primary grades · spelling · writing workshop

Brave Spelling

My oldest daughter is a bit of a perfectionist.  (I have no idea where she got this trait, but I suspect my husband thinks it comes from me.)  She is in kindergarten this year, and her perfectionism has become a small obstacle to her writing development.  She doesn’t know how to spell all the words she wants to use, but she does know that her attempts do not look right. As much as her teacher encourages her to be a brave speller, to stretch out the words and listen to the sounds… my daughter sits frozen in fear of doing it wrong.  Any writing she does at home is punctuated with repeated requests of Mommy, how do you spell this and Mommy, how do you spell that?

Sound familiar?  This is a common issue in primary students.  I have seen so many students struggle with the idea of brave spelling.  Like my daughter, they want to get it right.  How can we help these students overcome their fear?  How can we convince them to just give it a go?

Encourage Play

We have a set of Alpha Robots tucked away in a toy bin at our house.  The set consists of 26 little robots (well, 25 in our house because the W robot is missing).

Robot Letter 2

Each robot also transforms into a letter of the alphabet with a few simple pushes and clicks.

Robot Letter 1


My daughters pulled the robots out of a toy bin last week.  They transformed the robots into letters and back again.  They lined the robots up for the pretend bus for a pretend robot field trip.  They threw a robot birthday party.  Then, I noticed my oldest daughter using the letters to spell words.  I immediately jumped at the chance to have her practice some inventive spelling.

“Can you spell pot?” I asked her.  She did.

“Can you spell chin?”  She tried.

I couldn’t believe her willingness to spell word after word.   She never grumbled.  She never got frustrated.  She never asked if a word was right.

It made me wonder if putting pencil to paper feels too permanent for her.  It made me wonder how often she gets the chance to play with words using blocks or magnets or popsicle sticks at school.  It made me wonder if writing feels scary to her.  (Like it does for the rest of us sometimes.)  It makes me wonder how we can make writing feel playful.

Celebrate the Attempt

Last week my daughter came home with this paper:

Maddie Paper

I immediately hung it on the fridge and praised her attempt at writing words.

“Do you feel proud of yourself, honey?” I inquired.

“I got three wrong,” she answered.

Ugh.  My heart sank.  It made me wonder if the giant pink smiley face might have been enough feedback for my daughter on this paper.  It made me wonder if, for now, we could just celebrate the attempt without correcting the words for conventional spelling.

I was reminded of a video I once watched on The Teaching Channel in which a math teacher chooses her favorite mistake each day and shares the thinking behind the mistake with her class.  She calls it My Favorite No. Perhaps we could open writing workshop each day by highlighting the misspellings of some brave writers.  We could call it: My Favorite Brave Spelling.  We could celebrate the attempt.

I know I can’t rid my daughter of her perfectionism.  (It may be genetic after all.)  However, my daughter – and hundreds of other students just like her – can benefit from classrooms that encourage playfulness and celebrate the attempts of such brave writers.

(Click here to read Beth’s post on inventive spelling from our archives.)



11 thoughts on “Brave Spelling

  1. It continues even into Grade 7, but I use The Perfect Mistake to try to overcome this issue in spelling, sharing answers. I tell them there is usually a mistake that most of the class will do & if they share it, they are helping others. if they offer up an answer that illuminates a common error, math, spelling, grammar. I thank them, tell them they are helping the rest of the class and use it to move us forward. I want them to learn that mistakes are part of growing & we all make them every day!


  2. I used to employ a teaching share structure at the end of writing workshop that we called “Show Us Your Spelling Muscles” or something like that. I’d choose one student to come up and write on the board one word they’d worked hard on spelling. (They’d write the invented spelling.)

    Then they’d talk us through and re-enact how they got those sounds on the page. “I stretched it out. Then I was thinking that the ‘o’ sound might be -oa like in boat.” etc. While I interviewed/praised them about the smart thinking they’d done.

    Then I’d invite other students to think alongside us about some of the trickier aspects of the word… (“How else might we try the “o” sound? Is that like any other words we know?”) NO ONE was allowed to say, “That’s wrong.” or “This is how you spell it.” because the point was to “show off your muscles”!

    Then we’d give them a thumbs up and the child would sit down. NO correcting or saying, “This is the RIGHT way to do that…” After 3 or 4 of these shares, kids got really articulate about the choices they were making as they tackled tricky words, and they got more flexible about trying new spelling strategies…


      1. Love, love, LOVE all this! I think tomorrow’s word study lesson will be, Building Brave Word Workers. A combination of my favorite no (already a common math practice in our room) and word work. The reflection on our choices in building words will help me see where my teaching needs to be and it will solidify understanding for the kiddos!


  3. Another idea I picked up is the “GUM” method. (Teacher gives each student a stick of gum to chew when this method is introduced.) “Boys and girls, let me teach you my favorite writing trick – I call it GUM writing. When you want to use a word but aren’t sure how to spell it, think GUM. GUESS (using the sounds you hear), UNDERLINE (this tells me you are one smart cookie because you know it might not be the grown-up spelling), and MOVE on.”


  4. Isabelle isn’t spelling words yet, but she’s attempting to string letters together. We’ve done some word play, but I want these robots to do some more!

    I love your point about celebrating kids’ attempts on spelling. EFFORT needs to be praised and rewarded when they’re young.


  5. Such an interesting assortment of words on the paper that your daughter was spelling. Celebrate spelling “queen” correctly. OMG – that’s a $5.00 word for a kindergartner.

    She has demonstrated many, many sounds and spellings “oa” in boat, “sh” in fish and brush. The mere fact that she’s not working on 3 letter words in kindergarten has her at the top of the group!!!


    1. Fran, she is a smartie for sure. I am not in the least bit concerned about her actual spelling. I am thinking more about her – and kids like her – who are hesitant to even make the attempt in their own writing. 🙂


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