Houghton Mifflin Spelling and Vocabulary
What is the philosophy behind integrating reading and writing in the classroom?
There's not only a philosophy behind integrating reading and writing; there's a psychology of learning that supports this integration as well. Humans are imitative creatures much of the time: When children enjoy a story, whether they read it themselves or it is read to them, they usually will try to write a similar story. How much they imitate will vary:

The structure, the language, the characters, the plot, or all of the above. Upon reading Mouse's Birthday by Jane Yolen, for example, young children often try to write their own "cumulative" story in which characters keep getting added (in this case, into a very small space!). When we wish to teach middle school students about writing a persuasive essay, for example, we might have them read Olga Owens Huckins's letter to a Boston newspaper in which she argued powerfully against the indiscriminant spraying of DDT.

When we wish to teach a specific skill, such as sentence combining in writing, we explore through reading how good writers have done it — and this, in turn, helps with comprehension and understanding of different sentence patterns students encounter in their reading.

At all levels there is an interactive, integrated relationship between learning to read and write, and the more we can take advantage of this relationship in our teaching, the more enjoyable and robust will our students' learning be.

What is the best, most effective way to improve students' spelling? I need help! [Sixth grade teacher]
There is no one best way, no "silver bullet." There are, however, three important components that, if present in your classroom, will ensure that your students will over time become better spellers:
  • Provide lots of reading at your students' instructional and independent levels
  • Provide lots of opportunities to write
  • Provide lots of opportunities for interesting, appropriate, and engaging word study
How do we provide for "interesting, appropriate, and engaging word study"? We begin by changing our thinking about spelling: Learning to spell is not simply a process of rote memorization. Our brains are not cameras that "take pictures" of words, though in the past the methods we have used to try to teach spelling have often proceeded as if this were the case. We would tell kids to "write your spelling words five times each" (or ten, or fifteen, etc.), as if through successive repetitions the image of the correct spelling would burn itself upon the gray matter of the brain. Research shows that this is the least effective instructional strategy!

Instead, we engage students in looking at words from a variety of perspectives. Get kids to compare and contrast words in terms of sound, spelling pattern, and meaning. Let's take an example: Students who have mastered the spelling of most long and short vowel patterns in single-syllable words are ready to examine what happens when inflectional endings (-ed, -ing, plural endings) are added to base words. They sort a group of words according to whether or not a final consonant is doubled when the inflectional ending is added: chopped, tapping, grinning, begging, bragging vs. saving, joking, biting, hoping. When they have finished sorting the words, ask them to examine each column to figure out when you double before adding -ing and when you don't.

This type of word study in which words are compared and contrasted is much more likely to help students remember the spelling of specific words as well as abstract spelling patterns that apply to a great many words.

I would like to know how to become a better speller. [First grade student]
As a first-grader, you will become a better speller if you read, write, and think about words. The more you read words, the more you will be able to spell many of those words correctly in your writing. When you're writing and you're not sure how to spell a word, sound it out the best you can. A lot of times, you will be able to think of another word that sounds a lot like the word you want to spell and this will help you: If you know how to spell the word split, this will help you spell the word splat.

Continue to encourage your students to apply in their first-draft writing whatever they know and are learning about words. This is extremely important, and the significant research supports this practice.

But beginning in the second grade, for most students we should also emphasize that they should spell correctly in their first-draft writing the words they do know how to spell. The rest of the words can be attempted, applying whatever students know about words. This type of advice helps students develop a "spelling conscience"; that is, remembering that they do know how to spell a lot of words and using that knowledge as they write.

For many years teachers encouraged students to write their first drafts without worrying about spelling, grammar, or punctuation; many of us even referred to the first draft as "sloppy copy." While teachers knew what they meant, the students often took "sloppy copy" literally, so that they would write down whatever letters came to mind at the moment rather than remembering that they actually knew how to spell a particular word.

This will also help overcome the classic situation in which students get all of their spelling words correct on a Friday test and misspell the same words in their writing on Monday, or even later on Friday!

How can spelling words be used so they become integrated into a child's vocabulary and not just an isolated lesson? [Fifth grade teacher]
First of all, words selected for spelling instruction at the primary level should be words students know: They know the meaning of the words and they can read them. This is important because students at the primary level need to learn how the alphabetic and pattern features of words work: how consonant and vowel sounds are represented within single syllables. So, while an occasional brand new vocabulary word may appear on a spelling list, it is critical that most of the words be known words. This will ensure that the words are not part of an "isolated" lesson but in fact are words the students read and write with considerable frequency.

The situation changes a bit at the intermediate level. While most of the spelling words should be known words familiar in reading, a few unknown words may be added to the list. One of the best ways to select such words is to choose those that are related in terms of spelling and meaning to known words. For example, a fifth-grader who can read and knows the meaning of the word mental yet misspells it as mentle can be introduced to the unknown word mentality. This pairing of mental and mentality accomplishes two important things: First, in the related word mentality, you can clearly hear the al sound, and this is the clue to the spelling of the second syllable in mental; second, by pairing mental with mentality we also have expanded the student's vocabulary — if he or she knows the meaning of the word mental, that student can more easily learn the meaning of the word mentality. You will find that emphasizing this "spelling/meaning connection" will help your students understand the critical role that meaning plays in English spelling: Words that are related in meaning are often related in spelling as well, despite changes in sound. This knowledge will in turn underlie students' learning about Greek and Latin word roots and can become integrated as students learn the subject-specific vocabulary of science, mathematics, and social studies.

How do I integrate phonics, spelling, vocabulary, and fun activities without making the story boring for students? [Fifth grade teacher]
First of all, it's not necessary to think that "integration" means that the word study that students do must be based entirely on a particular story, informational selection, or theme. My answer to the question from the other fifth-grade teacher illustrates this — I like to think of "integration" more broadly: For the most part, words for phonics and spelling instruction are the words that students encounter in their reading and use frequently in their writing. So, you don't have to worry about making a particular story "boring" — you can enjoy it and explore it with the students in different ways and for different purposes, while most of your word study will be applicapble across-the-board.

The word study that will be specific to the story or selection will focus on the important vocabulary — those terms that represent important concepts and understandings.


For ideas on finding out what your students know about words, organizing word study instruction, and exciting activities, games, and strategies, I think you will find the following resources quite helpful:

Templeton, S., & Morris, D. (1999). Questions teachers ask about spelling. Reading Research Quarterly, 34, 102-112.

Templeton, S. (1997). Teaching the integrated language arts(2nd Ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Bear, D.R., & Templeton, S. (1998). Explorations in developmental spelling: Foundations for learning and teaching phonics, spelling, and vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 52, 222-242.

Bear, D., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., and Johnson, F. (1996). Words their way: Word study for phonics, spelling, and vocabulary development (2nd Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Merrill/Prentice-Hall.


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