Phonics Based Spelling for Struggling Students and Beginning Readers

This approach to teaching reading and spelling has been a game changer for my students who struggle with phonics, letter and sound identification, blending and segmenting. It also teaches sentence writing, capitalization and punctuation.

There are 8 main components to a lesson. Each lesson typically takes me 30-35 minutes if done with fidelity. I have definitely done "express" versions of them depending on the group of students I have. If I am teaching whole group, it tends to take the whole 30-35 minutes. If I am teaching small group, I can get a lesson done in about 20-25 minutes. I've had the most success using dry erase boards in place of pencil and paper (but either one works!) I used to use journals or pencil and paper so I had a record of the lessons, but now I prefer dry-erase boards. The kids are motivated by it and it saves a lot of time with erasing when mistakes are made. 

This multi-sensory approach to spelling uses visual learning, auditory learning and hands-on learning. It's very direct and routine for the kids and the more consistent you can be with teaching it, the better results your students will get!

You can see it in action on a Smart/Interwrite board in this video, or scroll down to read through how I teach a lesson
and how I follow up after!

Before I begin a new lesson for the week, I give my students a pre-test of the words we will use each week. I love comparing the beginning of the week with the end, and they feel so successful on Friday when they see how well they do!
The eyes portion of the lesson is the visual warm up. It is a visual drill of all of the letters that will be used throughout the lesson that day. This is done on the Smartboard/Interwrite board. Each lesson spirals the last letters learned and incorporates a new letter.

How It's Done
Students say the letter’s name and tell what sound it makes.

The ears portion of the lesson is a listen-to-write/auditory activity. Students take out dry-erase boards and erasers for this part.

How It's Done
The teacher says “I say the sound, you say the sounds, then you write it.” The sounds that are dictated are the same letters that the students just saw during the eyes drill.

During the next portion of the lesson, I introduce the word families of the day and discuss what sound each word family makes. I give examples of words that are in the word family and encourage students to think of their own words.

The next thing we do is read words in the word family (again, these letters are what they saw and what they wrote). 

How It's Done
Students read the word family words by finger spelling (segmenting) and then blending the word together.

Example: “c…..a……t. cat.”

Each sound is finger spelled on one finger.

After all sounds have been segmented, students make a fist as they pull their hand across and then say the word they spelled as they close their fist. 

Students take out dry-erase boards and erasers. Teacher says “How many words can you write in each word family?” Students write words. Teacher or students add them to the board.

"Go" words are words that students are encouraged to "go ahead and sound it out". They are words that are spelled phonetically and can be finger spelled. Students take out dry-erase boards and erasers.

How It's Done
Teacher says “I say the word, you say the word, you finger spell it, then you write it.” 

"Stop" words are words that students are encouraged to "stop and think" about what the word is. These are sight words or high-frequency words. Students are encouraged to take a picture of these words with their brain because STOP words are not always able to be sounded out.

How It's Done
Students take out dry-erase boards and erasers.
Teacher says “These are words you can’t always sound out, so you have to stop and think about what the word is. You can take a picture of these words in your brain.” Then say, "I say the word, you say the word, then you write it." 

Reading and writing sentences is the part of this lesson that brings together everything that has been learned. We use Call the COPS to check for proper punctuation, capitalization and spelling. 

How It's Done
Students take out dry-erase boards and erasers.

Read Sentences: Teacher models reading the sentence out loud and using finger spelling when needed. Students repeat the sentence.

Write Sentences:
Discuss the important parts of a sentence- uppercase letters at the beginning, spaces between words and punctuation at the end.

Teacher says “I say the sentence, you say the sentence, then you write it.”
As the students are writing sentences I go around and check their sentences.

Each week I assign a weekly spelling packet for homework on Monday that is due on Friday. It is all aligned with the lesson we did that week. This homework is not time consuming and it prepares the kids for a spelling test on Friday. Not a fan of homework? No problem. This spelling packet can done each day in a center instead!

I often have parents ask me how they can support their child's reading and writing at home. It's hard to explain what finger spelling is to someone who has never seen it, so I always send home a letter to parents explaining how to do it at home and in stories as they are reading.

I use additional activities to supplement my centers or to send home for extra practice. This is helpful when I have students who need the lesson differentiated or challenged.

I also share resources that make practicing their spelling words fun! You can download the spelling practice menu for free below! All of the activities can be done with any list of words.

To find all of the resources used for my phonics based spelling, click below!

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