When I was a kid, my teachers were heavily focused on spelling and handwriting. Luckily for me, I was always proud of my handwriting – in cursive and print. I would add decorative swirls, try out different sizes and “fonts” of handwriting, and felt confident as a speller. I even won a few spelling bees.
Even as a confident speller who enjoys writing by hand, I have always known that becoming a writer is an entirely separate thing. Just because you have correct spelling and beautiful handwriting, does not mean you have written something very meaningful (something I became painfully aware of when writing college essays as I got older).
For many adults, their experiences with “writing” at school may have been heavily focused on spelling and handwriting. It is no wonder then, that family members tend to have a lot of questions about their child’s spelling and handwriting. Sometimes, adults at home without support from you may unintentionally lead students down an unhelpful path.
Here are a few tips for supporting spelling you might share or adapt for families:
And here are a few tips for supporting handwriting:
Families might not be familiar with what we mean when we say “high frequency words,” “snap words,” “sight words,” and “word wall words.” Often these words wind up getting used interchangeably. Here’s how many of my colleagues and I define them.
High Frequency Words: This is literally referring to the most frequent words in the English language. You can find lists of them from various sources, but all the lists are very similar, and only vary in small ways.
Sight Words: This refers to the words a child knows “by sight,” meaning they know them automatically, without needing to sound them out or decode. Often children learn some high frequency words early on by sight, but also their own names, friends’ names, days of the week, colors, and many other words become early sight words for kids.
Snap Words: This usually means the same thing as “sight words,” because they are words a child knows “in a snap,” automatically, without having to sound them out or think twice about how to write them. Specifically, in the Units of Study series, Lucy Calkins and colleagues refer to sight words as “snap words” and are usually referring to high frequency words.
Word Wall Words: This is referring to words that have been studied, are familiar, and are on display on a something we call a “Word Wall.” Usually teachers teach high frequency words to display on the word wall, but in some cases, a word wall might be used for literary vocabulary, content area terminology, or other kinds of words. A word wall is usually a large display in the classroom that kids can glance up at to quickly remember how to spell a familiar word. Often smaller-sized, individual word walls are provided for kids to have at their desks or at home while they write.
You can see why the terms are so often used interchangeably. Often the word wall is filled with high frequency words, which are so familiar that they are sight words and snap words for kids. (But not always! A high frequency word is not automatically a word wall word, and a snap word is not always on the word wall, or necessarily a high frequency word. Whew!)
Here are some example of high frequency words (which may or may not also be word wall words and/or snap words or sight words).
Last but not least, families also might not know what we mean when we say “spelling patterns,” so it may be helpful to provide charts and examples for kids and adults to refer to when writing at home. Here’s a quick glance at some common spelling patterns for younger students.
You can save or print out all of these handouts here:
If you’d like to adapt these handouts with specifics from your own classroom, here’s how I made them. In Google Slides, I changed the size of the slides to 8.5X11 using the page setup option, and then used Walter Turncoat font.
You may also be interested a handout for increasing volume and stamina at home, or perhaps the handout for writing workshop choices that families can provide at home, which can be found by following the links to earlier posts.
With so many students doing a lot more writing at home, it is worth giving families some information on how to handle spelling and handwriting at home–at the very least so they don’t unintentionally undo the hard work you are doing at school to build up confident, resourceful problem solving. Families can be your ally, working with you, not against you.