Teaching spelling – homophones

seven stepsWe are blessed with a language that contains many homophones. I did read somewhere that it was a sign of the sophistication of our language but I can’t find the quote so it may be something I made up to convince someone they were a good thing. They can certainly be the basis of word play.


The seriously chased are seldom chaste for long. The seriously chaste are seldom chased for long.

The 2014 National Curriculum does demand that we teach children how to spell a large number of homophones, some of which are near homophones but are seriously challenging. How many adults know when to use affect or effect?

I recently worked with  a couple of NQTs teaching in Yr6 who wanted to know how to teach the difference between affect and effect.  We generated a long list of ideas and then tried to categorise and generalise the ideas behind the activities and came up with a seven step plan. Of course, we then realised that it could be used to teach the spellings of any homophones.

You can find our seven step plan here.  You do not always need all seven steps and nor do you always need to do them in the order that we have listed here.

Do you have any good resources you could share to teach children how to make choices about the homophones they use?

Yr2 spelling in the new curriculum

Some of you might have guessed that Becca and I are still working.  We will stop on Friday but here is tonight’s offering.  Spelling in Yr2.

With the new curriculum we have come to realise that phase 6 (in Letters and Sounds) is probably no longer relevant. Our current advice is that Yr1 pupils need to secure phase 5 and then Yr2 need to start a spelling programme.  And so with that in mind we have written a session by session plan.  It starts off with daily spelling and moves in the summer term to spelling 5 times over a fortnight to come in to line with Yr3 and KS2. However, if your cohort is not great at spelling you might need to continue daily spelling all year and Yr3 might need to start with daily spelling in the first term and then reduce the amount.

We have updated the spelling pathway to include Yr2

You will find the overview and what to teach each session available here.

Small school spelling programme

We have had our spelling programme on the website for a couple of terms now for individual and mixed age classes.  However, like all large rural counties, we have a significant number of whole KS2 classes in schools.  So just for you, we have written a two year rolling programme for whole KS2 classes. To start off with there is a pathway through the programme. This is then followed by a session by session overview.

Year 1 is made up of Yr3 and 5 spelling programme and year 2 consists of Yr4 and 6.  Over the four years you will teach year 1, year 2, year 1 and year 2.  We have planned it like this because schools will get new children in at some point during the four years so if you do a four year programme there could be gaps for those children.

What you will need to do is make notes about which parts the children do really well and which will need more emphasis when you repeat the year again.  For all years you will need to differentiate the sessions by the words that you use with groups of children.  For instance, we have given you a range of homophones to choose from.  Some children will only have a few of the more common ones and others will  be working with those that have more challenging spellings.

Find the pathway and session overviews here.

Spelling in the new curriculum – everything you need!

Most people have by now looked at the  spelling and grammar expectations in the new curriculum and tests.  Spelling’s time has finally come!  Anecdotal evidence suggests that those schools who were disappointed with their grammar and spelling test results in the summer often cited the spelling element of the test as the area that needs development. In fact the spelling results went from 14% of the marks uner the old regime to 29% of the marks in the GaPS test.

Back at Literacy Headquarters we have been working away at this aspect of the new curriculum for some time and have finally managed to share  the resources that we have created. (All can be found here.)  We are recommending that KS2 will need at least 15 X 15 minute spelling sessions each half-term.  The further away from the age-related expectations, the more spelling you will need, so the fifteen sessions are just a starting point.

First, we have produced a term by term pathway through the spelling for each year group.  You will know that the objectives in the curriculum are in one big bundle for Yrs3 and 4 and Yrs5 and 6 and so what Angela has done is to decide how to divide these up .  This suddenly makes the spelling curriculum look more manageable.  Included in the pathway are signposts to resources and ways of teaching elements that are included in The Spelling Bank and Support for Spelling.

Secondly, we have now started to think about the pattern of teaching across the fifteen sessions.  We are continuing to use the revisit/review, teach, practise and apply structure introduced in Support for Spelling because it is a familiar structure to those moving from kS1 to KS2.  However, in KS2 each element is taught on a different day rather than all occurring in one session.  To make this clear we have now created a day to day pathway for the spring term of each year group. (Click on term 2 to find the planning for each year group) As for all of the above, these are only suggestions and can be changed and moved around to suit your class.

There are certain elements that appear in each year group:

  • homophones
  • rare grapheme/phoneme correspondences (GPCs)
  • prefixes and suffixes
  • letter strings
  • word endings (that are not suffixes)
  • learning and remembering spellings
  • proof-reading

This means that it is very easy to differentiate across a class be it single or mixed age.  The whole class can be working on homophones but different ones can be used for particular groups of children.

