The Impossible Spelling Test

Discussion in 'First Grade' started by Sarge, Nov 1, 2008.

  1. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

    Jan 13, 2007
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    Nov 1, 2008

    No, not a complaint. An idea.

    We all know it's a struggle to get first grades to write. They have wonderful ideas in their heads, but their lack of encoding skills make writing very slow and laborious for them.

    Compounding the problem is that they are just coming to realize that there is a "right" way to spell every word. They will often obsess on this idea and get hung up when they want to write a word that is critical to expressing their idea but are not sure how to spell it.

    Even if a word is decodable and they have learned all of the sound spellings in that word, often the encoding process will take so long that they will forget the ideas they are writing about.

    So here is what I've done.

    I told my students they were going to get an "Impossible Spelling Test." I said "I'm almost certain that you will get all the words wrong." I followed this with my "evil teacher laugh." But then I said that if they did their very best trying to spell the word, they would get an A+.

    First I had a few kids dictate to me how to spell words like mechanical, machine, marvelous, and refrigerator. We ended up with mckanacl, mishen, mrvolus, and rfijrader respectively. These spellings were fairly consistent with what they presently know in terms of sounds and spellings.

    I explained that if it were an Impossible Spelling Test, then the way those words were spelled would all be correct.

    Then I told them to write impossible followed by engine and buffet. I saw them write things like inposble, enjin, and bifa. I did not say the words any different than one would in normal speech. So if they heard buffet and the first vowel sounded more like an i than a u, then that's what they wrote.

    The problem with most multisyllabic words is that it's very hard to distinguish the sounds in normal speech accurately enough to spell them. The reason that we adults can spell them is that we have seen them in text enough times to internalize the correct spelling.

    The problem with first grade writing is that for them to actually write about ideas with sufficient detail, they invariably have to use words which they have only heard in speech, but never seen in print. I want their writing to be an expression of their thoughts, even if those thoughts include hard to spell words.

    With Open Court, we are not allowed to use traditional "a is for airplane" word walls. The only words that can go on our walls are sight words and unit vocabulary. I've tried mini dictionaries but found them to be very limiting. Besides, when a child is writing a story about a family trip, I want him to concentrate on the story ideas and whether or not he spelled luggage correctly.

    My hope is that the Impossible Spelling Test will show them that they can write words they don't know how to spell and worry about correcting it during editing.
  3. firstgradeteach

    firstgradeteach Comrade

    Sep 25, 2007
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    Nov 2, 2008

    That is a creative way to allow student's to gain their confidence. I bet they just love having those tests especially when you use your "evil" voice. Thanks for sharing!

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