Differentiated Activities for Engaging Students with Spelling

October 7, 2013 Lindsey Graff

by Emma Dorrance

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Growing up, I was a bad speller – I dreaded the tests each week and I never felt like I was gaining any tools in my tool belt to help me be successful.  After teaching spelling my first year in the classroom, I was very disappointed.  I used a lot of worksheets and I I could see my students’ eyes glaze over as I went to pass out the textbooks.

I realized I needed to think of some ideas to spice up our Word Work time each day. I also wanted to come up with something that was efficient for me and the students, and that would work for any spelling list (or grade level). With so much reading and sifting through pages, I found we weren’t getting time to interact with the words. I also wanted to incorporate an element of choice to help students take ownership over and be excited about practicing their words.

With inspiration from my friend and colleague, Connie Rueckert, and the internet, I came up with some amazing ideas to help my students gain excitement about their Word Work time.

Each week on Monday, I introduce the week’s theme – for example, words with long a and long evowel patterns. For the rest of the days of the week, the students get to choose from three daily activity options to study their words.

As the year progresses, I introduce more options, but the kids still only have three choices each day. I mix them up and give a variety of choices by posting signs in the front of the room that display the names of the tasks. The students write the name of their choice at the top of their paper, the date, and get to work.  My students and I love alliteration and catchy names, so we have options like “Strange Sentences” (students write silly sentences with the words), “Whiteboard Wizards” (writing sentences and words on whiteboards), “Rock at Rhyming” (I bet you can guess on that one works!) and more. The choices involve writing, saying, and hearing to practice the words.

I made fun signs, which have examples on them, to help remind students what each task would demand. I had them laminated to last longer, like the one below. Here is a link to the Word Work Signs I made!

A class favorite is called “Wack-a-Word.”  I had a particularly high energy group last year and I wanted to find a way to get the kids engaged in an even more hands-on way.  Connie told me of a game she used with her ELL students to review vocabulary and we modified it for spelling. It could really be used to review any vocabulary.

If this choice is put up – everyone wants to play!

How to Play:

  1. Divide the class into equal teams.  Depending on how many chalkboards you have to use, you can have multiple teams – I’ve had up to four with larger class sizes.kluhj

  2. Each team gets a wacker – basically just a fly swatter.

  3. All the words are written on the white board.

  4. A team member from each team approaches the board.

  5. Rules are established – ours are pretty cut and dry:

  • Don’t touch anyone or anything but the blackboard with your wacker – violations result in team members having to take a step back or not play

  • The teams must be quiet when the players get up in front of the board – failure to do so results in a penalty of a step back

  • The only person who can determine a penalty is the teacher

  • Only positive comments are allowed

I set the stage right away in this fashion and most days, everyone plays by the rules and enjoys themselves!

6.  The teacher reads a sentence with the spelling word omitted so the students have to search for the word that fits the sentence using contextual clues

7.  The first player to wack the correct word earns a point.

  • Yes – that’s right – a point!  They can handle it.  Life is winning and losing and my students learned to do it very gracefully by the end of the year!  It is a great way to practice good sportsmanship.

8.  Bonus Round! Each game is ended with a bonus round – you can structure it however you want.  Example: plus 20 points, points Xs 2.


Emma Dorrance

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Emma Dorrance is the 3rd-year 3rd grade teacher in Green Bay, Wisconsin. She focuses on differentiation and adaption in her classroom and is currently going back to school for her Special Education Certification. She graduated from University of Wisconsin – Madison with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Early Childhood – Middle Childhood Elementary Teaching with a minor in history.

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