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Letter Ladders

Updated: Mar 18

Next to learning times tables, spelling practise has to be the most boring part of the entire primary school curriculum. Often taught using the Look, Cover, Write, Check technique of looking at a word, covering it, writing it and then checking to see if you got it correct. Basically it is 1 step above just copying the words, is monotonous and very sedentary - but spelling practise doesn’t have to be.

Spelling is a very important skill and the words provided normally fall into 2 categories. Spelling rules such as “ought” or “tion” words. Or topic words such as Planetarium and Astrophysical for a space unit to make sure students can spell the words they are using in class.

Teaching spelling is multifaceted and requires practise of the words, using and correcting words in context, looking them up in a dictionary and using on-line spell checkers to cement correct spelling. Over the next 5 weeks I am going to highlight 1 technique each week for making spelling practise fun for students and increase word retention. All of these activities incorporate some sort of physical activity even if it is just standing and sitting rather than remaining seated for the 10 minutes or so of the game.

The first spelling practice game is Letter Ladders

For this first activity you can use either agility ladders or ladders drawn on the cement with chalk or a mixture of both depending on how well resourced you are. Students work in groups of about 4 or 5 to build their ability to take turns, cooperate and work as a team and each team will need a ladder and a copy of the spelling words to be practised. Working with students of like ability, or the same word set, 1 student stands to the side of the ladder and the rest of the group stands at one end of the ladder. The student on the side reads out a word and the 1st student in the group must use a two legged or horizontal jump to move forward one space on the ladder. They call out a letter from the word given for each jump. If the word is shorter than the ladder they leave the ladder when the word is finished but if the word is longer they turn around at the top and return towards their group until the word is spelt. If the word is spelt correctly a tick is placed in the correct box. If an error is made the student is told the correct spelling for the letter they got wrong, a cross is placed on the chart and they continue to spell the rest of the word. Once Student 1 has had a chance to read out the list words they swap with Student 2 who repeats the process. This continues until all students have had a chance to spell all the words once and all students have had a chance to be the caller at least once and possibly twice.

On returning to the classroom students should record the words they spelt incorrectly. This means that the words have now been practised auditorily, kinaesthetically, orally and visually which means they are 4 times more likely to be remembered than if just practised silently using a written list. Letter ladders should not take more than 15 minutes per day to complete once students know how to set up the ladders, how to call the words and how to record their teammate’s responses. Letter ladders can be repeated as many times per week as practical. It allows students to practise the Fundamental Movement Skill of 2 legged or horizontal jumping and working in teams. This activity can also be a massive time and environmental saver. If implemented at both the start and end of the week Letter Ladders can remove the need for a weekly spelling test. This will save time in both administration and marking of the test, the need to use paper for both the spelling test and daily practise. It also alleviates test anxiety in students and lets students know that you are looking for spelling improvement not necessarily list perfection. It is only through gradual improvement that we know students are working at their optimal level as any student who gets the words all correct at the start of the week (Student 4) should be offered more challenging words. Over the next 4 weeks I will be outlining more games you can use with your students to allow them to practise their list words differently each day. This will ensure that you never need send home a Look, Cover, Write, Check sheet again, spend your Release From Face to Face time marking spelling homework and will make spelling a fun physically active part of the primary school curriculum that students will love.

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