The Best Way to Help Students Spell High Frequency Words
An important part of a rules-based spelling program is the inclusion of an approach to teaching high frequency words. Oftentimes these words are rule breakers and require a bit more spelling help than words that follow predictable patterns. This Orton Gillingham technique is perfect for any student learning to spell sight words that appear most frequently in reading and writing. If you’re wondering how to improve spelling in your classroom, this approach is for you.
My first teaching position was in a school for “bright students who learn differently.” Most of the population was dyslexic and many had an additional “difference” in the form of ADD, autism, chronic health concerns, or simply weren’t successful in the traditional school setting.
Every teacher received training in multisensory, multimodal instructional practices, such as Orton Gillingham (OG) for reading and spelling. And foundational content blocks, such as reading and math, weren’t structured by grade level, but by ability. Which meant that during my OG block, I had students from second through seventh grades all in the same class.
It was both fabulous and difficult all at once. Tasked with improving their spelling abilities, I doubted one tool could work effectively for both a seven-year-old and a twelve-year-old.
I was wrong.
Five principles rule over 90% of the English language. So it makes sense that students who are most successful in spelling are those that understand the rules.
However, there are rule breakers. And not every rule can be taught at once. Students need a method for learning words that either break rules they’ve learned or follow rules they’ve yet to learn including high frequency words.
Enter Spelling Fluency.
Research shows multisensory instruction has a tremendously positive effect on students’ abilities to retain new information. When multiple areas of the brain are engaged at the same time, stronger connections are made allowing learners to experience the information more deeply.
While multisensory instruction is effective for any type of content, it’s especially important when teaching concepts that are abstract, such as spelling words that don’t follow rules, and for those students who learn differently.
Spelling Fluency is a multisensory approach to learning “rule-breakers,” or what we would call in Orton Gillingham, “Red Words.” These words break patterns students know, appear frequently in students’ reading and writing, and therefore must be memorized.
Spelling Fluency works by incorporating personalized spelling lists with visual, auditory, and kinesthetic practices. Typically, sight words are used in Spelling Fluency practices. For many teachers, these are district or building selected words. In my classroom, “Red Words” were those pulled from both Fry and Dolch sight words lists as well the Dolch nouns. After obtaining a baseline, students receive a personalized spelling list of words to master and practices are completed with a partner of similar ability.
Supplementary resources, such as Personal Spelling Dictionaries, help students retain the words they’ve mastered throughout the year. This follow-up step ensures that students remain the keepers of knowledge – not you. No more asking, “How do you spell…?”. Instead, students refer to their own collection of words whenever they write.
Spelling Fluency was a game changer in my classroom.
I watched students’ spelling abilities skyrocket from the beginning of the year to the end. Through using fluency, my struggling seventh-grade student finally surpassed her second-grade classmates and moved to a more grade appropriate class the following year. While several factors contributed to that growth, Spelling Fluency was the one consistent factor that helped her and my other students finally master those tricky but essential high frequency words.
While several factors contributed to that growth, Spelling Fluency was the one consistent factor that helped her and my other students finally master those tricky but essential sight words.
Interested in learning more?
The next post details the process of Spelling Fluency step by step. I also provide you with tips for making fluency practices run smoothly in your classroom. If you’re interested in learning more about the Orton Gillingham materials I used, you can find them here.
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