How to Improve Spelling with Successful Fluency Practice
In my last post, I gave a brief overview of Spelling Fluency and why I used it with my spelling program. In this post, I will detail the steps for using Spelling Fluency in your classroom along with tips for managing it.
Before starting a fluency program, decide its purpose. As I stated in the last post, I used Spelling Fluency as a tool for students to learn words that are “rule-breakers” or those that follow rules that haven’t yet been learned. However, fluency practices can also be a way to enforce words, rules, or patterns that students have a difficult time remembering.
Also think about how much time you can devote to fluency practices. In order to see the full benefit, Spelling Fluency should be used at least twice per week. Three or more times would be ideal.
Throughout this post, I have included links to the products I used in my classroom. These are affiliate links, which means that I earn a small amount should you use the link to make a purchase with no additional cost to you. I use affiliate funds to support this site.
1. Each student receives a two-pocket folder with prongs. Inside the folder are a graphing chart with words to learn, word cards in an envelope, and practice pages. If you are able, I recommend making the investment and purchasing plastic folders that can be reused each year.
As for the envelopes to hold word cards, I’ve found that 6x9 manila envelopes work well and last all year.
2. Next, you will need one spelling mat for every two students (partners share one during practice). I’ve always used red plastic canvas sheets, but any type of textured material will work.
Students trace their words on the mat using their fingers, which incorporates several senses at once. Rubber cabinet liners burlap, velvet, etc. would work well.
The Word Lists
Each student receives a word list to master. You decide what these words will be - rule breakers, pattern words, or both. Students then receive word cards to use during practices. Cards feature one word each and a sentence using that word.
To obtain a baseline, give your class a Spelling Assessment. After the test, add every word that each student misses to his personal Fluency Practice Chart. Students start with the first ten words on their lists. Words stay on lists until they are mastered. In this case, “mastered” means that a student is able to spell a word correctly ten times independently. The length of time it takes to master each word depends on your schedule and students’ accuracy.
Partners can change every month or stay together all year. You decide what works best for your students. It is easiest if the partners’ lists are the same or fairly close to the same. This way, students have additional exposure to the words they’re working on.
Each session includes a warm up and three rounds of practice. I model the entire procedure and have the class go through each step together until they can do it independently. This typically doesn’t take very long. Modeling, as well as incorporating peer models, helps students learn the process quickly.
Partners bring their folders, pencils, and one spelling mat to their work area and sit facing each other.
First, students work independently to practice their words. Each student pulls out the ten word cards from his envelope. Starting with the first card, the student reads the word and the sentence to himself. He repeats the word, spells it out loud, and says the word again. Then he moves onto the next card and repeats the procedure.
Next, students write their words in the first column of their practice sheets. They copy each word straight from their word cards so that they are spelled correctly. When finished, students fold back the first column so that it no longer can be seen.
Now students decide which will be the teacher and which will be the student. The student gives his card pile to the teacher and the student pulls out the spelling mat.
The teacher holds the card pile so that the student can’t see it. She reads the first word and the student repeats the word. Then the teacher reads the sentence and repeats the word.
The student says the word and begins the spelling procedure. First, he says each letter out loud while using the pad of his index finger to “write” as large as possible on the mat.
When he’s said and written the last letter in the word, he says the word again while underlining it by swiping his finger from the left side of the mat to the right.
If he has spelled the word correctly, then the teacher gives him praise and tells him to write it on his practice page. He picks up his pencil and writes the word in the second column while saying each letter out loud. When finished, he repeats the word one last time and then places a check by that word.
If he has misspelled the word, the teacher kindly tells him that it is incorrect and shows him the card. The student repeats the process, only this time he looks at the card while spelling it out loud and tracing each letter on the mat. When finished, he copies the word on his practice page, but does not put a check by it.
The teacher continues working through the deck until all cards have been used. The student folds his paper back so that the first and second columns are hidden now. The teacher scrambles the card pile and repeats the process for rounds two and three.
When the student has completed his three practices, the partners switch roles and begin again.
When both students have finished their three rounds, it is time to chart success. Students open their folders to their fluency graphs and place check marks for each time they spelled a word correctly on their own.
After charting their success, students write sentences independently. If you would like to use a single sided practice sheet, then have students select two words from their list and write a sentence using each. Young students can simply copy the example sentences from their word cards while older students should be challenged to create their own. I had my third graders write original sentences that were at least seven words long.
Once students have mastered a word, it is removed from their envelope and a new one is added. If you’ve already written down every word missed from the initial spelling assessment on each student’s list, then it will be easy to see which word is added next. You’ll thank yourself later for doing this ahead of time!
Updating folders and cards can be a job. However, I’ve learned a few tips that made the process much easier. First, establish a place where students turn in folders and cards that need updated. In my classroom, I set out a large basket for folders and a smaller one for cards. When a student mastered a word, he takes out that card and places it in the small basket and his folder goes in the large basket.
Second, have multiple sets of cards ready. Parent volunteers are fabulous for this job! Typically, your students will end up using the same words in their practices, but not all at the same time. Before starting fluency, I would make between 5 - 10 copies of each word card onto cardstock, cut out, and have them ready to use throughout the year.
Making it Work
In my classroom, I taught spelling in small groups rather than whole group. In my opinion, this is ideal so that students receive personalized instruction that fits their needs. Some years, my scheduled allowed me a dedicated block of time for just spelling instruction and practice. In other years, I worked fluency practices into my writing block and typically during station work.
However, I understand that isn’t always possible – especially when you have multiple classes. My best advice for those wondering how to fit Spelling Fluency into their current schedule would be during center or station work. Once students understand the process, it requires no additional instruction of your part. It can be completely student managed. And utilizing volunteers to manage folders makes this a breeze!
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