Promoting spelling awareness at ISB

It’s been a very long time since I wrote anything on here but I’ve decided that this is something I really want to write about!

As some of you know, last year I started working at the International School of Brno (ISB) as the EAL Coordinator. The job was quite a change for me, often a challenge but a very enjoyable one!

At ISB, we use a spelling programme called Words Their Way to help children improve their spelling. Some children find it difficult to remember English spelling patterns and rules, particularly as many of them are Czech and the Czech language is spelt phonetically. Since I did my DELTA, I have been interested in pronunciation and spelling rules and the first thing I noticed using Words Their Way is that spellings which don’t fit the pattern being studied are labelled ‘Oddballs’. This didn’t seem fair to me, as there are almost always other ‘oddballs’ we could use to reinforce a spelling pattern (e.g. In one week, while studying a_e spellings, a word with ai might be thrown in and called an oddball. Later this new pattern might be introduced with other words with the same spelling)!

Anyway, to try and break down the Oddball issue, and more importantly to raise awareness of spelling among our Czech speakers, the Year 5 & 6 teachers with 9-11 year-old pupils) agreed to give an additional approach a try.

So a few weeks ago we started experimenting with a ‘Sound Dictionary’, with the aim of helping the children notice how different spelling patterns can produce the same sounds, and also how the same spelling patterns can produce different sounds 🙂

After discussing the idea with Christina McKellar, she came up with this fantastic Sound Dictionary worksheet (click the link for a pdf version).

Sound Dictionary

We decided that as Words Their Way does not use IPA, that students could draw a picture which reminded them of the key sound in the top box. The 3 circles underneath are for the spelling patterns, either as they are learned or as they are ‘noticed’. The students can then list the words they find in the respective columns and a new sheet is needed for each phoneme studied.

After using the worksheet a couple of times with Year 5 (9-10 year-olds), we noticed that some of the children were confused, so Beth Edgell suggested that we teach two new words: phoneme (drilled with the action of a phone), and grapheme (drilled with the action of writing). This instantly cleared up the issues the children were having.

It has been a big success so far, the children enjoy using the sheet and love the activities we have been doing with them. Now we just have to see if they remember the spellings!

So what have we done with the Sound Dictionary so far?

Activity 1: Hear the phoneme

Children are assigned a phoneme (or one of the phonemes being studied via its spelling in Words Their Way). the teacher reads a passage and the children should identify the words which include that phoneme – by raising their hands or shouting the word back – then they are shown the text and should find the written form and complete their dictionary page.

Activity 2: Hear the phoneme (in pairs)

Children work in pairs, one reading and the other trying to identify the phoneme. Both children make a note of the words and complete their dictionary.

Activity 3: Phoneme hunt.

In the library, children choose books and read passages to look for the phonemes they are studying.

Activity 4: Spelling and sound confusion!

Students looked at a text with various regular past tense verbs and had to sort them into the 3 different sounding categories (d, t, id). After doing this the children were invited to try and work out the pronunciation rules. This has a lot of possibilities for many other situations.

Another advantage of these activities is that students can study different phonemes (or graphemes) at the same time, so in an international environment each student can focus on specific issues that they may have or can be put into groups as we have done.

Some other modifications you might want to try:

  • Add L1 phonetics to the paper (e.g. Czechs might add a box with ‘aj’ on the ‘bike‘ phoneme page)
  • Add extra circles for more graphemes as the students discover them

Give it a try for yourself and see how it goes!



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