Authors: Anita Bamberger and Caroline Scott
Many of us learned to spell as children without being specifically taught sounds. In the past, the teaching of phonics was discouraged in schools; however, we learned a lot through sounding out words independently. At a recent course on voice production, the importance of vowel sounds for pronunciation, as well as for the learning of spelling, was emphasised. Chunking (breaking up words into syllables) also helps children to sound out and spell longer and more challenging words.
A pilot study, in 27 schools in Swindon, saw groups of learners revisit phonics (TES magazine, 17th April 2015). The impact of taking students ‘back to basics’ to relearn the phonic sounds and focus on building a better understanding of the links between sounds and letters was apparent in the results of the study. The teaching of sounds proved to be particularly helpful for EAL students, who represented 80% of those involved. Throughout the project, children were taught sounds and how to blend them, through games and activities, including the use of flashcards with pictures. In the phonics test, children had to read 40 words, half of which were pseudo or ‘nonsense’ words. The results of the pilot showed that the percentage of students not at the required standard had reduced from 42% to 32%.
It is important to approach spelling systematically. Follow a scheme that clearly sets out the necessary steps and ensure that learners are familiar with the basics before you lead them onto the more advanced elements. Spelling extends beyond letter sounds, digraphs and trigraphs. Special irregular spelling patterns (including undecodable high frequency words), prefixes and suffixes all need to be considered, among others.
High frequency words
The specific teaching of high frequency words (especially undecodable words) can assist learners immensly with their spelling. Did you know that about 80% of our spoken or written text is made up of only 2,000 high frequency words? Do your learners know these? We have sourced a list of high frequency words from the ‘new general service list’, which is described as follows:
“With approved use of the two billion word Cambridge English Corpus, Dr. Charles Browne, Dr. Brent Culligan and Joseph Philips have created a New General Service List (NGSL) of important vocabulary words for students of English as a second language. The first version of this interim list was published in early 2013 and provides over 90% coverage for most general English texts (the highest of any published list of high frequency words to date, with the 1.01 version of the NGSL often getting over 92% coverage).”
Spelling support for EAL learners
Here are some further ideas and techniques to support EAL learners with spelling:
- Seeing words within words
- Syllable breakdown
- Learning common letter patterns
- Understanding the meanings of root words
- Making connections to other languages
- Words searches for some of the irregular spellings
- Spelling Bingo
- Spelling word hunts (looking for words in articles and newspapers)
- Look, cover, say, write, check method.