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Dictation: A Fun Way to Teach & Practice Spelling

Updated on July 9, 2013

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Don't let this happen again. Help your child or English class master spelling.
Don't let this happen again. Help your child or English class master spelling.

The world is rife with ridiculous spelling errors. I've posted a few in photos throughout this blog about teaching spelling. Mostly though, I describe the dictation style of teaching spelling and list ten fun ways to practice words.

Help Kids Learn to Spell

Help your kid or a roomful of students avoid making common errors and silly mistakes. Here I share spelling tips gleaned from my years as a spelling bee nerd and elementary school teacher.

These tips to learn spelling are adaptable for different ages, skill levels and languages. They're great for students in English classrooms, ESL classrooms, bilingual classrooms and foreign language classrooms.

A Great Way to Teach Spelling: Dictation Makes It Personal

The dictation procedure I'll describe lets you make very personalized spelling lessons even if you're one teacher with 30 students. If you don't want to use dictation and just want spelling practice activities, scroll down to the section entitled "Ten Ways to Practice Spelling."

The dictation strategy for teaching spelling can be used over and over throughout the school year.

A Not-So-Distinguished Degree

A top-tier spelling mistake
A top-tier spelling mistake

The Easy Four-Step Dictation

Step 1: Get a Writing Sample

Read a few interesting paragraphs aloud and have students copy your words down on paper. They should make their best attempts at spelling correctly.

Here's the dictation procedure:

  • The teacher reads a sentence aloud.
  • Students repeat the sentence aloud. At first they might feel awkward doing this, but if you enforce this step and maybe use funny voices, they'll eventually get into it.
  • Students write the sentence and make their best guesses at spelling.
  • The steps are repeated. The teacher tells students when to indent for new paragraphs. At the end of the entire excerpt, the teacher reads it aloud again and gives students a chance to make revisions.

Take the material from a publication that's relevant to the students' curriculum in English or another class. Some great sources would be a novel that the students are reading in English class or a document that they're studying in history class. The examples shown below are from a passage in Charlotte's Web. You could also choose a passage that introduces new knowledge about a familiar topic.

Obviously, choose a work that isn't too difficult yet contains some challenging words. Some teachers choose dictations that give extra practice with punctuation or model particular writing styles.

A Sample of Student Writing

Part of a self-corrected dictation (Click to enlarge)
Part of a self-corrected dictation (Click to enlarge)

Step 2: Evaluate the Writing for Spelling Errors

Give each student a copy of the paragraphs you've just read. Have them circle their first ten spelling mistakes and write the words correctly. Walk around the room and provide help as needed.

They now have personalized spelling lists!

Step 3: Students Complete Spelling Activities as Homework

Over the next week the students will teach themselves to spell the words correctly. Present them with some of the learning activities below and let them choose a subset. People like to have choices.

Step 4: Assessment

At the end of the week, read the dictation aloud again. Each student will only be responsible for copying the portion that includes their ten mistakes.

Grades will be a combination of performance on the final dictation and the spelling homework. Assign homework by giving students some options from the list below.

Samples of Easy Homework Activities

Write each spelling word with colored pencils.
Write each spelling word with colored pencils.
Make crossword puzzles with your spelling words.
Make crossword puzzles with your spelling words.
Cut letters from a magazine and make a ransom-style spelling list.
Cut letters from a magazine and make a ransom-style spelling list.

Ten Ways to Practice Spelling

To assign spelling homework, choose six or seven of the following activities each week and have students choose four to complete. They should also copy the dictation perfectly.

Spelling Practice Activities

1. Write each spelling word with colored pencils. Write each word three times with three colors (nine times total).

2. Write a poem that uses all of your spelling words. If you can't fit the words into one poem, then write two poems.

3. Write your words in alphabetical order three times.

4. Write a short story that uses all of your spelling words.

5. Make crosswords out of your spelling words.

6. Write a phony news story or a TV commercial using all the words from your list.

7. Write each spelling word with your non-dominant hand. Your work must be legible!

8. Write a sentence for each word. Feel free to be funny.

9. Cut letters from a magazine or newspaper. Paste your spelling words ransom-style.

10. Draw a picture to illustrate each word. Label each picture. Your caption can be just the word or a sentence that uses the word.

Do you have more ideas? Share them below!

Sometimes, Even Cambridge Messes Up

Cambridge Collage
Cambridge Collage

Sotp the Madness

These gentlemen were breathing too much paint.
These gentlemen were breathing too much paint.

Spelling Books on Amazon

No Excetions, Not Even for the Mayor

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