- Year Published: 1908
- Language: English
- Country of Origin: United States of America
- Source: Sanders, T. E. (1908). Twenty Talks to Teachers. The Teachers Co–Operative Company.
- Flesch–Kincaid Level: 10.4
- Word Count: 2,620
Sanders, T. (1908). Chapter 16: A Talk About Spelling. Twenty Talks to Teachers (Lit2Go Edition). Retrieved August 13, 2022, from
Sanders, Thomas E.. "Chapter 16: A Talk About Spelling." Twenty Talks to Teachers. Lit2Go Edition. 1908. Web. <>. August 13, 2022.
Thomas E. Sanders, "Chapter 16: A Talk About Spelling," Twenty Talks to Teachers, Lit2Go Edition, (1908), accessed August 13, 2022,.
Most of the talks in this book are on the questions of school management. Perhaps it would not be out of place to speak of the teaching of a few subjects. This and the two following chapters are devoted to the teaching side of the work. Spelling and arithmetic, the teach ing of these concern every teacher whatever her grade of work. Literature is a neglected study in many of our schools, and yet a life–giving subject. That is my reason for including that important subject.
The suggestions given below on spelling may help young teachers. I have used them at times in my own teaching and found them useful. No attempt is made to be profound. If the hints are helpful, that is enough.
Two General Plans of the Recitation.
I. The Oral Method.—This is the method by which most of us learned to spell twenty–five years ago. We memorized the letters of the word in correct order, associating the sounds to some extent with the letters them selves. There was a time when the method was almost universal in the schools. It has some evident advantages :
1. Pupils are taught to pronounce words as they learn to spell them.
2. Pupils acquire facility and readiness in dividing words into syllables.
3. It is often a saving of time. The method has some disadvantages also. Among these may be mentioned the following:
1. Often pupils who spell well orally are poor spellers when writing, and writing is the primary test of the speller.
2. The principal use of spelling is in writing. To spell correctly in writing, the muscles of the hand and arm must be trained to execute quickly and accurately the thought of the mind.
3. The number of words spelled by each pupil in oral spelling is less than in the written lesson. No teacher ever accomplishes much in any subject without the hearty interest and co–operation of the class. Any little device or method that gives you an increased and deeper interest in the subject on the part of your pupils is helpful. Variations in the recitation often adds spice and interest to what otherwise might be dull routine. In oral spelling I have found the following variations to be good:
1. The position of the class.—As a rule, I prefer the class to stand in straight line, with arms gently folded, while the teacher stands quietly where she can have the eye of each member of the class. When a word is missed, the pupil spelling it correctly "passes up," always as a mark of courtesy going behind the pupil "turned down." I have found, however, that occasionally for a few days to let pupils be seated during the recitation period while the teacher seated quietly before them pronounces the words, gets interest and attention that the usual standing order does not get.
2. Never pronounce the words in regular order.—You may pronounce up the columns, down the columns, or across the columns, but never let the pupils know in what order the words may be given to them.
They will not then be tempted to pick out and study the words which are likely to come to them.
3. It is sometimes a good drill in self–confidence and attention to ignore all mistakes in spelling at the time. —Any pupil below, noticing the mistake, may, when his turn comes to spell, spell the word which was missed, going above all who failed to note the mistake. This device gets good results. Try it.
4. Closely related to the above is the plan of passing a word correctly spelled just as if it were misspelled.— See if the next pupil will change the spelling with the hope of getting it right or spell it the same way with confidence. This is a splendid drill in self reliance.
5. Spelling matches.—These will never regain their former interest in school and it is well that they do not, but they often serve a good purpose and are interesting. There are many varieties. Let us mention five kinds.
6. The method of choosing sides and spelling for captain.—Two pupils "choose up." These make some guess for first choice of spellers. The one beating in the guess—as for example at what page I have opened this book or similar guess—gets first choice. Then each chooses alternately, dividing the school into two sides. Those who "choose up" spell first. As fast as a pupil is "turned down" the next choice on that side takes his place. When one side is down it is best to spell through next time beginning with last to be chosen on each side. (2) The one objection to the plan above is that the best spellers do most of the spelling.—This may be overcome by spelling by "tally." The plan is to let the captains who "choose up," as in the first method, stand in opposite corners of the room. Let one stand in the northeast corner of the room while the other stands in the southwest corner. As each pupil is chosen he takes his place on the left of his captain. When the choosing is over the pupils will stand in two opposing bodies on opposite sides of the room. Let all pupils on one side be called " Number One" and all on the other side be called "Number Two." Each pupil is to keep this number no matter where or in what position he may be while the spelling is going on. Then two reliable pupils, one from each side, are chosen to keep "tally." You are now ready to begin the spelling. Suppose you begin with the captain on side "Number One." He spells the word correctly and crosses the room and takes his place at the foot of side "Number Two." As he crosses the floor he calls out in distinct tones "Number One." The pupils who are keeping "tally" give side "Number One" one credit or "tally" by placing a straight line in the column headed "Number One." The spelling then continues down side "Number One." If a word is missed the the next below spells it and passes up the same as in the ordinary oral spelling class. When the last in side "Number One" has spelled you pronounce the next word to the first or captain of side "Number Two." He spells the word and crosses the room, calling out distinctly as he crosses, "Number Two," and side
''Number Two" gets a "tally." By missing words you will notice that soon the pupils from the different sides are all mixed up. You see also that the best spellers will gain as they pass above those who miss. The best spellers will then cross the room oftenest, thus calling their number and giving the most credits to their side.
