Being able to spell in English belongs to the ELT basics category. Kids and adults alike learn the English alphabet with the help of the many alphabet songs, practise spelling their names and that’s usually all. They are expected to remember how to spell as it’s considred to be easy. Besides there are so many other important and interesting things to focus on.
I’ve been teaching 1st graders for 7 years now and admittedly, I have never paid much attention to spelling.
My 1st graders have 8 hours of English every week – 4 with me, 4 with my Turkish colleague. My partner teacher uses a coursebook with the students; my job is to supplement and provide opportunities for extra practice. That leaves us plenty of time for some fun.
Together with my American colleague, who teaches 1C (I teach 1A and B), we decided to spend 1 class a week focusing on a letter of the alphabet (starting with A). It’s been a few months now and this week, for example, we will be talking about the letter N.
Every time a new letter is introduced, the children learn a few words beginning with it. They also complete tasks to distinguish the new letter and practise using it. These include lettersearches where they have to circle e.g. all Bs, giving students pictures and asking which letter things shown in them start with, tracing, races to the board (each team member has to write / touch or circle a letter the teacher says) and so on.
We had a few reservations before conducting our experiment:
- our students were learning the Turkish alphabet at the same time (not starting with A though) so we were scared they might somehow confuse both alphabets. It does happen but very rarely.
- they learn how to write in cursive whereas most of the books for kids and the handouts we had were written using the so called ‘the ball and the stick’. Students should be familiar with both styles. They sometimes call writing in cursive writing in Turkish and ‘the ball and the stick’ – writing in English. We observed no problems with students being unable to use both styles.
- we thought it might be too hard and too boring for the students and we were wrong. Spelling is very challenging and my students can’t wait until we learn new letters.
Our main aim was to teach the English alphabet, giving the children an opportunity to pick up some new words, practice reading and writing.
Yet what has been taking place exceeded my expectations. One day, having reached letter H, I decided to give it a try and asked the students to write down a few words I was spelling. The words were DAD, BED, CAT. To my surprise, the students had no major problems with this activity. The following week I showed the kids some new words and asked them to spell these for me. They raised their hands immediately and spelled everything they were supposed to. That was a WOW.
So here we are – spending 40 min a week with 6-7 year olds exposing them to a new letter and a few words beginning with it. After a few months, most students spell a lot better than the students in High School.
Don’t you think it’s an achievement? I do J