Teaching alternate spelling can be tricky. Think about all the different ways to spell the long A sound—a, ai, a-e, ay, ea, ei, ey, eigh. And then there are all the other sounds that have multiple spellings … I like to keep teaching alternate spellings simple and fun for kids. That means a clear introduction, building the skill, and lots of practice, including a mix of activities and spelling games.
3 steps to teach alternate spelling
1. Notice Common Sounds
Share a list of words with a common sound. For example, say table, rain, whale, tray, steak, rain, April, mail, crayon, sail, cake, break, stressing the /ae/. Ask your students what sound they hear in all the words. If they don’t notice the common /ae/ sound, tell them what sound the words share. Then repeat the words.
2. Introduce the Alternate Spellings
Repeat the first five words again, as you write them on the board. Underline the /ae/ sound in each word. Point out the many different ways that you can spell /ae/. For the next word, say the word and write everything but the /ae/ sound. Ask students what they think the correct spelling is. For example, say rain and write R N. Ask students to complete the word. Then write the correct spelling in the space: R AI N.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
Write the different ways of spelling the long /ae/ sound on the board. Ask students to think of other words with this sound. See if the class knows which spelling of the sound is used in each word and add it to the correct column.
After introducing different ways of spelling the /ae/ sound, you can also give students a chance to practice with cootie catchers. My students always love playing with cootie catchers. When I’m teaching alternate spelling, I give students a chart on paper or a whiteboard with the different spellings across the top. As students reveal one of the spellings at the end of a round, they think of a word with that spelling (there are examples in the cootie catcher itself if students get stuck). Then they write the word in the correct spelling column and underline the long /ae/ sound.
In addition, I have students do word sorts on their own. I might read the words aloud to a group and ask them to put them in the right column. You can also use a worksheet with a list of words and a grid to sort the words into. Or create cards for each word and have students physically move them into groups based on spelling.
Word searches, matching words to pictures or drawing a word, along with classic games like Bingo and Snap are also in my teaching alternate spelling bag of tricks. Games are great to have in the mix.
Spelling games for teaching alternate spelling
Spelling games are a great way to teach alternate spelling and other spelling skills. You’re invited to join me for the Top Notch Teaching Spelling Challenge!
Each day I’ll email you a new spelling game along with a short explanation on how to use it. Try out the games with your students and share how it went in our Facebook group. The Spelling Game Challenge is a sneak peek of a new product that’s launching as part of the Top Notch Teaching Members Club. The Top Notch Teaching Members Club is an on-demand library of quality, time-saving teaching resources opening in March.