It takes but a moment to get the sides started to spelling when you have studied the plan. The spelling can be continued indefinitely. The side that gets the most "tallies" is winner. Pupils will take great interest in it. The poorest spellers get as much practice in spelling as the best ones. You will find it in every way practical just as soon as you and the pupils understand the plan well. Another advantage is that if you desire two persons may pronounce at the same time without con fusion, and thus double the amount of practice in spelling in the same time.
(3) Let the class stand.—Pronounce a word to the first pupil, and let the second spell a word beginning with the last letter of the word spelled by the first pupil. Let the third pupil spell a word beginning with the last letter of the word spelled by the second pupil, etc. If a pupil misspells a word, fails to think of a word or spells a word previously spelled, he must be seated. This is a good drill not only in spelling but in thinking of new words and for increasing the pupil's vocabulary.
(4) Let each pupil name and spell a word of one syllable.—A word of two syllables. A word of three syllables, etc.
(5) Let the class stand while the teacher gives the first pupil one of a class of words.—The pupil spells the word, and then pronounces another word of the same class of words to the second and so on. If the pupil misses the word, or fails to name another word of the same class, he is seated. Numerous classes of words may be given, suited to the grade, the pupils or to the time. Here are a few suggestive lists. The teacher can readily plan others: I. Domestic animals. 2. Fruits. 3. Trees. 4. Flowers. 5. Birds. 6. Minerals. 7. Furniture. 8. Articles made of iron. 9. Articles made of wood. 10. Names of cities. 11. Names of countries. 12. Names of per sons.
II. The Written Method.—The written method of teaching spelling is now very largely used. It has the following advantages :
1. Pupils learn to spell more rapidly by sight than by sound.
2. In after life we use spelling only when writing.
3. Each pupil gets to spell more words in a written recitation than in an oral recitation in spelling.
4. All pupils are kept busy during the recitation period.
5. Pupils may examine their mistakes and correct them. This impresses the correct form more clearly upon their minds than to simply correct them orally.
6. Written spelling is a more accurate test of scholarship than oral spelling.
The principal objection made to the written method of the recitation in spelling is that it requires more time than the oral. This can be obviated by selecting only the more difficult words for spelling in the recitation. Much time is wasted in the study of the spelling lesson. Unless taught otherwise, pupils will spend just as much time "studying" the easy, familiar words in the lesson as the more difficult ones. No greater good can be done than to teach pupils how to study the lesson. As soon as the pupil knows how to spell a word, and knows that he knows how to spell it, he should eliminate it from the lesson and center his attention upon those of which he is not sure. If the teacher remembers that it is not always necessary to spell all the words in the lesson the written method will appear more rational.
The written method also admits of less variation in the recitation than the oral method. The two methods usually used are the blackboard and the blank book method. Let the class pass to the blackboard. When the board is clear, the class faces the teacher, who quickly divides them into two or more sections by pointing to the pupils rapidly and numbering, first, second; first, second; first, second; etc. This separates the sections and lessens the probability of copying. He then pronounces the words, naming the section and following by the word for that section at once. Pronounce as rap idly as the pupils can spell the words. Never let pupils get into the habit of snoozing over the spelling lesson either in recitation or in study. He should write the word correctly the first trial. No communication should be permitted. When the words are spelled, the pupils may move one space either to the right or the left and correct the work of another pupil, marking the grade.
When pupils use blank books, the words may be written in vertical columns, and each word numbered. If no special book is used it will be well to use paper just large enough to spell one lesson on a page. No communication is allowed, and when the pupil is done writing the word he quietly raises his right hand to indicate to the teacher that he is ready for the next word. The teacher can then judge when to pronounce the next word from the number of hands raised. Unless the class is very large it is best for the teacher to do the correcting. If the class is large, the papers may be collected and redistributed. Wrong words are checked and grades marked. Keep a list of the words misspelled and drill on them from time to time. Have each pupil correct his mistakes daily and keep a list of the words which he has missed during the term, neatly and correctly written.
One device I have found very successful is to select lists of common words often misspelled and words that pupils use and should by all means know how to spell. Place ten of these words on the board daily, and have pupils study them carefully for a few minutes. When the recitation time comes erase the words from the board and pronounce them to the class, having pupils write them. Then call upon pupils separately, having them to pass quickly and write the word on the board as he has it written on paper. At the end of the recitation the list of words will be written on the board again correctly. The teacher can keep marked on his original list the number of pupils who missed each word. This will serve a valuable purpose in review and drill. Ten words are few, and yet if each pupil learned the spelling of ten words each school day, think what an increase in vocabulary it would mean in a few years.
Any word having been used before may be given to the class at any subsequent lesson. The class is to be held responsible for knowing thoroughly all words of former lessons.
A few cautions may not be out of place either in written or oral spelling.
1. As a rule give one trial in spelling a word, and never more than two. The problem is to have the word so well known that the first trial is all that is needed.
2. Pronounce distinctly, but do not, as a rule, pronounce the word but once. There may be exceptions, but they should be few.
3. Do not mispronounce a word in order that the pupil may spell it correctly. Do not say sep–a rate to make sure the pupil gets an a in the second syllable.
4. Have pupils spell in natural tones. If teachers could hear themselves pronounce a spelling lesson and hear their pupils spell it—if they could hear this as the outsider and disinterested per son often hears it—they would soon reform and reform the pupils.
5. Do not pronounce words to the class in the same order the class has used in studying them.
6. It is a good rule to have each pupil pronounce the word distinctly before he tries to spell it. It insures you that the word is correctly under stood and it serves to call the pupil's attention to the word, emphasizing it. If the pupil does not understand the word then is the time for the teacher to repronounce it.
In oral spelling the plan of having pupils pronounce each syllable correctly as it is spelled is a good one. I would not, however, urge that he should go back and pronounce all the syllables each time he adds a new one. There is some argument for it and some advantage in it, but the plan is rather cumbersome.