Spellings: To test or not to test?

Anyone had thoughts about abandoning age-old practices of Friday spelling tests?



You all know the drill, I’m sure many of you did it when you were still at school: you get the words on a Monday to practice them during the week, then take a test on Friday. Great! If you get a high score, not so great if you don’t…

As a teacher you then start marking independent work and notice that children are still misspelling those same words and many others that share that specific spelling feature! Arrrgghhh!!

Could abandoning this practice be a step in the right direction? 

Teaching spelling well, is a massive topic! It’s clear that we need to teach kids to spell in a way that makes sense to them. No one doubts the importance of spelling – it supports both reading and writing fluency. We also know that methods like the one described above, most often than not, fail our children.

Laura Busby from Dyslexia Pros recommends some spelling strategies for teachers to adopt as they move away from the weekly test:

  1. Make sure students have good phonemic awareness skills. If a student cannot orally separate sounds and syllables in words, he/she is going to have a very hard time spelling.

  2. Teach students to tap out the syllables in the words, and to spell each syllable sound by sound.

  3. Teach the spelling rules. There are 96 spelling rules in the English language, and most Orton-Gillingham based programs teach all 96 of these rules. An approach like the Barton Reading and Spelling System even has picture cards for each spelling rule that really help students remember the rules.

  4. Test spelling in low-stake ways. This can be through the students’ day to day writing. These types of practices will really tell teachers and parents if a child knows the spelling of words versus just memorizing the spelling for an isolated test.

  5. Allow students to correct their spelling mistakes. So many students need to first concentrate on the sounds in the word; then, they can go back and apply spelling rules to make sure they used the right letters to spell each sound. Also, many students won’t even realise they spelled the word incorrectly until they are gently led to discover their mistakes for themselves.

After 20 years of teaching spelling in a list-giving-Monday-to-Friday way, I will be the first to admit that this change is challenging. Finding what works for you as a teacher, as well as your specific cohort of children is not a paved road.

One needs to be creative, pre-plan and call upon that teacher creativity and initiative that has been bashed via the many changes and prescriptive ways of “outstanding” teaching. Only through trial, will it be refined to something better and more meaningful for the children.

What are your thoughts on this and how do you teach spellings? Please leave a comment below and let’s start a conversation!

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Till next time…


One comment on “Spellings: To test or not to test?”
  1. Reblogged this on My EFL Blog and commented:
    I’m reposting an interesting post I’ve read on Spelling teaching and assessment. I’m trying to find a new path for myself as regards Spelling because most students don’t seem to bother how to spell a word correctly unless spelling is what’s being assessed ! Any ideas?

    Liked by 1 person

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