can all see the whiteboard. (It is actually shower board purchased from a home improvement store for about $12). I write a spelling rule on the board and we all recite it several times until I think everyone has it memorized. Then, I write on the board a list of words that follow the rule. We say and spell the words together. I then add some harder words for the older two who are expected to master them. The youngest child listens and picks up a few of the words, but I do not expect him to master them this summer. I add a few advanced words for my oldest son to master. He and I say and spell these words and the younger two listen and they may pick up a few of these, too.

I have the older two students move so that they cannot see the whiteboard, and I call out the words. They write the words into their spiral-bound notebooks. (The youngest is allowed to peek at the whiteboard if he wants to. This enables him to try difficult words without getting frustrated and helps him keep up with a faster pace.) I call out the words again and spell them aloud so everybody can check their words. Everyone takes a few minutes to study any words that were misspelled. They usually write the word four times and practice spelling it aloud. We will continue studying the same rule and the same list of words until they have mastered their words. It might take one day or it might take four days.

This summer, I am using a spelling program from the Institute for Excellence in Writing called, “Phonetic Zoo.” It comes with a CD so I can do the laundry and let Andrew Pudewa call out the words for me. It gives a rule and three levels of words that go with the rule. I have also used “Spelling Plus” which is much easier on the pocketbook.

The final step toward raising great spellers is dictation. After we have mastered a few lists of words, I will dictate sentences which include the previous week’s words. I will be sure to include punctuation rules in the sentences so that we learn to use punctuation with precision. (Commas setting off introductory phrases and subordinated clauses seems to be the most often forgotten rule, so I will be dictating a lot of those this summer.) For a guide to good sentences for dictation, “Dictation Plus” is a very good resource. I used it until I got the hang of it. Now, I prefer to make up sentences myself. I use the kids’ names and our pets’ names and tell about funny things that have happened. This usually gets us giggling.

One final spelling activity which my children enjoy is to make up their own sentences using their spelling words. My daughter finds this to be an opportunity to make everyone laugh at silly, meaningless sentences. We will have plenty of serious sentences later, so I just laugh along with her. We do not do this every day, just on days we are feeling creative and relaxed.

For an illustration of really excellent spelling, I highly recommend reading aloud, Laddie, A True, Blue Story, by Gene Stratton-Porter. This delightful novel chronicles the life of a family who homeschooled their children long before there was even the idea of homeschooling. It was a natural outpouring of a father’s love of learning and love for his children. He spent the evenings challenging the children to spell aloud from their New England Primers. At one point, the whole community gathers for a spelling bee and they have to go to the geography book to try and find words that the students might miss. In Challenge A this year, my daughter drew and labeled all the countries and capitals, but I did not require correct spelling (close was good enough for me). With the rules memorized, and a mom who is a little wiser and a little more inspired, I will aim higher and perhaps my youngest son and I will learn to spell all the countries and capitals correctly when he is in Challenge A.

With some creative sentences and a good novel for inspiration, I suppose there is some scope for the imagination in spelling after all!

CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education, Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11)

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