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Spelling Tests

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My third-grader has always been an excellent speller until this year. I'm not sure that his spelling tests are age-appropriate and I don't know the best way to help him study.

His test consists of 20 spelling words. Ten of the words are given just as normal spelling words, and the other ten are given in the form of dictation sentences. I retype the spelling words and dictation sentences and each night I print out a copy so my son can practice writing and study the words as well as the sentences.

My son usually aced most of his tests in the past. Now, he is feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Please help!

A: You are definitely trying to help your son do well on his spelling tests. However, you need to change your approach because children really do not learn how to spell words by copying them. They learn to spell words by visualizing them in their minds.

First, give your son a pre-test when he brings home his spelling words. Don't have him copy the words or sentences. Just give him a pencil and a blank piece of paper and say each word and sentence out loud for him to write down. Try to give the pre-test in exactly the same way as the teacher will give the actual test. This is very important, especially on the dictation section.

Have your son correct the pre-test. He should study only the words he has missed each evening. The following steps will teach him how to visualize words:

  1. Say a word while looking at it.
  2. Close your eyes, try to see the word, and then spell the word out loud.
  3. Look at the written word to see if you spelled it out loud correctly.
  4. Cover the word and write it.
  5. Check to see if you wrote the word correctly.
If your son misspells a word, he should repeat all five steps before going on to the next word. When your son has learned to use this technique, he will be able to study his spelling words independently. On the night before the test, give him a final test of all the words and sentences and have him study any missed words.

Read the dictation sentences to your son every night so that he gets plenty of practice in writing them. He should self-correct these sentences and use the steps above on any word he misses. Remind him to start the sentences with a capital letter and to put the correct form of punctuation at the end of the sentence.

More on: Expert Advice

Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.


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