Give It Your Best Try…And Move On!


If you are a young kid, and you are trying to spell a word, what do you do? You only know so much about spelling patterns, and you aren’t so great with dictionaries. It takes you a ridiculously long time to find the word (because you don’t know how to spell it), and by the time you’re done you’ve forgotten what you were writing about.

So doesn’t it make sense, then, to give it your best try…and move on?

Makes sense to me!

But for some kids, it’s not so simple. Many kids go through a “perfectionist” stage. Lots of second graders, for example, have learned enough about spelling that they often recognize a misspelled when they see one–but aren’t sure what to do to spell it correctly. Some kids will insist on getting an adult to provide the correct spelling, or they’ll sit and stare, unsure what to do, and paralyzed. Or worse yet–they’ll choose a different, easier word to spell, at the expense of the quality of their writing.

Kids are often relieved when I show them a few simple strategies for giving things a try…and then moving on. Here are few of my favorites:

1. Circle the word…and move on! Sometimes kids just need to show that they did indeed know that the word isn’t correct. Adults do this all the time. I know I do. I write (sp) next to a word to let readers know that, yes, it’s misspelled, but at least I know it!

2. Try it three times, three ways! On a post-it, or a scrap of paper, teach kids to try writing the tricky words three different ways. You’ll be amazed at how close kids come to the correct spelling.

3. Five-second rule! Not for food–for being stumped on spelling. Teach kids that when they are totally, completely stuck, after five seconds it’s okay to just “take a guess.” Something about the word “guess” is so freeing. Kids will often write a very good approximation!

By the way, these are strategies that work for grown-up’s too! The next time one of your students is stuck in a loop, just think about what would you would do (if you were a little kid, and dictionaries or spell-check weren’t really an option!).