Finally, Sandra has created an excel spreadsheet that analyses the spelling results of the test.  So if you plan to give your children the spelling test from the 2013 paper, you can now analyse the results and identify areas to focus on in your teaching.

We hope that this will get you started.  If you use the resources, let us know what you think.

See other spelling posts here.

3 things you need for an effective spelling classroom

Spelling is just one of those things – it seems so hard to get it right and to have an effect upon children’s writing but often  that is because we need to have all three of the following things in place in order to make a difference.

  1. Teach – choose a spelling programme that has progression and suggests activities and ways of working.  Make sure that is pays sufficient attention to strategies for learning and remembering words, and if it doesn’t add them in.  Make sure it focuses on patterns in our words rather than learning lists of words.  Model being interested in words, investigating why things are spelt the way they are so that children understand that there is a reason for our spelling.  Assess what children  are learning about spelling patterns and how they articulate what they know. This does notnecessarily mean setting a list of words to take home and learn.
  2. Apply – model for children what they should do with spelling at the point of writing.  Children need to take the responsibility for this.  So show them how to use a have-a-go sheet, trying out different spellings for the words until they can get as near to a spelling as possible.  Use that spelling and draw a line underneath it in their writing to show that they need to come back to that word and work on it a bit further.  At no point in this process should children  ask you as the teacher if it is right.  Model using a have-a-go sheet whenever you write and across the curriculum.  Model using a wide range of strategies to get to the correct spelling (analogy, letter string patterns, linking it to other words that have similar meaning or come from the same family, mnemonics used etc).  Give children time to try and find the correct spellings of these words after writing and then if they can’t, and only then, help them.  Give children time to learn these spellings and if parents insist, send these words home to be learnt.  Teach children how to work in pairs to test each other.
  3. Assess – how are children spelling in their writing?  What words are they struggling with and therefore what patterns should be included in your teaching.  How is what they are doing now progress?

My 3 favourite spelling activites

Angela and I have been planning a spelling course today.  I always think of spelling as a bit of a Pandora’s box.  Once you have lifted that lid, it is almost impossible to close it again and all that is left is hope!.

Every teacher has their own favourite games, activities and ideas and I am no different.  I have several activities that I use over and over again, adapting them to fit the children/adults that I am working with.

The first one is most useful with Yrs 3/4 and is based around suffixes and prefixes.  This idea comes from Melvyn Ramsden and is a simple grid that allows children to add suffixes and prefixes to root words.  From the grid, they can read and write a whole list of words that, if you can spell the affixes, are available to you.  It reminds me of ‘facts for free’ in maths.










Image from http://web.mac.com/peterbowers1/Site_38_Visitors/Melvyn_Ramsden.html

I love these grids – I get children to read them, write them and create their own.  If you can spell sign, how many other words can you spell?  I am at present investigating signet and cygnet.  I know that a signet was used instead of a signature so belongs to that family of words but I am not sure about cygnet.  Try to create a grid around <velop>.

Another of my favourite activities is to create a word web, one that links words to each other.  Start with develop and move out from that: what other words have the prefix de- and what other words have velop in them.  You may end up with envelope and from this, enveloping, enveloped, envelops.  My dictionary tells me that the prefix en- means inside.  This would then lead me off on the trail of encapsulate etc.

This curiosity about words is an essential part of the ethos of a spelling classroom and is obviously not something that can be represented in a spelling programme but miss it out at your peril.

My third favourite spelling activity is the use of a have-a-go sheet.  These are used to support children at the point of writing.  Every day, whenever you write across the curriculum, pretend that you can’t spell a word.  Move over to your have-a-go sheet and try out various spellings until you can get the one that is most like the correct spelling to you.  Use that in your writing and if you are still not sure about it draw a line under the word.  This signifies that you know you need to come back to it and work on it a bit more.  This way of working means that children take the responsibility for spelling words, do not follow you around saying ‘how do you spell…’ and generally get on with writing.  It doesn’t slow them down and there is no need to ‘think enormous and write big’ as Pie Corbett would say.  You need to model a range of strategies at this point, some of them being:

  • sounding out and using phonic knowledge to represent every sound that you can hear
  • analogy – likening with other letter strings that you know, e.g. light, fright
  • use of patterns of meaning and families, e.g. medic, medicine, medical
  • clapping out the syllables and then recording something for every syllable
  • visual patterns including ‘does it look right?’
  • mnemonics (for a very few words that you continually mis-spell)

Ahh!  The joys of spelling.  What are your favourite activities?