“Are you grading for spelling on this?” a middle-school-aged student asked about his essay. Of course I was grading for spelling—on this essay and on other assignments. But for some older students, there is an assumption that since spelling tends to be taught only in younger grades that they do not need to proofread (or that their computer’s spellcheck will find everything for them).
Although formal spelling classes tend to be directed toward primary students, older students can also benefit from directed spelling study. Some spelling class formats, especially for older students, are more implicit, with informal redirection when a word is misspelled on an assignment rather than concentrated efforts to teach spelling patterns.
But a recent study from Great Britain shows that the explicit study of spelling based on specific roots and their derivatives “shows a sustained effect on spelling” (Burton et al., 2021). A simple reminder to a student that a word is misspelled or even requiring the student to correct it does not bring about long-term improved spelling. Rather, when the students in this research study focused on groups of words based around a specific spelling rule, their spelling test grades improved both at the time of study and then later when they were re-tested on the same spelling groups.
So practically speaking, how does one teach spelling to older students? Traditional textbooks can be used, with lists for each week and regular tests. Some spelling programs focus on individual lists for students, based on their current level. (Beverly Adams-Gordon’s Spelling Power is one textbook often used to generate these types of ability-level lists.) For students in high school, by which point most formal spelling programs have stopped, a spelling notebook or stack of note cards on which students keep track of their own misspelled words and then practice and maybe even test from their own lists can be easily implemented.
No matter the student’s age, they should practice the words when studying spelling and not just rely on simple memorization for a test. Burton et al.’s study (2021) showed that playing games helped the students in the group that were explicitly studying the spelling patterns.
Hands-on activities can also increase student learning of new spelling words. Here are some fun and easy ways to practice spelling for students in middle grades—and most of these will also work with younger students.
Burton, L., Nunes, T., & Evangelou, M. (2021). “Do children use logic to spell logician? Implicit
versus explicit teaching of morphological spelling rules.” The British Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(4), 1231-1248. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12414.